“When we have a fear response, it’s a legitimate physiological response, but you can choose whether that fear becomes strength – or you can do what I was doing – which was trying to numb it out.” – Patrick Sweeney
Mark has a new book coming out in 2020 about the seven commitments of leadership. It is called “Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams,” and is available now for pre-order. Commander Divine writes about many of the great leaders he met in SpecOps to give examples of the commitments that one has to make to the 7 key principles of Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency and Alignment. Check it out at Amazon to order yours right away.
Patrick Sweeney (@thefearguru) is an expert in fear and how you can manage it to make better decisions. He is a former Olympic rower and the author of the book “Fear is Fuel.” Today he talks to Commander Divine about how he transformed fear into motivation rather than paralysis.
- Every decision we make is made from either fear or opportunity
- You must learn to get comfortable with fear so that it can’t be used against you.
- Patrick has used breathing exercises as part of a complete approach to fear management
Listen to this episode to hear how you can turn fear to your advantage and make it work for you.
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Hey folks. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome back. Thanks so much for joining me. Super-stoked to have you. Hundred thousand things vying for your attention and here you are. Listening to this. Wickedly cool. I appreciate that.
Also, I wanted to tell you about my new book that’s coming out – it’s not out until March. I mean, if it was up to me, it’d be out right now, but the publisher has their little process to put it through the book. Is called “staring down the wolf,” and it is about emotionally mature leadership. I got some unbelievable stories in there that you probably haven’t heard. About different SpecOps, SEAL leaders really who’ve stared down their wolf of fear, and have brought it in a big way.
And so I used those as exemplars. And then I also track some of my own path as a leader – particularly through my failures – so it’s probably the most vulnerable book that I’ve written to date. And it’s really interesting.
So, look for that. You can pre-order it now at amazon.com. Of course, that helps us out, because we want this to be a huge success. And look for more information on it.
And also I’ll be podcasting the chapters – so I’ve already released the first three – and so look for the rest to be out before the book is published. So that you can get a preview.
Thanks very much for that. Hooyah.
All right. Today’s guest is also someone who’s passionate about fear. And he’s got a book out called “Fear is Fuel.”
It’s Patrick Sweeney. He is the fear guru. He’s an Olympic-level rower – I was a rower in college and I know how brutal that sport can be, and to be an Olympic-level rower is quite impressive. To me anyways.
And he’s learned through his trials and tribulations how to use fear as fuel – like the title of his book – to power elite performance. And he’s been studying it from neurobiological perspective and hacking perspective and a performance perspective now for the last probably five to eight years.
So Patrick: Thanks so much for joining me today. Super-stoked to meet you and to have this conversation.
Patrick: Commander divine, I really appreciate you and your audience having me on-board today. I’ve been a big fan of the podcast and your philosophy for a long time. So I’m thrilled to be on here.
Mark: Yeah, appreciate you doing it. And we got a lot in common. I mean, you were a college rower, and then made it all the way to the Olympic trials. I actually did an initial test at a regional level, and my technique was so poor that the coach basically laughed me out of Cornell.
(laughing) I had the fitness down, but the other part… I’d only rowed for a year….
But so anyways, that’s a little side… Give us a little bit of your like early childhood stuff, like who are you? Where you’re from, what were your early influences. Tell us about the rowing. And then we’ll move on from there.
Patrick: I’m happy to. I’m not too far from where I was born. Blue-collar neighborhood in Boston. Kind of the rough-and-tumble Irish immigrant and Italian immigrant suburbs.
So my dad was working three jobs and my mom was a bank teller, and no one went to college… So it was a big deal. When I got into college years later, after we moved around a lot, my parents basically said “well, now you’ve got it made. Get a job making 25 grand. Find a wife and you know, you’re good. Your life’s good. Well done.”
And it wasn’t to be that way. But especially as we were talking about the focus of your new book and some of the stuff I’ve learned through the neuroscience, I had my original fear frontier, my big seed-planting of terror when I was about six years old. Saw a plane crash at Logan airport on TV. Dramatically shaped my life for 35 years.
So it was a live reporting of a plane crash? Or…?
Patrick: It was. Channel seven news. We were sitting there, I was laying on this green shag carpet. We were living in a duplex – my grandparents owned the upstairs and downstairs, and we were living in the downstairs. And my brother and I were playing with the GI Joe dolls or action figures as they should be properly called.
Mark: (laughing) Of course.
Patrick: And my mom and dad sat down to flick on the black-and-white TV. And they saw this immediately. This guy screaming at the top of his lungs about a instrument approach going terribly wrong. And this Delta DC9 slamming into the seawall at Logan airport.
And when that happened – as I found out later from the neuroscience perspective – two things happened to me. I created a semantic memory on one side of the brain which is just the facts Delta DC9. And then I attached my own emotional interpretation into it and in this emotional memory and those get paired together.
And if you never do anything to change those – we call it now PTSD – but the neuroscience behind it and that planted a seed of terror inside me that lasted till I was 35 years old.
Mark: Right. And influenced not just how you traveled right? You probably were terrified to get on a plane – but what other decisions did it influence?
Patrick: Well, and that’s the amazing thing Mark is you never really realize the hidden fears that sprout out. I work with a lot of CEOs and stuff and I always say “we’re gonna work this weekend on finding your hidden fears.”
And they say “well, we don’t have any hidden fears.”
Mark: Right of course. Well that’s because they’re hidden. They don’t know about it.
Patrick: (laughing) Right, you have to say “hey genius! That’s why they’re called hidden fears.”
So I had no self-esteem. And I tried to really put myself in this cocoon of first athletic performance. And, I mean, I was afraid of asking girls out. I was afraid to apply to good schools – everything growing up. I was bullied all the time and I just had all these fears and I never knew why.
And first I tried to overcome them with athletics. And won a national championship in rowing at the club level. And then got to tryout with the national team. Won a bunch of national championships. And in team boats, singles, doubles, quads, eights… That sort of thing.
And you know it still didn’t do it. And it took a really rare form of leukemia and me dying to basically come around to realize that’s no way to live in fear like that.
Mark: Mm. Okay, so you just threw out a lot there. Wow.
Okay, so we got to hit up the leukemia thing. When did that happen to you? And how big of a chunk of your life did you did you battle that? And you made a full recovery it seems like.
Patrick: Yeah, so the story of it and it’s a long story – I touched some of it in the book – but if you could imagine someone who is initially terrified. Like, I was afraid of everything. And it was after the Olympics, after business school, after I started one company that is now you know a multi-billion dollar company… Had I been courageous enough to steer it through a tough time, I’d be running it now.
Mark: So you’re saying, at that point fear caused you to step out of the company before you should have maybe.
Patrick: Yeah. Mark, if you don’t mind – I’m gonna step back and tell you what I learned through all that.
And the basics of it is – we make decisions two ways in our life and every decision you make can get distilled down to either fear or opportunity. And if you’re making decisions out of fear – which I was doing constantly – it almost always leads to regret.
If you make decisions out of opportunity, it’s always gonna lead to growth, and success, and happiness, and fulfillment. But I was too terrified. I had this great company, raised tons of money, the best employees…
But I was always afraid a customer was gonna go to a competitor. An employee was gonna start their own gig. I’d spend two weeks prepping for board meetings, so I put the best impression forward to the board. Instead of like you just said about your book – instead of being really vulnerable, telling them where I was struggling, where I needed help… Just terrified that the foot was always gonna fall and because of that, I was never present.
And that caused me to make so many fear-based decisions that led to this regret.
Mark: Mm-hmm. Man, I’ve been there many times believe it or not. And so nobody’s immune to fear and fear-based decisions. I think that’s why it’s a constant process – is what you’re saying – to really uncover it and then to attack them right?
Patrick: Well, and you have to attack them. And you have to learn how to use it as fuel. Or else what happens when the amygdala – when the part of our brain that handles our fear response – the limbic brain it’s called. The amygdala is a small gland at the BASE of your brain that’s shaped like an almond.
When that tries to hijack your thinking process, you make single-level, knee-jerk reactions. And the purpose of that decision you’re making then is just to pass your genes on to the next generation. So as soon as the amygdala hijacks, it’s producing this fear cocktail – and this is adrenaline, it’s DHEA, and it’s cortisol.
And so because I was always in fear, I had this low level cortisol just constantly eating away at me. Like corrosion just eating away at iron.
And I firmly believe that’s what caused the leukemia I got.
Mark: You think it was psychosomatic? Like you brought it on?
Patrick: No, I think when we have a fear response it’s a legitimate physiological response, but you can choose whether that fear becomes strength – and you can optimize your performance like Tom Brady at the super bowl or Ronaldo at the World Cup. And you can channel that and use it for great things. Or like I’m sure team guys learn to do from the operational perspective.
Or you can do what I was doing – which was trying to numb it out. So I was drinking seven or eight cocktails every night. I’d go home, I’d get four hours of teeth grinding sleep. I’d feel guilty about it because of that whole Irish catholic upbringing.
And I’d have to wake up at 4, hit the gym and try and sweat out what I did the night before. And so this constant cycle is what was killing me.
Mark: Yeah. I see that.
And so it’s not wrong to say it’s psychosomatic, because your physical structure was being impacted by your psychology in a negative way. Which kept you in a perpetual state of imbalance. So that the neuro-chemicals and your hormones were all out of whack. You were basically in a metabolic syndrome, which then over time caused the leukemia. Or it would have caused something else to appear but that was like you were you know you’re symptomatic disease.
Patrick: Exactly right. So I was in this constant oxidative stress and pushing myself, and fearful. And because of that, my T-cells started attacking each other and went rogue.
And I woke up one morning, my arm was killing me at the gym. And I remember going into gold’s gym in Ashburn, Virginia. And the boys are like “hey what’s up?” I said “look, it’s a normal morning. Just clangin’ and bangin’. Gonna do lats.”
Got down in front of the lat pulldown machine and just felt like I’d torn a muscle. And I think “that’s really bizarre.”
So hopped on the cardio machine and then you know the whole cycle started again.
Next morning, I could barely move my arm. And like so many people in fear I said “I should go to the doctor,” but I didn’t. Because I was petrified, right? I was too scared to hear what he was gonna say.
And then that’s when the third day, I woke up and the thing looked like a Christmas stocking. It was big, and red, and angry. And the docs in Reston Hospital said “looks like a staph infection. We’ll give you some antibiotics.” and the nurse will call you back this afternoon with the results of your blood test.
And the nurse didn’t call me back. The doctor did.
Patrick: That was one phone call that changed my life. And they had no idea what was going on, so they said “we’re gonna send you up to John Hopkins. To the best doctors in the world.”
And 24 hours later, I’m in a white, sterile room in Hopkins. My wife’s at the end of the bed and she had this ghostly white pallor of a cadaver. And just sitting there in tears the whole time.
She was six months pregnant and our daughter was a year old at home with her grandparents.
And so if that’s not fucked up enough, when that happened my coo – who I went to grad school with – sent an email saying “things don’t look so good. I’ve got another opportunity. I’m resigning.”
Mark: Oh my gosh. When it rains it pours.
Mark: Well, that makes sense to me because we externally create what’s going on internally. So you were basically creating in your company, in the culture and the energy -the same conditions, the same cancerous conditions that were happening inside your body.
Patrick: That’s exactly right. And one of the things I’m so excited about in all this neuroscience research I’ve been doing the past five years is all this insight into our brain is brand-new. Because we’re just now getting the technology and these discoveries. And so now I can go back and look at stuff. And realize just what you’re saying.
You know, this caused a, b and c. And if I had just known that, I could have done these five things to fix it.
Mark: Yeah. I might say, it’s brand new to western medicine. But it’s been well known to ancient yogis and Tibetan Buddhists for a very, very long time.
Patrick: It did. 100% agree with you. I think we’ve got the ability now to prove things with science that weren’t provable before.
Mark: Right, right. Weren’t provable objectively. They were provable to large numbers of subjective experimentation over many centuries. That’s fascinating.
So did you have to do chemotherapy and radiation? How do they heal leukemia?
Patrick: Yeah, so it was entirely chemotherapy based. And I went home for… When I finally got out of it, and it looked like my white cells were coming back. When I got out of Hopkins they sent me home with an IV in my arm and orders that no one could come near the house that wasn’t our family. And I sat at home with a drip in my arm for six or eight weeks I think before I could go back to work.
Mark: Wow. Did they give you any stress management techniques? Did they like say “here, do this thing called box breathing. We heard about this.” or you know – start to do some mindfulness. You need to get your body back into balance.
Was there any of that discussion?
Patrick: Oh dude you’ll love this story. So this this was 16 years ago now that this happened. And they sent me home with this drug and they said “whatever you do, don’t eat grapefruit.”
And I kind of gave him the whiskey tango foxtrot. And he said “well, the grapefruit will cause the drug to be ineffective.”
And I said “well, if grapefruit caused it to be ineffective, what can I eat that would replace the drug? That would be equally powerful?
And the doctor – this is Hopkins – like number one hospital in the world – the doctor said “I don’t know. They don’t teach us that at medical school.”
Mark: (laughing) Not to mention sleep, right?
Patrick: Yeah sleep, stress management… No, nothing like that.
So I started looking hard into diet because at the Olympic training center we had… The Olympic training center when I was there ’93, ’94, ’95, ’96 – it was sponsored by M&M/Mars. So we had fucking chocolate bars. I shit you not, we had fucking bowls of Snickers bars.
Now I’m eating 6000 calories a day, so I was in heaven, right? But if I knew then what I know now about my diet, I would have been I aghast.
So I found a book in 2003 that was called “The Maker’s Diet,” and I started following this thing. It was a guy who had celiac disease or Crohn’s disease or something similar and he went back to the Old Testament. And just started eating everything they ate in the Old Testament.
And so I followed that diet and saw a huge change in my body makeup, in my mental acuity and everything else. And that led me to be what I would call one of the early adopters of ketogenic diet for a performance perspective. And so I’ve been following a ketogenic diet I would say for 15 years now. In a periodic sense. So I don’t do it full-time, I only do it in cycles throughout the year.
Mark: Okay, so you had a recovery, and you said this was a watershed moment for you. And helped you learn how to tame your fear.
But what caused you to recognize that this incident with leukemia was a self-inflicted wound?
Patrick: So I think the fact that… So, when I was in Hopkins, my greatest fear since I was a little kid was always flying. So I was terrified. Missed out on exchange programs, spring breaks, visiting relatives… Couldn’t get on a plane. And when I found out I could race the world cup, that should have been one of the happiest days my life. And instead, it was one of the most terrifying. Because it meant it had to fly to Europe.
So when I was in Hopkins, I sat there and really the only thing I think about was my one-year-old daughter. And I didn’t want her memory of her father to be the guy who was too much of a wimp to get on a plane and take her to Disney world.
So, I committed at that point – I made the choice – and the neuroscience behind this is fascinating, because anybody can do it – I made the choice that I was going to overcome that fear of flying.
Even if it killed me, I was gonna go get my private pilot’s license. So I went to Leesburg airport, and started taking flying lessons as soon as I got cleared to leave the house. And I gotta tell you, the first couple of times… I think there was at least once or twice where I might have pooped myself…
Mark: (laughing) Verging on TMI, by-the-way.
Patrick: (laughing) Yes. You’re likely to get more of that.
But the amazing thing is though, mark, I fell in love with flight. So six or seven lessons in, this was the most amazing thing in the world. So I got my private license. Got my instrument rating. Went on got my commercial rating.
And now I compete in acrobatics. And if you can imagine rocketing towards the earth, pulling 5g’s with your butt puckered up like a starfish… Just the thought of that would have terrified me 15 years ago. And now it’s one of the greatest senses of joy and fulfillment and success. And so that’s one of the reasons I started the book and this mission to help people. Because I had no idea that fear was holding back that much happiness and fulfillment from me.
And then the halo effect it had on the rest of my life. I was working half the hours, but my business took off. My relationship with my wife got way more authentic and much better. And I’m spending more time with my friends, and doing things I like to do.
And so it was really the realization that we can create our own life if we’re courageous enough to accept our authentic self.
Mark: Mm-hmm. So to summarize what I just heard is to start taming fear, you’ve got to face it, and then do that which you fear. And not just do it, but then almost master it, or at least go deeply into it.
Patrick: Yeah you definitely have to dive deep into it. And for anyone who wants to go from success into significance… To a life that really matters… You’ve got to scare yourself every day. Because in our country, we’ve been taught to avoid fear.
And then people start to get afraid of fear. They’re not afraid of the thing that caused fear, they’re just afraid of those physiological reactions that happen when the amygdala tries to hijack.
And so we make terrible decisions. Because they’re all fear-based decisions. We let politicians and marketers manipulate us, because we aren’t comfortable with fear. We haven’t dove in, and are able to say “okay, I get those butterflies. I get the dry mouth or the beating heart.”
“I understand that. That’s just fear. That doesn’t mean anything. It’s bullshit. I’m gonna do what commander divine suggests, I’m going to keep failing forward. I’m gonna push into it and I’m gonna find more of it.”
Mark: Right. There’s a difference between accepting or training yourself to accept higher and higher degrees of risk. Challenging yourself to do things that are hard. And facing fears.
Those all have something in common, but they’re slightly different, aren’t they?
Patrick: I actually think Mark, risk and fear are two very different things…
Mark: Yeah, let’s talk about that…
Patrick: And so I get shit a lot as a parent. I’ve got three amazing kids – and a buddy of mine is Joe DeSena – the CEO of Spartan – and he and I have both been vilified in the press… As Tom Brady just was yesterday… For jumping off a cliff into the water with his daughter. And most people have no idea of the risk of the type of things we do, but because they’re foreign – they seem scary. They put fear into people. So if you look at something like climbing Mont Blanc.
You have the normal route on Mont Blanc. Has 300,000 people who do it every eight years or something like that. And the number of people die is less than the number of people who died in car crashes in France per capita.
So it seems fearful to a lot of people, but the risk – the actuarial numbers – are dramatically different. And I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand is that difference between risk and fear, being that movie that we play in our mind.
Mark: Right. That’s interesting.
I can relate to this. I’m climbing Mount Rainier next weekend with a friend of mine Brian Dickinson.
Patrick: Are you doing the Cleaver route?
Mark: I don’t know. He’s leading the route I’m just gonna follow.
Patrick: Right on. It’s a great climb.
Mark: Yeah, looking forward to it. And I don’t experience any fear. But when I told my parents about it – thinking that they would be excited or that’d be kind of an interesting conversation – they seized up with fear.
And it was pretty funny, just from an example standpoint. It’s like “holy cow. They just locked up.” their neurobiology – like you said – just locked up in fear and they’re not even the one experiencing the incident. Or experiencing the event…
So there’s is really more about a fear of loss, right? If something happens to me.
Mark: And you wonder how many of their decisions are based upon fear of loss, right? And I think that’s a… You can categorize some of these big fears if you want to look at it from kind of the emotional or therapeutic perspective. Fear of not being enough. Fear of loss. Fear of failure. Fear of abandonment.
Patrick: Fear of success.
Mark: Yeah exactly.
Patrick: You see that a lot of people with my background – you know, blue collar kids from inner cities – there’s an upper limit set by our tribe if you will. My brother’s a federal agent and we’ve got cops, and priests, and federal agents in our family.
And if you’re making a hundred grand a year, and you’ve got a wife and you’re playing on the softball team on the weekends – man, you’ve reached it. You’ve hit that upper limit.
So to be the one who makes ten million dollars and creates a great company or something like that… There’s fear there too.
Mark: Yeah. In my book “:staring down the wolf,” I try to address some of these root fears, that like you said, you had an incident – you know, the plane crash – which really framed your fear frontier. And that’s powerful.
But then you also made a comment about your staunch catholic upbringing. I’ll tell you a quick story – I was recently at an emotional development training called the Hoffman process – really fascinating and one of the students there was a catholic priest for like twenty five years. From an Irish family in Boston of all places, of course…
Patrick: (laughing) His name’s either Sully, Sully…
Mark: (laughing) I won’t say his name, right? Cause that would be breaching confidentiality.
Patrick: (laughing) He might be a cousin.
Mark: (laughing) Right, exactly. You might know this guy.
But for years… He said for years now, like 10-15 years he knew that he didn’t want to be a priest. And in fact he acknowledged that he went in it because his family wanted him to go into it. Was one of those – like you said – one of the acceptable paths for that tribe.
But he just he just could not bring himself to leave. For fear of letting his parents down. Or for fear of being seen as… In some way, which wasn’t gonna please other people. And so…
Patrick: Fear of rejection from the tribe.
Mark: Fear of rejection. Yeah, that’s it.
And so he subjugated his own needs, and wants, and desires as a human being to the tribe. And held himself back. And it took a long time – took him till he’s like in his mid-forties before he can break away.
How common is that? I mean like everybody who thinks “yeah, I got this. I’m squared away. I’m at the top of my game.” even whatever you do – CEO of this or that, starting this company or that, Olympic athlete…
Chances are there is some background of obviousness or fear-frontier thing that is just causing you to miss something in your life. That could really expose you to your authenticity – like you said.
Patrick: And I think that happens to way more people than who realize it.
Mark: I agree.
Patrick: We have a subconscious database. Our mind can store as much data as about 500 brand new MacBook pros, right? So we have this massive hard drive in our brain.
But the thing that’s really fucked up is we didn’t put most of the information in there. So we didn’t decide what language we speak. We didn’t decide where we were born. We didn’t decide what our parents do for a living.
But all that information – where we lived, how we got treated… Gets populated into this subconscious database. And we use it for about 75% of our decision-making.
So literally 3/4 of the decisions we make, we do unconsciously. And then we use conscientious bias to say “oh no, no. I thought about that.”
But you know there’s some great ways to prove the fact… And it was only discovered from a scientific perspective… It was only proven in 2016 at MIT. This great neuroscientist who I featured my book named Anna Beiler, she actually tracked mice – they give mice a squirt of quinine – which is bad – or they give him a bit of sugar.
And then they could literally watch through optogenetics they can watch the neurons light up. And they saw that mice were just using one hemisphere for bad… The right hemisphere for bad, the left hemisphere for good.
And this is exactly what we do. So when we see someone coming down the street who looks different from us – if I’m walking in New York or if I’m in Boston, I see a New York Yankees hat – I’m immediately gonna make a subconscious judgment about a New York Yankees hat versus a red sox hat.
And all of this is happening at a subconscious level. So I’ve worked with literally billionaires – super successful, self-made guys and women, and they’re completely unhappy because the things they’re doing are trying to continue to build up those defense mechanisms and as you call it – to fight the what is it? The moment of obviousness?
Mark: Yeah. Background of Obviousness.
Patrick: Yeah, so they’re trying to defend against that. They’re trying to create these defense mechanisms – instead of facing them, and embracing them, and realizing why they do them.
Mark: So what are some of the ways that we can use fear, or this new awareness of fear, to help turn things around and to live the life of our dreams?
Patrick: Mark, that’s a great question and that’s at the core of the work that I’m doing. And my mission.
And I firmly believe, number one, you’ve got to have the motivation. So if my motivation was beyond trying to find self-esteem or self-confidence, I could have gotten an Olympic gold medal. Or I could have built a billion dollar company.
But instead it was trying to build up this cocoon. So first you have to have the motivation in the right place. I think, if you do things for your family, for your friends, for your country. For the world as a better place, then you’ve got the right motivation.
Mark: So are you suggesting that comes into your sense of purpose and mission in life? And that would drive your motivation?
Patrick: Absolutely. Because you have a clear guiding compass. If your motivation is well-defined and clear-cut and it goes beyond material success or revenge… Or something like that, then it’s so easy to get through the difficult times, right?
And the second thing you have to do – this is why we need to find more fear in our life. People are saying overcome your fear or work around your fear – that’s complete bullshit. We have to find more fear, so we can get comfortable with what happens to our body.
So everybody has these thing called fear tells. So if you scare yourself, it’s always going to be the same physiological reaction. To different degrees of intensity.
But you’ll always have it… For me butterflies in my stomach, and one of my legs… My right leg starts to shake like Elvis and feel a little weak, okay?
So those are my fear tells. And so when I get an email, and my leg starts to shake or I start to feel that in my stomach, I know my amygdala is trying to make the decision. So I can stop – and I’ve done something since the Olympic training days, and I call it a 4×4 it’s the same thing you call box breathing – which has been around for thousands of years. And you guys learned it at sniper camp, I learned it… Learning visualization at the OTC.
And it’s the first thing I do when I feel my fear tells. I know that amygdala is trying to hijack and I got to say “stop. I’m not going to use any shortcuts.”
And I go through this platform I’ve created called the bass methodology.
And in order to do that and understand what your decision-making process is, you’ve got to figure out when you were, let’s say, younger than 10 or 12 years old, what impacted your life that created the fear-frontier? So we can all look back… And for me it was that plane crash, that delta… And that affected my defense mechanisms and it affected the way I acted.
And so if we can do those two explorations around your fear tells, and your fear-frontier then you can have a great understanding of how you react in the face of fear.
Mark: I love that. Can I pause there and kind of add a little bit from our training?
Patrick: Absolutely, yeah.
Mark: So, we believe that it’s actually the first 21 years of your life that will define the rest of your life. The first seven are the most crucial, because that’s when you’re basically pure energy, especially the first few years your life, but then you don’t really have an intellect, you don’t have the ability to discern, and so you’re just absorbing energy.
And that’s when you’re going to either take on your parent’s behavior, or reject your parent’s behavior or deny your parent’s behavior.
And that early, early childhood stuff are ridiculously powerful. That’s why you take on your pattern parents patterning, or it gets all confused in your adult life because if there was rage, or violence, or anger, you’re beginning to take that on, or reject it.
And so that becomes fear-based, reactionary behavior.
The next seven years, up until we’re like 14 or 15 now we’re starting to get cognitive, but our executive function is not there yet. We’re not able to make decisions that are really effective. So we usually confuse things.
But there’s this intellectual layer, over the emotional layer. And that’s when we begin to distort the energy that we take on. And so if you see something like a plane crash at fifteen years old, you’re gonna cognize it, you’re gonna understand it, but the way you process it is going to be not effective, right? And so you end up attaching – like you said – an emotional energy to it, that is gonna hold you back down the road.
And then the last you know seven years segment, is basically kind of a refinement. This is where you begin to act out and begin to project and to become passive-aggressive.
And your behavioral modifications based upon the first fourteen years start to get greased – you know, the grooves get greased, and you become really habituated in them.
And then you’re done. Most people don’t grow much beyond… Cognitively, psychologically, emotionally, unless you get therapy. Unless you go on a massive pursuit for personal development. Most growth kind of stops for most people right around their early 20s.
Patrick: Well and that lines up – I mean you’re spot-on – because those are really well aligned with the cycles of your brain development.
So the amygdala is fully developed at birth, right? So babies have that fight, flight or freeze response.
Then the hypothalamus starts to develop which connects to the sympathetic nerve system. And that releases all these chemicals into your bloodstream when you’re seven to 14.
And then from 14 on you’re starting to develop the prefrontal cortex and this thing which is a most amazing part of our mind. That we need to learn to use. It’s called the working memory.
And so those are the phases for that. And how that happens and how that develops and what happens at those phases, is what gets populated into that database I was talking… So totally spot-on there.
Mark: So as an adult, you can do all the decision training and have all the mental models, but – like you said – seventy-five percent of your decisions are gonna be subconscious reactionary patterning, based upon these first twenty-one years.
And so you have to go back and kind of relive those. We call that recapitulation. You have to relive those years, in a sense, through your imagery, or through therapy – which is usually using imagery – to go back and find what impacted you.
What were the big patterns that your parents played out and that you absorbed or rejected? Or are now projecting? And what were the incidences – like the plane crashes, and the getting humiliated or getting bullied? What were those things that caused you to think and react a certain way now, right? That’s the first part of it.
And so what you’re saying is – that’s what you mean by facing something you fear – is find something that scares the shit out of you. Chances are you can then go back to an early childhood memory and find the root of it, right?
Patrick: Yeah. And it’s funny, because I mentioned to DeSena, and Joe and I went to the Atacama Desert to film this thing for Spartan. We brought one of the great psychologists – who actually is how you and I hooked up – Dr. L.
And I sat there and I as we’re talking I took him through the process of finding their frontier. I mean, literally in the course of an hour – and Dr. L is someone who has you know a PhD, and has been studying psychology, she found her own fear-frontier literally within an hour.
Joe was telling us how he was so afraid of jaws, and he always thought of the movie jaws as his fear-frontier. He used to take a shower standing on a stool, because he was afraid that something was gonna come up through the drain and bite his ass off, apparently.
Mark: (laughing) And now I know why he couldn’t wait to get out of the ice bath, when I interviewed him.
Patrick: (laughing) There you go. But literally, you don’t have to go to Nepal and sit up at the monastery for five years to figure this stuff out, is my point Mark: You can spend a weekend at Unbeatable Mind, you can spend a couple weekends – you know, there’s a great woman up in northern California named Diana Chapman – who has this conscious leadership group. She does similar stuff.
And you can find resources, but you have be open to feeling that fear. And then once you can use it as fuel, we haven’t even touched on that part. That’s how you get superhuman performance, right? That’s how, when you start to use that fear cocktail to really make great decisions or great performance, that’s when things really change.
Mark: Right, yeah and before – I want to go over there next – but I do want to kind of stress that finding these fear-based patterns is one thing, but eradicating them… To me it seems like it’s not a simple thing, right? It’s an iterative process. You got to take a crawl, walk, run approach to it – like you did with overcoming your fear of flying, right?
So I don’t want to give people the impression that this is an easy process, right?
Patrick: Well, the only caveat I’d say there commander is I think it’s very simple but it ain’t easy at all. It’s really difficult.
And so it takes work. It’s just no different than you know being a SEAL. I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Marcus Luttrell a few years ago, and he said “you know, before I went into buds, I knew I was never gonna quit.” he said “I made the decision, I would be happy to die. But I wasn’t gonna quit.”
So just having that mindset… A guy used to row with, who you know, I think. Alden mills. He went through buds twice, and he had the mindset said “look, broken leg? I’ll start again. I’ll do it when it heals.”
And so I think you can make the conscious choice – we actually have two parts of our brain – the amygdala which handles the fear response – but we also have a part that hasn’t been researched nearly as much and isn’t talked about as much called the sgACC.
And that part handles the courage. And we can literally flip that switch by choice. And if you flip that switch to courage, those neurons that fire together are going to start to wire together. So the more you do it, you start to get more and more courageous. But it takes a hell of a lot of work to get there.
Mark: Mm-hmm. Habituation, right? You got to habituate the courageous act, to override the fear act. Which is like when I say in order to develop courage, or stoke courage, you have to starve the fear. So you do the courageous thing, which then takes the energy away from the amygdala, and puts it into this sgACC pathway.
tools and processes
Mark: So what are some of the tools or processes that you’ve come up with that can help people go down this path? To transform fear into fuel.
Patrick: Yeah and that’s it. Because you want to take advantage of that moment – when you feel the amygdala hijacking – everything unnecessary stops. So we stop digestion, we stop reproduction, we stop feeling empathy for other people. And all of our energy and resources goes to our physical performance and our mental performance. And this is exactly why in life or death situations – in a car crash – why everything seems to move in slow motion. We have the ability to take in way more data consciously when your sympathetic nerve system is primed for survival.
So we should learn how to use that for optimal performance. And the way that you can do that is first – so the platform I’ve created is called the BASE methodology. And the B is pretty simple and all your listeners know it is box breathing – I call it a four by four and it’s in for four, hold it for four, out for four, hold it out for four.
And what that’s doing – and you’ve talked about it a lot – is it’s changing your heartbeat from an erratic heartbeat to a coherent heartbeat. And your beats per minute might still be 120 or 130, but if you look on an EKG machine, it’s going to be much smoother and coherent as opposed to the jagged outline of a mountain range or something.
So breathe is the first part.
The A is assess the situation as if you were the producer. So learn how to step back when you’re in a fearful situation. You feel that amygdala taking over, and I always tell people that my boys who are 12 and 13 love to play this video game where they’re driving a race car. And you can have two perspectives – you can be sitting behind the wheel and driving it – or you can hit the A button and you can pull out to be looking at it from a helicopter’s perspective.
And that’s how we are with life, right? So when the amygdala takes over we’re the actor in the scene looking over the steering wheel. And so we lose all that perspective.
If we can assess the situation from afar and look at the whole thing, most of the time we’ll end up laughing, because you’re sitting in traffic thinking to yourself “why did I just give the bird to some blue-haired old lady who cut me off?”
Mark: (laughing) That’s good.
Patrick: So that’s breathe, assess the situation… The S is an interesting one it’s actually two S’s, but the key component is to smile. And most people aren’t aware that the 42 muscles in our face have a direct link to the sympathetic nerve system. So the old adage “grin and bear it,” you know you talk about things that have been around for a long time, but have never been proven… They did a study at Harvard about five years ago where they were showing scary pictures and videos to people in an fMRI – functional MRI – machine and rather than tell them to smile, because they didn’t want them to think about something good, they gave them a chopstick to hold in their teeth. So they’d have to flex those muscles in their face.
And what they found was an 80% reduction in cortisol. Just from smiling.
So it has a huge impact. The S is to shift your eyes, like you’re watching a tennis match and we probably don’t have the time to go into the details – but it’s basically doing the same thing you do when you get to REM sleep. So most neuroscientists believe that we go through something called “memory consolidation.” so everything that happened during the day, we consolidate at night when we’re in our rem stage into that hard drive I talked about…
Mark: So you’re suggesting to do self-EMDR.
Patrick: Exactly right, yeah. If your listeners know what EMDR, it’s very similar. So you do the EMDR while you’re smiling. Shift your eyes back and forth while you’re smiling. And that can help process it.
Mark: By the way, it doesn’t have to be the eyes, they’ve proven. It can be anything that’s bilateral. This is why they offer the tapping, you know? That’s another really good way to do it. You can tap left-right temple. You can tap left-right shoulder. Left-right knee.
You can do audio, you know? So you can do…
Patrick: I didn’t know about the audio. I knew about the tapping, didn’t know about the audio…
Mark: Yeah, audio. So you can get one of those… What do they call it…? Binaural beat things. Clicks left-right, left-right…
Patrick: Which is like being in the car with my kids.
Mark: Yeah, exactly. One on each side.
Patrick: One’s playing one song, the other’s playing the other song.
Mark: (laughing) Awesome. What’s the E stand for?
Patrick: So the E is to eliminate shortcuts. So that whole process of what’s called valence. And you know it’s really the ability… The easy way to remember it is to replace judgment with curiosity. So the shortcuts are us making judgments, really, at the end of the day. If you walk into Starbucks and you see some dude who looks like he’s been a victim of a drive-by piercing, you might say “oh, what a freak.”
Because you might be a guy who comes from a military background and everyone in the family was high and tight. Nice pressed shirt. So your database says that.
Now if you were to say all of a sudden “okay, I’m gonna replace that judgment with curiosity. What can I think that is great about this guy? What’s amazing?”
And the first thing is “well, he must have a hell of a pain threshold to be able to do that.” I couldn’t put one of those things through my eye.
Or he doesn’t care what other people think about him because he’s expressed himself however.
So eliminating the shortcuts and all this… You know, the BASE methodology is really a couple chapters in the book. And some of the stuff I’m doing you know with these neuroscientists has just been… It’s literally fascinating. I’ve had to sit after interviewing guys… There’s one guy in university college Cambridge named Karl Friston, who’s literally incited more times than Einstein in scientific papers.
And dude is smarter than Einstein. Every time I talk to him I get a couple hours of interviews and literally sit on the couch for about two days replaying sentence by sentence, so I can figure out what he’s trying to say, and distill it down to something I can put in the book. That people can understand and use.
But it’s those type of insights that led to this platform that I hope will dramatically change a lot of people’s lives.
Mark: That sounds terrific. The BASE platform…
Mark: Tell us about – we got to wrap up pretty soon here – but a couple more questions. This is so fascinating.
What’s your morning routine look like? How do you get ready to win the day? You know – this is the terminology we use – we say it’s really important to have a powerful morning routine, so that you can win in your mind, and body, and spirit before you step into the battle…
Patrick: I’m just like Thomas Jefferson. So I went to UVA for grad school, and you have a couple hours of exercise every day.
And so my morning routine starts out the same every morning. I do a version of Tummo breathing, so it’s a little bit different than kind of the Wim Hof methodology that most people do. Because I add the… You’re familiar with the breath of fire from the Bimini practice…
Mark: That’s part of my morning routine as well.
Patrick: Breath of fire. Good.
I do the breathing exercises for about 15 minutes, I do 15 minutes of meditation and then I take the next hour and if there’s anything I’m trying to learn or create I do it then. Because your neurons have all been healed while you sleep. So the ability to absorb a language, or the ability to pick up a new skill set, is highest when you wake up in the morning.
After I get through with the Tummo breathing, I’ll do something that requires a heavy learning component.
So because we live in France, I’ll spend some time learning French. If I’m getting ready for a documentary or TV show, I’ll try and learn some lines. But your neurons are fully repaired when you in the morning, if you get a good night’s sleep and you go through all the different stages. Particularly an hour or so of deep sleep. So it’s the best time to learn. It’s also the best time to create.
Then I’ll do my first workout of the day… Which is usually something aerobic so it kind of eases my body into it.
And then cold shower. So that’s my morning routine.
Mark: I love that. It works.
Patrick: So what do you do after your breathing? If you can give me the insight on yours?
Mark: Sure, yeah. So I wake up and I start box breathing. And then I do some journaling…
So first off I drink a glass of fresh water and I begin a gratitude practice. And then I begin my box breathing. And then I will – after the box breathing – I’ll go into a short meditation. I used to do 45 minute long meditations, but I just have gotten to where I don’t have the time. And also have gotten effective enough where I can do a series of like six or seven, three to five minute meditations throughout the day. And I find that I get more impact out of it. So I save time in my morning routine.
Mark: So short meditation. I check in with my ethos – so all this takes me about twenty minutes to a half hour. So I check in on my ethos – which is where I look at my… Reflect upon my purpose, and my mission. And then I feel into the vision that I have for my future. By becoming the kind of person that’s worthy of fulfilling my mission.
All of that is kind of a static practice meaning I mean I’m either sitting in bed or sitting on my meditation bench.
Then I go into my more deep breathing practice. So I do alternate nostril and then I do breath of fire, and then I do kind of our version of Wim Hof, which we call warrior breathing… Main difference is through the nostrils. And I we have both an inhale in exhale hold, so I do three sets of that.
Then I’ll go into my movement practice. So that’s either twice a week I study aikido for two hours or the other days – three times a week – I do an hour of yoga. Either on my own or just the local yoga studio – core power yoga studio.
And none of those I consider to be my workout. So that’s basically my morning ritual. And then later on in the day, I’ll get my functional fitness workout in. Usually at the gym.
And then in the evening I like to do something else as well. Like a walk on the beach… You know, something kind of wind down-ish.
Patrick: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: But you asked about the morning ritual. The point here – for everyone listening is maybe pat and I seem a little extreme, but the power of doing this… The psychological balance, the physiological control, the energy management, the positivity and optimism and sense of being in control that it brings.
And also the constant refinement of the quality of your thinking. To lead to better decisions. It saves so much time. Both in choices of what to do, and avoidance of the things that slow us down in life.
Patrick: Couple other points that add in there commander – number one, is that it greatly increases your ability to connect with that part of your brain the sgACC. So the courage part of your brain.
It also sets your day up on your terms. So one of the things… When I speak a lot, I ask people to raise your hand if you pick up your phone first thing in the morning. If you’re picking up your phone first thing in the morning, you’re living your life based on someone else’s agenda. Because you’re responding to things… If you see something now, it’s affecting you mentally and physiologically, because you see an email from your boss or from your investor or whatever…
So I don’t even get to near the computer or the phone for the first really two hours in the morning.
The other thing you mentioned was a gratitude practice, which we do… I don’t do it in the morning, but we do every night at dinner. So we go around the dinner table with the kids, and no matter how bad your day is you have to find something just from today that you’re thankful for. And so it’s really a great way to bring your gratitude practice into the family.
And one thing we didn’t mention in the podcast – I’m sure you get a lot of listeners who are parents out there – all of this stuff applies, and in fact some of it more as we talked about the development – all of this applies to your kids.
Mark: Especially. Because they’re the generation that’s going to change the world.
Patrick: And we have a huge lack of coming-of-age opportunities. There’s schools taking out gym class and removing the rope. And my kids were just up for the death race and there was a small version of the death race for the kid’s death race.
And they all loved it. And they’re all proud of themselves. And they worked hard…
And so all of these practices can apply to kids. And I have my kids doing breathing every morning as well. And it just sets them up for a great day.
Mark: That’s awesome. I agree 100%. Your whole work is about fear, and you know how much fear rules the world, because it’s infused into our media and politics and it’s just persistent. But are you optimistic for the future? And do you see a future where we can be more peaceful as humanity?
Patrick: I definitely see our world changing and I would say from the perspective of mindfulness, I think there’s probably two camps that are gonna develop – one is gonna be a really refined, mindful people like you Mark: Who may have a warrior’s training and background, but have a very peaceful mindset. Because, you know, Gandhi said it best that hate isn’t the enemy, it’s fear.
And so people are afraid and the reason we can get the politicians in that we have today, is they’re totally feeding on this fear frenzy. And the more we can become immune to that, the more we can become courageous in our decision-making, the more parents can not be concerned whether or not other parents think they’re being good parents and just do what they think is right for their kids, the more that those people will lose their grip on power.
So I think having a mindful society – having a society with the right motivation. And if people can learn fear, and learn to get comfortable with fear – then it can’t be used against you.
So that’s my mission is to teach millions of people to find more fear and get comfortable with it. And I think that helps lead to world peace, for sure.
Mark: Yeah, I agree. Well, we’ll work together on that. Our mission is to train and integrate a hundred million people to become world-centric warriors and leaders.
Which encompasses much of what we talked about today. Overcoming fear by staring down the fear wolf, accessing greater potential by being mindful, and balancing the body, mind, and spirit. And aligning with your unique purpose in the world, and then going out and crushing it.
But doing it in a way that’s beneficial for all of humanity, and not just your small ego or your ethnocentric tribe. And I think it’s going to take a generation, you know?
Patrick: Yeah, I think so as well. So I think our kids are the hope. And if we’re figuring out and working all the kinks out, then they’re gonna be the lucky ones who benefit from it. Mark: Yeah. Well we all will. And mother earth.
Patrick, you’re awesome. I can’t wait to meet you in person, and do some work together maybe. So let’s consider those ideas – how do we support each other?
Definitely, everyone listening, go pre-order his book. Assuming this podcast comes out before… You said, October the book is coming out?
Patrick: The book doesn’t come out till December. My publisher is like yours, a manuscript was due in April and it comes out in December.
Mark: (laughing) Yeah. Mine was due in May, and it comes out in March of 2020.
But hey, that’s the way it is. Gives us a long time to talk about it.
Patrick: (laughing) Exactly.
Mark: So good luck with that. I will definitely look forward to reading it and providing you some, you know blurb or testimonial.
Mark: And let’s get together again. And talk some more and maybe do some work together.
Patrick: Commander divine, I would greatly look forward to it. And I appreciate you and your listeners taking time to listen to me. I know – like you said – they’ve got a lot of choices. So I hope it’s beneficial.
Mark: Yeah. I think it was, and I’m sure they’ll agree. So hooyah.
Patrick: Thank you.
Mark: All right, folks. Patrick Sweeney. Check out his book “Fear is Fuel.” Hey, Patrick do you have a website and stuff like that?
Mark: Awesome. Alright folks. That’s it. Thanks for your time today. Go check out Patrick’s works. Very important and completely in alignment with what we do here at Unbeatable Mind.
And begin to stare down your wolf of fear. It’s a really important work. And if you’re sitting here listen to this thinking “well, I don’t have any of that,” then maybe pull out the mirror and look again. Because it’s there.
Until next time, train hard, stay focused and cultivate that Unbeatable Mind.