Top Menu

Dr. Lara Pence talks about the psychology of overcoming obstacles

By November 28, 2018 August 12th, 2020 No Comments

“What I love about a firm “no” is that it almost makes it available to other “yeses” that we might not have ever seen.”- Dr. Lara Pence

The Unbeatable Mind Summit is coming up in Carlsbad, November 30th to December 2nd, and you don’t want to miss this extraordinary event. The Summit gives you an opportunity to build on your Kokoro spirit and work on your 5 mountain training with other members of the Unbeatable Mind tribe. Space is almost gone, so register now. Save $300 from your registration by entering the code “pod300” at checkout on the Summit site. Go to to check it out.

Neurohacker Collective and Unbeatable Mind have partnered to provide you with 15% off your first purchase of Qualia Mind if you follow this link and use coupon code UNBEATABLE at checkout. The code also works for their less expensive product Qualia Focus which blends greater affordability with nearly as many benefits. You save more if you get the cancel-anytime subscription of either, and there’s a 100% no hassle money back guarantee.

The podcast recently brought you an interview with one of the most accomplished neuroscientists in the world, Dr. Andrew Huberman of Stanford’s Huberman Labs. He joined Mark to discuss not only Qualia Mind but the entire field of nootropics in general.

Get your Qualia Mind experience started now with coupon code UNBEATABLE at checkout for 15% off to experience firsthand the power of Qualia Mind or Qualia Focus.

Value brain nutrition, and the profound effects it can have on your life’s experience.

Dr. Lara Pence has spent the last decade working with individuals as the peel back the layers of their outer shell, cast aside the unhealthy patterns that keep them stuck and unfulfilled, and begin to build a new, more resilient and adventurous sense of self.  She works with Olympic athletes, successful entrepreneurs to help them move away from comparison and self-loathing and towards connection and self investment. Dr Pence is also the Chief Mind Doctor for Spartan and host of “Spartan Mind” Podcast.

Find out how:

  • Both crying and laughter are essentially both just huge releases of energy, which is why they often seem to be very close together.
  • Asking questions of her clients can often lead to learning more about her own integrity and how to stay inside it.
  • Lara hopes that her clients won’t become so “comfortable” with her, that they get themselves into another rut.

Listen to this podcast to learn when to exercise your “no” muscle and when you just need to say “yes” to what’s on offer.

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.

Love the Unbeatable Mind Podcast? Click here to subscribe on iTunes.

We’d love your feedback, please leave a rating and review.


Hey, welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. This is Mark Divine. Thanks so much for being here today. You can watch this live in video at or our YouTube channel. Many of you are probably listening on iTunes. That’s where most you find this.

But anyways, as you know, I’m super humbled by your support so hooyah. Thank you very much. Before I introduce Dr Laura Pence–Dr L–the Spartan mind doc…

Dr Pence: There we go there we go. Chief.

Mark: Chief mind doc. Okay. So we got a lot of cool things… Because I’m the chief mind doc of Unbeatable Mind.

Dr Pence: I love that.

Mark: Yeah. Double mind in there.

So we got a lot to talk about.

But before we get into the details–the gnarly details of your life–I’m gonna tell you one last time… Maybe more. Maybe I’ll do it more than once. About our Unbeatable Mind summit.

Dr Pence: Very cool.

Mark: Yes. November 29th to December 2nd three days we get into topics around mental toughness, resiliency, brain optimization we’ve had Ben Greenfield and you know, world-class people on nutrition. Like Rob Wolff, Mark Sisson… Who’s the keto guy that we had? Anyways it’ll come to me. Yoga masters. All sorts of really interesting people.

We do a lot of Unbeatable Mind training. So we do functional fitness. We get out and do our SEALfit training on the beach, in the ocean. A lot of mental toughness. We do our integrated yoga, breath work, meditation.

And those participants who come will be at a table with a new boat crew. And so the boat crew they’ll be in touch with all year long. And they’ll have an Unbeatable Mind coach. And so during the three days while we’re doing all this other stuff, they’ll also be getting coached and developing their integrated five mountain training plan. That’s physical, mental, emotional, intuitional, and Kokoro heart-mind. So that 2019 can be a transformational year. So we focus on tribe, transformation and traction. Those three things.

That’s the Unbeatable Mind summit. This is the last year we’ll run it, unless my team convinces me otherwise. Because we’re shifting focus to more really immersive training. Because we frankly do too many things a small company. Which have the chase the next shiny ball syndrome.

At any rate, if you’d like to come, there’s a few slots left. Love to have you. And because you’re listening and supporting this podcast I’ll give you $300 off. Go to and use the code pod300 at checkout. Pod 300. You want to come?

Dr Pence: I was just gonna say, if you’re on the podcast, do you get like $600 off?

Mark: (laughing) I’ll let you come.

Dr Pence: I’m a master negotiator here.

Mark: (laughing) you are. My goodness, you’re good.

Dr Pence: You never get a yes if you don’t ask.

Mark: Talk to me after the show.

California’s a long way to go from Austin… Or Dallas. You think you can make your way all the way out there?

Dr. Pence well to me honestly–I would love for my husband to go…

Mark: Oh yeah? Does he need an Unbeatable Mind?

Dr Pence: He absolutely…

Mark: He’s married to a mind doctor and he needs an Unbeatable Mind?

Dr Pence: Well, don’t we all?

Mark: We do all yeah.

Dr Pence: I mean, I probably still need to go.

Mark: You know, I don’t think I would be where I am today if I wasn’t married to a therapist.

Dr Pence: Yeah?

Mark: I kid you not I mean I’m married to a marriage, family therapist.

Dr Pence: That’s amazing.

Mark: She has her master’s. She doesn’t have a PhD. She deliberately decided not to do that, because she didn’t want the debt. She was a single mom.

Dr Pence: Well congrats to her.

Mark: Yeah. No kidding. And so she paid her way through SDSU and then I forget where she got her master’s… California school of psychology or something like that…

Dr Pence: That’s amazing…

Mark: That’s not it, but it sounds something like that…

Dr Pence: One of those.

Mark: But honestly, there’s kind of like Mark Divine before sandy…

Dr Pence: Pre- and post-.

Mark: Yeah. And then there’s a Mark Divine after Sandy. I remember the very first inclination that maybe things would change when I said… There’s this bar in Coronado called McP’s which is like the navy seal hangout. I was an active duty navy seal when I met her. I’m like “hey, sandy, you want to go to McP’s with me?” she’s like “no.”

Dr Pence: (laughing) smart lady.

Mark: And in my head, going like, “oh. Hmm. First girl I’ve met who said no to that.”

Dr Pence: There you go.

Mark: Which told me she was a little bit different than some of those other girls that I met over there. We used to call them frog hogs (laughing).

Dr Pence: Can’t ever have a firm “yes” unless you have a first a firm “no.”

Mark: Right. So I collected my first “no.” and then I had the huge insight to say “okay, well maybe I won’t go. We’ll just stay home do something else.”

Because it did cross my mind that I would just go without her. That’s how ridiculous I was back then.

Anyway, this show isn’t about me. What am I talking about? I like to think that my maybe my husband is a pre and post for me.

Mark: Yeah? Are you a work in progress?

Dr Pence: Well, we all are. But I definitely am.

Mark: Me too.

Dr Pence: Yeah. Every day.



Mark: So you are a clinical psychologist.

Dr Pence: I am

Mark: So “doctor.” PhD. “piled higher and deeper.”

Dr Pence: Yep that’s right.

Mark: Lots and lots of learning there. Was it relevant to your actual practice and how you help people–the PhD? I mean, besides qualifying you to actually do it. Do you rely on that learning a lot? Academic side of it?

Dr Pence: Not as much as I think the academic institutions would like to think. I mean I meet so many people that don’t have a doctorate. Or don’t have a master’s. That are doing unbelievable and amazing things.

And so I think what it really… There’s a few things that I think having a doctorate degree gave me. And really the first was credibility with other people who cared about that. And there are people who do. And there are people who should, certainly. I mean, because that education, and that knowledge, and the wisdom that you gain from going to graduate school for a few years is really, really important and key.

But I think now I’m 12 going on 13 years out. And I would say that now much more my practice relies on intuition and skills that I’ve gained from experience. Not that I gain from a classroom.

Mark: Right. Yeah. That makes sense.

Dr Pence: Yeah, I mean classroom learning is just so limited…

Mark: Yeah. And it can lock you in a pattern of thinking.

Dr Pence: Yeah. I mean, I went to a fantastic program that was really clinically based. So I knew I didn’t want to be a researcher. I knew that I didn’t want to be sitting behind a computer, or interviewing people for data. I wanted to be sitting with people, listening.

So I picked a program based off of that. And it was a great program. It was clinical and from our third month in, at school, we were doing the work. I mean, we were sitting with clients.

So by the time I got out I had nearly already four years of experience under my belt. So in that in that way I think it did give me so many tools. But classroom learning is really… It’s such a fraction of an understanding when you’re actually sitting with someone.

Mark: It helps you learn how to diagnose and to name things. But it doesn’t necessarily help you transform people. Or get them out of their rut, right?

Dr Pence: Yes.

Mark: That’s where the experience comes in.

So do you have I like a specialty then?

Dr Pence: So for a long time… It wasn’t until maybe even the last year or so I’ve kind of branched out into a more general practice. But for a long time actually I worked significantly with eating disorders.

Mark: Really? Interesting.

Dr Pence: Yeah. So individuals who were struggling with anorexia, or bulimia. Or binge eating disorder. People who had exercise addiction.

And then out of just sort of a clinical diagnosis, individuals that really were struggling in their relationship with food. They were yo-yo dieting all the time. And couldn’t figure out how to make things work. Or just generally unhappy with their body. So and I had a pretty…

Mark: I had a bunch of those people at my CrossFit gym for years.

Dr Pence: I’m sure

Mark: I could point them out. I’m like “oh my gosh. That person is binge-eating and then running eight miles.

Dr Pence: Exactly. Right.

Mark: And that’s an addiction.

Dr Pence: Yeah. Huge.

Mark: Isn’t that interesting…

Dr Pence: Yeah, big time so recently I’ve kind of started branching out a little bit more into other areas. But that’s where I stayed for a long time. And I think still in Dallas that’s sort of what I’m more known for specifically. And I like the work, but it’s really hard work.

Eating disorders actually have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Mark: Are you serious?

Dr Pence: Yes.

Mark: Mortality rate. I thought you were gonna say recede recidivism… How do you say that word?

Dr Pence: Recidivism. I know it’s a hard one, right?

Mark: Especially for a guy like me. (laughing)

Dr Pence: Yeah. So…

Mark: It’s probably both, but mortality… Oh my gosh.

Dr Pence: Yeah. Mortality. So I’ve had clients pass away. There’s a high suicide rate among individuals with eating disorders. A significant comorbidity with trauma. So the work is really heavy. It’s a lot of stuff. I mean a lot of people kind of joke about it when I tell people that I work with eating disorders, and they grab my shoulder and they’re like “oh I need to see you.”

Mark: Does the disorder come from trauma and abuse or is it something that evolves from something else?

Dr Pence: It’s so many things, right? I mean so often we sort of use the metaphor of a perfect storm. We’re learning a lot more that there’s a big genetic piece to it.

Mark: Really?

Dr Pence: Yeah.

Mark: An epigenetic piece? Something that can be passed down?

Dr Pence: Yeah. That’s exactly right. Yeah familial… I mean, we know it’s psychosocial right? I mean there’s so much out there today in terms of just misinformation and miseducation too.

Mark: A lot of people think it comes from the cultural drive to push people to be perfect.

Dr Pence: Right. And there’s a piece of that. There’s definitely a piece of that.

But it’s a lot more than that. I mean, there’s so much in there. Really like any disorder. Like depression or anxiety. But it’s been fascinating to work… I’ve loved the work, because there’s so many of the individuals that I work with are so creative and so brilliant. And so beautiful inside and out.

But they just… They can’t see it so helping them to get to a place where they can is rewarding.

Mark: To find that. What is…? Have you found there’s any technique or process that you use that helps people break through? And to see their own goodness?

Dr Pence: Yeah. So I think….

Mark: What worked for you I guess.

Dr Pence: Yeah, it’s a great question. Shame is so pervasive. I mean shame is so pervasive in my office regardless of the diagnosis. And regardless of why people are coming in. I mean shame is so pervasive in our society right now, right? Sort of this idea that we’re not good enough or we’re not worthy.

So I think a lot of it is building shame resilience. So working with individuals to build that self-compassion and empathy to shift perspective. Joe with Spartan talks a lot about “frame of reference” so really kind of shifting and looking at things from a different way.

But if I feel like for me a lot of the technique really just comes in listening. And then challenging.

the value of discomfort


I say to a lot of people and I know it’s a horrible business model, but if I could work myself out of a job I would not love nothing more. But in order to work myself out of a job, I have to challenge my clients. I don’t like it when they get comfortable. And when they come in and they say “I love coming to therapy,” I feel like we have a problem.

Mark: Yeah right. Maybe they’re addicted to therapy now.

Dr Pence: Yeah. I mean I love that I’ve created it safe… Or helped create a safe place where they can come and feel like they can explore things that are difficult for them. But I also want them to be really uncomfortable. I want them to step into emotions that are uncomfortable. To step into the stories they tell themselves that are uncomfortable.

Because that’s where the change happens. I mean, that’s where the growth is. So for me I think I tell my clients that I’m a direct therapist… So if they’re looking for somebody who’s just kind of gonna sit back and say “tell me how it feels,” that’s not that’s not my jam. I like to get in there and be like “okay, we gotta fix this.”

Mark: Muck things up a little bit.

Dr Pence: Yeah, absolutely.

Mark: Yeah, I like that. I had a Crossfit gym for a while and I’ve never really considered myself a fitness trainer. In fact, I’m not. Although I’m a good one. And I worked myself out of a job there too, deliberately. It took me too long. It took me ten years to finally fire everyone and close the gym.

But it was it was just a mechanism to get people in, to get them into the training and the transformation that I really wanted them to do. Which I’ve done through seal fit and Unbeatable Mind.

Dr Pence: Yeah. That’s fantastic.

Mark: So when you close your practice, you’ll know you’ve succeeded.

Dr Pence: I’m looking forward to it.

Mark: I know you’ve succeed in a lot of other ways too. I’m just saying.

Dr Pence: No. Absolutely.

Mark: Isn’t that interesting? That means “okay, good.” now it’s time for hand the baton to somebody else and maybe help them in a different way.

Dr Pence: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think so much of my goal and what I tell my clients sometimes is “you haven’t quite yet developed an internal coach and so you can borrow me for a little bit. When you’re at home and you’re struggling with something that’s difficult ask yourself, ‘well what would Dr. Pence do?’ but eventually Dr. Pence becomes substitutable. ‘What would I do next? Like, what would the best version of me do next?'”

Mark: I love that.

Dr Pence: So really sort of “you can borrow me for a little bit. But then I need you to use yourself. And that’s how you get out of my office. And then that’s how your enthusiasm towards yourself, and investment in yourself becomes contagious. And you spread it with the world.”

Mark: That’s fascinating. It reminds me of one of the more powerful techniques that we use… Because we also do a little emotional work or encourage emotional work through our training. I mentioned earlier around the summit that one of our tenets…. My whole philosophy is built around integration. Integrating the physical, the mental, the emotional so you can open up to the intuitive. And then ground yourself in a more spiritually grounded willpower. Living your purpose. Living your dharma kind of thing.

Those are the five mountains. And the emotional mountain has… We’ve attacked it a number of different ways. One is through like scary challenges, facing fears. Another is through meditation and breath work. And really just opening up to the sensitivity of what you’re actually feeling. And identifying the feelings. And then beginning to work with that.

And in that vein to take something that you’re experiencing and objectifying it. So that you can name it. And separate yourself from the story.

Dr Pence: I love that.

Mark: And then to be able to relate to it again as an individual with greater understanding. Which sounds to me like what you’re doing with your clients… But you’re saying “let me be the objectifier. Let me be the representation, of “hey this is what you’re doing. Or this is what that emotion is.”

And so you’re giving people a mental representation of a like an imagined coach or therapist who can objectify the thing that they’re dealing with. So they can get a greater understanding and then they can integrate it.

Dr Pence: Yeah I love that.

Mark: Something like that?

Dr Pence: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I love what you’re saying in the sense that like I feel like part of what is so toxic about the way that we can become enmeshed with some of our stories…

Mark: Yeah. People identify themselves as that.

Dr Pence: 100 percent.

Mark: They can’t get away. They think “I’m a shameful person, because I’ve been shamed.”

Dr Pence: That’s exactly right. I was just saying yesterday that there’s such a big difference even between using the language “I’m a failure” and “I failed that obstacle.”

Mark: Absolutely.

Dr Pence: I mean, you have to separate self from behavior. And so yeah I think in my office… I often talk about my office as a container. And it’s a container in which there’s safety, but there’s encouragement towards challenge. There’s an opportunity in the obstacles. There’s empathy, there’s compassion, there’s lots of things in this container.

But I think one of the purposes of the container is to really give yourself permission and practice what it’s like to become separated. What it’s like to separate story from self. What it’s like to separate behavior from self. Disorder from self.

So that happens a lot in my office. And growing an internal coach is such a big part of that.

I think it’s so key that we have a voice inside of us that’s even sort of separate from our own primal voice. That allows us to just like pause, and take perspective, and kind of check in… With whatever it is some. People call it call it a wise mind.

Mark: We call it the witness. Witnessing self

Dr Pence: Oh you do? Oh I love that.

Mark: Yeah, so you want to basically ground yourself in your witness. You’re always watching the thoughts and emotions. You can identify the dysfunctional ones. And work on the dysfunctional mental and emotional movement patterns just like you would at a gym. Work on the dysfunctional physical movement patterns.

Dr Pence: Absolutely. That’s great. A witness. I love that.

Mark: It was time to find your witness.

Dr Pence: It does.

Mark: And so a good therapist can help someone find their witness. I imagine there’s moments of silence and other tools like meditation practices that you use. What has been really helpful for you to find someone who’s completely merged…? Or to help someone’s completely merged in their story to begin to separate from that.

Dr Pence: Yeah. So I’m gonna give you an answer that maybe… Is maybe sort of odd.

Mark: We like odd.

Dr Pence: I actually think humor is really helpful. People’s problems are not jokes. I mean they’re not something to laugh at.

Mark get someone to laugh at themselves, you mean.

Dr Pence: Yeah, but I think that sometimes the entrenchment and the enmeshment is an opportunity to just sort of take perspective and it’s almost like “can you see how kind of silly that is?” or can you see kind of just even how wild it is that you’re doing that? I mean I’m a little sar… Well, no, I’m a lot sarcastic actually with my clients sometimes. And I warn them that. I warn them about that on the very first session.

Mark: Right. If it’s not okay with them, they’re probably in the wrong place.

Dr Pence: That’s exactly right. Yeah. If you’re not willing to play the game, then this is definitely not the office for you. But I can tell you that it’s gonna be helpful. Because when we laugh, it’s healing, right? I mean, we know that.

But the other thing that laughter does, is it gives us sort of pause for reflection.

Mark: And laughter changes your breathing patterns. And it stimulates positive release of oxytocin and neurochemicals.

Dr Pence: Absolutely.

Mark: There’s a lot going on when you laugh and smile. Especially uncontrollably.

Dr Pence: Yeah and I think in therapy…

Mark: That’s why laughing yoga is so effective. It’s a tool that we’ve actually used. Geoff’s participated in it, the man behind the camera.

Dr Pence: That’s amazing.

Mark: It’s hilarious

Dr Pence: That’s fantastic. Yeah I mean in therapy you know, I think people have this vision and it is like this certainly a lot where it’s heavy and there’s a lot of kind of negative space… I don’t mean negative. Like negative and positive but just…

Mark: Thick.

Dr Pence: Exactly right. But I think too if you can sort of get creative in the way in which the energy in the space is just sort of transforming somebody. I think that that’s great.

Especially when you can surprise people. I when somebody can somebody comes in to therapy sort of expecting that… For example, talking about old wounds from a parent, it’s gonna get really heavy and cheerful… And we spend part of the time laughing. I think that that is… It’s unexpected to them, but I think it’s also an opportunity for them to say like well “okay well maybe this doesn’t have to bind me so much as I thought it did. Like, maybe I can release myself.”

Mark: Why do you think that tears can so easily lead to laughter? That’s interesting… One thing I’ve noticed that you can be in the most like desperate fit of like emotion. And then suddenly be in a fit of laughter. Because everything is so wrong maybe? You’re present?

Dr Pence: Yeah, I guess I don’t know the answer to that. But it is so…. I almost think of like physical vulnerability, right? I say to my kids all the time…

Mark: They’ve laid everything on the table.

Dr Pence: Yes, exactly. Exactly. Just sort of like unloaded. I mean, really, crying is just a release of energy, right?

And in so many ways that’s also what laughter is as well. But so maybe you’re just sort of operating on the same kind of physical wavelength.

Mark: Yes the total release of energy can suddenly change the story around that energy. In one moment it’s just this desperate release of sadness or whatever. And the very next moment, because you have inserted some perspective maybe? Or some work. Or you just hurt laughing.

And all of a sudden “boom,” they’re just like “oh my god.” It changes to laughter. The story around what that energy means changes.

Dr Pence: That’s exactly right. Exactly. Around what it means.

Mark: It’s essentially what an emotion is. It’s just a trapped feeling or a felt state that we have associated some meaning with. Some cognitive belief.

And that then we entrain that or we grind that into our subconscious. And so every time you feel that all of a sudden you say “well I’m having the emotion of blank” but that meaning is really just your meaning. Because that same feeling to me might be joy, or bliss. Or determination.

Dr Pence: Right, right. Well, yeah, I mean, if you think of pain for example. Like pain for some people can feel so heavy and so assimilated with difficulty or struggle.

But pain for other people can be such an opportunity for growth. They see it as that almost there. Perserverance. Endurance.

So yeah I mean I think emotions are very, very much the same way. And we do, we attach a lot of judgment to emotions. We attach tons of judgment to anger… I think we even attach a lot of judgment to joy. I think sure sometimes when individuals especially in this society where we’re so attached to productivity, and we’re so attached to exhaustion–joy…

Mark: We glorify pain with… Or associate pain with productivity.

Dr Pence: Yeah absolutely.

Mark: Or pain with accomplishment. As opposed to like “whoo-hoo! Good job.”

Dr Pence: That’s exactly right. Yeah and so when we do that, right? Because of that, if we have that judgment and we experience joy from something… The length to which we can experience it is limited, because if we have that judgment around it…

Mark: Like snap back into reality. Get grounded again.

Dr Pence: Exactly.

Mark: Wonder if that comes from our puritan ethic. That just has underpinned western culture? I mean maybe it’s not puritan right? But the Judeo-Christian it was like you don’t see a lot of like hardcore Judeo-Christian types like whooping it up.

Dr Pence: No I don’t believe so. Yeah.

Mark: So guys, let your hair down a little bit. Come on. I mean suck it up when you have to suck it up but relax and have fun…

Dr Pence: Well I think too people are… So people are really worried nowadays with perception. With how others perceive them and so…

I mean I have a really loud laugh, when you get me going. And just today we were we were in another panel and Joe said something and I had a huge guffaw and he kind of looked over at me.

Mark: (laughing) that’s awesome. The loud laughter always gets a few looks.

Dr Pence: It was funny! I mean, what am I gonna do be like “he-he-he.” no. I’m going to laugh.

But I think there’s a lot of individuals that feel really restricted by that. By their worry that they’re gonna be perceived a certain way.

Mark: That is fascinating.

Psychology and Physical Training


So when you… You do most of your work like in an office.

Dr Pence: I do.

Mark: Have you ever taken anyone like outside on an obstacle course as a therapeutic process? We’ve had like some of the most unbelievable breakthroughs in just strange environments. Putting people in environments that are different and uncomfortable like the ocean. Or long mountain hike.

And our navy seal instructors –even though they’re not trained psychotherapists–in a way they are. Cause they put thousands and thousands of people through the most physical, mental training. That might be an interesting thing to…

Dr Pence: No, I’ve thought about it that, big time.

Mark: As a Spartan mind doc is like hey maybe there is a seminar where you take people out on the obstacles. Have them face their fears and…

Dr Pence: Absolutely. I mean, when I first was sort of introduced to Spartan, I had never seen obviously a race before. And then I went to one and I just sort of like absorbed it. It was at the AT&T cowboy stadium. Just an enormous stadium. And everybody… From where I was, it was just like the little ants kind of running around. Crawling over a-frames and crawling up ropes.

But I thought to myself in that moment like, “this is this is the physical embodiment of what I ask my clients to do all the time. And how wonderful or brilliant would that be… And how much faster might change be created if you were to meld the two somehow. If you were to bring the two together.

And I mean since then, certainly in my office, I’ve talked about Spartan and other things that really sort of get people outside of what they’re comfortable with. I feel like sometimes I have limitations because of really in so many ways our ethics board. I mean, we can only do so many things. You have to kind of have specific boundaries which… That’s what happens when you when you are under a license. And under a licensing board.

But I do think that that there’s space for that. I mean, I think there’s huge space for that. Because the container of the office is limited. I’m only with a client 50 minutes a week. That’s nothing.

And so if there’s anything that I can do to sort of engage them outside of that in a way that takes the therapy with them, I certainly want to do… But it would be amazing to think about going out on an obstacle. I mean, it would just… I think again, like it’s just it’s not only metaphoric, I mean the obstacles and the Spartan race are certainly symbols, right? But they actually are experiences. Yeah, I mean it’s really not just a symbol. I mean really, when you when you don’t think you can climb a rope and then you get up to the top and you ring that bell… That is more than a symbol. That is an experience. I mean that is something…

It’s also a data point. It’s also two years later when they’re struggling with something and they’re like “oh gosh. But remember that time when I didn’t think I could do the rope? And I did that and I rang that bell? How good that felt?”

I mean those are the data points that we can come back to. So I think it would be amazing to really create that bridge.

Mark: That’s cool. How do you stay mentally healthy and focused? What are your practices? Dr Pence: Well, the first thing that I do is that I have sacred time. I get up at 4:30 in the morning…

Mark: What? Good for you.

Dr Pence: Yeah. Every morning. Even today. I was supposed to be up even earlier, cause I didn’t sleep well… But I have me time. And usually at home, what that looks like is I’ll write for a little bit. Have some tea and breakfast in a little I call it “my nook”–which is just this area by the kitchen…

Mark: Where your husband can’t find you.

Dr Pence: He can, but that kids can’t. And I open up the window. I mean, it’s very ritualistic. Like at one point even my husband–have you ever seen the movie “the accountant” with Ben Affleck and he like sets out the silverware? My husband is like “I feel like we’re moving into that territory.”

But it is. It’s ritualistic. But that starts my day off beautifully. Because everything is just sort of in place and as it needs to be in that moment for me to start the day with an open space.

And things get in the way sometimes. I mean, I feel like my children are at this… Well maybe every stage is this… But they’re just not listening very well.

Mark: Really? My son is 19. That stage is not go away, trust me.

Dr Pence: (laughing) I feel like it’s not a stage. Just being human.

Mark: Permanent stage.

Dr Pence: Yeah, exactly. So there are those obstacles, right? Where they were like “mom, can we come out yet?”

“Nope. Can’t come past the stairs. You got to go back.”

But I do. I’m pretty sacred about it. From 4:30 to 5:45. That is my time.

So that’s one thing. So really kind of creating a ritual or a practice around that.

And then I have my non-negotiables. Movies are a non-negotiable for me. I have to have movies in my life. I have to. Thankfully, I married somebody who feels the same.

Mark: Any kind of movie or do you have a particular genre? Like my wife won’t let me watch anything that has violence in it really, which is fine.

Dr Pence: Right.

Mark: It’s great. But I’m a navy seal. I wanna watch the new James Bourne thing.

Dr Pence: Yeah. James Bourne.

Mark: What was it…? What’s the new one called?

Geoff. Jason Bourne. James Bond.

Mark: James Bourne, yeah. They’re the same person, aren’t they? Just kidding.

Geoff. “Mission Impossible.”

Mark: I saw that one. She did see that. But there’s a new TV series that amazon put out.

Geoff. Oh “Jack Ryan.”

Mark: Yeah.

Dr Pence: Oh, “Jack Ryan.”

Mark: Yeah. Can’t watch it. Sorry. Haven’t been able to watch game of thrones. We didn’t make it past the first episode.

Dr Pence: oh really I can’t… I didn’t watch game of thrones, either.

Mark: Really? People say it’s amazing.

Dr Pence: Hmm.

Mark: But anyway, so we watch like lawyer shows like “good wife” and “good fight” and they’re terrific. We have fun with them.

We love like masterpiece theater ones from Britain. Phenomenal.

Dr Pence: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Well really I mean some of the international shows are some of the best. There’s a show on Netflix called “Wentworth” which is like my favorite.

Mark: Oh really? Write that down. Wentworth? We’re always looking for the next thing.

Dr Pence: Oh my goodness. It’s fantastic

Mark: Yeah navy seal… Check this out… So we trained the actors in the movie and the TV show “six.” it’s about seal team six. Like, we trained them, we put them through SEALfit training, gave them the buds experience. They all talked about how cool it was.

I haven’t seen a single episode.

Dr Pence: What?

Mark: I know.

Dr Pence: Oh my goodness.

Mark because the only time I watch TV is with my wife. It’s a ritual. It’s a fun ritual. Three or four times a week.

Dr Pence: Totally. Yeah, I mean my husband and I try and make a weekly date night movie… Where we go to the movies.

Mark: Like a theater movie.

Dr Pence: Yeah and we’ve even… There are times when like nothing’s out. I mean sometimes it’s a struggle. But we go anyway even if we’re like “I don’t really want to see it. Do you want to see it?” “Not really.”

Mark: Sometimes you hit some surprising gems.

Dr Pence: But it’s also just more… I mean part of it is one of my other non-negotiables really is having time with my husband. That’s separate from our children.

Mark: Yeah, that’s critical too.

Dr Pence: Yeah I mean, I like to say that it’s me first, and then it’s my husband, and then it’s our kids.

Mark: Because if you’re not taking care of yourself then everything falls apart. If you’re not taking care of the relationship…

Dr Pence: Not good for the kids.

Mark: And if those two are falling apart, you’re not gonna be able take care of your clients. That’s exactly right.

Mark: boom. So start with yourself.

Dr Pence: So the movies for us really is another way to connect. So there’s ritual, there’s non-negotiables, and then there’s values. And values to me are really important. And this is something that I do with my clients too. Is having them identify their values. And then making sure that they are in alignment with them.

Mark: Yes.

Dr Pence: And I have to do that too in my own work. I had an experience about a year and a half ago. “Families” is one of my values. But I had an experience where I was working at my private practice for like 35 hours a week. And then I was also an executive director of a non-profit at the same time.

So I’d work at my practice. I’d come home. Immediately jump on the computer to do the nonprofit work. And the entire day would be absorbed with work. And I had an evening where I had a new adolescent client come in with her family and we were doing an eval. And one of the questions I like to ask is “do you have dinner together?”

Because to me I feel like that gives such rich information of how the family dynamic is.

Mark: Yeah, you asked the question and then you’re thinking, “Hmm. When’s the last time…?”

Dr Pence: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly what happened. When I asked that question and they answered “we try every night,” I literally looked over at the clock and it was like 5:30 and my body had this sort of creepy, eerie sensation that I am not where I am meant to be.

Mark: You’re out of integrity.

Dr Pence: Yeah, I was totally out of integrity. Totally out of alignment.

Mark: I’ve had that feeling many times.

Dr Pence: Yeah and I went home that night, and I said to my husband “something’s got to change.” I resigned from the executive director position. And then I even cut down my hours at my private practice.

So that to me was important. But one of the things that I think is so key for people who are aware of their values, is there’s… It’s more than just being aware of your values.

It’s also aware of being like… If I hadn’t been checked in with myself, right? In that moment. If I hadn’t been in tune to what was going on in my body. Then I might have glazed over that feeling. Just sort of shifted in my chair and been like, “oh well, that was uncomfortable.”

But so you have to be checked in, you have to be connected to your body. So I think for me that values piece is really important. It’s constantly evaluating “is this in alignment with my values?”

Even when Spartan wanted to bring me on I was like “okay, is this a company that is in alignment with my values?”

Mark: I talk about this a lot in my training. Because there’s so many choices. And so many options. And so many people coming at us all the time saying “can you help me with this?” or “do you want to be part of that?”

And most people just say yes. And my new favorite word is “no.” the more times you say no, the more times you’re on target. No and on–two simple letters. Learn to use them in both configurations. Say no, first in service to the bigger yes. So you can stay on target with what’s you’re supposed to be doing.

And what you’re supposed to be doing is that which is most in alignment with your purpose. And something you’re passionate about. And your principles. And we call those the three p’s.

And if you’re not right in the center of those three, then there’s something that’s going to be out of alignment.

Dr Pence: Right. I love that.

Mark: So if you’re off with your purpose, then you’re not going to have any meaning with what you’re doing. If you’re off with your passion, you’re gonna get burned out. And if you’re off with your principles, you’re gonna be out of integrity.

Dr Pence: That’s so true.

Mark: And it’s almost like a daily thing for me. Where I have to be like “okay, am I in alignment? Have I said yes to things that are really gonna get me burned out? Take me off target? Or make me feel like why am I doing this?

I had to think about that with here… Remember, Geoff? I was like, “is it really in alignment for me even to come up to Lake Tahoe to do this podcast?” I’m like… “The podcast from a business standpoint–that’s in alignment. Okay. My passion about it? Absolutely. I got that one. Is it in alignment my principles? Sure. Gonna be helping people. Okay. Check.”

Even though I had to say no to something else. I literally had something else scheduled this weekend. And I had to go back to them and say, “You know what? I’m sorry, that’s not in alignment.”

Dr Pence: Right. Well I think too… I think what I love about a firm “no” is that it almost makes us available to other “yeses” that we may not have ever seen.

Mark: That’s right. It’s not like you’ve got a list of five things. Which “yes” am I gonna say right? Oftentimes you say no, and then all of a sudden the other thing pops open for you.

Dr Pence: That’s exactly right. Yeah I mean I think that’s sort of… I love the idea that really we have to sort of close something off to make ourselves available to the next thing.

And I think sometimes people get so caught up in like, again, sort of this attachment to productivity. And like just keep doing, doing, doing, doing, doing.

And I think they forget that if they have a firm “no,” then they can have a stronger “yes” later. And I think that’s so key in really making yourself available.

And I think I think so often people think that if they say “no,” then sometimes they’re just gonna go down this track…

Mark: Well, they think people are gonna judge them.

Dr Pence: That’s exactly right. And then it goes back to the “how are people gonna perceive me?”

Mark: So people have developed a co-dependence around saying yes.

Dr Pence: Yeah.

Mark: Because they don’t want to disappoint people.

Dr Pence: That’s exactly right.

Mark: And the reality… This is a great exercise if you’re listening to this–which if you’re listening then you’re obviously listening. (laughing) is see how many “no”s you can collect today. Don’t say “yes” to anything. Even if you know it’s the right thing, just say “no I’ll get back to you.” and then come back and say “yes” later.

But see how many “no”s you can collect.

Dr Pence: That would be hard for me.

Mark: I know, right? I’m just thinking about that as…

Dr Pence: Even as you said that, I’m like “oh dear.”

Mark: “do I really have to do that?” yeah do it. And if you want to be really, really challenged, do it for a week.

Now think about that just… First of all you’ll be tracking how many times you’re… Someone ask something of you. And you’ll be like “holy cow. There we are again. This is the 16th time today someone’s asked something of me that I’ve had the same no to.

And then more importantly you’re developing the muscle, instead of just reacting with a “yes” with the co-dependence or whatever that reaction muscle is.

You change that. And so now you’ll be like “hey, that’s interesting. Let me think about that.” Dr Pence: Right. Well I love that practice of beginning to say things that are uncomfortable. I think “thank you” is another thing that people are often not very good at saying, in the sense that when a compliment is given.

Mark: Right. Accept the compliment.

Dr Pence: Right. And yeah, it might feel uncomfortable that first time. But the more you do it over and over again… I think that there’s such this concern of “oh well it’s gonna feel boastful” or “they’re gonna think I’m conceited if I say ‘thank you’ instead of somehow like self-deprecating and hate on myself a little bit.”

Mark: I love that. And by the way, you are an exceptional therapist and psychologist.

Dr Pence: (laughing) oh well thank you. Are you healed? Are all you listeners healed out there?

Mark: Yeah, why is it hard for us to accept a compliment?

Dr Pence: Oh my goodness…

Mark: Why is that?

De pence. Well.

Mark: Cause I’ve noticed it too. And I’ve had to teach myself to say thank you. Because think about it this way. Like, from the givers perspective. If someone said “hey mark you really are doing a great job.” or “you’re really helping a lot of people.” and if I say “oh that’s nothing.” basically I’m telling you that you don’t matter.

Dr Pence: That’s exactly right. Yeah, I mean I love that you said that. Because I think we… I mean we just get so stuck in the “I.” I said this this morning actually on a panel that I think illness begins in the “I” and wellness begins in the “we.”

And I think when somebody is giving us something. And we don’t receive it… I was literally just walking it out on whatever this is called… The Olympic Village… And somebody walked by and said “hey, great talk today.” and I just said “thank you.”

And it felt so good. But I can also bet that it felt good to that person. As opposed to me…

Mark: Cause they were validated. It was a great talk.

Dr Pence: Exactly. If I were to say like “oh gosh, really?”

Mark: Yeah, “I was really off today.”

Dr Pence: Yeah. And then they would have been “okay. I’m gonna go get some pizza.”

Mark: “what was wrong with me, cause it sounded really good.”

Dr Pence: Exactly. I mean, when we give ourselves permission to shine, we give other people permission to do the same. I mean, when we give ourselves permission to say thank you and have gratitude and receive that’s contagious.

Mark: You know what another really good one is? I learned this from Matthew and Terces Engelhardt who run cafe gratitude–and they have a communication seminar that they run once a year. And it’s in Hawaii in January. And I’m going for the second time–my stepdaughter Catherine is on her fourth time. She’s the one that dragged us.

But anyways, they’ve got these… It’s all about communication, and one of their things is just what we were talking about before is collecting “no”s. And another one is this idea that you just go up to people, or people you just randomly meet, and just ask them what they’re grateful for. To immediately change the energy of the relationship between two human beings who randomly meet.

And it’s hard at first. Like, I’ll go to the checkout counter. If I’m buying some whatever at the grocery store. And I’ll say my inclination isn’t to say “what are you grateful for today?”

But I’ll easily say “how you doing?” and then they’ll give me some random answer.

But if I say “what are you grateful for?” they literally pause and they think about it, and they’re like “well I’m grateful for this job.” or “I’m grateful that you asked me that.” you just got me out of my head. Something like that.

Dr Pence: Yes.

Mark: It’s a really cool practice.

Dr Pence: That’s awesome. I also… I think about how much more interesting our conversations would be, if we shifted away from the question “so tell me what you do?” to “so tell me what you value?”

Mark: Yeah. I never ask people what they do. I love to find out through a conversation. But it’s such a formulaic thing.

Dr Pence: It is.

Mark: And when people ask me that, I don’t even know what to say anymore, either. Geoff’s cracking up. I’m like, “I don’t know what I do.”

What do I do, Geoff?

Dr Pence: You know what you can say is, “I can’t really tell you what I do, but I can tell you what I value.

Mark: Oh, I love that. Yeah.

Dr Pence: Yeah I just… I feel like… And again it’s sort of when we ask that question–and I’m totally at fault for it–I probably asked it five times this morning. But we sort of perpetuate this idea that we’re defined by what we do.

Mark: Yeah. Doing, doing, doing.

Dr Pence: Right. Exactly. So instead of moving away from that…

Mark: How are you gonna be today?

Dr Pence: How are you gonna be today? That’s a great one. I love that.

Mark: I wanna be cool.

Dr Pence: Totally.

Mark: I want to be on point. I want to be me.

Dr Pence: Badass.

Mark: Badass.

Dr Pence: Yeah, I think that would be my answer today. Maybe every day. I hope we can swear.

Mark: Sure. Go for it.

Dumbo’s Feather


Mark: So are you gonna run the race this weekend?

Dr Pence: It’s so funny, actually. I would love to run the race. I didn’t sign up for it– but…

Mark: Do you have to sign up for it if you work for Spartan? Or can you like just jump on the…

Dr Pence: Well, I didn’t really know. So I secretly brought all of myself. And then actually Nicole–who’s like Spartan staff, and does a lot of work with Spartan. She just asked me she said “are you racing?”

And I said “no.” she said “do you want to?” and I said “yes I would love to.” so I actually might.

Mark: Oh good for you.

Dr Pence: I know. I mean, the issue is I leave… There’s issues with when I leave and all that kind of stuff, so if I had to I might have to do it tomorrow. And apparently they’re sold out. But who knows? So I would love…

Mark: If you do he… You know, Joe the big he. He might have you stop and do like a podcast in the middle of the race.

Dr Pence: I would love that. Oh my gosh, I would totally love that. Top of the rope, right before…

Mark: “here I am. Dr Pence: I’m on the rope.”

Dr Pence: Yeah.

Mark: “I’m experiencing a little fear right now.”

Dr Pence: “I can’t really breathe. So what do we do? Box breathing.

Yeah I mean I would love to. My husband and I raced last weekend in Nashville. And I mean, I just… I have caught the bug

Mark: I met Joe early in Spartan years. And I was up at his ranch, or farm I guess, in Vermont. And it was a weekend where we were evaluating what to do for a certification program. I spent a whole weekend with him, with a bunch of other people. And we actually ran a batch of people through the first certification program.

And we didn’t certify any of them.

Dr Pence: (laughing) Clearly successful.

Mark: (laughing) Big success. Huge success. But it was a blast. And we were up for 48 hours and Joe is so much fun. And that that farm up there is beautiful.

But it’s neat for me to see Joe’s progression. He’s exploded. It’s sparked…with a lot of help obviously… He’ll say he had nothing to do with it.

And it’s neat to see Spartan race have a worldwide attention. And become a sport. And be sponsored by reebok….

Dr Pence: Yeah.

Mark: So almost the same thing I saw blow up with CrossFit. And I was friends with the CrossFit founder, Greg Glassman. Who’s a really interesting guy too.

Dr Pence: So you’re like Dumbo’s feather.

Mark: Yeah, I’ve been there. (laughing) My company is about the same size as it’s always been. Everyone else is blowing up around me. I’m wondering what I’m doing wrong.

Dr Pence: No, see, what you’re doing… No this is great. You’re not doing anything wrong. You are… Whatever it is that you’re doing is contagious. And people are making it grow.

I mean you’re Dumbo’s feather. In Dumbo he couldn’t fly until he got the feather. It’s like people are struggling until they get Mark Divine.

Mark: I like that. I think there’s a compliment in there and I’m gonna say thank you…

Dr Pence: Yeah. There definitely is. Yeah it might be hard to find.



Mark: That’s awesome. Yeah, Geoff’s pointing to his watch. (laughing) something you want to tell me about your watch? I think he’s saying we’re out of time. It’s broken. Your watch is broken. I can help you with that. Maybe as Christmas bonus or something?

Geoff. Sounds good to me.

Mark: Yeah, we could do this all day long. You rock.

Dr Pence: Well, thank you.

Mark: You are so much fun.

Dr Pence: I love doing this.

Mark: I want to connect with you again. Maybe you can come to our summit. We have this cool summit.

Dr Pence: Yeah, you talked about that.

Mark: Yeah, it’s in December. November 29th to December 2nd…

Dr Pence: The weekend after thanksgiving?

Mark: Yeah.

And/or we’re doing a ton of work now with Unbeatable Mind. I don’t know. I just see that there’s…

Dr Pence: I love that.

Mark: I don’t want to make you say yes or no to anything right now. But it’d fun to follow up and see where we can connect. Or you could collect your first “no.”

Dr Pence: No, I don’t want to collect my first “no.” I want to circle back about the collecting “no”s though.

I also want to say that we also have to… We sometimes have to say yes when we want to say no. Like with this whole journey that I’ve been on with Spartan. And everything that’s happened since it all came from just a “why the fuck not? Let’s just do it.”

Mark: What the heck? Yeah. It’s like you hadn’t been planning and thinking about Spartan for years.

Dr Pence: I did not even know about it.

Mark: Probably because you said “no” to all those other things.

Dr Pence: Well, that’s exactly why I think it was. Because it was it was wrapping up right after I left that position. It was like things were just… I was at this point literally in my career where I was like “I need something else. I need something else.”

And then weeks later I got this random phone call. And then it started this journey. I mean I feel like I kind of manifested it a little bit. But you have to be available to that and then you have to say “yes.”

So I’m gonna say yes to Unbeatable Mind. You will not be my first “no.”

Mark: Cool. All right.

Geoff, write that down. Make sure…

Dr Pence: It’s on record.

Mark: We have it on record. We’re doing something. I don’t know what it is yet. We have to be open to what that is. I’ll think about it. That’ll be cool.

So thanks for joining me today. This has been super fun and really valuable. And if people want to connect with you or learn more about what you’re doing, is there…?

Dr Pence: Yeah so you can… My website is just My contact info is on there. I’m fairly…

Mark: And what about the “Spartan mind” podcast?

Dr Pence: So right. So the “Spartan mind” podcast is every Wednesdays… We roll it out on YouTube. It’s on iTunes. You can find it on Spotify. Anywhere that you can find the other “Spartan up” podcasts that they do on Tuesdays. So it’s every Wednesday.

We’re really in so many ways I’m bringing you back to the couch. Joe likes to get people off the couch. But I tell Joe that in order to get them off…

Mark: He’s the yang and you’re the yin.

Dr Pence: That’s exactly right. We got to spend a little bit of time on it first.

And they’re super-digestible… Just three-minute episodes where really you can kind of take in anything from flipping failure upside down how we pivot…

Mark: Is it just you chatting?

Dr Pence: Just me. Yep.

Mark: Okay.

Dr Pence: Yep. Just me chatting with the camera. We encourage particular steps, so a lot of times there’s like three things I want you to think about–that kind of thing. So it’s takeaways–concrete things to do at home.

Mark: And people can find this at (laughing)

Dr Pence: (laughing) sure. Can they?

Mark: I don’t know. Maybe.

Dr Pence: This sounds fantastic

Mark: Maybe we’ll like to it.

Dr Pence: I like it.

Mark: I like the idea. I don’t know what Joe would think about that idea.

Dr Pence: Yeah, I mean, YouTube for sure. If you subscribe to “Spartan up.” and then make sure a lot of people don’t know this, but when you subscribe to a podcast on YouTube you have to click the alarm like there’s a little alarm symbol. When that gives you indicates that lets you know when there’s a new episode.

Mark: I didn’t know that.

Dr Pence: I didn’t know it either. But my husband told me it’s like “you have you got to make sure to tell people to click the alarm thing.”

So yeah, YouTube, Spotify, iTunes. “Spartan mind.”

Mark: “Spartan mind.” awesome. You have a Spartan mind.

Dr Pence: Thank you.

Mark: Thanks for being here today. It was awesome.

I hope you think so too, you listener or watcher… This has been awesome. (laughing) very formal.

Dr Pence: (laughing) has it been a long day for you?

Mark: (laughing) starting to be a long day. But this isn’t the weirdest I’ve been by any stretch of imagination. So thanks for listening folks. You guys rock. Really appreciate your support.

Stay focused. Do your daily work. And I’ll see you next time on the Unbeatable Mind podcast.


Divine out.

Leave a Reply