Today Mark is talking to Dr. Lara Pence, (@drlarapence) who is the Chief Mind Doc for the Spartan Race organization. She is also the owner and founder of LIGHFBOX—a tool dedicated to exercise your mind and spark your curiosity. She and the Commander discuss mental health and how you can ask better questions.
- There is an often-overlooked connection between movement and mental health
- We must ask ourselves better questions in order to get more insightful answers
- Focusing on our strengths is much more effective than focusing on our limitations
Listen to this episode for insight on what questions to ask yourself and how you can spark your own curiosity.
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Mark: Hey folks, this is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining us today. Super stoked to have you here. I can’t wait to talk to my friend Dr. Lara Pence.0
Before I introduce her more, please rate this podcast… I think there’s about a trillion podcasts out there – even Lara has a new one – so rate hers too. But if you rate our podcast – and I always say start at the right side – so you just click the fifth star and I think it clicks all five stars. Just start there.
And it helps other people like you find us. Because it’s a busy podcast world out there, and these ratings really help. So I really appreciate that Dr. Lara Pence – good friend of mine and I’ve gosh I’ve really come to really enjoy our relationship, gotten to see her over the years – she’s the chief mind doctor – what a cool title – for spartan. Which both the company and all spartan athletes need a lot of mind doctoring over the past year… (laughing) Completely shut out of their sport.
Clinical psychologist. Been working for the last 15 years and more working with elite athletes and professionals and people from all works of life to really check on things that aren’t serving them anymore… patterns that are holding them back, getting rid of those things, helping them see it.
Build new behaviors, new mental pathways and to become more curious. And I love that. So the focus of our conversation today is really going to be about curiosity, and what does that mean. She’s got a podcast called “curious minds.” I was recently a guest, thank you very much.
We had a riveting conversation, really fascinating – so Dr. Lara Pence – and also, she’s going to be speaking at our Unbeatable Mind event coming up the third week in March. And we’re having a virtual event so if you’re interested in that, go check it out at unbeatlemind.com, and be one of the folks who joins us and learns all about resilience.
Lara, nice to see you. Thanks for joining me today.
Dr Pence: Mark, it’s so good to be here. I really do feel lucky and excited when you and I get to talk. Not only because I think you and I have similar ideas and ways of thinking. So it’s kind of always nice to be validated, right?
But there’s also I think a really nice extension between the two of us, where we take what we already know and work to elevate that understanding even more and go deeper.
And so I appreciate that. It’s always really special to me, when I can find those people who not only want to do that but are willing to do that in real time. In front of a microphone…
Mark: I totally agree with you. Like it’s a growth opportunity to get to talk to you, and some of my other podcast guests as well, because I’m a little bit of an open book and I like to be challenged and I have ideas around things, but then I’m wrong at least 50% of the time. I get to explore where I’m wrong, and maybe learn and come out of these sessions a little bit stronger. A little bit more evolved.
And that’s what I’m hoping to bring to the listeners, right? Every episode should be… you should listen to it and come out of it a different person. With some greater awareness and insight about yourself or about the world, right?
What I love about our relationship is you’re a PhD clinical psychologist, and I’m a navy seal – I hate to use Tony Robbins term – but practical psychologist. Which sounds like proctologist – so we won’t use that term. (laughing)
But I mean, I’m a self-taught dude when it comes to emotional development. But at the same time I’ve learned a ton through years and years of therapy. And deep dives. And seeing the similarities between how we were taught to think as navy seals for positive psychology, and how I learned to think as a yogi in martial arts, for kind of like spiritual and emotional psychology.
And then all the emotional work being married to a therapist, and doing tons of EMDR and gestalt therapy and visualization… and how all those really are just different pathways to understanding who we are and our role in the world. And how to behave, how to show up…
Dr Pence: Yeah, absolutely. I love that, too, because for me it was academic, didactic, educational learning first and then experience later, right? Because you spend five years in a classroom learning about all these concepts, learning about all these ideas.
And then you actually go do the work, and you’re like “whoa, this is different.” (laughing)
Mark: Well, that reminds me when I was in my doctorate for leadership, and I’m learning all of these theories of leadership, but they seemed to me a little divorced from reality. And the teachers really had no leadership experience.
Dr Pence: Yeah.
Mark: And then I went to Iraq – my mobilization to Iraq in 2004 interrupted my doctorate. And while I was at war, and watching real leaders lead – I had that epiphany, that like “I’m never going to get what I’m looking for personally in that doctorate program.”
And I want to go teach leadership at a very visceral level. And that’s when I quit the PhD program – the only thing I’ve ever quit in my life, I still feel guilty about that, oddly, so maybe I need some therapy. You can help me with that.
Dr Pence: Well, it’s funny, because I was actually just thinking about this the other day when I was on one of my runs. And on my runs are inevitably where I kind of go into some of my deepest thoughts.
And I was thinking about when I had to defend my dissertation. And you have a whole committee, right? That you’re defending your dissertation too. And you select that committee I mean you go to them and you propose for them to be on your committee…
Mark: And you stack the deck in your favor…
Dr Pence: Exactly, right. Because you definitely pick people you like. And like you.
But there were two gentlemen – actually they were all men on my committee – which is interesting in a field that’s predominantly women. But one of them was in practice. He was the medical director of a treatment center. And the other one was a faculty member.
And I remember that at one point they kind of got into it, during my defense of my dissertation, where the faculty member was sort of saying like “well, this is the modality you would use with this particular population.”
And the director of the facility was like “right. In an ideal world. But we don’t live there.”
And I was just thinking about that the other day, that it’s so true that we really have to have that art/science blend of understanding. The tenets, and the components, and the data, and the science.
But then also to be able to really understand how that actually works in practicality. And what that’s actually like when you’re with a person – another human being.
Mark: Yeah, the difference between psychology and psychotherapy and therapy – like, family therapy. They’re very different.
Dr Pence: Exactly.
Mark: Psychologist is gonna be able to prescribe you an antidepressant. A therapist is going to work with you on your emotional issues.
Now you use the term “active therapy” or “active therapist,” and I like that, because what I’m imagining is that you recognize because… let me let me back up a little bit… when I teach people in my program Unbeatable Mind, I say “listen, you can’t divorce the body, and the mind, and the emotions, and the spirit. You ultimately are all one thing.”
But because we’re so compartmentalized in our western world, we look at them differently, we learn about them differently, and then we kind of separate ourselves into these different categories. And then maybe go forward as a separated self. And we wonder why we don’t feel whole.
So for me active therapy is like bring the whole back together. You’ve got to get active.
Like, I love the idea that you’re working with athletes, because athletes understand their body. And they’ve got the beginnings of mental toughness, but usually it’s the emotional piece. Then you understand “hey, let’s work with your emotions through your body and through the mind. Let’s do it all together.” Am I on track with that?
Dr Pence: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when I use the term active therapist, I kind of think about it in different ways. It’s a little bit of a play on the word itself. Like, I’m very active in session with the people that I work with.
Mark: Doing burpees while you’re…
Dr Pence: (laughing) Not quite.
Mark: (laughing) That’s advanced therapy.
Dr Pence: (laughing) Right. That’s the advanced track here. I’m active in the sense that… typically what we what we imagine therapists to be, or we often get from tv or movie – where it’s sort of the therapist lounging back in the chair, every once in a while, kind of saying “yeah, tell me how that feels.”
And that’s just not me. I mean, probably you would guess that anyway from the energy that I bring to any situation…
Mark: I don’t think that type of therapy is very effective, personally. Traditional talk therapy people tend to just run the same loops over and over and over. And if there’s no intervention, then these people get stuck. And they actually grease the groove of the patterns in my opinion. I could be wrong.
Dr Pence: No, you’re right. You’re absolutely right.
And I think very early on in my career when I went into private practice, I got all the things, right? Like I had all the nice office, with the great couch.
And I played therapist. Like, I really showed up in a way that was attempting to be a character, rather than being really who I was. And I quickly learned – very quickly – that did not work for me. Not only was I not happy doing that, but it didn’t work for my clients either. It didn’t feel like there was this real connection.
So I made audibles real quick and shifted the way that I did things. And to be an active therapist to me means to really show up in the room.
And listen, if I’m going to ask my clients to get uncomfortable and to do the work, I’m going to do the work with them – in that room with them. So when I ask them for example to get curious – I’m getting curious right alongside them. When I’m asking them to get uncomfortable, I too am getting uncomfortable by asking them questions that maybe moves me out of my comfort zone.
And then yes, there’s this other piece, which is integration which is me knowing the importance of mind body being integrated. And asking regularly and attempting to really shine a spotlight on the importance of movement and being active. And understanding the body.
And then the third one is I actually am an active therapist. I like to be active. It’s sort of like the easy one, right?
Mark: Do you remember the world when we could actually be face-to-face with people? It was a couple years ago…
Dr Pence: Hardly.
Mark: Barely, yeah. Back in that world, did you ever do like one-on-one therapy out in the wilderness or taking a run?
Dr Pence: Yes.
Mark: Because I think that’s such a cool idea. Or on an obstacle course?
Dr Pence: Yeah, so there were definitely a few times with various clients where we would go outside of the office that I was in. There was a pond. We would go outside; we would walk through the grass – sometimes sit in the grass to try and really connect with a new idea – rather than a therapy chair or a couch… that kind of thing.
There was one adolescent once that I worked with who loved basketball. And I loved basketball, so we went out and played basketball together. And kind of did like a little therapy on the good old court.
So I’ve been maybe unconventional in some of my ways of doing that. And I’m sure there are probably some mental health professionals that are listening that like shiver at that idea. Like, the idea of doing that with a client just feels so uncomfortable and so not what we’re supposed to do. And where the boundaries are.
But I think if you’re real clear with your clients and kind of what you’re working towards together – why does the office have to be where healing happens?
Mark: Right. Well, there’s such a growing field in somatics – somatic movement, somatic therapy…
Dr Pence: Yes.
Mark: And have you experienced – I have myself, so I’ll just frame it this way – I’ve experienced where we get people moving – whether it’s one of our kind of Unbeatable Mind experiences, where we take them to the beach and get wet and sandy – or put them in an ice bath… and people are facing fears. And it’s that fear that triggers the unconscious discomfort and unproductive behavior patterns that they’re in therapy for.
Dr Pence: Right.
Mark: And once they face that fear down, and they suddenly realize “hey, this is fun. I can do this.” Then all of a sudden there’s this huge release. That which was holding him back has been identified, exposed, objectified and then conquered through the movement.
Dr Pence: Yep.
Mark: Have you had that experience too? And this is why I don’t think you can divorce the body and the mind from emotional development. Obviously not the mind, but I mean certainly the body.
Dr Pence: Yeah, in my experience, this is really whereas a psychologist in this field I think it’s so essential that I highlight the limitations of talk therapy. There have been so many instances where individuals have come into my office.
And not only can they not access sort of their deep, self-limiting beliefs – or their own judgments – they can’t even access the words to articulate that. And so for me to sit with them for 50 minutes and try to get them to say how they feel – they do not have a word for it. I mean, it’s not that they don’t know or they’re trying to hide it. Or they’re avoiding it.
They don’t have a word. And so oftentimes, at that point I refer out to some type of movement – “let’s get you into yoga. If you’re a dancer – let’s get you into some dance movement. Let’s get you on the treadmill or out on the trails running. And then let’s get you back in and see what happens.”
And it is profound and incredibly insightful for me to see when they do that. And then when they come back, there’s been an unlocking. There has been sort of a release of that which has been pent-up, and now certain things are much more accessible to them.
Both in memory, but also in words. And I think we need to do more of that as a field. I think we need to not only understand our limitations but understand how the integration of various modalities can be so helpful for the individual.
Mark: I couldn’t agree more. It’s interesting, I was just kind of laughing internally when you’re talking about not having the words. I think most men – I’m thinking any male listening to this podcast is like “yeah, I don’t have words for it.”
Like men have words like “I’m pissed off. I’m horny,” right? (laughing) Or “I’m hungry.”
Dr Pence: Totally.
Mark: “How do you feel?”
Pissed off, horny, hungry or jealous, right? Those are about four big ones – there might be a couple more, but we’re pretty much narrow in those categories.
And that’s so limiting, right? It really is limiting, because there’s this vast world. When I have done emotional work and the therapist hands me this list – “okay, here’s the chart of emotions.” And there’s like 500 words on there. I’m like “I don’t know what that one means. Help me out here.”
Dr Pence: Exactly, exactly. Well and we can get away with that… I mean, that’s the other thing too. We give ourselves and others permission to not expand their emotional vocabulary. We ask our friends “hey, how are you today?” And they say “fine.”
And somehow that’s okay. “fine” tells me literally nothing…
Mark: Nothing. We say “fine” means f’d-up, insecure, neurotic and emotionally vacant or something…
Dr Pence: (laughing) I’ve heard that. Exactly.
Mark: Or “feelings internally not expressed.”
Dr Pence: That one too, right? So I think we give ourselves permission, we give others permission to not expand their emotional vocabulary.
And I think we need to do much more of asking the follow-up. “I’m fine.” “tell me what that looks like. Tell me what that means.”
Or “I don’t know what that means. Say more.”
When we pick our kids up from school “how was your day?”
99% of the time, that’s the answer. Tell me what that means. Tell me what that looks like. Who did you help today? Who helped you? What were you proud of today? What scared you? That kind of thing.
So I think – and this goes back to curiosity, we have to be asking better questions, right?
Mark: Another thing I wanted to get your two cents on is an experience that I’ve had with my EMDR therapist. She’s always saying “okay, so where would you locate that feeling in your body?”
And I’m like “nowhere.” Like, I don’t experience that in my body. But I do experience it outside of my body, as a sense of kind of beingness or like…
When you say “how do I feel?” I feel it out here, in front of my heart. Or I feel it up here – kind of around my head. Or down here.
It’s not in my belly, but it’s… I don’t know what the hell that means, right? Maybe because I’ve done so much physical training and somatic work, I’ve kind of like flushed out all the stuck feelings from my physical body. And I’m now feeling them in kind of my etheric body? I don’t know.
Dr Pence: Maybe I’ll propose…
Mark: (laughing) Or I’ve stuffed all those feelings.
Dr Pence: No. I’m proposing some real-time therapy here, Mark.
Dr Pence: To me it feels like – actually, that’s a really healthy perspective – because when I ask my clients tell me where you feel that in your body, part of what I’m trying to get at is how attached they are to that emotion. That it has become an element of their existence. Of their body, of their physical being.
And so from my perspective, when I’m hearing you say that I’m hearing really this healthy detachment from knowing that a feeling isn’t you. A feeling is an experience that you step into. That you don’t embody that feeling. You experience that feeling.
Mark: Right, right. Yeah, it comes to you, through you – it can be experienced as a… it doesn’t have to have – and this is why the word “feeling” is probably not a good word going forward. Because people associate a feeling with “oh, there’s pain over here.”
And there’s no question that I can “feel” sadness in my heart, right? Or the aching of loss in my heart. So I get that.
But if someone says, “when you think back about that guy who screwed you 15 years ago, where do you feel in your body?”
I’m like “that one’s not in my body.”
Dr Pence: Yeah, yeah. I understand that. And I think a) it’s a testament to the work you’ve done but b) it’s a testament when we’re asking that of people – of how addicted people can be to certain feelings and sensations. And really having a difficult time letting those go.
I think, for example, we can be addicted to shame. I think we can be addicted to anger and the rush that we identify with the rage.
Mark: People identify with that – “I’m supposed to feel shame, because I’m a bad person.”
Dr Pence: That’s right.
Mark: “I’m supposed to be angry, because my dad was angry. It’s just who I am,” right?
Dr Pence: That’s exactly right.
Mark: Just stories that need to be unpacked. Because those negative feelings and emotions can do nothing but hold you back, right?
Dr Pence: Absolutely.
Mark: When you work with spartan athletes, clearly most of them come to you and say “Lara, I want to win.”
Dr Pence: That’s right. (laughing)
Mark: “I want to win and so I need some mental toughness,” right? “what can you do for me?”
And so you say “yeah, I can get your mind in order. I can get you a fit mind, but most of it is emotional.” I mean, winning is an emotional thing, in my opinion. Clearly, you’ve got to have goals and discipline and kind of that mental toughness to stick with it, but ultimately the difference between who wins and who doesn’t is emotional.
Dr Pence: Right and it’s a mental strength and a mindset that can carry you through the finish line. And oftentimes when I work with athletes, they think strength and they imagine rigidity. And I think strength and I imagine flexibility.
So to me to be mentally strong, is to be mentally flexible. So for me, a lot of the work with the athletes that I have on my caseload at any given time is really about breaking down some of the rigid beliefs they have about themselves, rigid belief about competition, attachments to winning and losing.
Values. Why are they doing this in the first place? Why does this even matter to them? What about it matters to them? All of those things.
And then also in there, there’s quite a bit of identity work – how much of this is really about your attachment to being seen, for example, as the Olympian? Versus actually wanting the process of what it means to unleash your greatness.
Mark: I totally agree. And I’ve done a ton of podcasts with people who are like trying to do something crazy. And I try to get to the bottom… like, “why do you want to climb Everest and seven highest peaks in one year?”
Dr Pence: Right.
Mark: And I had a navy seal friend who climbed and literally got pulmonary edema and almost died. And I’m like “why did you want to climb Everest?” And so we finally got into that he had a very abusive childhood and he’s always been trying to prove himself. Through his whole life.
And like being a navy seal and best-selling author wasn’t enough for him. Still.
And I had to look at that in my own life. I’m like, “geez, am I playing at that a little bit?”
“nah.” And I’m like, “well wait. Maybe I don’t need to go get that PhD after all. Got enough accomplishments,” right? I’ve already played the overachiever card. Let me find another path that just is okay with who I am right now.
Dr Pence: Right. Well, but I think that’s where the curiosity piece comes in. That’s where asking yourself the better question helps to unload a better answer. And I really try and move away from the “why” of things, into the “how” or “what” of things.
Instead of “why am I doing this?” “how is doing this serving me?” “what about this matters to me?” Why moves us into such a defensive position.
And so when we can ask better questions and really dive into a much deeper exploration and discovery of whatever it is that we’re thinking, feeling, doing, relating, behaving… at any given time. Gosh, man, we just become much more flexible in our thinking, and in our ability to tolerate different perspectives. And it really helps our mind.
Mark: Yeah, I agree. We’re going to talk about resiliency at the Unbeatable Mind experience, but this idea of flexibility and resiliency are so closely related, right? Because we used to say to SEALFIT athletes “would you rather be the mighty oak or the reed when the tsunami comes?”
I’d rather be the reed, who can just lay down and let the tsunami wash over. And then I pop back up and just keep on my day. Whereas the oak gets swept away.
And most people – like you said – from a mental toughness standpoint, they try to be the oak. They have to be the firmament that’s holding everything up. And they feel like Sisyphus, they’re pushing the rock uphill every day, and then “boom” – they slip, and it rolls down. And it pummels them.
Mark: That’s right.
Dr Pence: Eventually, they just say screw it.
Whereas resiliency – man, you got to be like the reed. You just gotta expect that you’re gonna get pummeled, and you approach it with a smile. Like, “come on. Come at me.”
Dr Pence: Exactly.
Mark: Fall down seven times, get up again, dust off, and go at it an eighth time. That’s cool.
Mark: Now how does this link to curiosity? It seems like flexibility and curiosity have a strong tie. Let’s get into that.
Dr Pence: Yeah, so I think… there are three words that I love to sort of toy around… well, maybe four actually… watch me list five, or seven, or eight…
Mark: Free world. Go for it.
Dr Pence: Curiosity really is a big one for me. So curiosity is huge, and in curiosity I think is open-mindedness, right? And so I had an interesting podcast, actually with someone who really highlighted this for me. And I hadn’t really thought about it this way, and he helped me articulate it.
But it’s almost like open-mindedness allows us to be curious. So I think those are two words that I think are really important.
The other is discovery. I think discovery is a really important word, because when we’re getting curious – just that act in and of itself, actually helps you move into the part of your brain that’s better at learning. And helps you, perhaps, take on the idea of a different perspective.
But discovery then really becomes sort of about how do you use this curiosity, right? So how do you use what you’re getting curious about, and then try and toy with it and learn.
From my perspective, I mean, look, curiosity is rooted in our evolution. It’s rooted in our biology. In order to adapt, we had to become curious. Like, “how could I make fire right now? What do I need right now to ensure that the tribe survives?”
We had to get curious about that, and I think we are losing our desire – a) to be curious, because we want to be right. And we want to know and have expertise. And so that is sort of being held up as like this trophy.
Mark: And that’s really about risk, right? Like curiosity kills the cat, so let’s not go kill ourselves by getting overly curious. Let’s stay in our lane and prove that we’re expert.
Dr Pence: Exactly, exactly.
Mark: Which then gets us stuck and ends up killing us eventually, so it’s counterintuitive.
Dr Pence: (laughing) Right, yeah. And I think from my perspective like this really my own desire for more curiosity came from me witnessing in the therapy space with my clients, how much more effective curiosity was than any other modality. You’re taught all these things – and this goes back…
Mark: Instead of using some deeply therapeutic term, you just talk about curiosity and it leads…
Dr Pence: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. In the beginning of my work, I would often with clients try and pull out all these psychological constructs, and all this jargon. But it was really when I just started saying “I don’t know why you feel that way. Let’s get curious about it.”
“I’m not sure why you have these feelings towards mom. What do you think? How can you get curious?”
Mark: Can we talk a little bit about how to… is there an art to asking better questions? Let me frame this up a little bit, I’m always looking at what’s next for me in terms of my mental training. My personal mental development.
And an email from MIT came across, and it was a certificate program or even a master’s degree, and it was all about inquiry. Asking questions for leaders. It was a leadership program, so it must have been like a certification.
And I was really intrigued with it. I didn’t push the buy button, because I didn’t have the time to commit to it yet, but I was curious about that. And so I wonder, because curiosity really is about asking better questions.
And I’ve used the term before that the quality of our life is going to be based upon the quality of the questions we ask. So what’s a good – in your opinion – way of learning how to ask better questions of ourselves. If we don’t have a therapist like you, kind of working with us.
Dr Pence: Yeah, so I’ll go back to what I said earlier, and say it again, because I can’t quite say it enough, I’m learning. “why” should be taken off the table I believe. And I think it should be replaced with “how” or “what.” And I think part of this goes back to…
Mark: Let’s go into that a little bit more. Because this kind of like flies right in the face of something I’ve been telling people – “you gotta know your ‘why.’”
Dr Pence: Yes.
Mark: And if you don’t know your “why,” then you’re gonna get confused when things get challenging. So help me understand why we take “why” away. Because I might have to change my whole training program. Go back to the start. Thank you very much.
Dr Pence: (laughing) I love that you said that. Well, so here’s part of why I – now it’s going to pop up everywhere in our conversation…
Mark: That’s right. You can’t use the term “why” anymore in this podcast. So I’m going to call you out. You owe me 50 burpees every time you say it.
Dr Pence: I know, exactly, exactly.
So I believe that when we’re kids, “why” is often used to highlight and observe something that we’ve done wrong. If we spill the milk, if we didn’t do the homework, if we made a mess with our snow boots in the walkway – “why did you do that? Why, why, why?”
And so I think in some ways our brain is wired to identify “why” as connecting with something that we didn’t do right. And you could think about… even think… if you were to close your eyes and do sort of a meditation on this or a mindful exercise.
And imagine you’re in a classroom, right? And you’ve raised your hand, and you’ve answered a question. And the professor says, “why did you answer it that way?” Do you immediately think you got the question right? Or do you immediately think you got the question wrong?
Mark: Totally screwed up, right?
Dr Pence: Right, exactly.
Mark: So immediately our brain goes to “uh-oh. There’s something wrong here.” And listen, I think we can rewire that. And I actually think this is where you don’t have to rewrite your whole program, because the way that you talk about “why” is really is your true north…
Mark: Your true north, your purpose, right. But it makes me think about the use of that word, though.
Dr Pence: Yeah, and I think when we’re getting curious with ourselves and with other people, how and what allow you to go deeper? Allow you to ask more questions?
So, for example, one of the exercises that I do with my clients is we’ll start at the real surface level, right? So if for example, I’m working with somebody who has an eating disorder – because I have a specialty in eating disorders – and they say “well, I don’t want to eat the cupcake, okay?”
And then I’ll keep chipping away by asking questions – “what is it about the cupcake that you don’t like?”
“I don’t like that it had frosting. Frosting has a lot of fat.”
“okay, what is it about fat that you don’t like?”
“it’s gross and ugly.”
“what is it about gross and ugly that you don’t like?”
“nobody loves a gross and ugly person.”
“what is it about not being loved that you’re worried about?”
“if I’m not loved, I’ll be forgotten.”
There it is. There it is. You’re worried you’re going to be forgotten.
Mark: I’ve heard that seven questions is needed at least to get to the root of things.
Dr Pence: I love that. I’ve never heard that. Maybe.
Mark: I can’t remember where I heard that. And I wrote it in the first version of Unbeatable Mind, this questioning process to try to… what you just went through, is basically the seven-layer questioning process.
I’m sure there’s someone out there and if we’ve stolen it from you, I really apologize, because I never meant to do that.
Dr Pence: (laughing) We’re giving you credit.
Mark: (laughing) We’re gonna give you credit, we just don’t know who you are.
That’s fascinating, but we’re not conditioned to ask questions of ourselves like that. That’s why it’s so effective as a coaching process, right? Like what you just modeled.
But how important it is… like, I’m developing a journal for Unbeatable Mind and it’s got a lot of questions every day to ask yourself.
Dr Pence: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: Right. What went well? Why? What can I do better? What did I learn from it?
I mean, I’m not going seven layers deep, but maybe I will…
Dr Pence: Yeah, but I think that’s essential…
Mark: Because we need some cues to help do it…
Dr Pence: Right. And we get so caught up in what others identify as the grind of life… we just wake up, and we go. We don’t wake up and be, we wake up and do.
Also, I just think the act of asking yourself a question… or asking somebody you’re in a relationship with a question… slows stuff down. You pause a little bit rather than just continuing to operate.
Mark: So many of our clients – and Unbeatable Mind is not a psychology or therapy program – but it ends up being a big part of it, because again you can’t…
We end up where we are because of the behaviors we take. We have the behaviors we act upon and take because of some sort of emotional pattern that we developed, often… or thought/emotional pattern. So it all ends up coming back to that.
And what I’m finding is a lot of our clients are really facing existential questions about who they are, what they’re doing on this planet, what their next thing is for their life.
And so they’re in some sort of transition. They’re always in transition, even if they’re in a place that’s really successful, they’re starting to think “is this relevant? How do I be more relevant?”
So it always comes back to that point of knowing how to be before you just do the next thing, right?
What I wanted to point out – which I think is really interesting to me, because you just opened my mind on this is – we talk about finding your purpose and your “why.”
But we talk about in the context of the three p’s. So one p is purpose, the other p is what are your principles, and the other p is what are you passionate about. So the purpose is “why,” the principles are like the “what,” and the passion is the “how.”
Or you could say the “how” is kind of how you want to live. And those are your principles and the “what” is what do you want to do. That’s your passion and the purpose is why you’re doing it.
So, I guess where I’m going with this is a lot of our clients are clueless about the “why.” They just get this blank stare.
So we have some practices to help them – future me, visualization, writing your obituary – some of them are pretty common, some are really unique to us…
But what I found most useful is to have them answer the other two questions first.
Dr Pence: Sure.
Mark: The “what” and the “how.” Like, what do you believe in? And how do you like to operate in this world?
And then that starts to really point toward some sort of overarching archetypal purpose they can lock around. They’re like “oh yeah, that’s it. My purpose is to be the best father I could be.” It could be that simple, right?
Or it could be to change the world so we can heal the environment. Heal the oceans or it could be something really earth-shattering like that.
Dr Pence: Yeah, I think too the other thing that I think about when I consider purpose is strengths. Which is a word that I always have a hard time saying, because it’s a mouthful, but the strengths that exist within you. That truly are extraordinary and unique to you.
From my perspective, really help unleash that purpose, unleash that contribution – and I think sometimes we forget that piece. We forget that strength that exists within us…
Mark: Instead of like really, really covering down on that unique thing that you just do better than anyone else… people are taught that they’ve got to get good at all this other stuff. And oftentimes they ignore their biggest strength.
Dr Pence: Exactly. And there’s actually been more research to date in organizational psychology and in like leadership training that companies… once there was sort of this idea that like “okay, we identify the employee’s strength and weakness, and then we try and balance it out,” right? “we identify what they’re not very good at, and their limitations. And we really try and raise them up.”
But now companies are realizing that the energy expenditure in that, the return on investment is actually not very good.
It’s a lot better to dial in on the strengths, and make those even stronger through things like curiosity, shifting perspective, flexibility, distress tolerance – all of those things that like highlight the strength.
And just let the limitation be. It’s okay for us to have things that we’re not very good at. Like, that’s totally fine. We don’t always have to evolve and work ourselves into such a better position where our limitations are now no longer.
To be human is to have a limitation. That’s okay.
Mark: Right, speaking of limitations, what are the biggest obstacles you see to someone really becoming very curious as a path to growth? Becoming curious about what’s working in their life, what’s not working… to ask better questions… to get out of the box and open up their mind. What are the biggest obstacles?
Dr Pence: Yeah, so two big things I see – one is that they really actually don’t even know what that looks like, because they don’t have a role model or a peer in their life that does it. I was lucky enough to grow up with two parents who were in the arts and so we grew up with movies.
And movies were literally like in my DNA. When I said, we grew up with movies, like every night, poster board on the wall of what we were going to see kind of movies. 35 millimeters.
And so the curiosity of story was always there, right? And afterwards, what did you like about it? What didn’t you like about it?
I was brought up in a world where we asked questions. So, for me, it’s very natural to step into this. But there are definitely individuals in their own life – and I remember even you talking about this on your podcast – or on my podcast when you were on it – that there was a set path for you, right?
And so for many people I think there is a set path. I don’t think they have individuals in their life who are curious. And I think podcasts like this have really been successful, because people crave it.
And they don’t necessarily know how to get curious. So one of the barriers is that they don’t have a role model or peer.
But guess what? Now they can listen on podcasts – they can start to listen to interesting ideas and people. And start to get curious themselves.
So that’s one barrier I see, but there’s a pretty easy work around for that.
The other barrier that I see is fear… “what if I get curious and I uncover something I don’t like? What if I get curious about whether or not I really actually enjoy my career, and realize I’ve spent the last 40 years as a doctor, and I hate being a doctor.
I think people are afraid of what they might uncover and what they might find. What if as a parent I get curious about whether or not I wanted to be a parent in the first place? And I think to myself “gosh, I don’t know if I really did.” And “oh my gosh, I have two kids.”
Mark: (laughing) Ruh-roh.
Dr Pence: (laughing) Yeah, so I think that there’s fear in stepping into curiosity, because curiosity is in so many ways defined by that which we don’t know and that which is uncertain. And so that can be scary for people.
Mark: I love that.
So facing fear and uncovering that which is… that thing that’s going to be scary is what’s holding you back. And so the fear is basically of what you will become if you were to face that and overcome it, right? Because there’s the unknown.
So ultimately, we’re talking about uncertainty. So curiosity confronts uncertainty head-on, in a playful way. As opposed to like “overcoming your fears,” right? “go forth on your hero’s journey.”
You’re like, “wait, that sounds painful.”
As opposed to your approach – like, let’s get curious, right? And then as you ask better questions, you’re going to have to confront things that are uncomfortable.
And then, like we say, you’ll get comfortable with that discomfort, as you inch your way forward. And you’ll discover that that which you feared was really nothing. It was a phantom or a shadow. And I love that term “shadow,” from the emotional…
Shadow can’t hurt you. It’s ephemeral, right? It’s not real.
Dr Pence: It’s not real. Exactly, exactly. And I think when I sit with individuals who are – I hate to use the word “resistant” – because to me resistance – and somebody else said this, I can’t claim it for myself – but “resistance” really is fear of vulnerability. So when a client shows up and they are “resistant” to getting curious – I think there’s even a there, there.
What is it about looking at this a different way, about asking yourself more thoughtful questions that feels really scary to you right now? Can we even get curious about that? Like, for anybody that’s listening right now, I would encourage you… for example, if you have a friend that you name as a friend, but that you haven’t reached out to recently. How come? Like, how can you get curious about that?
And not with your judgmental ego and your critical ego, but with your curious one. That’s gentle and introspective and interested in inquiry. But not going to criticize you for your response.
Mark: I love that. I was thinking about some of the most evolved people that I’ve been around or had as trainers… like Mr. Nakamura – my first mentor. They’re very playful.
And they’re deadly serious when they need to be, but that’s not their go-to. Their go-to is a lightness and a playfulness and that sounds a lot to me like curiosity. Spontaneity.
And so you can almost say that evolution or growth – in my opinion – will lead toward that naturally. But you can stimulate it. Through asking better questions and through a deliberative process of facing those fears and getting curious about them.
Dr Pence: I think so. And I love that you use that word “playful,” because I do think… for example, clients might tell me something that happened. And I’m like “how is that working for you? Like that doesn’t sound…” and I’ll kind of laugh, and they’ll end up laughing with me. But then I’ll be like, “no, but really… how is that working for you? Because here we are again.”
So I do think playful is a part of it that just naturally takes us away from that hypercritical ego. Which can really be hurtful.
Mark: Yeah, vicious.
Awesome. Yeah, there’s so much great stuff that we’ve talked about and I think that’s like the holy grail of development. Is to let go of these things that we just grasp onto, and then we get hardened, and rigid, and closed. And wrapped around the axle – around whatever it is… a belief about ourselves or a belief about who our family is, or who our tribe or our country is…
Or how we’re supposed to be as a leader – always right – that’s righteousness. Or someone’s super-judgmental – that’s judgmentalism. All these things, these -isms, just like close down… they’re all ego. The more you can let go and surrender. And do it in that – like you said – kind of gracious way where you’re not hardening yourself.
Because the ego will try to take it back. Even if you try to be like all spiritual and forgiving – the ego will quickly co-opt that.
Dr Pence: Yep.
Mark: And judge others as less than yourself, right? That’s like a spiritual bypass. And I see that rampant. But letting go of all the need to be anything, but just who you are, right? At your core, essential source/self.
And curiosity is a great way to let go, because you can ask those questions, and be like “oh yeah. Maybe I can think of this differently and let go of that old thing for a while. And see how it works,” like you said.
Ask the question “how’s that working for you?”
Dr Pence: Yeah, exactly. Well and one of the things that I will often say to my clients is “listen it doesn’t have to be any which way. Let’s just be curious.
Like, “I’m not using this as a conduit to convince you otherwise. I’m using this as an opportunity for us to explore. That’s it. That’s all it is.”
Mark: Well, I’m curious, Lara, how many burpees you owe me. (laughing) I think it’s a few hundred, because you use that term “why” a lot…
Dr Pence: (laughing) Probably, probably…
Mark: So you better get busy.
Dr Pence: I’ll get on that, Mark…
Mark: Thanks so much for joining me today, man. This has been a great conversation. Really valuable.
So you’re going to be speaking at our Unbeatable Mind summit, or experience – that’s March 14th to 17th, I think, right?
Dr Pence: Yeah, one of those days…
Mark: We don’t have a schedule yet for which day yet. But just sometime during that. So if you’re listening and you want to hear more from Dr. Lara, and also others like Jason Redman and my Navy SEAL mentor Mark Crampton and myself and others from my team – then check that out at unbeatablemind.com.
But Lara – your stuff – where are you on the in the internet sphere?
Dr Pence: So you can head to my website drlarapence.com and my name is l-a-r-a. Everybody does “u.” There’s just no “u.”
Mark: You told me about this cool little product you developed that’s like a set of cards that help you ask better questions. So that’s a great place for people to start. What’s that called?
Dr Pence: Yeah, it is. So it’s called Lighfbox – l-i-g-h-f-b-o-x. The idea being that when you shine a light on your life, it gets brighter. And everything is in this beautiful white box. So there’s 180 cards with questions and prompts that work to exercise your mind. And spark curiosity.
And really boost your mental fitness through flexibility. So it’s basically a compilation of all the questions that I have asked my clients through the years that I’ve done this work. And some of the questions that I have found to be most effective in getting my clients to be more curious.
So they can go to Lighfbox.com, and we’re also on Instagram. And get yourself a box.
Mark: That’s pretty cool. That sounds like something to be fun-ish maybe to do with a partner. (laughing) Ask them the question.
Dr Pence: Yes, actually. We’ve gotten some amazing reviews from individuals that have got our products. And one of my favorite is this one couple says that they now substitute a Lighfbox card every night for the glass of wine that they used to have. And they no longer have wine and now they have a Lighfbox card.
Which I was like, “oh my gosh. If I’m a substitute for wine, I have clearly made my mark.”
Mark: Can I do wine and Lighfbox?
Dr Pence: I knew you were going to ask that. (laughing) And yes you can, Mark.
Mark: (laughing) Thank you. Appreciate it. Dr Lara said I could.
All right, thanks so much for being here, Lara. I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Dr Pence: Thank you, Mark…
Mark: Appreciate all you’re doing. And the work that you’re doing in the world is important.
Dr Pence: I appreciate you.
Mark: Hooyah. All right folks. Check out Dr. Lara at all the normal places. And they’ll be in the show notes of this podcast. And uh check out the Lighfbox, that sounds like a really cool product. I’m gonna go get one, and I am gonna use it over a glass of wine with my wife.
So I’ll report back and write you a review. Make sure people know that that’s totally okay.
Thanks for your support of the Unbeatable Mind podcast folks. Stay focused and be curious.