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James Fell on epiphanies and making radical changes

By January 23, 2019 February 4th, 2019 No Comments

“You know that this is what you have to do and that’s why it’s so motivating. That’s why it fills you with so much passion.” – James Fell

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James Fell is a well-known fitness and motivational expert. He has written in the LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, Men’s Health, The Guardian and TIME. He also runs and is most recently the author of “The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant” He and Mark talk about epiphanies and making a radical change. He teaches how to go directly from intention to committed action

Listen to this episode to find out more about life-changing moments and how to change intention to action

Dr. Parsley’s sleep remedy was designed to help Navy SEALs to overcome some of the sleep challenges that they have as hard-charging individuals. Doc Parsley believes that proper sleep and recovery is absolutely essential to maintain our ability to perform at a high level. His sleep “cocktail” includes a number of supplements to provide our bodies with chemicals naturally produced by the brain to encourage sleep. Commander Divine is a huge fan and encourages members his tribe to try it out for themselves. Enter “unbeatablemind” at the checkout on to get 10% off.

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Hey folks. This is Mark Divine. Welcome to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thank you so much for joining me today. I will not waste your time, so let’s get right into it.

So, today I’ve got author James Fell on with me. We’re gonna have a wickedly cool conversation about his new book “The Holy Shit Moment,” which I think is going to go in all sorts of interesting directions. And I never know quite what direction they’re going to go, as you know, so that’s one of the things I love about doing this podcast.

But as usual before I get started it is January. I’m told this episode will be released kind of mid to late January, so you’re now off to the new year. 2019.

And many of you have already started to wonder how you’re gonna fulfill all those awesome goals and challenges and things that you started. So, many of you are probably doing some sort of 30-day challenge. You’re trying to fast or intermittent fast…

You’re doing all that kind of stuff, but what about working on your mind? Your mindset? And have you set those integrative training targets that are going to challenge you this year as part of your 5-mountain training plan?

Well if you haven’t, then I highly, highly, highly, highly recommend that you take a look at and plan to attend one of our new Unbeatable Mind experiences. This experience will replace what we had been calling the Unbeatable Mind summit, which we just finished recently. And it was an incredible event.

But the experience is going to be even better. We’re taking it from motivation into training… So, still be tons of motivation, inspiration – but now we’re going to facilitate your transformation with lots more training specific to the Unbeatable Mind operating system, and our tools. And so, in the Unbeatable Mind experience – which like I said – will be a three-day event held in March and I think September – you can check the website for the dates and details

At any rate, we’re going to have lots of sessions – working sessions on breathing, visualization, mental development, task orientation. We’re going to learn how to deepen our potential. Maintain peak performance. Serve more powerfully in the world.

And deepen our connection with other human beings by developing trust, authenticity, vulnerability, and the ability to be more present. So, it’s going to be an incredible event.

These are extraordinarily important skills for leaders, to be able to lead in the VUCA world that we’re in now and that’s getting even more volatile and uncertain.

These are the skills. The soft skills, learning how to develop the inner domain. So, that’s where I’m going to be putting a lot of our attention going forward is training you, and your peers, and your families, and your companies to be more resilient and tough. But also, to be able to connect deeper and to develop that world-centric perspective, great care and concern for all humans, and to develop a greater sense of service around that. So, it’s a lot said and it’s a big mission, but you’re gonna be part of that. So, I appreciate your support.

And this podcast part of that, and James is part of that as well.



Okay, enough on that. So, James:.. He’s a syndicated fitness columnist for Chicago Tribune, LA Times… he’s a speaker and author, as I mentioned. His first book was called “Lose It Right.” and he’s very excited… We were just talking about it before the show… His new book which is called “The Holy Shit Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant.”

And he brings a lot of science into this so it’s not just airy-fairy stuff. It’s really grounded in kind of the latest research. James’ mission is to help people achieve deep and even sudden insight into what inspires them, and then to help them live the life that they’re meant to live.

It sounds a lot like our mission at Unbeatable Mind.

So, James, thanks for being here. Super-appreciate it. And I’m sorry you have to deal with the freezing cold of Calgary, but it sounds like you’re well-equipped with the right gear up there.

James: Well, Canada is one of these places where if you don’t like winter, then you live in the wrong country. But thank you so much for having me on the show Mark, it’s a real privilege.

Mark: Yeah. Are you Canadian?

James: Yes, I am. Born and raised.

Mark: Take off, eh? (laughing) I love Canada. We’ve done a ton of training… We actually have a ton of Canadians who come down to California to train with us. We’ve had groups from Edmonton and Toronto. And we used to head up with our seal fit team to… Where was it? Shiloh. One of the most… It reminds me of like the frozen tundra – it is the frozen tundra, it doesn’t remind me of it.

And we train the Canadian military up there. A unit called the Princess Patricia Brigade.

James: Princess Patricia’s Canadian light infantry, I think, is what it’s called.

Mark: You got it. That’s right. Yeah, it’s a mouthful.

Yeah, we could go on about that, but we’re not here to talk about that. So, give us… I always start these podcasts… Because this is about people who have an Unbeatable Mind. And are doing pretty wickedly cool things, which you are.

Give us a sense of how you really got interested in what you’re doing. And what your early childhood influences… And basically, who’s James Fell.

James: Well, relevant to this specific book, I was the guy who was picked last for teams when they were being selected. And the guy that came out of dodge ball with head trauma and stuff like that.

Mark: (laughing) that image was… Sorry, it’s not very funny.

James: I was just a terrible athlete. Didn’t go for any sports. Very poor student.

And then in my early 20s I had one of these holy shit moments. I came to the realization very suddenly that I had been lazy my entire life. I was flunking out of school, and I was drinking way too much, and I was overweight. And I just was unmotivated to do anything.

And the fact that I was about to get kicked out of university was a pretty big deal. And I realized suddenly that all of these problems were created essentially by my own laziness. And I was actually putting effort into being lazy.

Mark: (laughing) that’s really interesting. It takes work to be lazy, is what you’re saying. James: Yeah. There were all the mental gymnastics that I had to go through to shirk things that I knew I should be doing each day.

And so, what I ended up doing was coming to the realization that this was something that… All of these problems that I faced in my life could be overcome via just getting to work. And there was a massive wave of elation and relief that I saw these problems – I still had all these problems that I had to overcome – but I knew in an instantaneous wave of emotion and motivation that I was gonna do it. And that I was gonna beg my way out of my failing report card. And end up getting a degree.

I ended up getting two masters degrees, actually. I got in shape, I got out of debt and my life is just… That was over 25 years ago… My life has just taken off ever since.

Mark: Okay. So, let’s unpack this a little bit cause everyone’s listening saying “yeah, yeah. Good for you. Clap clap clap.

But anyways, so first let’s look at the dark side. What were… Why? Why were you lazy? What were the influences? What was your family like? How come you weren’t super motivated like a lot of other people as a teenager and a young adult.

James: I think that… My parents were – they worked a great deal. And I came from a loving family, but it was one where they worked really long hours. And we were kind of left to raise ourselves a bit. I think the last time I showed them a report card was seventh grade. And there was no encouragement to do any sports.

So, you give a kid free rein to kind of live how they want, and do what they want… And they’re gonna sit on their ass and do bugger all. So, that was kind of me.

Mark: That’s interesting. But what about your… You had siblings? Did you have siblings? James: Yeah, I had an older sister.

Mark: Was she lazy too or did she have a different

James: Yeah, kind of.

Mark: (laughing) don’t show her this podcast.

James: We didn’t do really well in school. We didn’t do any sports or anything like that. We just basically were mediocre.

But the thing was we were we were smart. My parents are very smart people. So, that actually made it easier to be lazy. That I could do no homework ever and still pass. And then when I actually started trying in university, then that’s when I started to do really well. And ended up getting a master’s degree in military history and then later got an MBA.

Mark: That’s interesting. So, I want to stay back… Because I’ve always been fascinated with this notion of how do we get shaped the way we are, before we wake up? So, I want to talk obviously about your wake-up moment and what was going around you and, in your life, and in your head at that moment, right? Or that… What you call a moment might have been a series of days or even weeks. So, we want to talk about that too.

But I’m still fascinated with this idea of how an individual gets shaped. And whether someone really… It’s the nature versus nurture, but I look at nature from the context of like karmic nature… Like, do we come in with a certain energy and force of will and arc? Or is that shaped mostly by our early childhood influences, and our parents, and the examples set around us by our peers and siblings and parents?

And so what comes up with you when I say that? Do you feel like James Fell has this karmic energy that just brought you in and said “okay, my path was to be this? And then experience this suffering. And then out of that suffering comes Awakening. And then I become this well-known speaker/author type person helping the world? Or did that just kind of… Was that random?

James: Well I don’t know. I had dreams for sure, where I felt like I was destined to do something. But perhaps I even felt sort of intimidated as to what it was that I might be trying to take on. And so, I had these sort of lofty dreams, but there was no enacting of any visions. Until I suddenly decided that I’d spent enough time screwing around, and it was time to get to work.

Mark: Then you had that wake-up.

James: Yeah. And then when that happened then everything changed where – like I said -my life took off in this powerful new direction.

But then there’s also… There’s sort of clarifying epiphanies that come later on. Like, I got my MBA and I worked in business. And I’ve been with the same woman for almost 30 years now. And we’ve raised a couple of straight-A students.

But by the time I was 40 years old, I was thinking, “You know, I like my job. I like the paychecks. But what I really am passionate about is writing.” and there was so much bullshit in the health and fitness world, that I thought “well, I’m going to bring truth to this. I’m gonna be the guy that exposes the bullshit weight-loss and fitness myths. And does it in an entertaining and inspiring way.

So, that was a later clarifying epiphany that at the age of 40, I decided to become a health and fitness writer. And within a year I had a column with the Los Angeles Times. Despite being a Canadian, living in Canada. And there’s no shortage of fitness experts in LA, but they made me their fitness columnist.

Mark: That’s awesome. So, going back, okay? I’m not gonna let you off the hook quite yet about what were the conditions that allowed you to be lazy. Were your parents a good role model when it came to fitness, nutrition, what they fed you, their dialoguing about health and nutrition? Or was that also largely absent?

James: They were the opposite of good role models, I would say.

Mark: Okay. So, now we’re starting to get somewhere. That makes a lot more sense.

James: Yes, so there was… Although I didn’t start to gain weight until adulthood. Like eighteen, nineteen. So, genetically I think that I was sort of… Although like I’m 50 years old, so back then it’s a different environment than it is now. There wasn’t a lot of fast food or anything like that. But I would say the bigger thing was the absence of physical activity. Nobody in my family was physically active. And I was not encouraged to be physically active.

And then the other thing was that there was quite a bit of – I wouldn’t say… It’s not alcoholism – but there was… Alcohol was quite present. And the food issue – like we weren’t eating out all the time or anything like that. But it wasn’t anything that we really talked about.

And then after high school and having some money to go out and buy fast food and things like that – it just wasn’t anything that was ever discouraged. There were no conversations about it.

And I was drinking quite a bit, because that was what we did in our family. But the exercise was something that I didn’t find until the age of 25\. And it was a bit of a struggle at first, but now and I feel to a significant degree it defines Who I am. It’s something that I absolutely love to do.

Crystallization of Discontent


Mark: So, your first inspiration or the wake-up was to really just get healthy. And that probably was a focus around your weight, right?

James: Actually, that’s not quite what happened.

Mark: Alright then. Walk us through that.

James: So, the first thing… I can give you the details as to what happened in this moment was that the thing that was… I would say inspired me the most was a fear of loss. And I talk about this quite a bit in the book it’s called “crystallization of discontent.”

So, there’s all these different things in your life that you know are either going sideways or not where you want them to be. And they crystallize in an instant as to “enough of this bullshit. I have to do something about this.”

And that was the type of moment that I had. And there was something that triggered it. But I was about to be kicked out…

Mark: Can I ask you a question?

James: Sure.

Mark: Was there a series of those moments where you came to the cusp of making that choice but then backed off?

James: No. It was just something that had been floating… I was in a state of despair because of just… The big thing was the knowing I was about to be kicked out of school, because my grades were so poor. And that was… I had a girlfriend at the time, who was a straight-a student. Who was destined for med school. And I knew that if I got kicked out of school like – and I don’t say this to ever speak ill of her – but I had this strong feeling that if I ended up getting kicked out of school because I wasn’t trying and I was drinking too much, and stuff like that – that the relationship was gonna be doomed. And that she was this amazing woman, and I was not an amazing man. And so, I needed to become the man that that she deserved.

And so that was that the big thing was… I didn’t even worry about telling my parents about flunking out of school nearly so much as I worried about telling her. And add to that the fact that I was in debt and drinking too much, and I was overweight, and all this kind of stuff.

And then what happened was I was reading the school newspaper and they had this section called “three lines free” which is sort of like a classified ads for students that’s just… They have jokes and witticisms and proclamations of undying love and temporary lust and whatnot.

But somebody put a quote in there from – of all people – folk singer Joan Baez. And what the quote read was “action is the antidote to despair.” and when I read that, that was when I realized that all of these problems were fixable. That if I took action, that I could fix this and that big wave of motivation I was like “hell, yeah! I’m gonna fix this.”

And instead of going to the pub, like I usually did, I went to the registrar’s office to book an appointment to beg my way out of my failing report card. And I went into that meeting saying “I’m a changed man. I’m gonna be a great student from now on. I promise.”

And they believed me…

Mark: They did?

James: And they were right to believe me, because I kicked ass after that. And I ended up marrying that woman.

Mark: Wow. That’s pretty inspiring. You know, I’ve heard this story before that a woman or a relationship is the motivator for getting out of the doldrums or getting off your ass. I wonder how common a theme that is for guys? I think it’s pretty common.

James: Yeah, I mean, I think it… I don’t want to put forward the message that it’s the responsibility of a woman to shape a man or anything like that. But in my case like she didn’t… All she did was love me.

Mark: She didn’t pressure you to lose weight or to…

James: Yeah, well she didn’t really know at this point where I was at. That was something that I’d not really been forthcoming about. And I thought “well, I need to get my shit together.”

And it was more of her being an exceptional role model. Of being this straight-a student. Very hardworking.

And I wanted to I wanted to live up to that. So, she was an inspiration more than anything else.

Mark: Right. So, most people listening are thinking “okay, that’s great. I’ve had those moments where I want to be inspiring, or I don’t want to let someone down.”

“but the next day I got invited by my buddies to go to the pub and I went. And you know, I was…” they just didn’t change. So, what was different? Like what did you do differently in terms of your dialogue or your habits? Like how did you specifically change in an instant like that?

James: Well, I think how I can describe that is to get into some of the neuroscience of the book because as we talked about – there was a lot of a lot of interviews with people with PhDs in psychology and neuroscientists and all that kind of stuff – where we’re talking about a transformative event, where you change at your core being in terms of your values, and your identity, and yourself.

And when that happens it’s like the puzzle of your life being solved. And people can be temporarily inspired about something, but if they don’t follow through on it, then it can get washed away. These events are so powerful that you end up caught-up in them and there’s no real denying what’s going on.

And it’s neurochemical in its basis. So, everybody talks about dopamine this, and dopamine that… So, what happens is when you have this tremendous, enlightening experience – there is a massive rush of dopamine which is referred to in some circles as “the neuromodulator of exploration.” it gets you to chase something that you know has tremendous potential for being good in your life.

It also comes with a wash of opioids, which are the happy hormones of your brain… I cannot underestimate or… I need to describe just how powerful of a sensation this was when it happened to me. I knew that something profound had taken place. And I knew that I was never gonna be the same, when this took place.

Mark: Right. So, did that that sense of knowingness come with a peak state experience of like flow or awe or rapture or the types things that like Jamie Wheal talks about in “stealing fire?”

James: Absolutely. And so, there’s different types of holy-shit moments, or different types of epiphany is the dictionary term, I suppose. There’s the insightful epiphany on one end, and the mystical epiphany on the other end.

Mine was insightful, but it was still very powerful. The mystical one where you talk about… You mentioned the word awe. Sometimes that can be awe because of a presence – either of God or something otherworldly. And what your belief system is, doesn’t matter in terms of the fact that people have these experiences. And they’re very motivating.

Mine was not of the mystical variety. It was more of the insightful variety.

But to get back to the brain neuromodulators a bit. So, what happens is that one of the powerful motivators about this is this overwhelming sense of rightness. That you feel that “yes, this is what I have to do. It’s absolutely right.”

You get this big flush of dopamine and opioids and then so okay we talked about adherence. You said the next day, they end up going back to the pub.

Well, when you have this type of experience, you want to keep experiencing it. And you get this sort of IV drip of dopamine with every little step that you take towards this newfound aim. Because dopamine recognizes progress.

So, you come up with this goal that may take years for you to accomplish. But with each passing day that you do something that takes you a little bit closer to that goal, you relive the powerful moment that you had that gives you this little boost of “yes. Keep going, keep going.” and it’s the type of thing that you’ll see people that they make these tiny little incremental bits of progress, over years, striving towards this goal. And just not giving up and that’s dopamine in action, my friend.

Mark: Right. So, what you’re saying is there’s an action, which is an outward thing, which triggers the biochemical response of dopamine. Which then reinforces the positive benefits of that action. So, you have this kind of this reinforcing mechanism.

James: Yeah, and these things can come from anywhere. So, in the book, we talk about mental activities that you can engage in, to increase the likelihood of you having this type of a life-transforming experience. But sometimes they come out of the middle of nowhere – like I read about one woman who had a life-changing insight while she was cleaning a toilet. And mine was just from reading something profound in a school newspaper.

Other people, they had them when they’re there in the depths of addiction. And other times it’s song lyrics that trigger it. It can be triggered by just about anything.

Mark: Do you think that suffering has to be a prerequisite to triggering a wake-up moment?

James: (laughing) it doesn’t hurt. Well, actually, yeah – the suffering does hurt. But there’s a thirteenth century Persian poet named Rumi, and I believe that the quote is “the wound is the place where the light enters you.”

And so that is “crystallization of discontent.” but there’s different varieties there’s also… There’s a great book by Jim Collins about businesses that want to grow called “Good to Great.” so you can be in a situation where life is good, but you want it to be amazing.

Like that was sort of what happened with me when I was turning 40\. Life was good. I had money. I had a good job. Good relationship, everything.

But I wanted to be a writer. Like, that was that was something that I just decided “this has to happen.” and I was committed that it was going to happen. So, 10 years have passed since then, and life did go from good to great. I freaking love being a writer.

Mark: That’s awesome. It’s interesting, because everything you just said I completely agree with. I think there’s no shortage of suffering, and people who claim they’re not suffering are usually glossing over the true suffering or they haven’t taken the time to really do the self-awareness.

There’s a lot of that going on and people are radically distracted with TV, and media, and entertainment, and everything to avoid their own suffering.

James: Exactly.

Mark: So, there’s no shortage of suffering. And the question is how do we wake up to that? And I love your concept of “crystallization of discontent.” that’s exactly what happened to me when I had that first wake up experience, and I left my job in New York as a CPA and joined the SEAL Teams, right? So, it’s not too dissimilar.

Now my experience happened progressively…

James: That’s a big shift.

Mark: That was a big shift, yeah. I don’t recall a single moment where I would say I was wake up. Mine happened over a period of like nine months to a year. So, it was a little bit more progressive. I do recall some “aha” moments along that.

But anyways, it’s really interesting.

So, what we do at Unbeatable Mind is work with people who’ve had that crystallization of discontent, but have no idea where to go now. How do we grow up? How do we focus with power on a new sense of service, you know?

That’s very interesting. Cause once you wake up then there’s still a big question mark? Like, “okay, now what?”

James: And what you do adds very critical value. Because I’ll tell you a little bit more about my wake-up call, was that it wasn’t that I really knew exactly what it was that I had to do. I just knew that I had to work. Usually these things are very broad, and very simple. In my case it was “okay, I’ve been lazy my entire life. Now I’m gonna be a hard worker.”

That was it. That was the whole thing.

Mark: (laughing) that’s pretty generic. Yeah, so that was the path. Work hard James:

So, there’s a fantastic book by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman that I really recommend called “Thinking Fast and Slow.” and I refer to it a number of times in the book, because he talks about the two different systems of thinking. The fast – system one -and the slower – system two.

So, my system one is the Epiphany generating “get your ass in gear, James:” and then system two was the methodical, slow, “okay, now that you’re motivated this is the path that we’re gonna work out. These are the steps that we’re going to take to enact the vision that system one inspired.”

And it sounds like what you do is helping people enact a vision. What are they gonna do with this inspiration?

Mark: Right. Now we have we work on both the systems too. Because even if you’ve had your wake-up call, you still have to eradicate the patterns of behavior, dysfunctional movement patterns in the mind, and the emotions that are gonna trip you up, right?

James: Absolutely.

Mark: And of course, the more powerful your vision, the more powerful your inspiration with the waking up… The easier it will be to do that. But some of those run pretty deep. Especially if there’s abuse or emotional trauma in childhood.

So, what we found is that becomes the core work that people need to do. And especially leaders, right? If they want to connect more with their with their employees and understand people more, then they’ve got to understand themselves at a very deep level,

James: And it’s good that you bring that up. Because my book is a shame-free book. I don’t try and guilt or shame anyone for their past behaviors. And it’s because one of the things that I bring up is the childhood abuse or referred to as “adverse childhood experiences.”

I wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune…

Mark: Is that the official term for it now?

James: Yes.

Mark: Adverse childhood experience?

James: Yeah, and it can cover a range of things. But one of the one of the bigger ones is the childhood sexual abuse. And I wrote an article about how that relates to weight gain in adulthood. And I mentioned it in the book about how some people are just handed a shit sandwich in life, and they gotta get through however they can get through. So, I’m very sympathetic to that. And I don’t try and use “suck it up” kind of mentality. It’s like “okay, let’s let’s…” I think that empathy and understanding and love is how we encourage people to be their best.

Because especially if they’ve been traumatized from childhood, they don’t need more of that.

Mark: No, right. I agree. You know, it reminds me of Carol Dweck’s concept of fixed versus growth mindset. A fixed mindset says “holy cow. I was handed this shit sandwich and life sucks. I wish it wasn’t this way.”

And a growth mindset – someone’s had a waking up experience like you and is motivated to grow says “man, this this is a real shit sandwich. And this bread is awesome.”

My friend Bob Schoultz basically just said that. We were just cracking up at our recent summit. He’s like “those with the positive mindset we’ll look at a shit sandwich and say, “boy, this bread is awesome.”

James: Yeah and I actually reference fixed and growth mindsets in the book. I got it from the book “Switch” by the brothers Chip and Dan Heath. Who are business guys.

And I can’t remember where they got it from. They may have stolen from somebody.

Mark: Yeah. Well, again, it’s not new information. I mean mindset training has been around for thousands of years.

James: Absolutely.

Mark: But when someone like Carol Dweck – who comes with a research background and studies it and says “okay, here’s what’s going on. It’s fixed or growth.” people tend to look at that and said oh that’s the authority added. Boom. We’ll go with that, right?

Success Stories


Mark: So, tell us about some of the really interesting, or cool success stories you’ve had with people that you’ve worked with or have read your book. How have you helped them find their holy shit moment?

James: Well I want to tell you a story of someone I interviewed for the book. Just because it’s really profound and what it does is it relays the identity shift quite clearly.

So, his name’s Chuck Gross and he is the anecdote for chapter one. And Chuck had obesity his entire life, and by the time he was an adult, he was over 400 pounds. And he had tried and failed to lose weight so many times. And always failed.

And then his transformative experience was his wife coming out of the bathroom with a positive pregnancy test. And they had talked about having children. That was something for later, when he got healthy, when he lost weight.

But this was an accidental pregnancy, that he said was like a combination of being struck by lightning and a baseball bat upside the head. And so, what happened there was this relates to the identity shift that people need to go through. Because when we focus strictly on changing behaviors – this is called Rokicha’s model of personality. And it’s like that. The movie Shrek where he says ogres are like onions – layers. And the external layer of our personalities are our actions, and our behaviors. And then you go in and you’ve got attitudes, and beliefs, and values, and identity.

And then at the core is the self. And when you focus on changing just that external layer of actions and behaviors – you’re often in conflict with the more powerful, internal layers of who you really are. Which is why behavior change has always told us to be slow and steady. Because if you try and change too many behaviors, it’s gonna suck way too hard. And you’re gonna not going to be able to do it. You’re gonna backslide.

Because there’s this conflict, this stress. So, you got to do this gradual baby steps habit formation. A forced march across a tipping point.

And what happened with Chuck, and which happens with many other people who I interviewed for the book is that instead of trying to change that external layer of behaviors – they change at a very core level of their identity. `and then the external actions and behaviors instantly come in line with that. So, everything’s in harmony.

What happened with Chuck is he instantaneously had a new identity thrust upon him. That of being a father. And he said “holy crap! I’m gonna be a dad.”

And there was this instantaneous wave of “I must lose weight. I will lose weight. This is gonna happen. Nothing’s gonna stop me.”

He lost over 200 pounds, and he’s kept it off more than a decade. Not only that, but so many… There’s cascade effects. It wasn’t just weight loss. He went back to school and finished his degree with a 4.0 GPA. He’s advanced his career. He’s just become a much happier, more outgoing person. It transformed his life across the board.

Because in that instant, he had that I that new identity of dad thrust upon him and it changed him at a core level.

And there’s a quote that he said that really stood out – “I didn’t have to struggle to be motivated. It came built in.”

That’s what this is all about. That the behaviors were just in line with what he had to do. And it still took over a year of effort to lose all that weight. But he just knew that “this is just who I am now. This is just what I do now. Because I’m this dad figure.”

Mark: Mm-hmm. That’s powerful. And so that shift of self leads to a shift of internal vision. Of just self-concept, which changes the internal dialogue, which changes the attitudes and the beliefs. Which then shifts the values, and then the actions, behaviors to line up to support.

And it takes 9 months to 18 months to kind of play out in the usual human being. Depending upon how rutted they are.

James: And the interesting thing about this is through going through the research that there’s different ways to go through a behavior change. This is the sudden change. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways. The more traditional way is the baby steps method, which most cognitive behavior change models have a tendency to focus around. The tortoise, not the hare.

But the interesting thing is, the people who have the sudden epiphany, the “holy shit” moment, they generally go through a larger more profound change than the baby steps folks. And they have higher adherence rates.

Mark: Cause one is an outward in approach, and the wake up, the sudden is the inward to outward.

James: That’s exactly right. And it makes a big difference. These people that have these powerful transformative experiences – it’s a big change and they stick with it.

But some people can be a little bit frightened, saying “well, I like Who I am. I don’t want to change that much.”

Well, we’re all changing all the time anyway. And this is a peak experience where it’s actually the true self, who you are deep down is finally being allowed to reign supreme because we’ve got all these societal constructs and external pressures on our lives that are making in a lot of cases have us put forward this false front of who we think we should be.

And often a holy shit moment is where that real self says enough of this bullshit. This is who I really am. And it comes forward with again this overwhelming sense of rightness. Where it can be a bit frightening, but at the same time you know that this is what you have to do.

And that’s why it’s so motivating. That’s why it fills you with so much passion, because you’re just like “yeah this is the right thing to do. I am confident that this is the direction I need to go.”

Mark: That’s awesome. Yeah, may everyone listening who’s looking for change find that. And I might offer that the Tortoise and the Hare approach aren’t mutually exclusive.

I’ll give an example of a client that I’ve worked with who took the outer to inner approach with weight loss and trying to become stronger and more confident.

Everything that everybody wants. And he literally took off like 200 pounds. Like the person you interviewed.

But then he’s got about 75 pounds that he’d like to take off to get down to 190-pound lean mean machine. But he still wasn’t seeing himself as that person and it wasn’t until we started really identifying that it was his self-concept that was the limiting factor that he suddenly had that insight. That “holy shit, you’re right. I still see myself as an overweight, unconfident person who’s taking all these actions. I’m working out – he’s done these unbelievable trainings – like he’s as strong as an ox.

But he still sees himself as overweight and unconfident. And so, we had to orchestrate some… Help him find a new vision. And so that’s the tricky part.

Because I believe that you can stimulate one of these wake up, insight, sudden transformations in people, but they’ve gotta basically believe it. You can lead them there, though.

James: Yeah, mark you just gave away a key component of my book.

Mark: Okay, they’re still gonna buy it. Trust me, it’s an awesome book.

James: Yeah, so one of the things I talk about is that I don’t crap all over the concept of baby steps. And there are examples in the book where I call it that… The lightning strike is that “poof” I’m different now concept – I took that from one of the ways a guy described it to me and what I talk about baby steps is sometimes you need to meet that “poof” partway. You need to do that uninspired slog or be The Tortoise for a time, all the while searching and opening yourself to that lightning strike.

And it’s sort of like if you are completely unmotivated, where you’re standing at the base of a mountain… And the peak of that mountain is ultimate motivation to do everything that entails this new behavior. This new person that you want to be.

Now some people leap right from the base of the mountain all the way to the top in an instant.

Mark: Yeah, like Superman.

James: That doesn’t mean you just stay there at the base. And wait for that motivation to arrive. You can start climbing. You can start taking steps. And sometimes that elevator – or actually it’d be more like a Star Trek transporter device – will pick you up partway and then magically transfer you to the top.

And that’s actually what happened to me with getting in shape. So, I had this whole transformative experience about school, and getting out of debt, and that took a couple of years.

Once I finished my undergraduate degree and I was about to start a master’s degree – and I had this little gap of time and I had this ability to have this new goal. And I thought “okay, now I’m gonna tackle my body.”

And I started with working out. And it sucked. 25 years of sitting on my ass, you don’t just become a workout warrior on day one. And so, I slogged for a couple of months, where I was just like “man, I am just not feeling this.”

And then one day I was leaving the gym and the woman at the front desk said “did you have a good workout?” and rather than just say “yep,” I actually stopped and I thought and I realized, you know it had been pretty good. It had been a good week. It was starting to not suck. And I realized that if it could not suck, then that would be something that I could actually learn to love. And in that instant, I made a promise to myself “I will work out until I die.”

That was 25 years ago, so I think I’m doing okay.

Mark: Right. Awesome. So, the book is “The Holy Shit Moment” it comes out looks like on January 22nd. I know that, because I just went to my Amazon app and ordered it. So, I’m looking forward to reading that myself. I recommend anyone listening who is dealing with transformation or has just been fascinated by this conversation, like I have, to go support James: And to order it also.

Where else can people learn more about your work? Do you have a place like a blog or…?

James: Yeah, my website – and this is an inside-joke URL – is

Mark: Cool.

James: So, bodyforwife with a w. The nice lady that let’s me see her naked.

Mark: (laughing) Awesome. James Fell.

James, thanks so much for your time. Thanks for your work.

James: Thank you, Mark.

Mark: Let us know if we can help out with anything. I really appreciate your time. It’s a really fascinating conversation.

James: It’s been an honor to be on the show. I really appreciate you having me on.

Mark: Yes. Our pleasure and stay in touch. And I look forward to reading the book and I’m sure it’s gonna help a ton of people out.

James: Great, thanks again.

Mark: Alright.

Alright folks. That’s a wrap. James Fell. Check out his book “The Holy Shit Moment.” Check him out at

And man, I think it’s fascinating to me what I’m seeing with all these podcasts have done recently is such a really interesting confluence of really legitimate information about transformation and waking up and growing up so you can show up. And all this stuff.

It’s like really out there, right? There’s a lot of people who are doing some very important work. And looking at the subjects of how to transform yourself and grow and all the stuff that we’re doing on Unbeatable Mind. How to actually do it.

So, James’ work is really an important contribution. So, there you have it. So, you must do your work, mister listener – missus listener – and that means showing up every day to develop an Unbeatable Mind. So, may you do that.

And stay focused train hard and we’ll see you soon.


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