“But if you can take a high-performer and make them 1% better every day…Wow. Where do they wake up in 365 days? That’s a different person. ”- Will Ahmed
Will Ahmed (@willahmed) is the founder of the Whoop fitness system. He talks to Mark about his business and personal experience with meditation, breathing and the importance of visualization in achieving your goals.
Listen to this episode to get more info about how personal and business performance are connected.
You’ve probably already heard Mark extolling the virtues of the PowerDot to help with recovery. The PowerDot is an electrical stimulation device that allows you to increase performance, speed up recovery and overall achieve a deeper mind/body connection. Many stim devices can be clumsy and hard to use. PowerDot achieves simplicity and is well-designed. They put professional level physical therapy in your hands easily and inexpensively. They now have a version 2.0.
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Dr. Parsley’s sleep remedy was designed to help Navy SEALs to overcome some of the sleep challenges that they have as hard-charging individuals. Doc Parsley believes that proper sleep and recovery is absolutely essential to maintain our ability to perform at a high level. His sleep “cocktail” includes a number of supplements to provide our bodies with chemicals naturally produced by the brain to encourage sleep. Commander Divine is a huge fan and encourages members his tribe to try it out for themselves. Enter “unbeatablemind” at the checkout on www.docparsley.com to get 10% off.
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Hey folks. This is Mark Divine. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks for being here. Super-appreciate it. I’m super-excited to talk to our guest here, Will Ahmed, the founder of WHOOP. Which is a wearable, quantified-self tool, which I can’t wait to learn about.
I mean, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with these things, and maybe Will will make me a convert, right? I hope he does actually.
Before I get started we were just talking about the Unbeatable Mind program. I’m on this horse here.
I know it’s my program, but I also fully believe it’s one of the best programs if you’re seriously committed to transformation and unlocking your 20x potential. And aligning with your calling. And finding your fullest potential in service in this lifetime. And finding meaningful success that comes with peace of mind, non-attachment, contentment… Those things that are so hard to find these days.
Then Unbeatable Mind is worth checking out so go to unbeatablemind.com. Or just check out the emails or our social media on it, because people are being transformed. So it’s worth looking into.
If you’ve been avoiding it or thinking you’ll do it someday – I’m telling you, it works, so check it out.
Will:.. I was on a panel this morning with you.
Will: Yeah that was fun.
Mark: And then when I found that we were gonna be interviewing you, I was really stoked. My experience with wearables – so first I tried the Oura ring – you’re familiar with Oura? And the company came to me, and they wanted me to be an influencer and promote it.
And I really just couldn’t figure out how the math would work in terms of how they were tracking my movement – because I was a functional fitness guy. And I was doing high-intensity training. And I was doing swimming. And I was doing things like climbing things…
And they were just tracking like footsteps. I was like “how is that gonna…? I don’t do footsteps,” right?
I really don’t. Like, I don’t run anymore that much. And I do a little walking, but it’s so rare. And I asked that question and they never got back to me. And so I took my Oura ring off and then the battery died. And then I haven’t touched it since.
And then I got a Garmin phoenix, and I thought “okay, maybe this is the answer. And I started wearing the Garmin Phoenix, and I couldn’t keep it charged up.
I’m this weird guy. I just don’t like having to charge everything that is around me, you know?
And then the watchband broke. And so that was the end of the Garmin Phoenix. Although I think that had some potential, right? To at least track my sleep patterns, and my heart rate. But I never really trusted the data.
I don’t know. And so I figured because of all my training that I just trust my intuition. But, I think you’re gonna tell me that that’s probably not the right path. (laughing) Help me understand how I could do better.
Will: First of all – not all wearables are created equal. So we’ll start there.
To immediately address your concerns, WHOOP doesn’t measure steps, we measure strain. So we think steps is a silly metric
Mark: Did you say strength, or strain…?
Will: Strain. So the cardiovascular load on your body.
Now let’s back up for one second, okay? Our mission at WHOOP is to unlock human performance, okay? So we believe every individual has an inner potential that you can tap into if you can better understand their body and their behaviors. And we’ve developed…
Mark: Behaviors, I get. Body, I get that too, because not many people are clued in at all about how the body works.
Will: It’s very hard to measure the body, right? We have developed hardware, and software, and analytics to continuously understand the human body.
Now, I got into this space personally, because I was always into sports and exercise. I was playing squash while I was at Harvard. And I was captain of the team there.
Mark: Is that a pretty intense, competitive sport?
Mark: I’ve played a few times and I…
Will: Super high-intensity from a cardiovascular standpoint. Now you’ll see some stocky players, you’ll see slender players, but it’s start-stop, start-stop, start-stop. A lot of lunging, running in and out of corners.
And I was someone who used to over-train every year. So you get fitter, you get fitter, you get fitter, you fall off a cliff.
And so I was fascinated by how could you prevent overtraining? What does it take to prevent over-training? How can you train optimally? How does sleep fit into the mix? How does recovery fit into the mix?
So I got very interested in physiology. I read something like 500 medical papers while I was in school.
Mark: No kidding. In your spare time? Or for your courses?
Will: A little bit of everything, man. I went down a rabbit hole. I was a government and economics concentrator, and I ended up writing a thesis around the human body.
So that became really the business plan for WHOOP. And I started WHOOP when I was 22 years old. I was a senior at Harvard. And this is like summer of 2012.
I met my co-founder around that time John Capodilupo. John was studying some of the hardest math classes in the country. And as it turns out, his father’s a professor of exercise physiology.
Mark: Oh no kidding. What an interesting confluence of people.
Will: Yeah, so we had a real overlap around physiology. And john had the technical chops to do some things from an algorithm standpoint, and sensing standpoint that hadn’t been done before. And I had a vision for how to build a product for coaches, and athletes, and beyond…
So we started working together that summer and really the next two years were all hardcore research and development. So WHOOP was the first technology that was able to measure heart rate variability from the wrists accurately… We’ll come back to that…
Mark: Or that was one of the things Oura claimed to measure…
Will: Yeah. I’m not here to bad mouth those guys…
Mark: Neither am I. I’m just saying, I didn’t personally trust the data…
Will: Yeah, yeah. And then beyond that we were the first company to measure heart rate accurately from the wrist.
So, you know the chest strap. I’m sure you’ve worn it before. Turns out there’s still 10 million of those get sold a year.
Whoop completely replaces a chest strap.
Mark: And does the chest strap work?
Will: Yeah, for measuring heart-rate.
And so come 2014-2015, we started with the tip of the pyramid in terms of athletes. And quite literally like two of our first hundred users were people like LeBron James and Michael Phelps.
Mark: No kidding. How did you connect to them? Did you reach out to them or were they attracted to what you were doing?
Will: Well, the secret to getting to them is similar to the secret to getting any influential person – who a lot of people want to get to. Which is that you have to find someone important in that person’s life who other people don’t know.
And in the case of high-profile athletes, most people know their agent, or their coach. Maybe their partner.
Personal trainer actually spends a lot of time with that individual. So if you’re developing technology you’re wondering how do you get to a professional athlete – get the trainer to like it.
And so for us… I mean look, none of this would have worked if the technology didn’t deliver, right? But you know we were able to get WHOOP on Mike Mencia who is LeBron’s trainer, Keenan Robbins, who at the time was Michael Phelps’ trainer.
And they liked it and then they put it on their athletes. And so at a stage where the company was pretty early, we weren’t generating revenue, it was very encouraging to see athletes of that highest stature wearing the product.
Mark: Yeah. They can penetrate through the noise really quickly. As an influencer.
Will: Well, I don’t just mean from an influencer standpoint. I mean that helped a lot.
But I mean, you’re an entrepreneur, right? You’re trying to build businesses… For me as a young person who was told by a lot of people “hey, you’re gonna fail.” having athletes of that level wearing the technology and saying “hey, this is interesting. Hey, I’m getting benefit.”
Those are the little bites that keep pushing you, right? When a lot of things are going wrong in those early stages.
And so from there, we started working with professional sports teams and college teams. And we became the official recovery wearable of the NFL players association. So right now we’re being distributed to every player in the NFL. We were the first product approved in major league baseball. We’re very proud to serve some navy SEALs who wear the product.
So, you know, really high-end, high performance athletes was the starting point of the business. And what we saw over time was more and more consumer demand. People seeing these high profile athletes – to your point – wearing WHOOP, and asking themselves “well could this technology help me?”
Now let’s pause for a second and say what does WHOOP actually measure? So we collect a ton of data. It’s a small sensor. I’m wearing it on my wrist here.
Mark: You’re wearing one on the other wrist too?
Will: Yeah. I’m testing something over here. But normally I’m just wearing one…
Mark: So there’s no watch in there.
Will: No watch.
Mark: Why did you decide to leave the watch out? Not to distract you too far, but why did you decide to do that?
Will: First of all, we wanted it to be a passive monitor. So one problem, I think, with trackers is when they’re super visible, you’re paying too much attention to the date and you’re losing focus.
Mark: Heisenberg? What’s the guy said the principle is the observer changes they observed?
Will: Oh Heisenberg, maybe?
Mark: Yeah, Heisenberg principle. So if you’ve got a wearable that you can test it, then you’re changing the input.
Will: Right. So, one is you don’t want to have information overload. Two is that we actually serve a population that’s very active. And having a screen during sports like football, or basketball, or soccer it’s distracting and by the way now you can’t wear it, because it’s got a screen on it.
The third answer is from an engineering standpoint. You have to be very, very focused about how you’re collecting data and what you’re driving from a battery life standpoint. The amount of data you collect, battery life, and number of features… Pick two, not three, right?
You look at a product like the apple watch right – not collecting a lot of data, super-high resolution screen, ton of features.
You look at WHOOP, ton of data, very specific features, right? And no screen. Not a watch.
The last thing – and this is a little bit more on the design side – we didn’t want to compete with other watches. You know, a lot of people wear a watch that they think highly of. Other people will wear GPS watches.
So the second you put a screen on it, you’re now competing against every single person’s watch.
And we want people to wear WHOOP 24/7. That’s how you unlock a lot of secrets about your body is 24/7 data. It’s not just photos it’s a video, right? You want the full picture.
So all those reasons together is why we don’t have a screen. Now, back to the data piece – so we’re collecting 100 megabytes of data on a person per day, five metrics a hundred times per second, so in a given day we’re collecting anywhere from a thousand to ten thousand times as much data as an Apple watch or a Fitbit. It’s just an enormous amount of data, right?
And yet, we take all that data and we summarize it into three simple numbers. I like to say the more data you collect, the less data you should show to your end-user. You got to keep things simple too.
And we summarize the world in terms of recovery, strain, and sleep. Okay?
Now back to the problem with overtraining. Which is where I started in all this right? Overtraining is a mismatch between how recovered your body is, and the amount of strain you put on your body. So if your body’s run down and you put a lot of strain on it, you’re overreaching in that day. If you do that for a number of days, over time, you’re overtraining your body, right?
So WHOOP – every day we give you a recovery score in the morning from zero to 100%. We’ll come back to talking about how we calculate that. Zero to 100% – red, yellow, green -that’s telling you how ready you are for the day, right? If you have a high recovery, take on high strain. If you have a low recovery, take on less strain. Mid, mid.
So you want to be trying to match…
Mark: And that’s based upon the strain and the sleep…
Will: Yes it’s based on a confluence of information. Now recovery itself is encompassing a lot of things in your life. What we’re literally measuring is the quality of your sleep, heart-rate variability, and resting heart-rate. Generally speaking, the more quality sleep you get the higher your heart rate variability, and the lower your resting heart rate the more recovered your body is.
I think one important thing that WHOOP does – that other products don’t do – is we baseline you all the time. So from the second you put this thing on your wrist, we’re calculating your baseline and we look at three day, seven day, 30 day moving averages. Because it doesn’t matter so much to know a statistic in this moment – you have to understand that statistic in context.
And the sleep bit of it – I mean that for a lot of people is where they can unlock real gains. Because if you think about sleep most people will say “oh, you should get seven or eight hours.”
What does that even mean though? First of all, when you say you got seven hours of sleep last night, what that really means is you spend seven hours in bed.
Mark: Right. Laying down.
Will: Right. You spend seven hours in bed, depending on your sleep efficiency maybe you get anywhere from six and a half hours to… Hell, we see some people getting four and a half, five hours – spending seven in bed.
So that’s the efficiency piece. Let’s start there for how many quality hours of sleep you get.
Then within the hours of sleep you get, there’s light, there’s rem and there’s slow-wave. Rem and slow-wave are so much more valuable on your body than light. So rem – as you know – is when your mind’s repairing. That’s when you’re dreaming. So if you’re listening to this and you’re an executive or you’re someone has to perform cognitively which probably every human has to do… You want to be getting that REM sleep every night.
Separately, you’ve got slow-wave sleep. Slow-wave sleep is when you produce 95% of your body’s human growth hormone. So this idea that…
Mark: And that happens at the first sleep cycle… The first four hours or so.
Will: Well, slow-wave sleep hopefully happens a number of times over the course of the night. There’s this concept called sleep-cycles where you go from light, to rem, to slow wave, to awake – light, to rem, the slow-wave to awake. And you want those cycles to happen often, but what you also want is the periods of slow wave and rem to be long.
So you know people think they get stronger in the gym, or they get stronger training. You actually get stronger during slow-wave sleep…
Mark: Yeah when you’re in your recovery…
Will: When your body’s producing HGH and repairing itself. So there’s a whole other element that no one is even looking at, unless they’re monitoring this stuff. And I generally say you can only really manage what you measure. So if you think sleep’s important, if you agree that you’re producing muscle during slow-wave sleep, if you agree with science that says your mind’s repairing during rem sleep, doesn’t it make sense to try to measure those things?
And then once you measure them, you can start to action against them and we can talk about that.
Mark: So I get the sleep part. That’s fairly not easy, but simple to understand. And the resting heart-rate is simple to understand. Heart-rate variability is something that… I get it, but I still don’t think I completely understand how it’s tracked and why it’s so important to recovery.
Will: So heart-rate variability is the amount of time in between successive beats of the heart. If your heart’s beating at 60 beats per minute, it’s actually not beating every second. This is a somewhat counterintuitive phenomenon – it might be beating 1.2 seconds, then 0.8 seconds, and then 0.75 seconds, and then 1.25 seconds, right? There’s all this variance in between times and beats…
Mark: That’s interesting.
Will: And the reason for that is it’s this lens into your autonomic nervous system. Now your autonomic nervous system consists of sympathetic and parasympathetic activity, right?
Sympathetic activation – so heart-rate up, blood pressure up, respiration up – it’s what’s happening when you’re stressed or you’re exercising. When you inhale, that’s sympathetic right?
Parasympathetic is all the opposite. Heart-rate down, blood pressure down, respiration down… It’s what helps you fall asleep. It’s the exhale.
And what you want actually is for every sympathetic to have a parasympathetic response. That’s the balance.
Mark: That’s interesting. I get that. I teach that from a subjective sense using breath control. But never really understood.
Will: Oh totally. I’m sure you do. So many things they’re actually driving towards improving this relationship.
Because anything that involves mindfulness, focus, visualization, training, recovery… It all comes back to that relationship. And heart-rate variability is the lens into that relationship, because the more in balance sympathetic and parasympathetic, the higher your heart-rate variability, right? High-heart variability is really good. Because you want these things to be in balance.
If it’s all sympathetic, you have no heart-rate variability. If it’s sympathetic – parasympathetic…
Mark: So you’re saying that the time between beats… It’s one thing when you’re in a sympathetic state and it’s another thing when you’re in a parasympathetic state. And so that variability shows that you’ve got this constant rebalancing going on between those two.
Will: It’s your body’s ability to adapt to its environment. Like, you want there to be a stress and a reaction stress in reaction… And that’s sympathetic, parasympathetic. If your body’s really stressed or under repair, it’ll be sympathetic dominant typically. And that’s a case where your body’s not able to react as efficiently. And we’re able to measure this phenomenon 24/7.
But in particular, we capture heart-rate variability during the last five minutes of your slow wave sleep.
So this is where… Real powerful technology is layers of technology. So we have to be able to measure slow wave sleep. We have to be able to measure you. And then, we have to be able to measure heart-rate variability. And then we have to know that it’s during slow-wave sleep in order to capture it. Because that’s when your body’s repairing itself.
So we wouldn’t take heart-rate variability right now. Because you and I have been doing a bunch of podcasts and we’re all drinking caffeine, and whatever, right?
And by the way, it might not be the best predictor of how we’re gonna perform. Who knows? Even though we’re maybe a little sympathetic dominant right now, you and I may still perform well if we went out to Spartan right now.
But I bet you if we took our heart-rate variability during our slow way to sleep from last night, that would be a very powerful predictor of how we’d perform. And that’s what WHOOP does every day.
Mark: All right. So the three numbers again are heart-rate variability, sleep time…?
Will: Heart-rate variability, quality of sleep, and resting heart-rate. Generally speaking, the lower the resting heart-rate, the better. In terms of how rested or repaired your body is.
And it’s a bit of a binary, if you’re within a few beats of your baseline that doesn’t matter. Where we see signs of stress, overtraining, illness, psychological stress… Is when you see you know typically eight to ten beats higher than your baseline.
So you’re a really fit guy, maybe your resting heart-rate’s about 45. If you’re at 47, it’s not gonna trigger much in the recovery score… But if we see you at 55, 57… Okay, all of a sudden that’s gonna start to affect the algorithm.
Mark: So where my mind is going is okay I get the WHOOP, it’s not a watch…
Will: It’s really a system.
Mark: Yeah, I get the system – sorry semper fi Gumby guy – I almost knocked you out. There’s a story behind that guy. I told you about it.
So how do I know what it means? Like do you have education around this? Or is there a community?
Like how do I know once I see that my resting heart-rate is 48, and my heart-rate variability is x and my sleep is y.
So what? What’s it telling me? If I wake up in the morning is it gonna say “mark, you need to only do 20 minutes of high-intensity training today.
Will: So the way the system is designed is to live a step ahead of you. So you wake up in the morning with a recovery score – zero to 100 percent, red, yellow, green – and that’s telling you how prepared you are for strain.
So if you have a high recovery, WHOOP is gonna recommend a higher strain, and if you have a low recovery, WHOOP may recommend you don’t even exercise at all. We’re the first fitness product to tell you not to exercise, right?
Mark: That’s cool.
Will: And then over the course of the day, we’re measuring strain in real time.
Mark: And how does it do that?
Will: So it’s primarily looking at your… First of all your baselines – so your max heart-rate, your resting heart-rate, your anaerobic threshold, your heart-rate variability, your age, your weight, your gender…
And then it’s looking at elevated periods over time. So if you spend an hour at ninety to a hundred percent of your maximum heart-rate, that’s gonna be a much higher strain on your body than an hour at sixty percent of your maximum heart-rate, right?
So that’s the concept. It’s primarily measuring cardiovascular load.
Now the interesting thing is…
Mark: So it’s not measuring strain, let’s say, from like traditional, static weight lifting where your heart rate isn’t elevated for a long period of time, or maybe long slow work like yoga practice…
Will: Yeah, so getting at muscular fatigue. That’s more encompassed in recovery.
So if your body is overly strained from lifting weights or from some kind of nagging injury or something like that – you’ll actually see that reflected in your heart-rate variability.
Will: Yes. So the strain piece of it is primarily gonna be more cardiovascular. So you’re right… Things like yoga, weight-lifting… You’re not gonna necessarily get the highest strain scores on WHOOP doing that. If it’s low heart-rate.
However, what WHOOP is also good at – and this goes back to not measuring steps, but measuring strain – is you and I sitting here right now, we’re not doing any steps. Zero.
But we’re putting stress on our body. And WHOOP is measuring that.
So for example, I did a weight lifting session yesterday that was maybe a seven or eight strain on my body.
Mark: Out of what?
Will: It’s out of 21. And it gets exponentially harder to go up the scale so going from in 18 to 19 is much harder than going from a 9 to a 10, right?
Now, I bring this up because over the course of the day I’ve done I think this is my sixth podcast, right? You’ve been going at it too. A lot of talking. A lot of sympathetic. And I’m close to a ten strain. And I haven’t exercised at all.
So I’ve done workouts that were less strain than I’m putting on my body now.
Mark: Because your heart-rate is elevated?
Will: Yeah, it’s cause your heart-rate’s elevated. Your mind’s stressed, right? Your heart-rate variability is probably lower throughout the day, cause you’re activated.
And so WHOOP is very good at measuring that. And for people who are alphas and kind of go-go-go… Or motivated people. Which really ends up being a lot of the population that we serve. Having data that shows you just how much you’re doing to your body is really powerful.
It’s empowering, because it can show you actually might need to dial it back a little bit, too. So just to close the loop on that, then at the end of the day, what WHOOP does is it looks at the strain that’s accumulated on your body, it looks at who you are, and it tells you how much sleep you need, before you go to bed, to recover for tomorrow.
So again it’s trying to live a step ahead of you. Sort of three actionable points throughout the day.
And look, again, there may be some days you get a low recovery and you have to go for it. There may be some days you got a high recovery and you’re on a plane. Like sure…
Mark: Yeah, what’s the line where it says “now I’m gonna project the sleep cycle.” is it like a time like 8 o’clock, or 7 o’clock…?
Will: It depends on when you typically go to bed. But what we’ll do is we’ll look at your normal bedtime and wake time and we’ll try to base a lot of this feedback around your schedule.
So everyone has their own WHOOP experience, which is in some ways quite cool.
Mark: Is it all driven by AI? Or by input or a combination of both?
Will: Yeah, we have a lot of artificial intelligence, machine learning that’s happening in the background, that’s crunching your data.
And the other thing that’s powerful is the product gets smarter over time. You know, I’ve been on WHOOP for five years, so a lot of the activities that I do are actually auto-detected. So I don’t even have to input anything. It knows I was playing basketball, or knows I was playing squash, or it knows I was weightlifting, right?
Cause it’s learned that about me. It’s learned all my different baselines, right? Because I’ve been on it for a long time. Someone who’s been on WHOOP for three days is gonna have a different experience than someone who’s been on it for three months.
So it’s not a quick trick pony. But I think the more impactful thing is the longer you’re on it, the more value you get out of it.
Mark: That’s fascinating.
Will: The other thing that’s interesting is you’ll build up your own knowledge around the data. So you’ll learn more about your body just through the things that you’re experiencing and looking at WHOOP as a barometer, so to speak.
I’ll give you an example… I ran the Boston marathon a couple years ago. I didn’t train very well for it. And I think two days after the marathon, I had a red recovery. So my body was run down afterwards. Freeze that.
Separately the first time WHOOP launched to consumers it was like a hectic week leading up to the launch. And I had to do a ton of press, I had to rally the team… People were working all night and sure enough after we launched the product for three or four days after the launch my body was more run down than having run the marathon.
Mark: No kidding.
Will: Right? And the WHOOP showed me that. Now to be fair, if I wasn’t wearing WHOOP I’d probably be giving myself a hard time, “hey, why am I not doing more right now? Why am I not exercising more?”
But the reality was seeing that my body was crushed actually gave me – someone who’s kind of a go-go person – an excuse to dial it back. And to do what my body really needed, which was rest.
Mark: To slow down…
Will: Right, because in college I didn’t have that. So I just went… I just went…
Mark: Yeah, well you’re right most people do just go.
Will: Well, the people that you and I surround ourselves with mostly just go, right? We’re talking about fairly motivated…
Mark: High achievers. Executives. Entrepreneurs.
Will: Yeah. But if you can take a high performer, and make them 1% better every day… Wow, where do they wake up in 365 days? That’s a different person.
So what’s next for WHOOP? Just continuing to improve the product? Or do you have like a product pipeline? Is there something else coming out?
Will: Well, we’ve been growing in the consumer market. So about 15 months ago, we launched to consumers as an all-encompassing membership. So it includes hardware for free software analytics, we have a support team that you can email with to ask about your data….
Mark: You mean a subscription?
Will: Yeah, it’s a subscription. It’s a membership.
Mark: And how does that work? Like, what’s the cost on that?
Will: You can pay as little as eighteen dollars a month. You can sign up for as little as thirty dollars down, depending on what kind of a plan you want.
And the hardware is free, right? And our promise to you is “hey, we’re gonna be working for you to improve every day, every week, every month. And if you’re not seeing benefits in the platform… Cancel.” right?
We’re not charging you $350 up front and you can figure out in a week whether or not that was worth it or a month whether or not that was worth it.
Mark: Wow, I love that. So you’ve got a lifetime value of customers that just gone through the roof, as opposed to just selling a piece of hardware.
Will: Right. But you have to earn it. And so you ask where are we going? A lot of it’s fighting for that dollar, right? We care as much about retaining our existing members as we do acquiring new ones.
And I think a lot of wearables have failed in that they’ve just focused on acquisition. Big distribution, big-box retailers, go-go-go…
Whereas we really want to have a relationship with you, and help you understand your body. And what that means is it’s not just the product that you’re getting when you sign up for WHOOP. It’s gonna look different in three months, in six months, in nine months… Because we’re gonna keep coming out with new features.
Mark: And what happens if you change the hardware? Just if you’re a subscriber you get the hardware.
Will: Yeah, it’s part of the subscription. You just get new hardware as part of the subscription.
Mark: Wow. That’s really interesting.
Will: Yeah, it’s a totally different model.
Mark: And how do you…? Do you have an app or some way to that the WHOOP tribe can be engaged? Or feel the extended community effect?
Will: All this data goes directly from the WHOOP strap to your phone, phone to the cloud – we’re on both iOS and Android – and there’s a big community focus that’s starting. We’re just now enabling the ability to create teams so you can have all of your friends on it, or your co-workers, or people that you’re aspiring to be a better version of. And you’re trying to be.
We’re working on a lot of different social networking. Creating the ability to follow other people on WHOOP. Follow professional athletes. Follow mark… Who’s this expert on training and pushing his body. And so we want to empower people who are influential around health and fitness to also explain how they’re doing it. What makes them recover? What makes them sleep better? What makes them train effectively?
So a lot of that is starting to connect the dots within our community as well.
Mark: Mm-hmm. That’s cool.
Business and Meditation
Mark: So I’d love to shift focus from the technology and WHOOP itself to you as a young CEO who’s taken a lot of money into his company. There’s a lot of forces now like pushing, and prodding, and probably cajoling – vision, direction, profit.
How’s that going for you, right? Do you enjoy the position of CEO now that the early entrepreneurial stage stuff is starting to move into the rearview mirror? What’s that like for you?
Will: Yeah, I mean first of all I’m incredibly grateful. I mean, I started this thing out of a dorm room when I was 22 years old and you know today I’ve got 80 employees that are all marching to the drum of “let’s unlock human performance.”
We get to work with the highest performers at every level – you know, professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, Navy SEALs – it’s just an incredible population of people on WHOOP that I feel incredibly proud to get to try to serve every day.
So I think first and foremost it’s trying to have a level of humility about the people that we work with. And also that I’ve got a team that you know I’m proud to say is a lot smarter than I am. I’ve tried to really build a team that complements one another and has that same drive.
One thing that served me well is looking for people that have a high intensity and a high humility.
Mark: I love that, yeah.
Will: And what you typically see is if you find someone with high intensity, they’re lower humility. And if you find someone whose lower intensity, they’re higher humility. So high intensity, high humility – that’s my favorite combination.
Mark: How did you found those people? Or how did they find you?
Will: Well, originally I don’t know if I would cognitively recognize I was looking for them… And, of course, there’s trial and error, right? You know, we’ve had employees quit. We’ve had to fire employees.
So you learn as you go. We can’t pretend to get all this stuff right out of the gates.
But what I realized in all the team members I valued, was that combination of intensity and humility. Because what happens is in your small organization – and you know this incredibly well – a small organization where you have individuals representing entire departments you’ll be in a meeting which is like how we’re gonna send data from a WHOOP strap to an iPhone, right? Fairly simple question. A lot of complex answers.
And you’ve got an iOS engineer in there, an android engineer, a marketer, a product designer, a firmware engineer, and a hardware designer.
And they all come at it from their own sort of self-centered point of view. And that’s fine, but what happens is there’s a natural collision. And what you want is ultimately for that group of people to come up with the best answer for the organization, for the team and not who came up with the right answer…
Mark: Right, and were not to feel put-down, denigrated, or less than if your answer isn’t the one that’s selected.
Will: Right. And so that’s where I find the humility piece plays a huge role. And the other benefit of that is when you create an environment in which people are comfortable challenging each other but ultimately looking for the best solutions, you create an idea meritocracy. In an idea meritocracy the best ideas win. And it doesn’t matter if you’re the intern or VP of what… Your idea can come to the top. And so that’s quite powerful
Mark: Have you been influenced by Ray Dalio‘s work at all?
Will: Yeah. I mean, a little bit of that. I read in his book, I realized that we were doing some of it and I think… Look, everyone’s got different management styles… I think his, in my opinion, goes too far… In that you’re living effectively in a totalitarian state, right? I think he’d admit to that.
Mark: (laughing) I think you’re right.
Will: And you know you can flat out just say to someone they’re a moron…
Mark: And that might be a function of the size of his organization too. 80 people versus thousands is gonna be different.
Will: Sure, but he built it when he was at 80 people the same way, right? Like all these things sort of build on themselves. And I don’t think you need to make people cry to have a high-performing organization. So there’s a little bit of a line there.
I think the other thing is trying to empower people when you bring them onto your team as well. That’s something I’ve really tried to focus on, is how do you identify great people versus write a job description and find someone?
Mark: Yeah, and let the people define the role where they’re best suited. And it’ll unlock their potential.
Will: In some ways, I think I was too young and naive to know any better. And that I just would try to meet with interesting people, and then recruit them to WHOOP. Rather than have this sort of concept of what a team looks like “oh I need a VP of this, and a VP of this, and a VP of this…” and go out and hire all these VPs and then there’s this collision, because you didn’t realize how they’d work together.
Whereas what I like is you find a great person, and then they evolve in the role. And you’ve got a moving jigsaw puzzle. And then you bring in the people to support them.
Mark: No that’s cool. I like that.
Will: Yeah. I think like the investor piece of it, that’s something I’ve just gotten comfortable with time. You recognize that you’re gonna find investors who believe in the same vision as you do. And those are the right investors for your business.
And you’re gonna find investors who think you’re an idiot, and that’s fine too.
Mark: They’re not the right investors, though.
Will: And they’re not the right investors for your business, right? So you want to find people who you have an alignment with.
Will: Do you own a majority of the company still?
Will: Well, we don’t talk much about the capital structure and those sorts of things publicly, but…
Mark: Yeah, you don’t have to share any of that.
Will: I think the important thing for me, is that it’s an organization where people feel empowered. It’s a great cause, and we’ve made our shareholders happy because the enterprise value of the business continues to grow. Which is, of course, important.
Mark: Do you look toward a liquidity event or an IPO someday? Or are you not thinking about it just yet?
Will: I have a fiduciary responsibility to deliver a return to my investors. So I take that seriously. Whether WHOOP becomes a very important strategic piece for another company, or whether we go public, remains to be seen. I think that the lane around human performance and really this market… It’s a new market…
Mark: Stay focused and don’t worry about that stuff. It’ll take care of itself.
Will: Yeah, it’s a new market that we’re trying to create. And to own. Which is human performance and I think that is an opportunity to build a standalone business. But along the way, you see what happens.
Mark: Right. What are your daily rituals to keep you healthy, balanced, sane…? Besides checking your WHOOP in the morning and seeing what your scores are.
Will: Well, WHOOP does help.
Probably one of the most important things for me has been transcendental meditation. I started doing that about four, maybe even five years ago.
Mark: Good for you. Yeah.
Will: Early stage in the business, and it’s often like a point of crisis in your life leads to a great outcome, you know. And for me, I didn’t feel like I was adapting to managing people well. I felt like I was strung out. I wasn’t sleeping.
Probably too much caffeine during the day, maybe a little too much alcohol at the end of the day like it was just all…
Mark: (laughing) Been there.
Will: Yeah, and so I took this transcendental meditation course, which I think cost like nine hundred dollars or something. Which seemed like a lot for a four-day class. But some of the best money I’ve ever spent.
And so I do it 22 minutes every morning.
Mark: Good for you.
Will: Changed my life. I think it’s a superpower, frankly. Especially for people again who are go-go-go, and need to find that balance.
For me I’ve found it actually helps me look at myself in the third person at points throughout the day. And I’ll sort of see myself doing something before I do it.
Whereas the more immature version of me as an entrepreneur or CEO, it was very reactive. Something would come out of my mouth and then then I’d hear it, right?
Whereas now I feel like I can hear myself saying, “oh will’s getting angry.” or “will’s impatient.”
And as a result you’re able to be proactive about the way you carry yourself. The way you speak, your emotions, which to be fair as you grow I think as a manager or someone who’s overseeing people becomes more and more important.
Mark: For sure. You can’t dropping little hand grenades all over the place.
Will: Yeah, you can’t be a wildcard, and so that for me has been an absolute life changer. Mark: That’s so cool. I’m so stoked you’re saying that. I mean, I’ve been banging the drum beat for a morning ritual that includes meditation and I think tm is awesome. It’s mantra meditation.
Now we leverage mantra in my Unbeatable Mind program, we start with the breath, we get people to use the breath to get the physiology back under control. And to calm the space of the mind. And then we use kind of a witnessing, mindfulness, practice to begin to create this metacognition that you’re talking about. The third party witnessing.
And then we use mantra to stabilize your mind. And to concentrate it so that you can focus better during the day and be nonreactive.
So it’s like a three-part process that we teach. We teach each part individually, but then they all become 1 20 minute practice.
Will: Interesting. And you like 20 minutes too?
Mark: 20 minutes is a magic number, I think. A lot of people say “why not 40?” some meditation teachers that you should do 40 minutes or 45 minutes twice a day.
And people just don’t have the time for that. And so what we say will is 20 minutes is your minimum – first of all five minutes is your minimum viable dose if you’re starting. Because you just need to prove it to yourself.
Then twenty minutes once you prove it to yourself and it becomes a non-negotiable game changer, like you experienced, 20 minutes is your dose every morning. For you to win you win in your mind, before you step foot into the battle of your day.
But the key is consistency. Every single day, every single day and then during the day you can do what we call spot drills. And that’ll add to your accrued time -your accrued mental training time – it could be like, “I’m getting stressed.” or “I just finished a board meeting.”
I go back to my office, I close the door and I do 10 rounds of deep breathing or I do 5 sun salutations or I do five minutes of tm.
And then there’s another five minutes to you add to your bank. So those are all accumulative. Like training time of mental training or inner domain training is cumulative effect and consistency of effect…
Will: Yeah, I agree that doing something versus nothing is definitely good. I think though that for people listening to this who want to start with five minutes, because they’re afraid of twenty – I reject that a little bit – because I know personally if I had started with five I don’t know if I ever would have built the practice that I built.
Mark: That’s a fair point, yeah.
Will: I think part of it is struggling with it… Like, sit still for 20 minutes. And realize how you’re dealing with that, right?
And I don’t even know if I would have understood really what meditation was if it was just five minutes. Whereas in the beginning twenty minutes felt like this eternity right? And you’d almost come a little light-headed, because it was like such a new feeling.
Whereas now, it’s like that, right? And your eyes open exactly at twenty-two minutes. It’s such a cool, weird phenomenon.
I truly have felt my brain change from it.
Mark: Yeah, I started Zen training. So Zen was basically concentration training.
Will: Oh that’s cool. How does that work?
Mark: So this happened… The reason I brought up was I started it when I was 20. And so my brain was still developing. And so I think it’s the biggest gift I could have ever given myself, was to stumble into a martial arts studio where the martial arts master – who created the whole style. He had hundreds of thousands students around the world – it’s called saito.
He was actually a Zen master. Teaching Zen through the martial arts. So we practiced for a few minutes before and after each session. But then 45 minutes sits every Thursday night. And I went to them religiously.
And then we’d go to the Zen mountain monastery in Woodstock, New York twice a year for a long weekend session – which is sitting with the monks.
Will: Now describe what you did in the 45 minutes.
Mark: So the 45 minutes – basic training, essentially was sitting on the little zazen bench. Inhale, exhale. So there was a breath practice, but it was…
Will: Through your nose?
Mark: It’s always nostril breathing, right? Inhale, exhale, count one – do nothing else. That’s it. Inhale, exhale, count two. Inhale, exhale count three. Try to get to ten.
Will: To be clear, once you’ve exhaled you’re then counting to three.
Mark: Yep, so the inhale and the exhale – one cycle is a count. And so there was no instruction on how you count. Like, it could be an internal auditory. It could be like you could visualize the one – I tried them all. The biggest point here was that that is your object of concentration. Just like with tm, your mantra is your object of concentration. It’s just one thing, that’s all you have to do. You put your mind there. You put your mind on the count with boot camp Zen.
When you notice that you’re not doing that. Your mind has flitted off to something else. Then the punishment for Zen – start over. Go back to zero. So the beginner will like go to ten and be like “I made it to ten,” but they’ve been thinking the whole time.
And so you know the part of the feedback mechanism from the Zen master was, “let’s be clear about this. Were you thinking a little bit about this? Was there imagery?”
And starting to get the individual to understand how your mind actually works. And that there’s a lot of ways that it thinks. And it’s very tricky, right?
And you can still inhale, exhale and count to 10, while your mind is doing five other things. And so to begin to realize that “holy shit. I can barely get past one.”
I mean most people, if they’re honest can barely get past one in this process without their mind flitting off to something else.
Will: And so how high could you get it?
Mark: Well, it took me almost a year to be able to get consistently between six and ten before my mind bounced. Believe it or not.
Will: So literally just getting to six. And to be clear you go inhale, exhale through the nose and you just count one. Inhale, exhale, two. Inhale, exhale, three.
That’s so interesting. I’ll have to try this.
Mark: So getting the six was only like maybe a minute…
Will: Probably less even right?
Mark: Probably less. But we’re inhaling so slow. So SEAL tactical breathing is five count in. So you’re little like “one, two, three, four, five. One, two, three, four, five.”
Will: And what did you find that did for the rest of your life?
Mark: It was unbelievable. It was a game-changer.
Will: Cause that’s the benefit that all this stuff that people underestimate.
Will: It’s not actually the thing in the moment.
Mark: Right. The practice just leads your mind into itself and then more and more… Here’s what happened to me, will. I was able to identify more and more quickly when my mind started to spin out and wander. And so I was able to nail it.
And I was able to bring my mind – when I was wandering, I was able to bring it back quicker and quicker.
So I was noticing when I wandered quicker. When I was wandering, I would notice quicker that I was wondering, so shortening the time that I wandered. And the corollary… The flipside to that, I was able to sustain my concentration power for longer periods of time. Until I could consistently get to six, seven, eight, nine, ten. When I got there – nine months to a year of training. This is why I like in my training I’m like “there’s no secret weapon. There’s no magic pill. This takes work.”
It takes work. But it can be very joyful, once you just get through the first phase of resistance, start getting the feedback. And the feedback I was getting was even though I would sit for 45 minutes and consistently struggling just to make it to ten, by the end of the session, I was feeling amazing.
And when I left the studio – it was in New York City on 23rd street – when I left the dojo and went out into the street, I felt like I was in the matrix, you know? Like there was this bubble around me and everything was moving… Everyone else is moving so fast and I was just like almost floating toward the subway. And I felt like this rich texture…
Kind of the description that Jamie Wheal puts in “Stealing Fire” about what does it feel like to be in a flow state. I was in total flow state. Like, this really rich experience where time really could be what I wanted it to be.
So that’s what I experienced. That was kind of it just happening to me, and the more I practiced, the more I could take control of that process. And make it happen to myself, on demand.
And so that included being able to perceive when I was about to become reactionary and to like zap that thought or the reaction just like you were talking about. And it also is what led me from following the path to be a business guy – a CPA…
Will: To finding your calling.
Mark: To finding my calling. Because I was working on the inner domain, and I was opening up the space for my calling to be revealed to me or my spirit to talk to me… However you want to language that.
It’s profound. Everyone listening to this they know this is my drum beat. But this training… It doesn’t matter. It’s gonna be something a little bit different… Because every individual – as you know, like for the WHOOP – is different. So some people are going to be really drawn to just breath practice, some people are really gonna be drawn to mindfulness, some people to tm or something like that.
The point is to start with something. But the ancients would teach that if you’re not physiologically in balance, then no training is going to land. It’s gonna be very, very hard. It’s the biggest obstacle to the westerner for meditation, is that their body mind system is out of balance. So they’re agitated.
They’re in a sympathetic state. When you sit down to try to meditate in the sympathetic state, it’s really, really hard. Really hard.
So you gotta exercise, you got to sleep, you got to do the WHOOP, you got to get the heart-rate variability. Box breathing…
And of course, aside from the fueling, sleep and stuff that’s all important – breathing is the most powerful way to get your body back into homeostatic balance.
Will: And by the way the most underrated.
Will: No one’s talking about breathing. I mean…
Mark: (laughing) Except for us.
Will: In our circles, but not at the pop-culture level. It doesn’t exist, and it’s so fundamental. And now that I’ve gotten into meditation, like even listening to you describing this Zen practice, I’m excited to go try that. Because I think it’s like you want to level up. Once you start to understand the impact that breath work can have on your body, and on your mind you want to unlock new secrets.
Mark: For sure. I mean I’ve been studying yoga for years and also Tibetan meditation. And there is a progression. And it was personalized.
You know, the masters would personalize it to each student.
Will: Based on what?
Mark: Based upon the quality of the nature of their mind. Which was usually like how good a job they’d done at eradicating negative qualities, or negative tendencies. And there was a long period of preparation before you did any more advanced practices.
Now that period of preparation is a lot like what we’re doing. Breath control, training, physical exercise, dialing your sleep and diet. Beginning the basic processes of concentrating the mind.
And then once you’ve got those taken care of, then you begin the more advanced training – which largely included visualization techniques and chakra cleansing techniques and you know what I mean?
Will: Well, I could ask you questions about this forever.
Mark: Really fascinating stuff. And then that’s why they were able to accrue such intense mental powers. And you read about all these crazy accounts of like superhuman powers. This is because they were training 24 hours a day practically sometimes for 40 years. And in the west were like “who’s gonna do that?” we don’t have the time.
At least we can do those fundamentals. And it’ll dramatically improve the quality of our lives.
Will: I love that.
Mark: Anyways. (laughing) So when you sell your company, I’ll sell mine. We’ll go to train in India. Sit in a cave, right?
Will: That’d be awesome.
Mark: (laughing) I keep threatening to do that. In fact, my autoresponder… Like if you email me, my autoresponder says something to the effect of “thanks for reaching out, but due to the constant email distractions I’ve decided to cut off email. And by the way I’m actually in a cave right now in the Himalayas. And so you can reach me by carrier pigeon only. However, because I’ve trained my carrier pigeons in Unbeatable Mind, they can reach me in two days. But if you need a quicker response, email info@unbeatablemind.”
It’s like a veiled threat that someday that’s actually gonna happen.
Will: I go back and forth with wondering if the purpose of meditation is to help prepare you for the rest of your life. Or if meditation is where you actually just want to be. It’s funny. Because that’s the moment where you go become like a Buddhist, a Tibetan monk or something.
Mark: The Tibetans would say the meditation is to prepare you for death. But what the really mean is death could be right now. And so pay attention. Right now. Because the next moment is optional, right?
You don’t know if it’s coming, to be realistic. We could both drop dead. Lightning bolt could come in, you know the whole world could end – who knows?
Will: It’s cold in Lake Tahoe.
Mark: It is, right? So prepare for that event or eventuality right now. And in doing so, it makes this moment extremely important. Like, the most important moment in our lives right now, is this moment.
And the Buddha would say you can find enlightenment in a single breath, if you’re paying attention. So that’s what meditation is for, in my opinion. And, yes, it affects everything in your life. And it becomes life. But it doesn’t mean we also don’t live our lives.
Will: So what’s your recommendation to me? I’m trying to figure all this stuff out…?
Mark: If tm is working for you… We could have a deeper conversation afterwards.
Tm is working for you. It’s a beautiful practice.
I would only add like a breath practice to the beginning of that, which helps stabilize your mind quicker, so your tm can go deeper.
And then I would add a visualization practice after that. And this is what I teach… Because all creativity – and you know this from creating WHOOP, because you created in your mind first – all creativity and the entire future of our life – our personal lives – is going to be either created by you through your imagery. Or it’s just going to happen to you because of someone else’s image or view of what’s supposed to happen.
So I think the most powerful, important work is in the field of imagery. Visualization. And learning how to create, practice and empower a vision for our individual futures, and then our team – our organizations – and then our culture.
And as we get more and more people who do that – create a positive image of the future infused with love, and trust, and respect – that’s what’s going to transform culture.
So breath, mantra, visualization. And that maybe would only add a few minutes to your practice.
Will: I love that. Yeah, I think about visualization a lot, although I don’t know the extent to which I actually practice it. I’ve realized that there’s no stage that WHOOP has gotten to, that I didn’t expect WHOOP to get to, or envision it getting to.
Mark: Yes, so you’re doing it…
Will: So in some ways, I am visualizing things. However I don’t have a true practice. It’s more just this little voice in my head that’s like “rah-rah. Let’s keep going.” moving the goalposts, so to speak.
Mark: Right. Well I just think it’s really powerful if you and then your team can see the same things. And then practice that vision.
And then you take that and now the idea meritocracy is working within the mental construct, where everyone’s seeing the same outcomes. Might be slightly different variations of those outcomes, but just like that is a powerful vision.
So like “maybe someday we’ll be part of another company,” or “maybe someday we’ll go public or… It takes the maybes out.
To decide what it is, first you have to go inside and look into the future and see what that looks like. One of the tools that we use for that is called “future me” visualization. Where we have our students create a mental structure to do their mental training.
And it makes sense. Like if we just trained randomly in our bedroom or out in the park every day you’d get fit. But if you have a coach and a gym that you go to, you’ll get more fit. And so this is like a mind gym, a mental place.
And then in that mind gym, we have a place to do very specialized work. And one of them is like this field where you go meet a future version of yourself. And you ask for insight or feedback or am I on the right track or show me the potential for WHOOP. Where am I going with this thing?
And you get feedback. It’s really quite profound, actually. And so what I’m suggesting is, you could actually see now what the future of WHOOP is. So you don’t have to wonder whether you’re gonna align with a strategic partner and sell to a company like apple or whoever… Or whether you’re going to go public.
Or maybe stay private, and just serve hundreds of millions of people as a private organization and a massive tribe. Figure that out, visualize it, see it and when you get the sense of certainty…
I’ll give you a quick example… Because of my experience was Zen and I started to get this growing sense of unease that I’d chosen the wrong path. I wasn’t gonna quit my MBA and CPA…
Will: And what stage is this in your life?
Mark: This is when I was in my early 20s, and I started Zen, and I went to New York from Colgate for the job… But to get my MBA, I went to stern school of business at NYU. To become a CPA, then to get into finance or something and maybe make a ton of money and then go back and run the family business. Which is in upstate New York.
That was my programming. That was my story. We talked about the power of story on the podcast this morning – or the panel – and it was the Zen meditation that showed me that story was flawed. It wasn’t my story.
But it didn’t show me right away what my true story was. I had to ask better questions. I had to visualize it.
And I started to visualize myself not doing what I was doing, but doing other things that that were kind of inspiring to me, or I thought I could do, or I thought were… What I was being drawn toward.
And I went through a number of options, or I visualized myself as a fighter pilot. I visualized myself just being an adventurer, traveling around the world. And I visualized myself working on an oil rig as a roughneck.
And none of them I didn’t get any like hit. The visualization didn’t land with me. It just didn’t feel right.
But when I visualized myself as a special operator, a military spec ops guy going through this gritty training and leading people in dangerous situations, I just felt this sense of joy or like this absolutely… Strong yes.
So then, when I started to take that seriously I didn’t even know about the SEALs. I started to take that seriously… One night I was walking home from work or the dojo – I can’t remember – and I came across a navy recruiting office. And on the outside window was a poster. And didn’t say anything about the SEALs, but the title was “be someone special,” which caught my attention. I didn’t feel special as a CPA, know what I mean? Although god bless all you CPAs out there. It’s important work. It wasn’t for me.
And it was a bunch of SEALs doing SEAL stuff… You know, jumping out of airplanes, and locking out of submarines, and hiding in the sniper hide.
And I was like “Holy shit. That’s it. That’s it!”
So then, you know, to cut the story short, I went through the whole process to be an officer. And, of course, they were saying “don’t get your hopes up.” I was going to go through officer candidate school, most officers – there’s only 20 a year or so come into the SEALs – come from the Naval Academy or ROTC – Reserve Officer Training Corps. They take one maybe two through officer candidate which are civilians like me. And it’s statistically like becoming an astronaut, you know I mean?
I said “okay, well I’m applying. This is my path.” and so every day I visualized it. I visualized myself as a SEAL. I visualized myself just crushing the training…
Will: And how long was that practice of visualization?
Mark: A year-and-a-half.
Will: But in the moment.
Mark: Oh well, it was about what I described earlier. Where I’d sat down on my bench and I would do my breathing practice…
Will: So it was part of the breathing.
Mark: About 20 minutes. But the breathing was always part of it, because it calmed me down and grew me inward. The breath takes you inward, it’s like your bridge…
Will: This is inspiring man. I’m gonna dial this in. It just seems like it’s so…
Because what you’re saying, which I love, is “hey, you’re introducing something that’s another five minutes in your day. But look at this massive impact it had on your life.”
I mean that’s what people listening to this…
Mark: And it doesn’t even have to be five minutes – it could be just the last five minutes just drop the mantra and click in the visualization instead. Yeah and I wonder actually if someone could actually see what my tm practice was in my brain how much it would look like…
You know, cause I realize I’m drifting away from the mantra all the time, and thinking about different things. What I love so much about tm – for those of you unfamiliar – you’re repeating a mantra over and over again. And then thoughts come in, and you can choose to pay attention to them or you can repeat the mantra and push them out. So you create this selection process in your brain of what you want to pay attention to.
Mark: Right. You’re curating the quality, content…
Will: Yeah, so that becomes the filter through which you then hopefully approach life.
I find that actually a lot of the time, I am stopping to listen to the thoughts that come through my brain. But I realize now the more I’m talking about this that the days where I feel more overwhelmed, the more important it is for me to go back to the mantra. That probably says something too, where you want to filter your brain more if you’re feeling some kind of anxiety. I don’t know.
Mark: Yeah. I would almost… Like to me they’re separate things. Like there is a very powerful and there’s a strong reason to contemplate, which is what you’re doing. Contemplating built from the practice of mantra or on top of the practice of mantra is extraordinarily powerful, because you use the mantra to get to that state where your mind is very receptive, very open, into what we call the perceiving mind. And out of the rational, critical, thinking mind.
And that perceiving mind is able to pick up more information, right? And it’s going to send you insights and you know signals. And so at that point, you want to press pause on the mantra and just allow the contemplation. And you may even also insert questions or imagery, and so this is the time to do that.
So you can combine imagery work and visualization with contemplation. But it would be separate than your mantra training. The mantra training strictly is trying to train concentration and mindfulness.
Will: Yeah, that makes sense.
Mark: Yeah, and then you could stack them, so you know you’ve trained your mantra for so long maybe it’s ten minutes of mantra followed by ten minutes of what we’ll call insight. Where you’re gonna really try to learn something new about yourself, or visualize your future. And you do that with a journal.
Will: It’s funny, I just remembered I did do like a true visualization recently.
So I got married about a year ago and so I had to give this groom speech…
Mark: Yeah, that’s a stressful thing, right?
Will: Yeah. And look, I’ve spoken in front of people now enough times, but it’s like 300 people that are closest to you, what do you say in that moment, right?
And I didn’t write anything down. All I did – and this was probably four or five days leading up to it – I just kept visualizing each person and who I wanted to say something to.
Mark: That’s really cool.
Will: And there were just probably a few key words that I had in mind for every person that I addressed. And then I you know I got up there and gave this story. And then I went down those boom-boom-boom-boom.
Mark: It probably went really well.
Will: Yeah, it was one of the best speeches…
Mark: You just described how I go about giving my speeches.
Will: Oh really?
Mark: Yeah, someone asked me earlier like I’m starting to do a lot more and more. And I don’t like using aids, slides… Unless they ask for them. Like I gave a speech yesterday to a big finance hedge fund, and they wanted slides, and they wanted me to specifically talk about what we call the big four skills of mental toughness.
So I gave them what they wanted. But did I walk away thinking that was my best work?
Will: Be careful what you ask for.
Mark: No. Because it constrained me too much. But typically, I’ll do exactly what you do. I’ll visualize who I’m speaking to, I’ll visualize the key stories and outcomes and what I want them to learn.
And that becomes the structure. And I’ll visualize it for a week or so before the event every day.
Will: Huh, that’s cool.
Mark: And then when I go give the speech, I’m very relaxed. And I box breathe before the speech… Super-relaxed.
Will I was so relaxed when I gave the speech too.
Mark: That’s great.
Will: I just felt like so in the zone for it. I just knew going into it, I was gonna crush it.
Mark: You predetermine the outcome you want in your mind before the incident.
Mark: And that’s what visualization does. So when you visualize your future you’re basically creating a new memory that will draw you toward it. And then practicing it every day makes it stronger and stronger. Just like practicing a memory of the past.
Like, if you had a major fuckup and you keep on rehashing it, you’re just making it stronger.
Will: Now how important is the outcome in your visualization? Like, do you picture people applauding and shaking your hand afterwards?
Mark: For sure.
Will: Okay, yeah.
Mark: It’s positive, it’s success, it’s bright… You’re feeling elated… It’s really important that you get the feelings into it. You don’t have to have like every single detail… Or let me put it this way.
You can visualize a lot of detail, but don’t be attached to it happening that way. Because what you’re creating is a magnetic force that’s drawing you toward that territory.
But don’t expect the path to be straight. And don’t expect it to look exactly like what you visualize.
Like I visualized – back to the story – I visualized myself getting through SEAL training as best I could. I didn’t have all the movies that they had today this is 1988-89ish, early ’89 I went officer candidate school November of ’89.
I had one video and it was the recruiting video from the navy for the SEALs. It was called “be someone special,” but it showed imagery of guys going through SEAL training and you know really cool stuff.
I watched it maybe 20 times. So that was like the baseline – like you said with the WHOOP – that was my baseline. It was planting some baseline imagery.
Then with that I inserted myself. And I expanded upon it. And I added the emotion and I also added myself at graduation day.
And I practiced it every single day. Nine months of this – there’s something magical about this time-frame of nine months to a year – about nine months into this I had this overwhelming sense of certainty that I was going to be a SEAL. There was no hope, wish, design – it was “I am gonna be a SEAL. I’ve already done the most important part of the work.”
And a week or so later, my recruiter called me and said “mark, congratulations. You got the billet to go to officer candidate school and then to BUD/S.”
And when I went to BUD/S, I had this sense that I’d been there before. And I graduated number one in my class out of 185 hard-chargers. 19 of us graduated, I was number one and my entire boat crew was there with me. It was awesome.
And I attribute it to the Zen training, and the visualization. And then just the ability to drill into the present moment and stay focused on the right thing, while I went through BUD/S.
I still found it challenging at times, but not nearly as hard as my peers who were dropping like flies, you know?
Will: Yeah, well I could ask you a million questions about you and your life but we’ll save that for a WHOOP podcast…
Mark: Do you have a podcast? Let’s do it. That’d be really fun.
I’d love to discuss whether you’d be interested in talking about me trying the WHOOP, and maybe even promoting it on the podcast. Or some sort of sponsorship or affiliate relationship.
Will: Yeah, yeah. We’d love to have you try it, and if you like it I think that’s the starting point.
Mark: Of course. Yeah, I’m not – like I told you at the beginning – this sounds really interesting to me. Like it’s a breakthrough that could get me – who’s a non-quant guy – to pay attention to it.
Will: Yeah, I think you’ll like it, but at the same time you’re kind of a level past high-performance in that you’ve already identified so many of these different things in your life that make you more optimal.
Mark: But there’s always one percent for the one percenters, right? There is no there there.
Will: Yeah, there’s no optimum.
Mark: The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t have a fucking clue, you know I mean? Will: Well, I took a lot from this conversation personally. So thank you for that.
Mark: Oh you’re welcome. It’s been a pleasure to have you. Thanks for doing what you do. And good luck with the business. I look forward to following up and trying the WHOOP.
Will: Yeah, absolutely. We’ll get you on it.
Mark: Alright. And if there’s anything that I can do for you – send you a book, come to our training – you’d love to participate in that sometime. So we’ll hook you up with that information.
Will: All right. Thank you man.
Mark: Right, will.
All right, so check out the WHOOP and you’re gonna hear more about that from me. I’m gonna try it out, and I’m really looking forward to that. And pretty intrigued, actually.
And if you’re into that type of stuff, then I’m sure that the company’s subscription plan might have a program for you.
Do you have like a friends-and-family rate, by any chance?
Will: Well, you can use my code willahmed, just my name and that’ll give you a free month.
Mark: Sweet. That’s very generous…
Will: Yeah of course.
Mark: All right, folks. This has been a long one. Super stoked you’re here listening. Stay focused, train hard, and do the foundational work. Get back into balance and then begin your daily practice 20 minutes a day.