“You’re being coached, literally, on your mind by Olympians and sports psychologists about how to be more. And let the doing flow from there.”–Michael Gervais
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Michael Gervais (@michaelgervais) is a renowned expert in high-performance psychology, best known for his work with the Seattle Seahawks, the Red Bull Stratos team, and with several Olympic athletes as well. He understands the power of our minds to accomplish the extraordinary first hand. He talks to Commander Divine about the importance of mindset and especially mindfulness to creativity and high performance.
- His new company with Football coach Pete Carroll in coaching for business called “Compete to Create.”
- How he made sure to call mindfulness “training” rather than “meditation” for professional football clients
- His outlook and insights on Luke Aikins of Red Bull skydiving without a parachute
Michael Gervais specializes in high performance mindset training and whether you are an athlete, a weekend warrior, a business exec, entrepreneur or a stay at home parent, listen to this interview to improve your performance in everything.
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Shownotes & Transcript
Hi, this is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks for joining me today. Super-appreciate your time. I know you got a lot going on. We will make sure that your time is well spent with today’s guest who is Michael Gervais. A peak performance expert. Super-cool guy. I was on his podcast last year, and we’ve got a lot to talk about today.
But before we get into it, I wanna remind you or maybe this is the first you’re hearing about it. About our initiative to really raise money and awareness for veterans who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress. 22 vets a day are committing suicide. It’s just completely unsat. And I know there’s a lot of good intentioned people in the VA system but it’s simply not working. So we’ve got to do something for these folks.
This is an initiative that’s near and dear to my heart. The Courage Foundation is running the Burpees for Vets program. And our goal is 22 million burpees this year and to raise a minimum 250,000 dollars, which’ll go to directly support a number of vets to put them through an immersion program with long-term after-care. Based upon the Unbeatable Mind principles.
So burpeesforvets.com is where you can find the info. You can join my team and just do some burpees with me and pledge an amount per burpee. You can raise a team of your own. You could just sponsor my burpees if you want. I’ve committed to 100,000 this year. I will do more than that, but that’s my minimum. And I’m donating 10 cents a burpee. So we’ve got other folks who are doing 1 cent a burpee, and 50,000 burpees. We’ve got teams who are just going to do as many as they can in 24 hours. There’s lots of ways you can do this.
The ultimate goal is 22 million total burpees. We’re already about a quarter of the way there. We got 5 million pledged. Meaning throughout the course of the year we’re going to do 5 million burpees and 100,000 raised, so we’re on the road. burpeesforvets.com. #burpeesforvets. Let’s check it out.
And Michael I wanna know if you’re in?
Michael Gervais: Just the other night my wife and my son were around the dinner table, we’re having a conversation about like, we’ve got this little deck of card that somebody gave us. It’s like one question you ask.
And it’s kind of fun, easy questions, and some are hard questions. And the question just a couple nights ago was if you had a million dollars, what cause would you donate it to?
And so we went back and forth and my wife she just looks at me, she’s like, “You know, it is brutal what’s happening to these young men that come back. Men and women that come back. We’re screwing them up. They should be taken care of in the proper way.”
So she had just a little frustration in her tone when she talked about it.
And I’m like, “God Bless her.” Cause my mission has always been about the ocean. The ocean’s been really important… wonderful to me. I’ve learned so much about how the mind worked, people work. How the relationship with intense and hostile environments can work and what happens to our mind and body in those situations.
So I’ve always wanted to take care of the ocean. I’m not saying I don’t want to do that anymore, but there’s… anyways… sign me up.
Mark: I’m big on that too. Oh cool. Sounds like we got to sign your wife up.
Michael: You know what? She’s pretty… she’s an asskicker for sure. So and then we’re gonna get my 9 year-old son. We’ll get him to get 5 or whatever.
Mark: Yeah, you know what? There are a lot of families who are doing the challenge. So the family is committed to a certain number of burpees, and they bang them out together. What a cool way to do something healthy that has meaning to it. A bigger “why” to it.
This has become my training program this year. I mean, 300 burpees… it’s become really, really fun and I’m actually getting into pretty good shape. Although people might laugh when they say, “Mark Divine? Getting in good shape?”
Michael: Okay, so your challenge is X number of burpees in X number of minutes? Or in a row?
Mark: I do 300 burpees when I wake up in the morning, after my morning routine. Right now I’m doing them in sets of 20. And I’ll do those 20 as fast as I can. And I’ll take a short break. Like a 5 breath break.
So I integrate breathing, and a mantra. And it becomes this amazing practice. Not only do I get a great workout, so it’s an exercise in mindfulness. Single-point focus. Courage. Whatnot.
And it’s gotta be done every day. And the cool part of it is I always have this “Why” to lean back on. It’s like this isn’t really about my workout. This isn’t really ab0ut me at all. It’s about helping these vets. And leading by example. And making a difference.
Can you imagine if every workout, every training session had that kind of powerful “why” behind it? I mean, it’s crazy…
Michael: A thousand percent. When I was first introduced to mindfulness it was about 18 years ago now from a gentleman who was… Walt Rutherford, Dr. Rutherford, What’s up Walt? He did something amazing. So he was a Vietnam vet, came back. Had some heavy experiences that he was responsible for in some ways. That didn’t go optimally, didn’t go right as part of the responsibility of being a leader in the military.
And he came back and was a bit sideways with some stuff. And had all these medals, you know, for what he had done. But he was troubled by some of the decisions he made. And the lives that were lost.
So he went on this journey to understand himself better and went on a deeper quest. He turned out and found Mindfulness. This was probably for him 40 years ago–30 years ago now. Maybe even longer.
And so this was at graduate school. And he never told me what he was doing, but he started every class with about somewhere between a 1 minute and 10 minute meditation. Every class. This is in my PhD program down in San Diego. It was awesome. And he never told us what he was doing.
And so it just becomes radical. When you really get into it, it’s like, “Whoa. There’s something really rich behind a practice.”
So when you talk about a mindfulness practice integrated with physical, in my head I’m, “Right on.” And what if your daily life had a big mission behind it?
So you know what he did? He said, “Listen. I want you to focus”–and I pass this on as often as I possibly can–“I want you to work on mastering your inhale as if a loved one’s life depends on you getting it right.”
Mark: (laughing) I love it.
Michael: So it’s not like do this for deeper focus so that you’ll be better. It’s like, get it right because at the moment of being tested if your son is in a precarious situation, or loved one’s in a precarious situation… do you have the ability to lock in and execute before it’s too late?
Michael: Before it’s too late. Because we’re so entertained–I don’t know–16 hours a day we’re entertained by our mind. Our mind creates pictures and stories and whatever. And it’s really entertaining.
And that’s not where elite execution of performance takes place. It doesn’t take place in the mind. There’s something that has to come from that where the beautiful things take place. Whether it’s the world stage of athletics, or business, or entrepreneurship or artistry.
It has to come from that source, and that source can be agitated. But the output will be agitated as well. And sometimes that’s beautiful art as well. But coming from rather than thinking that it’s outside of you. So anyways.
Mark: That’s awesome. I wanna come back to that because I wanna get into some discussion about mindset and conditioning and how to team win for a bigger “why.”
But how did–before we get there–how did you get interested in this field of mental development and psychology? What’s your journey about?
Michael: Yeah, cool. I’ll give you the longer version in the shortest way possible.
Mark: (laughing) That sounds good. “I was born at a very young age.”
Michael: (laughing) Well, it does start when I was 15. So I grew up surfing, and there’s 2 types of surfing. And the first part is like, free surfing. And it’s just you out there, out back with your crew doing whatever you can do. And trying to maximize this unfolding, unpredictable wave that’s never happened before. So it kind of forces you to be in it. Just like any quote-unquote “electric” or high-stakes or vibrant environments. It forces focus. Or there’s consequences.
In surfing people want to think there’s big consequences. If you’re surfing an 80 foot wave, yes. A 20 foot wave, yes. But 6 foot waves? You can get hurt. I got plenty of stitches for those mistakes.
But what it does… there’s free surfing and then there is competitive surfing. And I was good little free-surfer. I’m not trying to say anything impressive, but I loved it, it was good.
And then as soon as the lights would turn on for competition, I was different and not in a good way. I was not right. Like I had this craft inside of me, and when judges weren’t there, and family wasn’t there, and friends weren’t there, and the pressure–whatever that meant to a 15 year-old kid–wasn’t there. I couldn’t access the skills inside of me. I couldn’t access the technical skills, the physical skills, nor the mental skills.
I didn’t know that though. This is like looking back in hindsight. I just knew I was a mess. I didn’t like it. And looking like… Okay, so I had anxiousness. I was anxious about performing well for not using the experience to drop-in and feel organically what was inside of me, and to be authentic. But to impress others. And the fear of what would happen if I didn’t do right as a 15 year-old kid. Like I’d be made fun of. I don’t know. Whatever.
So that started me down this path. One day, I was in a competition. There was only 3 people out in the water. It was glassy conditions. The sun was just coming up… it was probably about 9:30 in the morning. And it’s idyllic. It’s everything we hope for just a little bit overhead. There’s only 3 people out.
On a normal day out in the ocean there’s 20, 40, 50 people whatever’s littered throughout the beach. And it’s oddly enough… surfers… there’s this idea that we’re laid back people. But when you put a laid back person in a highly competitive environment? Because there’s only 3 waves every 12 minutes…
Mark: Brutal out there. I’ve been mixed up in it before. By mistake.
Michael: (laughing) So all of a sudden if you’re 5% a-hole, that 5% comes out 100%. Because…
Mark: That’s hilarious.
Michael: And God help us if there’s somebody that’s 15% or 20% a-hole.
So there I am, and this older competitor paddles by me. And he says, “Gervais, I see you every day out here.” And he just looked at me, he says, “You gotta stop worrying about what could go wrong.” And he paddled off. Right? To go catch his wave. We were competing against each other.
And I thought, “The Hell? How does he know what I’m doing? That’s exactly…he’s right! All I’m consumed about was what could go wrong.”
I didn’t know what psychology was. There was not really a field of sports psychology. I think it was just getting going. And I didn’t know what was up.
But I sat there like a little scrappy dude and I said, “Well then I’m going to start thinking about what could go right.”
And so that’s when it started but I didn’t know… I got my PhD in psychology. As a kid growing up no one in my family went to school. I didn’t know anyone who had a “Doctor” title other than the guy who had me cough every once year and turn my head.
Like, I didn’t know what it meant to be an academician. I had no idea what that meant. I just fell in love organically with the interior and how do you engineer to be able to access the true and right stuff that’s inside of us.
So that’s how the path went.
Surfing to PhD
Mark: So from surfing to PhD… There’s a little bit of time gap there, you know? From 15…
Michael: (laughing) Yeah. We could fill in a lot of good stories there? Some…
Mark: There’s gotta be one or two other really formative things that kind of drove you into this field. I get the surfing. Surfing’s incredible. I’m not a good surfer at all, but I love the ocean obviously as a SEAL. And I appreciate the mental game of any ocean sport or any action in, on and around the ocean. Whether you’re a fisherman or submariner like I was in the SEAL teams. It’s extraordinary. It requires a great amount of respect and humility and focus to operate in that environment. So I get how that could really spur you into peak performance.
But what else was there for you?
Michael: Okay, so I think that it was unique that it was surfing. But I think underneath of it what really spurred me and that 15 year-old kid was I was ready to feel the suffering. The deep suffering of thinking that I need to do more to be more.
So like if I could do the extraordinary, I’d be okay. If I do high performance, I’d be okay.
Mark: So you’re saying you were an overachiever to some extent.
Michael: Yeah, well I just cared too much about… I wasn’t okay unless I did well. And now mind you… I barely got out of high school.
Mark: Got it.
Michael: So it wasn’t about overachiever in every vertical of a human. It was in the thing I cared a lot about. And it was the suffering that I felt. This is like looking back with lenses of an adult that that’s what it was.
It just happened to be surfing. It could have probably been anything. But surfing does offer some unique consequences of not getting things right. And some deep focus, like you talked about.
So then what happens is I get on my PSAT, which is an entrance exam for college, I got a zero. On my SAT, I got a zero.
Michael: My mom pulled me… yeah, I didn’t go. I went surfing.
Mark: (laughing) Okay. Well that explains it. I’m thinking, “How could you possibly get a zero?”
Michael: (laughing) Yeah, you get like 100 points or something as they say if you just sign your name.
So I didn’t go. I blew it off. Because I wanted to go do the thing I loved doing.
And so there’s this… let’s go back to… it’s about 2 o’clock in the afternoon in my kitchen. My mom pulls me aside. She didn’t go to college. My dad didn’t go to college. She pulls me aside and she looks at me. And she says, “hey Mike. We tried. And you’re at a crossroad. We didn’t know how to prepare you right to get into school. We tried our best so you have a choice now. You either need to get a job and move out. Follow your passions, do whatever you want to do. Or you need to go to school…”
And so I looked at my mom like, what? I’m not living here and just surfing and just going to…? I need to actually kind of go make a choice? And she said that’s it.
So I knew I could go to school and keep surfing. And so I made that choice. And so I went to school and kept surfing.
Now what happened in my first… no… second semester is that there was 3 professors. And it was Community College. It was a little private community college in Palos Verdes. And it sounds like my family had wealth. No, no, no. They saved for this. And they put their money away. And we had a nice little middle-class upbringing. So it wasn’t like we ever wanted anything.
I could have gone to the community college for a couple hundred bucks a semester or this private community college. I chose the private community college because it was right near a great surf-break.
So that’s how all the…
Mark: Makes sense.
Michael: Yeah, right. Now what ended up happening is there was 3 professors… Dr. Cuzio, Dr. Perkins and Dr. Zanke. And they were a psychologist, theologian and philosopher. And they were good buddies…
Mark: Sound like a joke.
Michael: It does. And then I walked into a bar with them. And it hurt.
And so they… now mind you Mark, I tested into remedial math and remedial English. Not because I was a dummy but I was a dummy when it came to studying and I didn’t have content. I didn’t have knowledge at that point.
So I was over my head. They saw me struggling, and I felt like they wrapped their arms around me in this way where they’re like, “Hey kid, let me show you the invisible. Let me show you how the invisible works. It’s fascinating. We don’t have answers. We have lot of question about how the mind works. About how the spiritual part of the human experience works. And how in an epistemological way–the study of knowledge from a philosophical framework–how do we know that we know? What do we know?
Are we really even here?
It was these mysteries. And these 3 really bright, smart men that just wrapped around me and held me accountable. I could do some deep work if I just apply myself.
And so that’s what happened and then from that standpoint, nobody ever had to ask me to read another book about the inner experience in life. And I just wanted to stand on… next to or on, the shoulders of giants that wrestled with the big problems in life.
Ad I’ll share this with you. I think that that is… we know this from our research from Harvard… 75 year study, Harvard… this is one of the insights is that wrestling with the big problems in life and asking yourself the hard questions, that is one of the cornerstones for living a fulfilled life. And so I tripped into that at age 18 and I just am intoxicated by the mysteries of the human experience.
Mark: Very cool. I love that. And I agree with you, the quality of the questions that you ask and the bigger the questions then the more expansive your experience of life starts to become, you know?
Michael: There it is.
Mark: So well done. That’s cool that those mentors appeared for you at such a young age. That’s a real blessing when that happens. It happened with me when I was 21, so I was a little bit older. But…
And it doesn’t have to be an individual. It can be through a book. Some people find that through the Bible or through reading Robert Frost even. Or something. Or Henry David Thoreau is another great one. Or Marcus Aurelius Meditations. Your mentor doesn’t have to be alive. It’s nice if they are, but they don’t have to be.
Michael: Yeah, there’s something tactical that’s nice about that. But they wouldn’t look back… I’ve gone back and said thank you, but I don’t think that they… They were respectful when I said thank you, but they gave me kind of this look like, “Oh, really?”
Mark: They were just doing what they do.
Michael: So that’s exactly right. It’s not like we had this special bond, that they were picking me up from my home and driving me somewhere… It wasn’t like that.
Mark: I wanna talk for a little bit… I wanna come back to theories around mindset and tools and practices but… there’s 2 things that you were part of in the last few years which I think are really interesting.
First one, tell us about Luke Aikins. I’m trying to wrap my head around how you can jump out of a plane without a parachute. I mean, why would you even do that? What’s the story behind Luke?
Michael: Okay, so Luke Aikins had a project that he was putting together. So Luke and I met at some of the early days at Red Bull when he was part of the… or still is… part of the Air Force. And so we’ve had this nice little relationship that… in the Air Force at Red Bull are some wing men, some BASE jumpers, some sky divers that are tip of the arrow.
Mark: They’re no US Air Force. They’re called the Red Bull Air Force. Is that what you meant?
Michael: Red Bull Air Force. Yeah, that’s actually their… thank you for that clarity.
And so their tip of the arrow people in jumping from high places. Sometimes low places.
So there’s a project that he’s considering which is jumping out of an airplane without a parachute and be the first person to do it. So now wingsuit, no other assistance.
Mark: Now why in God’s name would he think this was a good idea?
Michael: I think that that is a healthy question.
Mark: (laughing) My mind immediately went to the Soviets used to send guys out of their equivalent of a C-130 at low altitude in the snow on a mountain ridge. So that when they landed, they landed like going downhill. Sort of a soft landing.
And they would do it. And they would see how many survived. And they came up with like, 50% casualties… I don’t know. Don’t quote me on that number. But it’s crazy.
But their whole point was, “See, we can… at a pinch. If we ran out of parachutes. We could still send a thousand troops into battle. 500 are going to make it.”
I’m thinking, “Holy Shite.”
And I remember a story, I don’t know the name about a SEAL who had a parachute malfunction and was plummeting to the earth. And just by a pure miracle he landed in a garbage dump, on a mattress that was heading downhill. So everything lined up. And he walked away. He walked away from the thing. But anyways, back to Luke… again, where did this idea come from?
Michael: Okay, so Luke is clearly one of the best in the world in his industry. And so at first he says, “No. Not possible.”
And then he comes back around and eventually he says, “You know, actually I think if A, B and C”–and I’ll explain what those are in a minute–“Yeah, I could do that.”
So he was really clear about the mechanics that would need to go in place for success to take place. And he’s not crazy. He’s got a young child. The question is “Why?” From you. “Why?”
And what I’ve learned from people that operate in high-consequence environments, they are… many of them are not risk seekers and takers. They are far better skilled than you and I. And when we look at them we go, “Oh my God. That’s crazy.”
But for them it is the next healthy step in the evolution of their craft. In this craft–which is of high consequence–maybe not that different than a low consequence craft like mathematics. This adds to the body of their craft.
Mark: Their experience…
Michael: Not their experience. Yes it does to their experience, but to the industry. It adds to the body of the industry. So just like a mathematician just goes on this crazy 3 year spin to try to solve an equation that hasn’t been solved yet, and some people say he’s crazy it can’t be solved. And he’s wrong-he’s wrong-he’s wrong for years.
Professionally ridiculed if you will.
Mark: I get this. So a couple points here. One is, guys like this are also extreme risk managers. I did a podcast with one of my friends Andy Stumpf, and he held for a while–like a year–he held the wingsuit distance record. Like 17 miles. And this guy’s got 20,000 jumps or something like that. And he plans every one of them. Every wingsuit jump. Like with an extraordinary degree of detail. A
And then Goggins. I did a podcast last week with my friend David Goggins. Another Navy SEAL. Both these guys are Navy SEALs. Crazy guys. Awesome, crazy guys. And Goggins has a record for the number of pullups in 24 hours. And it took him 3 times to do it.
And most people would say that’s not possible to do 4000 whatever hundred pullups in 24 hours. But he proved them wrong.
But he planned it. And he practiced it, and same thing that you were saying. He wanted to show what’s possible, which is kind of like adding to the body of knowledge. That’s interesting.
Michael: And so I don’t know Goggins like you, but I had him on my podcast as well. And he’s got such a clear mission in his mind. To be the hardest human alive. That of course he’s going to try something like that.
Mark: Not once, but 3 times…
Michael: 3 times. Exactly.
Mark: How did Luke…? What were the conditions that he thought this could work?
Michael: Well… okay, so if you’re going to jump how do you slow down? That’s the question. And so he had this “a-ha” moment and let me try to deconstruct how “a-ha” moments happen for just a moment. And then I’ll tell you what it is.
Brainwaves and A-ha Moments
So “a-ha” moments happen we know from a brain perspective is we think that they’re associated with Gamma brainwaves. And so Gamma brainwaves are these moments of insight. And how do we prepare ourselves for moments of insight? It’s by reducing Beta brainwaves. And Berta brainwaves are the high focused, if we have too much of it… anxious brainwaves.
But it’s like that intense hard driving focus which is required and necessary in many environments. But if we can quiet and dampen that down, we get into more Alpha. And Alpha’s like a smooth brainwave. Where it’s like a cruise control focus.
And you and I hopefully have a little bit of Beta, cause we’re focusing on the words that we’re choosing. And then more Alpha, which is like a softer kind of eloquent focus. With some Theta. Now if you have too much Theta… Theta is a slower brainwave. It’s kind of the dumb brainwave if you will that happens right before you fall asleep.
But it’s also where ADD lives. And creativity lives. So if you can tamper the Beta. Get into some Alpha/Theta you come up with some really cool stuff.
And that’s where we get these bursts and pops of Gamma.
So I know I kind of went on a technical thing for just a moment about the brain…
Mark: But isn’t Gamma a higher frequency rate than Beta?
Mark: So you’re saying you slowdown in order to speed up?
Michael. Yeah. Imagine that.
But Gamma usually happens… my understanding of Gamma is it happens in bursts.
Mark: Right. It’s not sustained. Sustained would be really agitating and deleterious I think.
Michael: Yeah, and that’s the high Beta.
Mark: The high-Beta, right…
Michael: Yeah, so what do these minds do? What do these people do?
And I just did a conversation with Alex Honnold, and I’m not sure… I’m sure you know who Alex is, but he’s one of the world’s best solo free-climbers. Free soloist. Where he essentially just… not essentially, he did… without any apparatus he climbed El Capitan. 3000 granite vertical. With no safety net.
So I asked how he uses his mind to prepare and he says he just creates space. So I said, “Alex, what do you mean?” He said, “I just create space so that I can have enough time to really see with great clarity and that’s where amazing ideas take place.”
So let me stitch one more thing on this. As urban lore goes, I think it’s Einstein… I need to check this fact. But when he was stuck he would hold a ball… just like a tennis ball in his hand. And take a nap. And at the moment that his hand relaxed enough that he would drop the ball, it would wake him up.
And guess what state he would be in? Brain state? Theta. So and then brilliant ideas maybe would transpire from there.
So Luke had a process for him to have these moments of insight. And the moments of insight… the big one was… “You know what? For 20,000 whatever jumps I’ve had a parachute on my back. Why don’t I put that parachute on the ground?”
So his safety net is usually on his back so he just put the safety net on the ground. So he went to work with his engineering team and they built a 16 story net to catch him.
Now it was… I can’t remember the dimensions… it was 16 stories, I think, 100 by 100. I think that sounds right.
And he said when he was at 25,000 feet which was what he was jumping from he needed an oxygen tank at that point. That when he jumped out of the plane without a parachute, it was the size of stamp. His target.
And so there you go. Like, absolutely incredible. Probably one of the most dangerous projects I’ve been part of.
Mark: So you said there were 3 conditions. This was one, right? He’s gotta be able to slow down. Were there 2 others?
Michael: Yeah, okay. So the first was to have the thought. That was the first condition…
Mark: The first condition is the commitment to do it, right? The idea that it can be done.
Michael: Right, right, right. But the first commitment is to think deeply. The second condition is to be open to a solution that hasn’t been solved… or hasn’t happened.
The next condition is to do the hard work to think about how would I build this net? What does that look like?
Then the 3rd condition… or the 4th then… is to do what you just talked about. Is to make the full commitment. And nobody can make that commitment for you. That’s like part of that hard questions, hard inner dialogue. And he’s got a loving wife and he has a new child that he had in his family. And he’s not crazy.
So he had to have those conversations. And…
Mark: And how did you help Luke with this process? Were you his psychologist? (laughing)
Michael: Yeah, I know more than once I’ve helped people move through very dangerous environments. And this is literally helping somebody jump. And most psychologists are helping them not jump. So no disrespect to that population of psychologists, but yeah this was like… he needed full command of his mind. Full command of his body. Full command of his craft. And no stone left unturned. Why not have a couple practices?
He’s already world class, why not have a couple insurances and practices and strategies to condition his mind to be rock solid. So that was it.
Mark: That’s cool. And nobody else has tried that since Luke did it?
Mark: There’s probably no reason to.
Michael: And in the preparation I think we had… he had 86… I gotta go back and look at my notes… 86 low pulls. So he got FAA approval to have some very low pulls and I think it was under 2000 feet I think it was. And he was…
Mark: Is it just for targeting?
Michael: Targeting. Yeah. So when you have a low pull like that, pretty violent, pretty dangerous as you would certainly recognize. And cause on a low pole… like a thousand feet… if something goes wrong, we got trouble.
And so the only thing that he couldn’t practice is not… so in the real deal he’s not going to pull and he’s going to flip on his back. Which is new skill for skydiver. He doesn’t have to flip on his back and land into anything. He’s gotta pull, slow down to land into a soft run.
And so let’s say the number was 86 that he did… I think maybe it was 87. He was 86 for 87 pulling the chute, low altitude, right over the target. That’s pretty reasonable, right?
Mark: That’s cool.
Michael: Yeah, but that one miss kept us up at night.
Mark: I’m sure. Holy Cow.
Michael: And the day of the event he was about… so he’s traveling at terminal velocity. He’s about 2000 feet… maybe 1500 feet above the net… and he was off.
Mark: No way.
Michael: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Someone snapped a picture from behind… they just happened to be behind me. And I’m watching my friend, the person I’m working with, my colleague in that respect. My hands are on my head. Both of my hand are on my head thinking that this is it.
And he made a radical adjustment and you have to speed up to… in that moment he had to speed up, put his head down. He’s only got 1000 feet. Imagine that. The guy’s got his head down.
Mark: he’s got to make up some horizontal distance, so he’s got to dive into it. Wow.
Michael: And he’s losing vertical at terminal speed.
Michael: Unreal, yeah.
Mark: What a cool story. That’s crazy though.
And the second thing that really kind of struck me was that you worked with the Seattle Seahawks back in 2014 on their bid for the Super bowl. Which they won. And you were doing mindfulness meditation with them.
Tell us about that and how that worked.
Michael: Coach Carroll is extraordinary at knowing the process to create an environment and a culture for people to become their best. You know, to create the relationships and the structure inside a culture for people to really explore their potentials.
And so he asked me to be part of that the year… I think 2 years prior to our first Super bowl experience. And so it was like “Love what you’re doing.” It was a long dating, courting relationship between he and I that was wonderful, and he’s never worked with sports psychologist before. He’s got a good command of sports psychology. He’s got an advanced degree in psychology with an emphasis in sport.
And so it was wisdom. And so we went to work and essentially it was like, “Hey, what do you think the greatest impact is?”
And that impact one of those is how people increase awareness. And without awareness of your inner experience, it’s really hard to change anything. So the work was to let’s create a better team. Better individuals. Better relationships. More clear mission and then backfill all of the mental skills to help people do those things in extraordinary environments.
So mindfulness is part of it. Did we call it meditation? Nope.
Michael: Nope. We didn’t call it that because there’s baggage with that word.
Mark: You didn’t want to spook people, yeah.
Michael: Yeah, there’s baggage with it. I’m not saying it’s wrong, right? But in the alpha, competitive male environment training is accepted. So I used the term mindfulness training. And we talked about first entry point into that was breathing tactics.
And so how do you employ breathing strategies to be more calm, more focused… And so we had small classes if you will of that. Nothing was mandatory. Nothing still is mandatory.
If you walked into a locker room pre-game you’d probably see 30, 40 maybe 50% of people with towel over their head. Getting more connected. You could call it mindfulness, you could call it imagery. They’re just getting more connected.
But it’s evidence of the work they put in on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Of paying attention to their breathing. Or paying attention in a contemplative way of their thoughts without judgement. And some guys would just make… I would make individual audio clips for them. And some guys would kind of go their own journey.
And so it’s just part of the culture. It’s something that Pete believes in. he talks about it… the value of being mindful to make great choices, to have great thoughts, to have purposeful actions. He talks about it 2, 3, 4, 5 times every speech he gives, or every lecture he gives every day.
And so I just backfill it with the actual technical training of how…
Mark: You’re launching a business with him now, aren’t you? He’s now retired. Tell us about that.
Michael: Yeah, yeah. Okay. Perfect. And I want to leave one note on the Seahawks really quickly is that if you were to come up to Seattle and were just kind of walking through the hallways and you randomly grabbed a guy. And you looked him in the eyes, and you said, “Are you doing mindfulness?!” He might say “What?”
And you could grab another guy. “Are you doing mindfulness?” He might say “Yeah. Why?” Grab another guy “Are you meditating?” He goes, “What is that?”
So it’s not that… I just want to be really clear. It is not when I say mandatory it is individual, customized. I just want to make sure.
Mark: Now let me just add something to this. We… You’re familiar with Unbeatable Mind, our program. I mean, breath, concentration, deepening awareness, being able to non-judgementally with non-attachment watch your thoughts. Being able to control your mind for focused attention on an outcome. On a mission.
Being able to be radically task focused for sustained periods of time. These are all things that we train in Unbeatable Mind. You could find practices from Tibetan Buddhism, or yoga that do all those same things. We don’t call it that either, you know what I mean?
Michael: Yup. That’s exactly right.
Mark: It’s just basically learning how to use your mind for maximum effect. Depending upon what development you’re looking for and what outcomes you’re striving to achieve. And we did work with the Philadelphia Flyers last year, with their development team. And it was extraordinary. Cause I took them through a whole day of that type of training and then we got to layer on the SEALFIT 4 to 5 hour 20X experience. Which really kind of burned all that into their psyche. And it was extraordinary training. They loved it, and I’m hoping to do that with more tier 1 organizations.
Michael: Cool, we should talk. We should definitely talk about it.
And they so I’m glad you can appreciate that sensitivity. When you’re in a rugged environment, you’ve gotta focus. And guess what practice is at the tier 0, tier 1 level of football or whatever craft. You gotta be in it.
And so that’s hard to sustain. To have that uncommonly relentless focus day-in and day-out requires a deep commitment to recovery. It requires a purpose bigger than you.
And it requires some fun too. Like Jesus… I don’t know about you–I think you’re intense. I’m pretty frickin’ intense. But I want… I need fun… I need to have fun.
Ad coaches… Coach Carroll he’s all about fun too. “Let’s have a great time together.”
And so we got music blaring–that’s something he’s been doing for a long time. And so that’s all part of it. It’s embedded. It’s infused in. It can be separate, but it’s infused in the process.
Compete to Create
Mark: So the business you’re starting what’s it called and what do you guys hope to achieve?
Michael: Okay. Thank you for that. So he going into our first Super bowl I was in the hallway at the training center and this was like a month before and a culture switched on, the team is performing really well. It felt like great to be inside… it was just a nice bond that he had created from a team perspective.
And so he says, “Mike, can you feel this?” I was like, “Yeah.”
Now this was on a Wednesday, Tuesday, doesn’t matter. It was just a middle day of the week thing. He goes, “This is amazing. You know, do you think anyone would be interested outside of sport? Do you think anyone would be interested in what we’re doing?”
And so what we’re doing… what he meant by that was like his process to switch on a culture, and then my process to train the minds of people that want to double down and be their very best.
And without hesitation… without skipping a beat… I had this look like, “Maybe.” And I’m thinking to myself. And he says, “Let’s just write it down.” So it’s like almost a back of a napkin thing. So he went away and wrote down his core ideas that he thought we were doing together. And I wrote down my core ideas of what I thought we were doing together. We compared notes, we created a rough sketch of a curriculum. And then he made an introduction over at Microsoft, and we started meeting with Satya Nadella which is the CEO of Microsoft. He was like 4 weeks in and he said “This is outrageous. I love this. I’m all about creating a culture that has deep meaning and purpose. And, like, yes. We need to condition our minds to be better. Especially in this insta-fast paced world that we’re in. Yes.
He said, “Please incubate this. I have 120,000 people that I’m responsible for culture. Please incubate this. Let’s see if we can get some traction.”
So we started with 12 people at a relatively high level up. That turned into 2,000. That turned into 12,000. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. And we worked with him and his senior leadership team as well, so it was kind of top-down. Middle cascade throughout the organization.
When I say that like–middle managers, senior managers–cascading the ideas throughout the organization. So what we did is we took our curriculum, we created an 8 hour training. So eventually we trained 30,000 people at Microsoft. At 8 hours a person, so over the last 2 years, we’ve done 240,000 human hours of mindset training inside of Microsoft.
And so honored that on page 4 of his book… if you haven’t picked up his book and you’re interested in it, it’s called “Hit Refresh.” It’s what he’s done with the culture and he gives us a nice little nod on page 4. Which just felt… I was really honored by that. Because what he’s done has been incredible. And in his culture has been incredible.
So that’s it. So that was the beginnings, and it felt like we stepped on a lion’s tail. It wrestled and started running. We grabbed on with both hands. And hang on for dear life.
We started the start-up now. Hired a CEO. We’ve got 7 staff. And our staff are Olympians and sports psychologists that we’ve shared our practices with them. They amplify those throughout organizations. Enterprise and large organizations. The do that 8 hour training.
And then we got sophisticated and we put it on a 4 week online course. And it’s only for larger organizations at this point. We don’t have the bandwidth to go the public. To the general public.
And so there it is. While people in that four week online course, an hour plus a week. You’re being coached, literally, on your mind by Olympians and sports psychologists about how to be more and let the doing flow from there. So thank you for asking. It’s been a wonderful journey trying to figure it out. It’s adventure, not a journey.
Mark: It’s “Compete to Create.” That’s the name of the company?
Michael: Yeah. “Compete to Create.” And the idea is we took the center of his philosophy and the center of my philosophy. We are not marketing people. We just took what mattered most to him. And his philosophy in life is always compete to be your very best.
And then my philosophy in life is every day’s an opportunity to create a living masterpiece. So we took the two important words, mashed them together and Compete to Create.
Mark: Makes sense. There you go.
Mindfulness and Takeaways
So let’s just kind of wrap this up, but everyone listening is going, “hey, that sounds great, Mark and Michael. But what is my takeaway?”
If you were to tell people “Okay, this is what we teach in that program but this is really the most important thing and just start here, what would that be?
Michael: it does begin with mindfulness. And so mindfulness is a center practice for being able to increase your awareness of your thoughts, your words, your body sensations, your emotions. It’s a center practice there, so mindfulness certainly. If you’re investing in mindfulness now, keep it rolling. If you’re new to it and intrigued by it. Why the Seattle Seahawks? Why some of the most extraordinary Olympians and adventure athletes and SEALs? Take a look at some of the research that’s happening right now, it’s phenomenal. Changing neuro-chemistry. Changing brain structure. Changing so many parts of our experience that it’s rad.
Mark: And for you mindfulness is not just one technique. It’s a bundle of techniques that work together. You mentioned breath and watching your thoughts. And labelling them non-judgementally. And coming back to your center. There’s a number of techniques that kind of work together in a mutually supportive way, right?
Michael: Flat-out. And then we have 5 main tenets of our training process. And one is self-discovery. The other is mindfulness. Another is psychological framework. And then mindset skills, and then recovery. We got a whole recovery program in place.
So the way that we go through that is with training… so it starts with self-discovery which begins with what is your philosophy in life. And I’d encourage everyone that’s part of your community to have in 25 words or less something that you could get out in a dark alley at knife point. What are your core principles?
Mark: We call that our ethos. So we definitely have that. Hopefully everyone who’s listening to this has read “Unbeatable Mind” and their working on their ethos.
Michael: That’s it. That’s a bookend. Definitely has to be part of it.
And then you’ll probably call it a mission, we call it a vision. What does your future look like? What do you want it to look and feel like? Where are you going? What are you doing? You can call it a mission, we call it a vision.
And because we want to talk about the imagination. Use your imagination. Your pictures in your mind. Not in some flimsy way–there’s good science around this–but to imagine how you want to spend your life efforts.
And then we teach the mechanics of mental toughness. And at the center of mental toughness for us is optimism. So we condition our minds in particular ways to train optimism.
Then we teach the mechanics of confidence. How to train it.
Mechanics of calm. Mechanics of self-trust. I can go on and on and on. It’s pretty mechanical but so we break it up into 5 functions and some sub-functions.
Mark: And the brain-work is that really the belief systems that you operate within?
Michael: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So psychological framework it’s the sturdiness that allows you to move into challenging environments.
Mark: Almost a resiliency mindset. It requires that framework…
Michael: Very much so. That’s exactly it.
Mark: I love it. That’s awesome work.
Well, we probably should wrap this up, Michael. This has been super-enlightening and I know everyone’s going to love listening to this. Do you have any way that people can reach out to you or find out more about you online or social media?
Michael: Yeah. Thank you. I just want to say thank you for including me in your community. And what you’ve done and how you’ve gone about representing yourself and your family and your community is authentic. And it’s real. And I just love watching what you’re doing from a distance.
So thank you for this conversation.
And then for tapping into some of my stuff and what I’m doing… findingmastery.net is a podcast that we’ve had now for I think it’s been 3 years. So that’s a place with switched on people having conversations. Trying to understand how they’ve been on the path of mastery and what they’ve done to be able to do so.
And so social media is Instagram is @findingmastery, Twitter is @michaelgervais. And LinkedIn, if you’re in the business community is same thing–michaelgervais.
And then if you’re part of an enterprise company or at this point a large company, competetocreate.net is a place to get a hold of us there.
Again, thank you Mark.
Mark: Awesome Michael. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
And we’ll see you around. Look forward to meeting you in person someday soon.
Michael: All the best.
Mark: All right, buddy. Take care now.
Michael: Okay. Bye.
Mark: All right folks. That was Michael Gervais. What a fascinating guy. What a really, really cool process. I encourage everyone to have a practice of Unbeatable Mind or mindfulness. Almost the same thing.
Unbeatable Mind is a philosophy and a framework for powerful living as you all know. But it includes the daily practices and tools.
And it’s critical. When I say you gotta do the work–show up every day and do the work–that’s what I’m talking about. Working on your ethos. Working on your breathing–your breath control for arousal management. Working on deepening your insight. Working on deepening you awareness. Expanding your 5 mountains.
Integrating. And then evolving yourself to be a world-centric warrior and leader. Making more nuanced decisions that benefit all of mankind not just your pocketbook or your bank account or whatever.
So at any rate, I’m super-appreciate that you care enough to listen to this, and that you’re part of the solution in the world and not part of the problem. And I expect you’ll be working hard until next time.
So until then, train hard, stay focused, be mindful. Check out Michael’s work.
And I look forward to seeing you on the grinder someday.