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Unbeatable™ Podcast

Mo Gawdat tells us about his scientific and engineering approach to happiness

By May 3, 2017 August 12th, 2020 No Comments

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Mo Gawdat“That’s what I did with happiness. I basically decided that the only way for me to understand how to get myself out of where I am is to look at it as an engineer.”–Mo Gawdat

Mo Gawdat (@solveforhappy) is the Chief Business Officer for Google X—the division of Google responsible for moonshots like the self-driving car and worldwide WiFi delivered by balloon. The unexpected death of his son, Ali, led him to further investigate an algorithm for happiness that he and his son had been working on. The result is his book “Solve for Happy,” where he lets us in on his equation for happiness and how he was able to use it in the wake of his son’s death. Listen in as Commander Divine and Mo discuss meaning, happiness and science.


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Other episodes of our podcast that you might be interested in are Mark’s interview with Jeremy McGhee on persevering and mental toughness, and his interview with JJ Virgin on maintaining positivity in the face of her son’s medical emergencies.

Transcript & Shownotes

Hey folks, this is Commander Mark Divine, with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. How are you today? Thanks so much for your time. I do not take it lightly. I know we have 10 million and one things vying for our attention, so the fact that you’re listening to this means a lot to me and I really appreciate it. And trust me, your time will be well rewarded today, because my guest is Mr. Mo Gawdat who–and I just literally have been chatting with him for a few minutes beforehand. I can’t wait to get into this conversation. I’ll give you a little bit more of a background on Mo in a moment.

But beforehand, a couple updates. One is look for our new SEALfit boot camp program coming out, at the end of April or early May. We’ve kicked the can down the road, which is pretty common with a product launch. But this is a new video program. You can think of the best of Crossfit without barbells, merged with our mental training, and delivered like a P90X program. Through high quality video. It’s going to be spectacular.

So you’ll be able to get your mental training laced into your functional fitness, right from your living room or while you travel. Or you can do it with your kids, and you’ve got me there coaching you… or one of my top coaches coaching you through all the mental drills as well as the physical. I’m super-excited about that program and we’re going to launch that really soon.

And I think that’s probably the only one. I’ll save the rest of the updates for next time.


So Mo Gawdat, he’s the Chief Business Officer at a little company up in Silicon Valley. What’s it called again? Oh yeah, Google. And he works at a division of Google that goes by the long term “X.” So he works for Google X, which as far as I understand, is their “skunk works.” We’ll talk more about that with Mo. So they’re like the dream team looking for new technologies. Working on new technologies. And I imagine like the autonomous cars probably come out of there and whatnot.

He’s a serial entrepreneur. He’s co-founded more than 20 companies. Mo comes from Egypt. He speaks Arabic, English and German. And one of the things we’re going to talk about today is Mo’s fascination with happiness and trying to solve for happiness. And he’s an author of the bestselling book called “Solve for Happy.” Which I can tell you right now is going to be an excellent read. I received my copy in the mail today, and I’ve been thumbing through it. I just can’t wait to read it.

So we’ll get an advanced look today with Mo.

So Mo–thanks very much for your time. Calling all the way in from Dubai. Super-appreciate you being here to share some insights. And welcome.

Mo Gawdat: I’m delighted. Delighted to be here. Thanks for having me. I need to watch out for your program as well. I’m actually looking for one of those as we speak.

Mark: For what? A mental toughness…

Mo: No, actually the fitness side along with keeping mental toughness. It’s been an interesting journey for me since the book launch and how I’m morphing my lifestyle to keep up with all of the demand and messages and so on. But keeping fit and keeping focused…

Mark: Yeah, you’ve gotta walk your talk and you’re on the move and staying super-healthy is really critical for you at this stage. For everybody for that matter. For everybody.

Mo: Totally agree.

Mark: So I wanna obviously circle back to the book and spend a lot of time on how it came about and what you’ve uncovered. But we always like to talk about the person, not just your ideas. So, I know that you came from Egypt. What was life like in Egypt as a young child or teenager? What were your formative thoughts and ideas? And what framed the way you were as a young person? And those type of things. Like, who are you and what was your “why” back then?

Mo: It’s actually incredible how different life is around the world, as compared to the Western world. The advanced world.

In Egypt, I… born and raised in Egypt until the age 26 I lived in Egypt and I… My mother was an English professor my father was a distinguished engineer who had very different approaches to life. My mother as an academic really valued books and reading and knowledge. And my father, being an engineer, really… a civil engineer, so basically in the field most of the time, truly valued learning in the real world. And so the mix between those two gave me a demanding teen years, where I read avidly and at the same time my father insisted that I travel for summer vacations every year of my teenage years. Which taught me quite a lot about the world and the differences in the world.

I could simply be termed the luckiest person you’ve ever met. You know, I mean, Chief Business Officer of Google X is probably one of the best jobs out there. And I got there from starting in a public school, public university in Egypt. There was a ton of luck involved. Of course a bit of hard work, and a lot of determination. But definitely there are many other people in the world that would be qualified to be in that place. Why me…

Mark: Well, how did you get in… Well, let’s go back. So what were your parents like? Were they together when you grew up?

Mo: Yeah, they were. My dad was… if you wanted to just… if you managed to unblend me, I am the mix of both of them. So truly in a very interesting way, my father was the determined thinker. Logical, numbers driven. Mathematical genius. Process oriented problem solver.

My mother, on the other hand, was… you know, the discipline, the home, but at the same time the creativity, the literature. The care. And you mix those two together and you get an interesting approach to life that is… I’d probably say somewhere in the middle is my approach. So I’m not very process oriented, but at the same time quite a logical thinker and a problem solver like my dad. And I adore knowledge. I think it’s truly my biggest joy.

Mark: Yeah. So you were a reader. Did you become a reader at a young age?

Mo: Yeah, my parents basically allowed us to invest disproportionately in books. And so I spent the first… as I write in “Solve for Happy,” as of age 8 I would save for a few months and go to the one book exhibition that we had in Egypt once a year. WE only had onetime where you could actually buy a variety of books that are useful in any way.

And at age 8, the book fair was 4 days, and so every day I would go in the morning, collect as many books as a young 8 year-old can carry, and walk back home. And spend half of the night reading and then sleep half of the night to go the next day and collect as many books as I can carry.

I had a very interesting habit for that age, which was to choose a topic of interest every year and I would dive very deep into that for a year.

Mark: Interesting. How did you stumble upon that? That’s a really interesting idea. I like that.

Mo: I was not able to feel satisfied with superficial knowledge. And some of those topics were quite crazy for a teenager. In my teenage years, for example, I dove into relativity and quantum physics very, very heavily at points in time. And so… and then I took that habit, actually… which was one of the best things I’ve ever done with my kids. I took that habit and then as my kids were growing up–and we were reasonably okay financially–we refused to buy them toys. I remember very clearly we restricted the number of toys in the case of Ali and Aya and said maybe once a month or once a quarter, but you can buy as many books as you like.

And that completely created two very interesting children, because basically what they would do is they would buy as many books as they can because it was allowed and the only condition we had is you’re allowed to buy another book when you finish the first one. And truly it made a tremendous difference to the way they grew to be again, like myself, avid fans of knowledge.

Mark: Oh, that’s terrific. I love that. I wish I’d done that with my son. (laughing) Maybe I can backtrack a little bit.

Mo: You can still say I’ll fund books, but I doubt he’ll pick that up.

Mark: (laughing) Wonder if that’ll work starting at 17\. I have my doubts about that.

So how did you get into entrepreneurship? What spurred your passion for starting companies?

Mo: I have no idea. It was an itch all along. I really don’t know why, but especially you need to understand, I wasn’t escaping the corporate lifestyle. There are people who will say, “I’ll never work for a company. I will start my own thing.” No, no, I really enjoyed working for some of the world’s leading technology players. I worked or IBM and Microsoft and Google…

Mark: Did you have that corporate career before you became and entrepreneur, or…

Mo: No, they were always parallel. I always started businesses that had no conflict of interest with the job I was at all through my life, actually. I never started a business… not never, but I rarely started a business on my own completely. I always co-founded businesses.

Mark: So you were the brains or the technical brains, but you didn’t… you weren’t running these companies if you kept a full-time job in the other place?

Mo: Absolutely. I was always in the… if you want… I had a style where at the beginning I would be very engaged in the setting of the vision and the reviews of the product and so on, from say a board member point of view. That would eventually end up being a board member for a quarterly meeting or whatever. And it worked reasonably well. It got me exposed to so many industries outside technology and at the same time allowed me to indulge in my passion for starting things.

Mark: Nice. Any commercial successes out of those that batch of companies that we might recognize?

Mo: Not in the West. So in the Middle East we have one of the large chains of health clubs. We have one of the larger… largest catering businesses and so on.

Mark: Got it.

Starting at Google

So how did you end up at Google? Were you recruited by the founders? Or did a company acquired or what happened there?

Mo: No, no, no. It was super-funny. I was… I had just fulfilled that wish of a member of my team. At the time, I was at Microsoft. I ran Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa for Microsoft in the telecom space. And I’d just fulfilled the wish of one of my team members to move back to Germany. He was German and he didn’t want to travel a lot. And the minute we did that, he got a call while I was sitting with him to be head-hunted for Google. And so he smiled and said, “No, I’m happy with the job I have right now. But I know the exact right guy.” And he handed me the phone. And there you are.

Mark: (laughing) No kidding.

Mo: Yeah, this is why I tell you, luck plays a role sometimes. Of course, people will always want to make it look like they’ve created their own life. But had it not been for that friend who just got what he wanted, didn’t want the Google job, I might have never been even identified for Google.

Mark: (laughing) That’s amazing.

Mo: Yeah, yeah.

Mark: I love that. I love that synchronicity. How that works in the world.

Mo: There is a lot of that in life. If you expect more of it, you get more of it.

Mark: I think so too. Yeah, I agree.

So what is life like at Google? Like, give us a sense for what your job is like. And some of the things you’re working on, that you can tell us about.

Mo: I work with the smartest people that I have ever had the opportunity to work with who are extremely passionate about their very specific focuses. And these are people that are trying to solve some of the world’s biggest problems using technology and what we call a “moon shot” approach. So we don’t try to fix road safety by designing a slightly better safety system on a car. We would try to solve road safety by designing a totally different car.

And so Google X is known for projects like the self-driving cars, or project Loon is targeting to offer internet access everywhere in the world.

Mark: Right. That’s the balloon delivered Wi-Fi right?

Mo: Exactly. So those kinds of opportunities to change the world so drastically that the returns would make it a totally different world.

Mark: Sure. So it doesn’t fit in the business model at all of Google, but they’re worth pursuing and so you do it. Absolutely.

Mo: Yeah, and it fits very, very strongly in the value model of Google. So Google as a company grew up from a very interesting background where we solve the massive problem that the world had, and we did it well enough that business success followed. It wasn’t about trying to make money on search, it was about trying to solve search. And so, you know, because that’s part of the culture of the company…

Mark: Right. They didn’t go out and try to solve the advertisers’ problem of how to advertise through the Internet. What they did was try to organize the world’s information and then make it searchable.

Mo: Absolutely.

Mark: That’s fantastic. Yeah, I get that.

So what percentage of the projects that X works on actually are viable? Or end up being viable?

Mo: What good is it if I tell you if, you know, I’m going to have to flash you afterwards anyway, so you’re going to forget and all of the audience will forget. So let’s skip the…

Mark: (laughing) We’ll just say it’s a small percentage…

Mo: (laughing) Or it’s a percentage. I think a percentage is an accurate enough…

Mark: And we can say it’s an irrelevant question, too. (laughing) That’s awesome.


All right, let’s talk about your son, Ali. I read a little bit about him in your book, and then I did actually watch the podcast you did with Lewis Howes. So it sounds like an incredible young man. Tell us about your son.

Mo: Ali truly, truly, truly was an incredible young man. I was blessed with a son and a friend and surprisingly a coach and a mentor. I had Ali when I was 25 and so we grew up very close. Played video games together, and played music together and read a lot together and laughed a lot together.

But he was just a tremendous blessing. He was that kind of child that rarely ever cried, you know. Literally never. Not a single time frowned in my face. We had an argument once around the time when he was choosing a university, and then I went back and apologized. It’s that kind.

And Ali was so wise. He was so wise that by age 18 I started to always tell myself, “When I grow up, I wanna be like Ali.” Yeah, I’m not making this up. And I really learned so much from his approach to life. He had on his back; he had a tattoo that said, “The gravity of the battle means nothing to those at peace.” And surprisingly it was the last thing he showed me before he died.

Mark: Oh really? You mean, you didn’t know he had the tattoo?

Mo: So I knew, of course. But when he sat up on the operating table going to the operation, to the surgery, he had his scrubs, and so he sat up on the table and after I hugged him and said, “I’m gonna wait for you outside.” And then I read this as almost the last thing he told me before he went into the room. And what an advice when you think about it, because 4 hours later we realized that we no longer are going to have Ali. And the one thing in my mind is “The gravity of the battle means nothing to those at peace.” And Ali lived his life with that slogan. He did not just tattoo it on his back. He truly, truly lived his life with that peace.

Going through life, it seemed as if nothing would upset him…

Mark: So you think he came into this world… his spirit was that evolved. He came in with that wisdom. Or did he cultivate it as a child somehow?

Mo: I wish I knew. I have to say I’m doing a ton of research on the spirituality sides of this. I wish I knew, but what I know is when I had a challenge at work or with a friend or whatever, I would go to Ali and I would sit with him and I would tell him my story and he would sit there and say nothing, for as long as I’m talking. And then around, maybe 10 minutes later he would ask a question when I’m done and another question, and then he would say 5 words, and you go like, “Wow. Why didn’t I think of that?” And it was really when we lost him that the tough thing really was that the first thought that came to my mind is, “I need to ask Ali what to do about this.”

That was how he became a pillar almost of my life.

Mark: Wow. So for the listeners who don’t know the story, Ali died at a relatively routine medical procedure that went wrong. Is that right?

Mo: Yeah.

Mark: Appendectomy or something like that?

Mo: An appendectomy and it was a few mistakes that led actually to where he is now.

Mark: Cascading failure. That happens far too often, I understand, in our medical world.

Mo: In “Solve for Happy,” I talk about that, actually. And part of the research is that in the US a third of all mortalities are due to medical malpractice.

Mark: Yeah. It’s interesting cause this is one area where technology actually–just like with autonomous cars–already… Uber and Lift are already reducing highway deaths but autonomous cars will make that huge. And now in medical profession, robotic surgery and artificial intelligence will have a similar effect I think, right?

Mo: I would hope so. And I would hope in your lifetime and mine. It wouldn’t be that far away.

Mark: So did this set you–your experience with Ali and his tragic death–did this set you on the course to study the meaning of life and happiness, or were you already deeply steeped into it?

Mo: No. I started much earlier. As a matter of fact, my model of happiness was developed with Ali. So I was that typical example of someone who life has blessed with so many fortunes, who was constantly complaining and miserable. So at my late 20s, I had already been financially successful. Been doing very senior jobs for my age. On top of that I was a day-trader who managed to make tons of returns in the market because of my passion for mathematics if you want. And I had a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful wife who gave me 2 amazing kids and I was complaining all the time.

Mark: (laughing) I mean, I know what you’re saying. That’s so common though. You’re not alone.

Mo: It’s so common. And you would be surprised. You would think about it like, “Yeah, I wish I had what he had and then I’ll see if I complain or not.” But the truth is, most of us have so much more than the average human on earth. I mean most of the Western world. You know, what you consider poor in the US could be considered at least reasonably okay in other parts of the world.

And yet we complain all the time. Now the interesting thing is… so I started to try to read myself out of the problem, you know? When we started the conversation I just read all through my life, so I started to read myself out of the challenge of depression if you want. And I completely failed. For two and a half years I couldn’t get a single word of what was being…

Mark: Yeah, that makes sense to me. Cause that’s my experience. You can’t think your way out of the paradigm that cause your unhappiness.

Mo: So until I started to reframe the problem. Like, you go at the… you were talking about your yoga program that you go at it with a different, fresh perspective and you come up with something very different.

That’s what I did with happiness. I basically decided that the only way for me to understand how to get myself out of where I am is to look at it as an engineer. So as an engineer, I started to work on the topic very differently. It wasn’t about the practice or the spirituality side of it anymore…

Mark: Positive psychology or anything like that…

Mo: None of that. It was about, let’s define the problem statement. Let’s find the algorithm that triggers certain actions and how it works. Basically understand how the machine works. And then let’s find out what went wrong with the machine. I was a very happy young man until age 25, 26\. And then I started to fall out of happiness, which in an engineer’s mind means either something went wrong with the machine. There is a part that needs replacement. Or the machine…

Mark: Or the input was wrong, maybe.

Mo: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. The machine is not fit for the environment in which its operating anymore. So it’s like you have a car but now you need snow tires, if you want…

Mark: No, I totally get that and I often say with Unbeatable Mind, you know, if you’re not upgrading your software as your hardware upgrades, then you’re going to get stuck. And this how we wind up in a fixed mindset, because people won’t upgrade their software. Because they don’t really know where to download the new software. I mean, it doesn’t come to you automatically.

Software and Happiness

Mo: That is exactly, exactly what I set out to do. So in my view, I said, “Look, as sophisticated and unpredictable humans are, there seems to be a basic set of software.” I don’t want to call it lines of code, but it could even be lines of code if you want.

Mark: Could be, yeah. Using the Matrix kind of theory.

Mo: There you go, yeah. And so basically when I set out to solve the problem I gave myself a weird target. I said, “Is there a way that I can write 15 lines of code and run them every time I feel unhappy, and they’ll make me happy again?”

And surprisingly I actually found it. So I found an interesting… so humans wherever we are, whoever we are, have a common view of what makes us happy and what makes us unhappy. In my analysis, I found that that overwhelming feeling of suffering truly is a survival mechanism. So it is… you know, if you’ve ever been in one of those cars where you have very sophisticated technology, mechanical and electronic and so on. And then you have that little lamp on the dashboard that says “Engine Check.” If anything goes wrong with that entirely collaborative, sophisticated piece of technology, you get that one alarm that says do something about it. That one alarm…

Mark: (laughing) And supposedly there’s someone out there who knows what to do.

Mo: That’s the problem, right? So that one alarm in our case–humans–is a feeling of unhappiness. Of unrest. Of worry. Of anxiety. It’s your brain having gone through a pile of sensory information, analyzed it, looked at your current condition and said, “Let’s switch on the lamp. Something’s wrong.”

The problem is, we… as you rightly said, we don’t have the manual of how to analyze that issue and fix it. But it’s surprisingly predictable. I believe that we as a humans in the modern world–you and I–who are the ones I call modern day warriors. The ones that go out there and have to engage in life. They don’t have the opportunity to do “Eat, Pray, Love.” We cannot go and sit in an ashram somewhere. For those kinds of humans, we are instructed to learn certain skills in life that make us successful. But as they make us successful, they force us to treat life in a way that is not exactly what life is.

And so I call them illusions. There are 6 illusions that we master dealing with without understanding their nature to start with.

Mark: Yeah, without ever investigating them. Exactly.

Mo: Absolutely. And so like any other piece of technology, it works reasonably well as long as times are okay. But when times become challenging and demanding, because you don’t understand the nature of the illusion you completely fail at dealing with it. And that’s when you start to become unhappy.

Mark: Yeah, I love that. By the way, I’ve been to quite a few ashrams and the majority of the people there are not happy either (laughing).

Mo: (laughing) Oh, is that true?

Mark: It’s true. (laughing) They’re just hiding. Maybe I’ll sprinkle some of your books at the ashrams and they’ll be discovered.

Illusions and Blind Spots

So I want to penetrate some of the illusions and some of your blind spots. You know, we talk about blind spots in our training. And I love your truths. I don’t know if we’ll have time to get into, you know, a discussion about death and spirituality. But I’d love to.

But let’s start with the algorithm. I’ve actually… I just fact-checked the algorithm in my mind against my own life experience. I can say it is… it actually works. So the algorithm is correct. If I read it correctly, it is “happiness is greater than or equal to your perception of the events in your life minus your expectations of how life should behave.” Is that correct? So when I was unhappy… also in my early 20s… I was a CPA, Certified Public Accountant working on Wall Street area with clients like Drexel Burnham and Salomon Brothers working for Arthur Anderson. That light was on and it was flashing. Like, something was wrong. And it was Zen meditation through my martial arts training that got me to slow down, and sit down. And then to turn the flashlight inside instead of constantly outside doing whatever.

And that’s when I started to examine some of what you call the illusions. And out of the 2 year process cam basically my purpose. What the Buddhists would call your dharma. My purpose to be a warrior, which then led me into the Navy SEALs and because the perceptions of the events in my life weren’t matching the expectations I had as a CPA, when I shifted it and set different expectations both for who I was, what I was meant to do, how I was supposed to fulfill… then the events of my life not only did they change, but the perception of my role and how I was going to navigate those event changed. And I’ve never been unhappy since then. I have ups and downs. I have pain and suffering, but never a sense that I don’t belong or that there’s not some peace inside of me.

So that simple equation is right there. That’s pretty much all you need. I mean, it’s nice to have some other information to work on, but…

Mo: It really is the basics of how a machine works. So the machine… we were just talking about how some of us in the Western world are so blessed compared to the rest of the world. Yet we look at the events of our life and say, “No, I don’t like it.” Louis C.K. in his standup talks about how we complain so much if we’re 40 minutes late on the runway of a trip from New York from California.

Mark: Which used to take six weeks.

Mo: Exactly! And, you know, when you really have to think about it, it used to take 6 weeks, so if you’re a couple hundred years earlier, it would have taken you a lifetime and you would have absolutely died on the way.

So we compare that and we start to complain. We complain about, “My boyfriend said this or my girlfriend said that.” When in reality some people are running for their life. And because we somehow always compare events to expectations, the challenge is that expectations keep rising every time they’re met, and we find something else to worry about. I mean what else would your brain sit there and do if there is nothing to worry about anymore?

Mark: Right. We’re wired to worry.

Mo: We are. And actually, scientifically. So two thirds of the neurons in your amygdala for example are actually targeting to find negative events. 60 to 70% of all of our incessant thought as humans is negative.

Mark: Absolutely. So we’ve gotta step out of that rational and step in something more perennial. And an ability to take control of that rational and to override those negative thoughts.

Mo: And that truly is one of the keys. I mean, one of the 6 grand illusions that I discuss is again, something that is so ingrained in us as we navigate the modern world. Because of the value that thought has brought to our civilization, we equate thought to our own existence. We use the term “I think, therefore I am.” So you have that little voice in your head speaking all the time. For many of us there are several of them speaking at the same time, all the time. And you listen to it, because you think it’s you. You think that “this is me analyzing the world.” It’s not at all.

Mark: Descartes had it ass backwards, didn’t he?

Mo: It’s incredible, really. Because truly, truly… and I say that with respect. It truly is just a biological function like your colon. You know, your colon. Your colon is supposed to create crap and this is…

Mark: (laughing) Yeah, you don’t say “My colon creates crap, therefore I am.”

Mo: Exactly! (laughing) And this thing sometimes creates amazing thoughts, but most of the time it’s creating more crap. And you listen to it.

Mark: Well, you believe it. You listen and believe it.

Mo: And you believe it. And you associate with it. And you obey it. Right?

So imagine if for a second I provide a ton of scientific research to show you that truly the thoughts in your head are just your brain offering you a slightly intangible biological function which is false, right? But if you just follow that logic for a minute, suddenly if you realize that all of that noise in your head that’s making you suffer is just a biological function. You don’t obey anymore. If someone sends you an annoying email and the first thought that pops up in your head is, “I’m going to shoot them,” you don’t obey. You go like, “Okay brain. Thank you.” It’s a viable alternative; I’m not saying it’s mathematically…

Mark: (laughing) There might be consequences though.

Mo: “Can we do another one? Can you get me another one?” And then surprisingly things become easier because we’re trained in the modern world to tell our brains to do what we want them to do. We just don’t exercise that right when our brains torture us with useless thoughts.

Mark: Right. Yeah, I love that. And my perception is that the brain has 5 kind of dominant ways that it works, and thinking is 1 of them. Like this active thought. Neo-cortex getting busy and thinking. You know, the monkey mind.

Another is actively accessing our memory, which usually gets confused as thought. This is where we get into the past and future, because we can remember something of the past, or we can imagine a future. Which is kind of like “remembering” a future.

So now we’re getting into the 3rd, which is imagery. All these are in different areas of the brain.

And then sleep is another one. Which is… dreaming I mean. Sleep/dreaming. Very different function that doesn’t really have memory associated with it. Doesn’t really use visual imagery. Doesn’t really require thought. It’s something completely different.

But the 5th is the most interesting to me, and this is 1 of the… when I teach SEALs, try to teach them to access this and its direct perception. What we call the “witness.” Now this is the part of you that you’re talking about that’s connected to the deeper, more authentic or higher self or soul if you will. Or whatever. There’s a lot of different words we can use to describe that.

That… if you look at that as a function of mind, that’s how we’ll communicate with and take control of the thinker…

Mo: Yeah, and even within thought itself. Definitely, you know, the 5 types are so interesting. For me specifically, dreams. Dreams is a big part of my research right now because it’s so fascinating, really, and we know very little about it.

But even within thought itself, within the act of thinking you have what I call useful thinking and useless thinking. Useless thinking is all of that noise. Happening in the background. With you nothing about it. Making you feel bad and having zero impact on the real world.

So literally, if your boyfriend told you something that annoyed you, and you kept thinking about what he said for the next 4 and a half years, he’s not going to find out…

Mark: It’s not going to change anything.

Mo: Exactly. Right? He’s just going to have to guess and probably guess wrong.

Now if on the other hand, you go like, “Why did this annoy me? What can I do about it?” That level of awareness moves your thinking to the useful side of your brain. You’re either experiencing the world for what it is or solving a problem.

And when you’re solving a problem, you’re engaging in useful thinking that happens in a different part of your brain and doesn’t cause you that suffering that incessant thinking causes you.

Moreover, it gets you closer to a solution. So by solving the problem, what you’re really doing is saying, “Okay. Now I have an answer. Now I’m going to do something about it. So I’m going to stop that suffering cycle that we go through.” And the suffering cycle again is a survival function. Like, you know, you’re brain sees something that it feels is wrong, it lights that little lamp on the dashboard and says, “Hey, by the way, feel bad because I want you to pay attention to this.” And then, you do nothing about it. And so what does your brain do? It brings it up again. And says, “Hey, by the way, we still have a topic we need to talk about. Your boyfriend said this.” And then the suffering happens and then you do nothing about it, and then it happens again. And happens again, right?

So that kind of managing the thoughts in our brain, would beat one of the grand illusions which is delusional thought.

Mark: That seems to me to be the grandest of the illusions. Which may be why you list it as number 1. Because with thought, then we can… If we can get control of thought in a positive sense, then we can start to acknowledge the truth about self, the limitations of knowledge–these are the other illusions you list–take a little bit different approach to our understanding of time, know what we control or don’t control. And also penetrate what fear is. All this begins with taking control of thought.

Mo: So definitely the illusion of thought truly is the steering wheel of the rest of the machine, if you want. But they all play into each other in interesting ways. So, you know, with your warrior training you realize how fear–in my view, I also say fear is an illusion, because it’s normally much more exaggerated than the truth which you’re fearing. But that plays back into your thoughts, and distracts the clarity of your thinking in a way that may generate more fear, or may generate more urge for control–which is 3rd illusion. And each of them plays the other in an interesting way, so that you’re brain ends up with that fog that it maintains. Because it’s a good way to operate within that fog. Fog means we need to do something about it. “I’m concerned with your survival. Just let me run the show.”

Mark: Sure. Which is ignorance. When we ignore a reality, right?

Mo: Totally.

Death, design and meaning

Mark: That’s fascinating. There’s so much to say on this topic, but 1 thing that popped in my head–we work a lot with energy. And one of my mentors–I’ve never met him, cause he’s no longer with us–is Doctor Hawkins, “Power vs. Force.” A fascinating… this guy was knighted by the Queen of England for his work. And he talks about the continuum of energy from the lowest negative form, which is shame, to the highest positive which is universal love.

And he’s able to use kinesiology to actually grade different types of energy. And he says right around… the line between negative and positive is courage. It’s very interesting. Everything above courage is positive, everything below courage is negative.

I’ve thought a lot about that because now let’s relate that to how the mind works. When the mind is not under your positive control, the energy of the thinking is negative. Because of the negativity bias. That is part of our DNA structure, or part of the way that we evolved as humans. And so we have this insensate negativity bias which keeps us in a negative energetic state which is below courage.

And so one of the things we teach our trainees is what we call “Feed the Courage Wolf.” First stoke courage. How do you do that? You have to interdict the negative and replace it forcefully with positive thinking, which you then practice and you drill and you train over and over. And over time, now, you start to rewire your brain. And like you said–I didn’t know this–but you’re actually shifting from a neuro-plastic standpoint where the region of your brain that’s doing the thinking, and that’s the positive region.

Mo: Absolutely. And surprisingly the negative thought paths will diminish over time. So… and this is proven by MRI that people who meditate regularly to the point where they’re able to shut down their excessive thought and focus on the experiences of the world will have totally different brain structure. It’s fascinating.

Now the interesting side of how our brain works as well is how it mixes up information. You were saying you force it to go and look for the positive. So that’s so interesting, because, again, we’re trained to look for information. We’re trained to look for the full truth. But then comes those blind spots that basically completely makes your brain think that it sees the truth. But the reality, as I write in “Solve for Happy,” is I dare you that your brain has never, ever, ever, ever told you the truth. Ever.

Mark: (laughing) I think that you’re probably accurate. There’s so many cognitive biases and everything… we call that “BOO”–Background of Obviousness. You list natural filters we have. Like confirmation bias would be a natural filter. Or I’m a white guy from upstate New York, so I’m going to see the world through that filter, that lens.

Mo: Absolutely.

Mark: Assumptions, predictions. We work a lot with memory because I read a stat which can’t possibly be validated, I don’t think. But someone was saying that nearly 80% of the way we access memories, or the memories we access are flawed or false.

Mo: I would say 100%.

Mark: No kidding. Fascinating.

Mo: But that’s because… that’s for a very interesting reason. Your memories are not really what happened. They are what you think happened.

Mark: Right. It’s a stored thought.

Mo: And what you think happened unfortunately is constantly affected by all of the biases.

Mark: By all the other biases, right? And by the negativity of your thought processes.

Mo: And by what I call you brain’s tendency to be grumpy.

Mark: (laughing) I love that.

So at Unbeatable Mind we do talk a lot about blind spots and ruts and emotions, I’d like to jump to your ultimate truths, because we’re running out of time, and this is where things get really interesting, I think, in my opinion.

Do you believe… or what are your thoughts on death? As a truth. What’s true to you about death?

Mo: Death is even more true than life. You know that for certain, right? You know that you will eventually die. You can never tell if you’re going to live another day. And we have 7.2 billion people on the planet and average life expectancy of say, 70 years now. There goes a hundred million people a year for the rest of your life, right?

And, you know, we have different cultural views of death that are, again, very skewed in the Western world to sort of, “Let’s not talk about it,” if you want.

But in the rest of the world there are reactions to death that are very different. They range all the way to celebration, where in the Sufi tradition or in Mexico, for example, there are celebrations. And here is my… by the way, death was the… before Ali left I had not actually researched that topic so heavily. But then my research on death, again, like the rest of the book, was not from a spiritual point-of-view. It was truly and deeply from a very scientific point-of-view. I cite very, very serious scientific facts from quantum physics to the Big Bang and basically… and theory of relativity for sure. And basically show you that life has very little to do with the physical. That life itself must have existed before the physical and will exist beyond the physical. I have very little scientific doubt about that.

Mark: Yeah, I agree with you. It’s statistically impossible… as statistically impossible as it could possibly get… for life to have evolved from some explosion called the “Big Bang” and then poof we’re here 4 billion years later. I’m not a mathematician but it just seems highly implausible.

Mo: So I offer the concrete mathematics of that. So the 5th truth in my book is what I call the truth of the Grand Design. That this is not random. That as much as I admire science, science knows very… science would focus on very specific slivers of a specific topic, and simply… if you plug in the numbers into theories like the Big Bang, evolution and natural selection. Which, by the way, are all scientific facts.

It’s wrong to say that evolution doesn’t take place. Evolution does take place. But if you put in the numbers and use simple mathematical probabilities… I simplify them as much as I can… it’s not mathematically plausible at all that this just happened through randomness.

Mark: What I loved, you said that’s not even taking into account the chaos theory. That everything can be going along swimmingly and all of a sudden a meteor hits…

Mo: Exactly. I use that very heavily. So think of it this way. You have a system that is rigged to break, right? Entropy and chaos theory tells you that our world is not trying to keep what works. It’s trying to break things down. You can see an egg break, but you don’t see an egg unbreak. Even though–mathematically, by the way–if I drop a glass on the floor and it breaks, mathematically one plausible scenario is that all of the pieces will come together perfectly so that the molecular forces pull it back together into a glass. It is a viable mathematical option. But how probable is it? And I really think that’s the true question.

And the real trick is that most of the theories that talk about randomness being the creator of our universe and everything in it, ignore to factor in “t”–time. They will all assume that if you have an infinite amount of time, you’ll be able to try and try and try until one of those scenarios happens.

But we didn’t have infinite time. We had 17.3 billion years since the universe started. We had 4.3 billion years since Earth came into shape. And then we had around 1.3 billion years until the first glimpse of life. And the species that we say we evolved from, had 200 million years. While 200 million years might sound like a very long time compared to our 30-45 minutes podcast, it really is not that much time when it comes to creating someone as sophisticated as you.

Mark: Randomly. Right. It would take trillions of years, probably. Interesting.

Mo: But going back to… because we jumped from death to design very quickly… so I boil down my view of death to this. Death is not the opposite of life. Death is the opposite of birth. Like a video game, you come to this level of the game through a portal that we call birth. And you leave this level of the game through a portal that we call death. But the player is alive before and after.

Mark: Just on another level. Another dimension.

Mo: A different dimension.

Life and Gaming

Mark: Yeah. That’s fascinating. And I like that theory and it jives with some of the research I’ve been doing. I read somewhere… and you probably know this better than I do… we referenced the Matrix earlier, but that it’s like… and since you’re a mathematician… that it’s statistically impossible that we’re not in a simulation.

Mo: (laughing) I don’t want to talk about this because we can talk for hours on this.

Mark: (laughing) Isn’t that incredible? Cause again if you think… I’m not saying that we’re in a big computer game, but let’s say the concept or notion of god. The intelligent designer that pre-existed the Big Bang. There might be… this could be happening over and over and over, and so we are truly experiencing just one level of the manifestation. And like you said, we graduate to the next level, and then there we are. We’re in another simulation and there might be multitudes of simulations or parallel universes.

Mo: It’s… there are very, very concrete characteristics to the way we go through life that are very, very analogous to a simulation, to be honest. To a video game. And so I boil down my philosophy of life… after Ali left, actually… to a video game analogy. I use the story in the Death chapter about how me and Ali used to play “Halo” together and… “Halo” is a game where you’re master chief. You’re in a war and you’re a very renowned veteran who knows how to go through the game. And if you had sat next to us, and just focused on the TV screen you would think that this is horrible. This is torture. Everyone is shooting at you. You are being squished by cars and there are explosions everywhere. And smoke. And then you slip and fall into lava and it’s, like, really horrible.

But eventually me and Ali would put our controllers down and say, “Wow! That was fun.” Right?

And you take that analogy and you start to think about it. If you tend to believe that this physical form is not the extent of who you really are. And, again, I provide a lot of scientific–not spiritual–evidence for that. Then so what if you get slapped on the face twice going through this level of the game? Who cares?

And Ali had an incredible approach which really stuck with me. I’m a good gamer. Ali is a legendary gamer. He’s a serious video gamer, and so…

Mark: Well, because he leveled up way before you.

Mo: There you go, right? I still have work to do. And he would… when we would play, I would strategically like a businessman, try to find the shortest path through the level. And Ali would run to the areas where there are explosions and smoke. I would say, “Ali, the end of the level is here. Let’s just go this way.”

And he would go, “Papa, but then the level ends. This is where all the fun is.”

You know this is where you develop and grow. This is where you become a better gamer. And that’s such an interesting view if you apply it to life.

Mark: I love that. Yeah.

Mo: You know, what’s the point in rushing to the end of the level?

Mark: And in parallel, why avoid the challenge? Cause that’s where the lessons are. That’s where life is.

Mo: And that’s where the fun is as well.

Mark: Right. Yeah.

Mo: I mean, think about it this way. I mean, how boring would it be if you’re playing a video game and all you have to do is push the forward button from the beginning of the level for 17 minutes. And 17 minutes later, you’re done. What’s the fun in that?

LIfe has to train you–like you said at the beginning of our conversation–it needs to push you when you’re a CPA and not in the right place. It needs to push you so that you develop to be the true potential gamer that you have the potential to be.

Mark: right. And do you believe that everyone has a unique path or unique thing they’re supposed to do?

Mo: Absolutely. I’m disappointed that many of us are blinded by the modern world to forget to chase that path.

But I will absolutely guarantee you that each of us has a level purpose. Again, the video game analogy. There is something that you need to achieve in this level. And when you achieve it, by the way, you may not necessarily care if you stay longer in the game or not. You could, but you could just to enjoy it, right?

And surprisingly, small or large. You don’t have to be Steve Jobs and invent the iPhone to say that I had a life purpose. Some of us will have one word that is said in the right way at the right time that will completely change someone’s life, who changes 10 people’s life, who changes the world.

And unfortunately we get so preoccupied with the necessities of the modern world that we forget to search for that purpose.

Mark: Right. What was the quote on Ali’s back again, that you saw before…?

Mo: “The gravity of the battle means nothing to those at peace.”

Mark: I’m gonna Tweet that out. I just started tweeting myself. Isn’t that crazy? I was really jealous of Mr. Trump that he got to tweet all the time, so I decided to do it myself.

(writing) I shoulda had you write this down. That’s incredible.

So you’re moon shot right now is to make a million people happy.

Mo: Ten million.

Mark: Ten million? Oh sorry, I shortchanged you.

Mo: (laughing) What difference does it make? If I make one person happy it’s an amazing achievement. But moon shots… you shoot for the moon. So I’m aiming for ten million. I don’t know if that’s doable or not, but if it does happen, can you imagine?

Mark: That’s terrific. I think it’s doable.

Mo: And it would change the world because hopefully those ten million will not only be happy for themselves, but will also join the movement and hopefully make ten million happy each of them. So we’ll see.

Mark: We’ll see a tsunami of happiness. I love that.

Contacts and Connections

Well we definitely aim to support you in that mission. Both personally and I’m sure the tribe. So the book is “Solve for Happy.” Like, “solve the equation for happy.” I’m sure you can get it anywhere they sell books.

And your website where people can go tell you if they’ve become happier by either listening to this podcast, or reading your book, or maybe you’ve shed a little happiness in their lives. Where is that? Where can they go to find that?

Mo: So you can find me on But also on and Twitter is @solveforhappy. YouTube is YouTube will have a lot of very useful content.

So my mission is to spread happiness rather than sell books. I shouldn’t say that. My publisher would be unhappy but…

Mark: Well, let’s put it this way. If you can sell ten million books, you’ll probably make 100 million people happy. So let’s… I’m gonna up your game. Let’s sell 10 million books.

Mo: Let’s get to 10 million and I promise I will not stop. Don’t raise my quota. (laughing) I’m a salesman, you know? I worry when you give me a higher quota.

Mark: (laughing) You’re gonna need another 6 months off from Google X.

Mo: Exactly. I hope so. If it takes 6 months more… I would give it my life to be honest. If you just read some of the messages I get and how amazing it is to just open someone’s eyes to what your brain’s been doing to you for so long. Or what your perception of time’s been doing to you for so long. It’s just amazing. Truly.

Mark: That’s awesome. I agree.

Well, thank you so much for all you do. And thank you for your time today, Mo. And super-nice to meet you.

Mo: Absolutely. Same here. I loved our conversation. Thanks for the time.

Mark: I know you’re super-busy but I’d love to recruit you to speak at our annual summit some day. Either this year or next. If you ever have an opportunity or if you find yourself on the west coast. It’s in San Diego.

Mo: Of course. I am… I live in California at least a third of the year, so yeah. Let me know when. I would be honored.

Mark: Okay, I’ll have Allison reach out. It’s the first weekend in December. It would be really… it’d be our honor to have you here. We have some really neat people, all of them who are really working evolving themselves and finding happiness. And then paying it forward in service.

Mo: Count me in. I mean, if I can make it I will absolutely be there.

Mark: That’d be terrific. All right, Mo. Thank you very much again. Good luck with everything. Hooyah. And Hooyah Ali.

Mo: Thanks very much. Bye, bye.

Mark: You take care now. Hooyah!

All right folks, that was Mo Gawdat, author of “Solve for Happy.” Chief Business Officer at Google X. What an incredible, incredible guy. Let’s go check out his book and I think he’s got a little countdown counter on So if you find some happiness from that then go register for… become one of the 10 million.

Awesome. So that’s it for now. Stay focused. Do your work. Level your expectations to expect reasonable things out of life. Don’t shy from challenges. And avoid those illusions. Get control of your mind.

Unbeatable Mind training is a great place to start, by the way.


See you soon.

Divine out.

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