Today Mark is talking to Lisa Tamati (Amazon page). She is a professional adventure athlete, author, motivational speaker, and mindset coach who goes beyond human limits. Lisa’s taken on and conquered the world’s toughest endurance events and expeditions, including the Sahara and Gobi deserts, Niger, and the Himalayas. Her most recent book is Relentless: How a Mother and Daughter Defied the Odds. In this first part of a two-part episode, she talks to Mark about her history in endurance, trekking, and how she uses mindset and mental toughness in her relentless approach to life.
- Endurance running is a cathartic experience and has a meditative effect
- Having a strong “why” is absolutely necessary to keep yourself going
- What we often call “failure” is really just learning and growth
Listen to this episode for a better understanding of how endurance and mindset go together straight from a professional ultra-endurance athlete.
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Hey folks, this is Mark Divine. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. So stoked to have you here today. Super-appreciate your time your attention and your support.
Please refer these podcasts to other people – just forward it or send them the link to the channel of whatever station that you listen to it on. That’s very helpful…
And it’s also helpful if you rate it. So go rate it on iTunes or Spotify – it’d be very helpful to other people to find the podcast.
I mentioned recently that we also launched a wickedly cool and effective 30-day course. It’s really a condensation of all the wisdom that we put into our year-long foundation course, and we dole it out over 15 minutes a day, for 30 days. Where you get a video from me and then some contemplation, box breathing, visualization, micro-goal setting… those types of things – a little journaling exercise…
This course is extraordinary. I mean, we’ve got so much great feedback. A lot of people who are just personal development junkies have said it is – bar none – the best program they’ve ever seen. So go check it out for yourself.
It literally is free if you don’t want to keep it – but I guarantee you’re going to want to keep it. And you’re going to want to continue on with us. Check it out at unbeatlemind.com/challenge – you won’t be disappointed.
I’m super-stoked to talk to my friend Lisa Tamati. Lisa and I did a podcast on her podcast a little while ago which is called – Lisa help me out here –
Lisa: “Pushing the Limits.”
Mark: “Pushing the Limits,” right.
And we had so much fun – like, we have like a kindred spirit here – Lisa is a crazy endurance and adventure athlete. She’s an author – she’s written three books – “Relentless,” her most recent one – which is her journey with her mom. Subtitled “How a Mother and a Daughter Defied the Odds.” It’s her journey to help her mom heal from a stroke – pretty devastating stroke.
Amazing. We’re going to talk about that.
Her other ones are really about her passion for endurance running and called “Running Hot” and “Running to Extremes.”
She’s a motivational speaker, a mindset coach – she does it all. And she’s got a great attitude, a great sense of humor and we’re going to learn a lot from her.
So, Lisa, thanks for joining me today. I know you just woke up – you’re down in New Zealand, right? Or are you in Australia?
Lisa: No, I’m in New Zealand. So, I’m at the furthest end of the earth. And we’ve just woken up. So yeah, really excited to talk to you today, Mark. And hopefully we’re gonna have a great conversation.
Mark: I just had dinner last night with some friends who live in New Zealand, and they were telling me just how draconian the country’s been with its Covid lockdown…
Lisa: Oh yeah.
Mark: Oh my god. They literally sequestered themselves three times for 14 days just because they have to do international travel as part of their business. And every time they do it, they’re in lockdown in a hotel and they get checked on. I mean, they can’t do anything. They get like one window of time, where they get to walk around. Fascinating.
Lisa: Yeah, it’s been pretty harsh. But because we’re an island, we’ve been able to keep the covid out of the country. So, we’ve had a few cases, but through those draconian sorts of efforts, we’ve been able to keep the whole thing under control.
So we’ve just opened up to Australia, which is awesome. Because we have lots of family and friends over there.
Mark: Have they been vaccinating folks down there?
Lisa: They’ve just started that roll-out recently. So maybe in the last two months. And it’s sort of just ramping up now. But yeah, it’s a long haul.
Mark: Yeah, okay. Well, sorry you’ve had to deal with that. (laughing) I guess we’re not alone, right?
Lisa: (laughing) Well, I’d love to fly over and see you in person, and do this in person… but yeah, I’ll be stuck in a hotel for two weeks if I do.
Mark: Well, I think you’re gonna wanna come to one of our 50-hour SEALFIT events, so you’ll probably end up flying over here when you can.
Lisa: Oh, that would be amazing.
Mark: That would be right up your lane – Kokoro camp.
So let’s talk about how and why you got into running. Like what were you running toward or from? What was that like for you?
Lisa: (laughing) You’re on the money already. Yeah, so I didn’t grow up being a very good runner… in fact, I was a severe asthmatic as a child – in and out of hospital…
Didn’t have a very good vo2 max and my lung capacity was… three and a half liter lung capacity, so I was never going to be an Olympic runner or anything…
Mark: Wow. That’s about like half of what – or maybe a quarter of what endurance athletes typically have, right?
Lisa: Yeah, yeah. So from the get-go – from a genetic perspective and health perspective it wasn’t really logical that I’d go into running.
But one of the things that I found was that running long, as opposed to running short fast races – because I wasn’t fast, right? I just didn’t have that vo2 max capability.
But I had a strong mind u and that sort of did me well over the years. And I actually got into it, because was in my early 20s, I was with a young guy from Austria. And we were in a relationship, and he was an amazing athlete.
And he sort of opened my eyes to the world of traveling. And we traveled through like 25 countries on bicycles. And we climbed mountains and trekked and did all that sort of good stuff. And that sort of opened my mind to what I was capable of.
Unfortunately the relationship was not so beneficial – call it what it was – it was an abusive relationship. And so he was very much – and this was a long time ago, and I’m sure he’s changed nowadays – but it was not a healthy relationship. And it was one where I was constantly being put down and told I was useless.
And when I look at BUD/S training and stuff that you guys go through – I’m like, “yeah, it’s similar.” In some ways…
Mark: You went through your own BUD/S training.
Lisa: Went through a type of BUD/S training, in my own way – because we were pushing the limits physically -and he was always pushing me beyond what I was capable of at the time.
And then you were constantly told that you were useless…
Mark: How long was that relationship? What I’m getting is how much of an impact did this relationship and the abuse have on you in terms of your motivation?
Lisa: Massive… so, five years we were together. And in those formative years, where you’re just getting out of your parent’s home, and then into your adult life…
And it was the first time that I’d been overseas, and all that sort of stuff. And we lived in Austria. And so, being over there, I was isolated from family, friends – and I was in a new culture. I couldn’t speak the language… I had to learn all that pretty quickly.
And so you’re sort of under the control – for want of a better word – of someone else. In their culture.
And so I was diving deep into that – and over time your confidence and self-esteem gets eroded away, when you’re exposed to constant negativity, when you’re around a person that’s telling you you’re useless and you can’t do things. And so on.
So you think that you’re not capable of very much. But I was desperately trying to prove that I was cool, and tough, and so on.
And so this came to a head, and I was doing a crossing of the Libyan desert – which was a four-person expedition that we did through a military barred area – so it was illegal what we did.
This was led by a Yugoslavian survival expert – and we had to cover 250 kilometers in this time period when we had to carry everything on our backs. So that meant all the water supply – so we only took 20 liters of water each. Which was all we could carry, because we had to carry all our gear as well. So that meant a two liter water ration a day in a desert that’s 40 plus degrees.
When you’re trying to cover 45 kilometers. And so I had a backpack that was 35 kilograms – the guys had a little bit more than that and…
Mark: What’s that in pounds, by the way?
Lisa: About 80, 90 pounds… something bloody heavy anyway… it was about two-thirds of my body weight.
And you’ve got this deprivation of water. And I’d just crossed the Arabian desert the week before, so I was pretty fatigued…
Mark: Stop there. Why would you do these two events so close to each other? It seems like you’d need months to recover from just hiking across or running across the Arabian desert…
Lisa: (laughing) This was a trek, this wasn’t running. This was a 150k and it wasn’t as extreme, and it was a sort of preparation. So we were down in Egypt anyway and so we did the Arabian desert…
Actually the guy who was organizing this… he was taking a group through there. And that was the way he was financing it – if that makes sense – so then we went up to the Libyan desert just the four of us….
Mark: And what would have happened if you stumbled upon like a military patrol? They would have arrested you or taken you into custody, right?
Mark: That’s quite a risk.
Lisa: Yeah. So we left Cairo, we drove 12 hours south from there, and then we came to this last oasis, if you like, and there’s a big military base there. And we had to sort of wait till nightfall and try to disappear without getting seen. And so scary stuff.
And then having only two liters of water a day, that started to bite really, really quickly. And so you know what people are like in expeditions and stuff, when they are under extreme duress. They can be very irritable. You can be very short… you’re not always on your best behavior.
And so we ended up having a big, massive domestic in the middle of this Libyan desert crossing, right? It’s a funny story now, to tell you, but it wasn’t quite so funny then.
We wanted to do a book about this crossing, because it was the most beautiful desert you could possibly imagine – I’ve run lots of deserts and this was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It was like these limestone formations and there was this coral growing out of the ground, because it was once covered by the ocean.
And this was untouched. So, the native people there had been through this, but no other people had crossed this area, right? So it was a pretty special thing to do.
And all we had was military maps from the US military – I don’t know how we got it, don’t ask – but they were pilot maps of the area. So we only had pilot maps…
This is back in 1997, right? So this is a long time ago. Before we had all the stuff we have now.
And we were going to do a book. And so my partner was a photographer and he wanted to take lots of photos. And Elvis who was the leader of the expedition – and that was his real name – he said, “well, you can take as many photos as you like. But you’ve got to keep up. And we’ve got to cover 45 kilometers a day, and that’s non-negotiable.”
“so yeah, if you’re going to do that, you have to keep up.”
And the partner wanted me to help with the photography – setting up tripods, carrying gear, doing whatever… and I was just physically unable to do anything more than put one foot in front of the other because this was just on the limits anyway.
And so he started having a go at me for that. And Elvis sort of turned around and said, “hang on a minute. You can’t treat her like that.”
And this was the first time in that five-year relationship that somebody else had actually said, “this is not okay. The way you’re treating her.”
And I was like, “really? This is not okay?” Because for me that was my normal. That was what I was used to.
And so there ended up being this big, alpha-male fight between these two guys. And this culminated on day four, in the middle of the day. So envisage 40 plus degrees, you’re severely dehydrated -like dehydration like you’ve never experienced. You’re very irritable, this is dire…
And your partner says, “right, that’s it. That’s the end of the relationship, I’m leaving.”
And so he left. He packed up his backpack and he left me with the others…
Mark: He just strolled off into the desert alone?
Lisa: He strolled off into the desert.
Mark: Sounds like a brilliant idea.
Lisa: Well, I was worried. Like, “is he going to survive? Are we going survive?” Because it was getting pretty close to the edge. And he was very capable, but all it takes out there is one twisted ankle and you’re up shit creek, basically.
So anyway, I started to fall apart. Started crying and being a girl… and then I thought, “hang on a minute. I’m in the middle of the Libyan desert. I can’t afford to fall apart right now. I’ve got to pull my shit together, and I’ve got to really focus on the task at hand.”
And that was the first time that I really learned to compartmentalize my emotional state from the job I had to do – which ended up being a really good lesson to learn. Because you can’t just let go in a place like that. And you owe it to the other guys.
And so the three of us then continued on, and it was a pretty brutal next few days where it was on the absolute limits of what we could endure. And cut a long story short – we did make it out. I remember coming into the next oasis after seven days, we made it through.
And I was completely and utterly just exhausted. And you’re coming into this oasis, and we had to wait for nightfall again, because there was another military base that we had to get past into the main oasis. And I was like putting my last lolly that I’d saved in my mouth, and I’m looking up at the guard in the tower with this machine gun.
And I’m thinking, “I should be shit scared right now. And I’m not, I just don’t feel anything.”
In fact, I wanted to turn around and go back out into the desert, because I didn’t want to face my life when I got back. Because it was going to be one hell of a mess.
Lisa: So anyway, this is how I ended up getting through this desert – and this was a low point in my life, right? And it was a turning point in my life. I’d survived this incredible crossing, through this amazing place. I’d lost a relationship – and it took me another three years to get out of that relationship completely, because it ended up being one hell of a mess…
Mark: Wow. Can I ask something about this? My experience or kind of understanding is if you get yourself into a dysfunctional relationship – especially one that is abusive – and you don’t recognize that it’s abusive – it’s because that showed up somewhere else in your life – typically parents, right? So were there conditions in your home that led you to not recognize some of this?
Lisa: Yeah, so I mean I grew up with absolutely amazing, wonderful parents… so, no I didn’t have abuse as a child from my parents.
But what I did have from my dad was that he was a real hardass. He was a tough man, and he expected a lot. So while he was a loving father who was awesome and very engaged with his kids – he put a lot of pressure on us to perform.
And he wanted me to represent New Zealand in sport. He wanted me to be a top athlete, a top career woman… a top everything that was… he wanted the best for me in my life.
But because I was a very, very sensitive kid – it created this pressure in me to want to want to please my dad, right? I wanted to prove that I was cool and tough…
And he valued mental and physical toughness. So he grew up really hard himself. Didn’t even own a pair of shoes until he went to high school. He grew up as one of 8 children – dirt poor and it was a fight or go under sort of a life.
And so he wanted us to have everything that he didn’t have. But the way he brought that across was that he wanted us to perform.
So when I got into a relationship of course, I searched out somebody who was as hard and as tough as he was in a way. Whereas the redeeming side of my father was that he was loyal and dedicated and a wonderful dad as well.
So yes, there were elements of that in…
Mark: You couldn’t see the dark side in this guy? And you transferred the need to please and to want to make him proud – make your dad proud – you transferred that on to this guy. And then that kind of blinded you to the abuse.
Lisa: Very much so. Yep. You’re on the money.
Mark: Wow, I think I could be a therapist. (laughing) What do you think?
Lisa: (laughing) Yeah, I think you could be too. Yeah, you’re on to it. And now looking back at it, it’s easy to see that. It’s not so easy when you’re in the middle of it.
Mark: Of course.
Lisa: You’re just surviving and doing what you do. But – so back to back to the story – that was the turning point where I said… and it took me a long time to get out of that relationship, because he became even more abusive and more dangerous and so on. I eventually did though.
And when I did, I was like, “nobody is going to treat me like that again. And I am not going to be that person ever again.”
And this is where I started to get into ultra-marathon running. Because it took me two years to physically recover from the Libyan desert… like, I did massive damage to my kidneys, and you can imagine the dehydration… my nerves in my shoulders and stuff were numb… I had no feeling.
I had scoliosis in the spine, because the weight… there was a lot of things that were going on. And of course, mentally I was in a bad way.
Mark: How old were you?
Lisa: I was 27. So I got into this late, hey?
But then I was reading, a couple years later, about this race in Morocco called the “Marathon des Sables” which is a famous ultramarathon – and it was 240k’s, and it was across the Moroccan Sahara… and you had nine liters of water a day, and you had doctors, and you had support…
And it’s been touted back then as the toughest race on earth…
Mark: It sounds probably pretty easy compared to Libya…
Lisa: (laughing) I’m like, “I reckon I could do that.” That was my comparison, because distance and things were comparable. And so I started to train for this race and try to get sponsors and things to get down to this race.
And I did. And I hadn’t even run a marathon at that point, right? I’ve never done it.
Mark: So basically you went from zero to 240 miles…
Lisa: (laughing) Yeah, exactly…
Mark: (laughing) That’s not necessarily the prescription that I would recommend most people do, but it worked for you…
Lisa: No. But I had been doing lots of trekking. And had done all that sport before, so while I hadn’t been a “runner,” could say I had done a lot of endurance sport, if you like.
So I went down there, and I did this event. And I was surrounded by like 700 people, and you’ve got this like… it’s like a military camp moving every day. It’s like 700 runners and you’ve got all these army trucks and it was just super- exciting. And I was just like buzzing out. And this is amazing.
And then you’re surrounded by positive, amazing people who are willing you on. And you had your teammates and your tent… you had about seven or eight guys in your tent, right? And you’re just looking after each other. And people were so positive and they’re patting you on the back.
And I was just sucking that up, because I needed that. Because I was just so down on who I was, right? So when people are telling you you’re amazing and what you’re doing is really awesome, that just really started to rebuild me.
And so I did that race, and I was just like, “this is awesome.” And I did really well in it. I ended up at the top ten of woman – which was pretty good for a first timer.
And I’m like, “hang on a second. I’m pretty good at this. I’m gonna keep going.”
So then, I just did one after the other, after the other. And the rest is sort of history – 25 years later, 140 ultra-marathons later, 70 000 kilometers…
Mark: I was just gonna ask how far you’ve run. 70 000 kilometers.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah. It’s like two and a half times around the equator equivalent. That’s in training and meets and stuff… but yeah.
Mark: This is incredible. I mean, I’ve interviewed some extreme athletes. And I interviewed a guy recently who ran across the United States doing a marathon every day. I think it was 121 marathons. And he finished up at the New York marathon.
And it just fascinates me, because it’s just so much time alone in your head. Running… even though you have support teams and all that… it’s a very, very solitary endeavor.
And I remember as a competitive swimmer, I could handle an hour or two of swimming alone in the water, but I would probably go bonkers if I was alone for 18 hours just trotting through the desert.
So what happens? Like, what’s your mind doing? This will lead into the discussion on resiliency and mental toughness, but like what does your mind do when you’re really in these long endurance races?
And what happens when you really start to struggle? How do you pull yourself out? And how do you maintain kind of a relaxed flow state? Which is certainly the holy grail – where hours can slip by…
Lisa: Yeah, that flow state thing… I’ve got Stephen Kotler coming on the show shortly, he’s awesome, yeah
And I would occasionally get into that flow state, but not as often as I would have liked. Like, people could sometimes envisage that you get into the state and you’re in this sort of Zen, sort of meditative state and you’re just cruising along.
And that certainly happens. But you don’t stay there the whole time. And it’s definitely a battle of will and overcoming obstacles…
And you have to have a really strong “why” I think… it’s really, really important. And at the beginning, my “why” was pretty obvious. I was trying to prove to certain people that I wasn’t useless and weak. And I had a lot to regenerate and to try to regenerate who I was and build my confidence and my self-esteem.
So that was a very, very strong “why.” So I was willing to go to whatever pain came my way to not be considered useless, which is what I was fighting against inside myself. Even though that person was out of my life – I was still fighting that demon if you like in my own mind…
Mark: So in those years – in that phase – what was your mental dialogue…?
Lisa: Yeah, there was a lot of like just don’t… like, if you felt like quitting – which was pretty much every minute of every hour – you’d be having these conversations, you can’t let that person beat you.
Like, I’ll give you an example – so I did the bad water ultra-marathon which is a famous race in the states that you got probably know about through Death Valley, which is the hottest race on earth, right? And it’s 135 miles and it took me years and years to qualify for that event. And to have enough experience and the reason I wanted to specifically do that race was that the boyfriend back then – he had cycled through Death Valley in the middle of summer and he’d always like been telling me how amazing he was, because he cycled through Death Valley in the middle of summer.
And so in the back of my head, when I knew that there was this ultra-marathon where they ran through Death Valley in the middle of summer, I’m like, “that’s my holy grail. Because if I do that, then I’ve beaten that demon in my mind that was him.” If that makes sense.
So it took me 13 years to get there, but I did. I ran through Death Valley – I did it twice actually in the middle of summer…
And when I did that that was like closure. And I am not useless, so…
Mark: And you needed a new “why” too, right?
Lisa: I needed a new “why.” And then my “why” changed. After that race it became more about, “okay, I’ve got this skill that I’ve developed. This just talent for this sort of stuff.”
“How can I actually use it to help other people?” So that then turned into things like raising money for charity – I ran through New Zealand 2 250 kilometers raising money for kids… and I’ve done lots of charity sort of events.
And then also it became a part of my coaching… you’re then passing on the knowledge, you’re coaching, like you do. You’re sharing your teaching…
And you’re giving the wins from all of this, because there is so much that you learn when you’re doing this that you can then take into your daily life, your business life, your career, your family life… all these skills.
Because running from a to b in an artificial race is just a man-made construct that we’ve just… it has no point, really. We’re not going to war and defending our country. We’re just doing this stupid random thing, really.
Mark: Well, yeah, we do those things for a reason. To challenge ourselves and – like you said – because we can. Like, why would we want to climb Everest yeah and I remember someone asking or reading about Edmund Hillary being asked that and he said, “well, because it’s there.”
Lisa: (laughing) Yeah, exactly. My fellow kiwi. He’s a true legend.
And I think people in past centuries were warriors or explorers or pioneers in some way. So they had their physical job to do. They were there pushing the limits everyday sort of thing, just to survive…
Mark: So they didn’t have this need to experience the physical hardship and push the body to the edge, because they were actually doing it to survive and to do their living.
Yeah, so we have a pretty comfortable lifestyle. And yet something in our spirit says “you know what? We need to be challenged.” And if you hide from that challenge, then you live a life that’s even… the suffering of the challenge, pales in comparison to the suffering of not going to the challenge.
Lisa: Yeah, that is so true. You pay the price one way or the other… and if you learn the discipline of training, of staying fit and looking after your health, and being in that preventative sort of mindset… you’re going to save a hell of a lot of suffering on the other end.
Where you see people go through – we’ll get into the story with my mum shortly – horrible, horrible things. And you think how that could have been avoided if they had eaten better, trained better and my god… like, I’m going to keep running, you know?
Mark: Right. Even if it’s not a physical disease that comes from not challenging yourself, there’s that issue of just living that quiet desperation of not discovering who you are, and what you’re capable of.
And also, not facing the demons like you did because the best ways to heal emotionally is to go deep into some transformational challenge like this. And to face the demons that come up time and time and time again. And you can’t hide from them in an ultra-race… they’re running right alongside you.
Lisa: There’s no hiding. And like your true self comes out and your true problems come out. And it’s very cathartic, I remember running through that Moroccan desert the second time I did it, and just bawling my eyes out for this 84 kilometer stage that we were doing. Just running along crying.
It was just such a cathartic experience. You’re having these conversations within your head. You’re sorting stuff out.
And there’s still a very much a mental health thing for me today. When I get out and I go for my run – which is no longer the stupidly long distance – I’ve retired from it. The ultra-marathon I’ll tell you about why later.
But it’s still my mental health. I go out there… I’m alone in my head, I can sort through the shit of the day. I can reorganize things in my brain, and it is a type of meditation, it is a type of mental health and stability.
And it gets that energy out. Like, I have a lot of adrenaline. Like I study genetics and stuff, and I have an inordinate amount of adrenaline in my body. That means I have a lot of stress hormones – a lot of cortisol, a lot of adrenaline – I need to move… I need to move all day, pretty much.
Mark: I think I’m like that too.
Mark: I want to talk about what you learned about resiliency and grit, but you mentioned something… endurance training like that, or endurance sports do have a meditative effect. And I think it’s similar to mindfulness, right?
There’s different types of meditation. I teach that in Unbeatable Mind, we talked about that on your podcast – that have different effects on your brain, will train you different ways…
But from my experience with long distance running and swimming and whatnot was a mindfulness. Very similar to mindfulness meditation. Where you are able to kind of create a separation between yourself and your thoughts. And you get to examine those thoughts as they come up time and time and time again.
And I think that’s really valuable… if you just merge with your thoughts, you will quit, right? If the part of you that comes up says, “I can’t do this. This sucks. I’m not worthy.” And you believe it. You haven’t created the separation. You are those thoughts. You’re toast.
But when you train this way – and slowly you begin to recognize that if I just deny those thoughts their power – it starts to diminish. And then anytime they come up, because of the subconscious pattern – you can smack them in the face and tell them to go away.
And then develop the counter argument which is, “I am worthy actually. I’ve got this.”
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it takes time.
Mark: It takes time.
Lisa: Yeah, and it’s understanding also your really strong “why” that you’re doing it. Like, when I was doing long races and I’d get to the point where I’m at the end of my tether, and like I can’t even take another step.
And then I would ask myself – I’d spin these fantasies out in my head – like, “if you’d just crashed in the jungle in an airplane, and your mother’s life depended on you getting help. And you have to run now -another 200 miles or something – are you going to quit?”
Those are the questions that I’d ask myself, and if I could say, “no, of course I wouldn’t quit, because it’s my mum…”
And then I would say, “right, well get your ass up off the ground, because there is a way to keep moving forward. You just have to take the next step.”
And that’s these little mind games that you’re playing with yourself, to trick yourself to keep going and pull out the stops. Because when you’re doing these types of things, you are pulling out the stops. And you don’t want to live in that space every day of your life – because you’ll break yourself. But there are times in life where you have to be able to pull out the stops. And to be able to carry on and not quit when it really counts. And those are the times you want to be able to tap into that ability, when the proverbial hits the fan, you know that you’ll step up.
And the more you do that, the stronger that you become the more confident, the more self-esteem you develop… you feel like you can rely on yourself. And that you are going to… when it really counts, you’ll be there. And that’s – I think – really important.
Mark: What you’re pointing to is this fact that grit and resiliency are things that you practice. You become them. It’s not something you just happen to have.
You practice it by not quitting, and then not quitting again, and then not quitting again… getting stronger every time. In the seals we were taught that when we hit that wall moment, when we just couldn’t go another step – we actually had about 40% more energy.
But we had our teammates kind of beside us, to support us, right? So, if you’re on a solitary journey those teammates – it has to be your inner guide, your higher self, right? Your mom or your “why” becomes your teammate.
Mark: And then you can even create an inner team, like in some visualization training, you develop like an internal board of directors, or internal guides.
And you can talk to them, right? They’re there. They take on kind of a life for you.
Well one of the things that we teach in SEALFIT is to create your inner team – like the teammates in your mind who are there to support you and pick you up when you fall down. And you’re there to support them. And they’re running right alongside you.
Lisa: I love that analogy. Actually, I’ve never thought of it like that but it’s almost like asking the universe and my loved ones on the other side – because I believe that they carry on – for help. They’re my inner team.
Mark: Well, what’s interesting too about this concept of 40% more is that the first time – let’s say, using my example – you’re at BUD/S and you hit the wall. And the instructor comes up and says you’re capable – they used to tell us 20 times more – so I use that in my training… you’re capable 20 times more.
Which the first 20x is… let’s relate that… maybe you have 40% more energy than you thought you had, so all you need is either an internal nudge to say, “screw it. I’m not quitting. I’m capable of 20 times more. Let’s go.”
And then you find that you have 40% more energy. And you complete whatever it is you’re completing and you’re stronger.
The next time you do it, you don’t get to that inflection point at the same point as you did the first time. It comes to you 40% later. And you still have 40% more after that. And then you see where I’m going? Then the next time it comes to you yet again 40% later than the second time. And you still have 40% more after that.
And this way you end up with like geometric growth or capacity building by just ratcheting up these wins, recognizing that you’re capable of 20 times more and then when you hit that limit it’s 20 times more, 20 times more or 40% more, 40% more, 40% more.
Either way it’s kind of a metaphor. It’s going to be different every time, and different for every person. But when you develop a strong “why,” and you can internally guide yourself to recognize that you’re not that thought of quitting, you’re not that thought of shame or unworthiness or whatever form it takes. You’re not your demons.
What we say is you stare down that wolf of fear. And when you do that and you break through, you suddenly have this surge of energy. And there’s that 40%
And then you just keep like compounding. You compound grit this way.
Lisa: Yeah. And you also start to understand how it all works – because the first time you hit something – a wall – you think that that’s it. And then you just don’t understand that actually you can suffer longer, you can go harder, you can push further…
And then there’s been times, Mark, when I’ve actually failed. And when I’ve dissected afterwards… I mean a couple of times were like I was running 333 k’s across Niger, which is like deep in the Sahara in a race – and I ended up with food poisoning. And I had to pull out after 222 k’s with severe food poisoning.
And to top it all off, my marriage at the time – I was married to another Austrian, another one – and a week before he had asked me for a divorce. And so we’re I’m facing this biggest race – the longest race I’ve ever done – most dangerous country… like it’s not a great place to be running, anyway.
And then I got food poisoning an hour into the race, because we’ve had this goat stew the night before… and there were only 17 runners, so we were spread for miles. You’re on your own, you’re in the middle of the Sahara, you’re vomiting, you’ve got severe diarrhea and you’re passing out.
And I failed at the 222k Mark. And I say failed, because like there are times, I beat myself up for that failure for a many years afterwards. And then I thought, “hang on a minute. Now you’re being a bit ridiculous. Because you weren’t in a war – you were in a race. It was getting to the point where you could die if you carried on.”
“And that’s just stupid to continue there. Stop beating yourself up.”
Other times I’ve failed, when I’ve gone into something too cocky, too “I’ve got this, because it’s only a 50k or something. And I can do that in my sleep.”
And then I’ve fallen on my ass. Because I’ve gone into it with the wrong attitude of not respecting the distance. And I’ve had to pull my head in and realize that a 5k can knock you down.
And then I’ve had times where… I’ve been through a number of health journeys in the last few years because I’ve smashed the crap out of my body. And had points where I haven’t been able to lift my head off the pillow to crawl to the toilet…
So I know that the full gambit of what it is to run hundreds of kilometers, and what it is to not be able to make the toilet. And that’s a really different perspective on what we do, because then you start to understand like the human body is… we have this incredible mind and this incredible body that we can do amazing things with.
And then to be put into certain health situations where you’ve had nothing, has given me a real compassion for people with chronic pain, or people that are going through illnesses or disabilities.
And not taking that for granted. That we have our health, and that we have… so this sort of leads on to a story – do you mind if I share about my mom’s story?
Mark: Yes, but let’s pause for a second, because I wanted to just share something to put a pin in what you were just talking about.
In the seals we said that there was no such thing as failure. There is winning or success – mission success – and there’s learning.
But there’s no failure. Failure is not an option. And that was so profound of a lesson, that is so valuable for everybody, because everybody thinks that if things don’t work out according to their expectations that they failed or they’re a failure. And that’s just bullshit, right?
First of all expectations tend to lead to problems themselves. So we always used to say it’s the journey, not the destination in our training. So it really is the journey and if you hit the finish line, great. That’s good.
But if you expect to hit the finish line, and maybe it’s not your day… or maybe your body has a failure because of some good conditions you weren’t aware of. Or any number of things that could go wrong.
And suddenly you just say that’s a failure, because you didn’t meet your expectations of crossing the finish line… it’s actually doing violence to yourself, right? It’s negative and you’re weakening your overall psychosomatic physical structure by taking on that negative construct.
So no. There is no failure. There’s winning or success, and there’s learning and growth. And both of them can coexist, right? In the same moments.
So you can take that learning from not completing an event like you did as a win or as a success. And it’s all positive and you continue that growth, you don’t stop yourself in your tracks.
Lisa: That’s so powerful, because a lot of people are so down. Especially really go-getter, type A personalities that are just “I have to win at all costs. I have to finish at all costs.” I mean you don’t, and you beat yourself up.
Instead of going “hang on a minute. I learned this, this and this, on this journey. And I created this change. And I found out a new thing. I collapsed because I didn’t – I don’t know – take the right electrolytes or whatever the case was.
There’s always a variable. And this is the way life is. Like you can plan everything and then shit’s gonna come at you. And this is where learning that that’s life and this is the ebbs and flows and being flexible and adaptable, and being like water, and being like a reed in the wind rather than being that “I failed” tree that says, “no, I’m solid, and I shouldn’t have failed, and therefore I’m useless.”
Which was my construct for many, many years. And now I realize – when I look back on the times when I failed – and it sounds cliché – but those were greatest learnings and things that really helped me in life. And this is where resilience comes in, because then you’ve learned, you’ve failed, you’ve succeeded, you’ve gotten back up again.
And it’s the getting back up again that’s the key. It’s that, “I’m going to try again.” Or “I’m going to do something slightly different and go in a different direction.” Or “I’m going to change what I’m doing.”
But it’s always learning and it’s always developing. And so then nothing becomes a failure. It becomes a either – like you say – a win or a learning curve.
And it’s not always pleasant. Like it’s not pleasant to fail at the goal that you set, and you think you’ve failed. But when you look at it with retrospect, and when you have the wisdom of being a little bit older – because we’re both north of 50 – you get to look back and you see what that journey was really about. And then you can have that sort of perspective.
And looking back – everything’s a hell of a lot easier than looking forward…
Mark: Again, all these funny… like you would have been a great Navy SEAL, because that speaks to the other mantra we had is that the only easy day was yesterday. Because yesterday sure looks easy today but yesterday it was a pain in the ass.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I certainly wouldn’t want to go through some of the stuff I’ve already been through. Like, would you want to go through BUD/S again?
Mark: Oh, no. Not unless I had to.