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“So though we may want to forge a beautiful body and healthy lifestyle in 2017, the reality is that we must first forge our mental toughness.”–Mark Divine
This is the time of year when our resolutions are already starting to get difficult, so Commander Mark Divine is giving us some pointers on developing a few, specific skills to enhance our mental toughness so we can follow through on the commitments we’ve made. He also focuses specifically on one of the most common resolutions which surrounds diet, nutrition and weight loss. Find out what you can learn and put into practice to help yourself achieve your goals in 2017.
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Transcript & Shownotes
Hi, this is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today. I know your time is valuable, and you’ve got a lot going on, so I never take it for granted. I appreciate it. Today we have no guest, and I’ll be doing a solocast, cause I’ve got a couple of things I wanted to share with you. And one of them is about mental toughness. And then I also would like to talk a little bit about nutrition. Both of which are on our minds right now as we head into the New Year, and we get with the busy-ness and the reality that the holidays are behind us, and nothing’s changed. And we still gotta put our heads down and focus, and get things done.
But we head into this with a lot of new hope and we’ve made some new commitments. We call those New Year’s commitments, or New Year’s resolutions. And as you guys know, we’re going to ditch most of those soon like a candy wrapper.
There’s many reasons for that lack of follow-through on those good intentions. But it shouldn’t surprise you to hear me say that taking on any new habit requires some mental conditioning, mental toughness, and also that that’s a skill that can be trained.
So though we may want to forge a beautiful body and healthy lifestyle in 2017, the reality is that we must first forge our mental toughness. Then those other things that we desire will follow naturally. Now it’s true that mental toughness is cultivated through a tough life. Through tough choices, and tough experiences. If you ask anyone who’s attempting or attempted BUD/S or Special Forces training, you’ll note that they’ve developed toughness along the way. And they’ve developed the resiliency through the commitment and the preparation that these programs require. And enduring the hardships of that preparation leading up to the program as well as the training itself. All of that develops mental toughness and resiliency.
But the good news here is that mental toughness can also be developed voluntarily, by accepting tough things into your life. Facing those tough things with courage and discipline and commitment. And so as we head into the New Year, let’s not shy from the tough things. Let’s accept and embrace the suck of the challenge so that we can develop our natural tendencies toward mental toughness and resiliency through that.
But I’m also going to tell you that mental toughness can be cultivated by practicing a few skills every day. In spite of what challenges you may face or that you voluntarily take on. And this might be a more practical approach and certainly less painful than going through BUD/S or climbing Kilimanjaro, or whatever that tough challenge is. I submit that practicing these mental skills daily and learning the workings of your mind will ultimately develop that same level of toughness as that Navy SEAL has. After all, mental toughness really comes down to making the right choice at the right time for the right reasons, no matter what’s happening to us externally.
It’s about developing control over your mental and emotional domains, like the ancient Stoic philosophers who encouraged us to ignore what’s happening outside of us in order to refine our inside. Now the 4 key skills in this training–which you’ve heard me talk about before and which we teach in-depth in my Unbeatable Mind inner circle and through our SEALFIT academies–are breath control, positivity, visualization and effective goal setting.
So I’m just going to touch on these briefly.
Controlling your breath. Awareness of your breath and control of it, I think is one of the best tools, if not the best tool to bring initial control over our mind. Breath control brings a present moment awareness and in that present moment we’re absent or clear of fear or future unknowns. We’re just present. And when we practice control of our breathing, our minds begin to focus. And when they focus, we’re able to tap into a greater energy. Because a focused energy is more intense than a dispersed energy.
Controlling your breath also brings a whole host of physiological benefits. But ultimately, I think the primary benefit is that it begins to allow us to take control of the functionings of our mind. Now that brings us to the 2nd skill.
As we get control of our minds, and we can focus on the right things and focus on those things for longer periods of time, then we can begin to curate the quality of the thoughts in our mind. And in this regard we can maintain a positive mindset.
So ask yourself, what wolf are you feeding right now? Are you feeding the wolf of fear or courage?
Once we have control over that breath and hence our minds, then we can reinforce our positive internal dialogue and feed the courage wolf. I recommend beginning a practice of asking yourself at least 10 times a day, “What wolf am I feeding right now?” And paying attention to the answer you get. Or to the sensations and feelings. And you’ll know if you’re feeding the courage wolf or the fear wolf. And if you’re feeding the fear wolf, that’s when you need to interdict and redirect your mind to something positive and begin to feed the courage wolf and to curate the quality and the directionality of those thoughts, activating that positive internal dialogue and feeding the courage wolf.
Now, if we’ve got control over our breath and then our mind, and we’re maintaining a positive mind by curating and feeding the courage wolf, then that allows us to bring in the power of visualization, which is a concentration practice, in and of itself. And so we begin to first envision a desired future. So envisioning precedes visualization. And visioning’s the skill of winning in your mind before you set foot into the battlefield.
Envisioning involves developing your imagination and then imagining a more complete or a more desired future for yourself. And then visualization is the act of practicing the becoming and the skills of that future every day.
So now we’ve talked about breath control, positivity, and visualization. And all of this is important in that it allows us to maintain a concentrated and focused mind. But the question is what are we focused on? And this is where effective goal setting comes in. We want to set goals that are aligned with a purpose. So as you head into 2017, these goals that you’ve set or these commitments that you’ve made, or resolutions. If they’re not aligned with your overall purpose in life, or connected to your ethos. And you’re not willing to stand your ground, then you’re not going to succeed in them. So your goals need to be connected to that ethos. That passion, purpose and those principles that you use and you live by. That define your character. So you know where you stand in life. So if we commit to a resolution that has no connection to our ethos, when the newness wears off, and we can’t answer the question, “Why am I doing this?” Then that’s when you’re going to quit.
Your goals should endure the challenges, so that when the going gets tough–when quitting sounds like an option–you can persevere easily, because your major driving aim in life is in the line of fire.
So practicing these 4 skills daily, will help you develop the mental toughness of an elite warrior. And as you practice these skills, those big challenges I alluded to earlier become easier and easier to take on and to accomplish, which further refines your mental toughness through their test. And in this way you develop a virtuous upward spiral of development of mental and emotional resiliency. With this approach, those New Year’s resolutions are going to be easy to stick to once that commitment is made.
Diet and Nutrition[12:36]
Now one of the commitments that many people make come the New Year is around dieting. Nutrition. And we even have a challenge at SEALFIT called the 6 weeks to cleaner eating challenge.” I encourage you to check it out at sealfit.com. So let’s talk about nutrition. Consider the following sad state of nutritional health in America alone. 34% of Americans are obese, two thirds are overweight. This is about a 200% increase from 1970\. Over 8% of Americans are diabetic, and if you included those undiagnosed, an additional 26% are pre-diabetic. That’s a 400% increase since 1970\. And diabetes is the leading cause of stroke, blindness and kidney failure. Good Lord.
According to McKinsey and company, reducing the US obesity rate to 15%–which is the 1970 rate–would save 150 billion dollars a year in Medicare spending and close to 500 billion dollars a year in overall US healthcare spending. There’s estimates that by 2030, 50% of Americans will be obese, and 79% overweight. And the US spends over 2.7 trillion per year on healthcare, nearly 19% of our GDP. Good Lord.
What’s going on here? Wander the rows of the modern supermarket and it starts to make more sense. Most of that food jammed onto our shelves, and in the large super-markets there’s over 43,000 items masquerading as food. Most of them are designed in a lab for unnaturally long shelf lives. And to stimulate craving and addiction. And they must be cheap to produce.
As my buddy Robb Wolf will tell you, a key target of industrial food making is something called “hyper-palatability,” which means to produce foods that are processed to trip pleasure circuits in our brain. And that drive you into shoving more and more of it into your mouth. In a New York Times magazine article on the modern science of food processing, the journalist who wrote the article handed a food scientist 2 bags of store bought food to study and to talk about.
In the article, this is quoted… he zeroed right in on the “Cheetos.” “This is one of the most marvellously constructed foods on the planet.” They guy’s name was Witherly, the scientist. “In terms of pure pleasure.” And he ticked off a dozen attributes of Cheetos that make the brain say, “I want more.” The one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. It’s called “vanishing caloric density.” If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks there’s no calories in it. You could just keep eating it forever. Wrong.
Now I’m sure you realize the cost of poor nutrition just begins with fat. There’s a vicious circle in regards to what’s wrong with these foods and what the wrong foods will do to us.
Sure there’s weight gain, but then there’s stress levels and the quality and quantity of the sleep that you get. Chronic inflammation. Autoimmune disease. Low energy levels. Mood disorders and depression. Even the most highly motivated person in the world, if you eat like crap on a consistent basis, you can’t turn the tide back when it comes to physical and mental performance when you eat like this. Eventually it’s going to suck the life out of your work capacity, and your ability to achieve your worthy mission.
So you gotta know your enemy. Now having trained many thousands of athletes and warriors and executives and stay-at-home moms in mental and physical toughness, I’ve come to believe that how we fuel our body/mind system is utterly crucial to sustaining high level of performance over time. So the building blocks have gotta be solid for our foundation of our system to be solid.
But the main enemy to effective fueling is not those evil mega-corporations, or the supermarkets, or the government’s sad dietary guidelines. But it’s our own lack of self-awareness of how foods affect our mood and balance. In the “Six Weeks to Cleaner Eating” program, what we do is help gain or regain that critical awareness by singling out one food or one fuel source at a time and to compare how you feel when you isolate that. Physically, mentally and emotionally. Each of which is a key building block for top performance.
So the first step here is to understand what the enemy is and the enemy is you. You have to know what you’re up against. Why are you in the dark about proper fueling for performance?
Developing a sound and sustainable approach to fueling has been a challenge because of 3 primary aspects of our modern world that work against us.
I’ve already alluded to 1. First, we’ve got an infrastructure problem. It’s not knowing what’ right to eat that’s tough. I’m sure you probably already have a pretty good idea of that. Rather it’s a problem with the infrastructure around us, and not just the supermarkets. Think about the last meeting in the conference room at work where you had the plate of doughnuts in the middle of the table. Or about the “In-And-Out” burger or other yummy fast food, which is right there for you when you’re hustling between appointments or at the airline terminal.
And what about the other lame options you find at the dorm, cafeteria or lunch-room, or in our grade schools? And what about your own home? Are your cupboards bursting with fruit roll-ups or cereal or freezer pizza? Or juice or soda? So the problem is essentially what’s available to us, where and how we get our food.
The 2nd challenge is our own internal wiring. Like my friend Robb Wolf talks about in his new book. In addition to changing or modifying those externals in the infrastructure world, we also have to rework the way we respond to emotional triggers with food. Put simply, to develop the skills and habits of mental and emotional control. Just thinking you’re going to succeed by embarking on yet another fad diet is a march toward defeat.
But developing deep awareness by noticing how good you feel when you eliminate something you’ve had in excess and then add it back. Now that’s going to lead you to victory.
And conversely, notice how bad you feel when you eat a sugar-laden doughnut. And how it leads to fatigue and insulin hunger.
And then the 3rd challenge is the complexity of the conversation around nutrition which makes it so daunting and exhausting. No doubt our culture likes to segment, differentiate the simplest things into the most complex formulas. Nutrition is no different. But I think you can step back from the latest newsletter, or Zone or Paleo book, and the countless blogs and websites and just use your innate intelligence to guide you. Innately, your body/mind system wants simple, wholesome and natural food. It wants these food in less quantity that you’re told externally is necessary. Or maybe you’ve been trained to eat. And when these food types, when it’s hungry for fuel. Not when someone rings a bell for lunch or dinner necessarily. And your body/mind system wants to take a break once in a while, and fast for a bit to let your system rebalance. So I encourage you to use the SEAL maxim of “Keep it Simple, Sally” and demystify nutrition. Get back to the basics. Crawl, walk, run. Eliminate a bad fuel source once a week over six weeks. Check out the “Six Weeks to Cleaner Eating” diet that we have at SEALFIT. That’ll help you out. Get on this path. Just eliminate the things that are unhealthy and see how you feel. And then when your body rebalances, you can add them back in smaller quantities. And through this process, maintain deep awareness and learn something about yourself. After all, what do you have to lose, besides some weight?
So unfriendly infrastructure, internal wiring and the complexity minefield. Those are your enemies. Don’t underestimate them. So you’ve got the tools in your hand with the big 4 skills of breath control, and positivity and visualization and goals. Proper, effective goals. To win the health battle in 2017. You’ve got the tools in your hand, and you’ve got the willpower to fight. And just put them into practice and stay with it day in and day out. Developing the courage and the confidence of a warrior.
Hope to see you in training soon and good luck achieving your New Year’s resolutions.
Coach Divine out.