in: Advice, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: September 27, 2021

Art of Manliness Podcast Episode #60: The Way of the SEAL With Mark Divine

In this episode of the Art of Manliness podcast I talk to Mark Divine, owner of SEALFIT and the author of the new book, The Way of the SEAL: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and SucceedMark and I discuss his service as a SEAL, how he’s helped potential SEALs get ready for BUD/S, as well as how civilians can apply the principles that SEALs call upon to forge mental toughness.

Show Highlights

  • How the military is experimenting with meditation and biofeedback to help soldiers forge mental resilience
  • What your Set Point is and why it’s so important you establish it
  • How to develop situational awareness
  • How and why to develop your intuition
  • The benefits men get in particular from following the Way of the SEAL
  • And much more!

The way of seal book cover' by Mark Divine.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: All right, I think at one time or another every guy had thought about or fantasized about being a Navy SEAL. You watch the movies, you watch the shows in Discovery Channel where you go inside what it’s like to train to be a Navy SEAL, what it’s like to be a Navy SEAL. It just looks freaking awesome but also incredibly difficult. And I always thought like is this something that you’re just born to do or can a Navy SEAL be created? And also I mean can we as civilians even if you don’t plan on being a Navy SEAL are there lessons we can take from Navy SEALs on how to develop mental toughness, emotional and mental resilience and sort of that focus and vision that the SEALs are famous for. Well, our guest today is a former Navy SEAL and he has written a book on that topic on how civilians can take lessons on the mental and emotional resilience on mental toughness and apply it to their own life. His name is Mark Divine and he is the author of the book The Way of the SEAL. In today’s podcast we talk about The Way of the SEAL and how just average Joes can take lessons from the Navy SEALs and apply it to their own lives to improve it in every way possible. So, stay tuned. All right Mark Divine welcome to the show.

Mark Divine: Hey, thank you very much, Brett. Pleasure to be here.

Brett McKay: Before we begin let’s talk a little bit about your background because first it’s so fascinating and second it seemed as though your book, The Way of the SEAL is a culmination of these awesome life experiences you’ve had. So, let’s start like I mean how did you become a SEAL because you sort of had a, it wasn’t your typical route to becoming a SEAL. So, tell us how did this all happen?

Mark Divine: Yes, great question. Yeah, I didn’t come out of high school or even college thinking I was going to be a SEAL. In fact from my upstate New York upbringing I was pretty much groomed to go into business. My family has a family business that’s over a hundred years old and it was just kind of expected that I would get some business experience and then kind of come back and maybe head the charge for the family. And so, I did the right things I went to Colgate University in upstate New York. It was a pretty good liberal arts school. I majored in Economics and I was an athlete, endurance athlete during that time but that didn’t really mean much to me at the time. But then when I graduated I got a job with a firm then Coopers & Lybrand which is now PricewaterhouseCoopers. It was just one of the Big Eight accounting firms back in the day. It was 1985 believe it or not. And so, the job was in Manhattan. So, I went down to New York City and they sent me to NYU to get my MBA and I spent a couple of years cranking away, working as an auditor and then a consultant and then getting my MBA at night. And then sitting for the CPA exam and so within a short period of time by the time I was 24, I had an MBA, a CPA and I was doing all the right things. Right, Brett? I’m just like probably you’re going to law school and then end up running Art of Manliness because you wonder what the hell did you went to law school for at some point.

Brett McKay: Exactly.

Mark Divine: Right. Well, I kind of wondered what the heck I was doing in that corporate world because I just didn’t sit well. I didn’t really like the people I was around with all due respect to those folks in that environment. At that time there was a lot of greed and a lot of ego and the long hours for really just amounted to a pay check and I didn’t – I just had this growing sense of unease. And fortunately, I strolled into a martial arts studio one day and I was completely blown over by the type of training and the type of people that were at the studio. It was called Seido Karate. And so, the founder Tadashi Nakamura was his name, became my first kind of real mentor in life and his training was very much of an integrated whole person nature meeting that we worked our assess off on the training floor. But then we would sit in meditation and we would have these discussions like little kind of meditation lectures and also we went to a few retreats up at the Zen Mountain Monastery in New York and that were kind of cultivating that that softer side of myself I’d suppose you call it. The meditation and the self-reflection and the awareness development really started to open my mind to, number one, the fact that I was going to misaligned doing this corporate ladder job and number two that I really wanted to go out and challenge myself beyond measure in something that was going to inspire me and really teach me leadership and have me lead in kind of a messy situations, kind of real visceral type of leadership which is what inspired me.

And also that was a physical calling because I really love the physical life and I obviously didn’t appreciate the steady decline I saw my body and in my peers and so one day I was walking down the street and I saw a poster from the Navy recruiting command and it said “Be Someone Special.” And I said that sounds cool and it was for the Navy SEALs and so I really, that’s what first inspired me so kind of look into it and one thing lead to another and pretty much decided that I was going to head down that road. And so, at 25 years old I’ve bolted from Corporate America, I went to Officer Candidate School then through SEAL training of course a lot of steps in between here that I’m leaving out but I went to SEAL training in 1990 and was in the class 170 and loved it. Graduated as an Honor Man of my class and never looked back.

Brett McKay: But then even after you did the Navy SEAL you retired, I mean actually you shouldn’t retire but stop doing that. You actually went to business, right?

Mark Divine: Right, right. I was 20 years SEAL but only roughly nine of that was act of duty years. And so, I went through, my first stint was seven years. My marriage to Sandy who is a Coronado girl which where the training command is that kind of side tracked my act of duty career, it was really difficult. I’d like to say that if the SEALs had wanted me to have a wife they would have issued me one because very soon after our marriage I was gone for like close to nine months and through a couple different deployments and my wife was freaking out and saying I’m not sure. I thought I understood what I was getting into but I don’t think I can really hang for 20-year career like this. And so, I was forced to make a choice and I chose to keep the marriage and to get off back active duty but I stayed in the reserves. There’s a few reserve officers – that there’s a few hundred SEAL reservists and a handful of us officers and so we were able to plug in and do some very, very interesting and important work on the reserve side.

So, over the next 11 years I was mobilized a couple of times to act of duty to go to Iraq and to other places. And I worked at a variety of commands and different positions doing special projects and so that’s how I finished out my 20 years and during that reserve time I was able to get back into business as you said and build a number of businesses that were varying degrees of success. I build a micro brewery in San Diego called the Coronado Brewing Company that’s kicking ass today. No longer involved in that but I went on to build a which is a community and e-commerce website and my training business called SEALFit and I’m working on Unbeatable Mind which is about training mental and emotional and spiritual toughness really. So, it’s been a pretty remarkable career actually.

Brett McKay: Yeah, like a Renaissance man.

Mark Divine: [laughs] I like that.

Brett McKay: Yeah. So, let’s talk a little bit about your I guess business or the training programs you developed not just for civilians but for people who would be SEALs, right?

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: And what I found amazing is that through your programs, training programs for BUD/S you were able to help reduce the attrition rate like pretty significantly.

Mark Divine: Right. Well, we have to – for my SEAL buddies who critique me I have to be very specific.

Brett McKay: All right, be specific.

Mark Divine: – about which we’re talking about so I started – Back in 2006 I started the Nationwide SEAL Mentor Program which is a government contract and in the first year alone we took the pass rate for the candidates, right, who are going into the navy wanting to be SEALs.

Brett McKay: Got you.

Mark Divine: They took the pass rate from 33% over 85% on the test that they took when they show up at boot camp. So, before me and the mentor program, only 33% of the candidates even going into boot camp wanting to be a SEAL were qualified. And after my first year of that program over 85%, that program went on and I’m not involved anymore but that program today has been attributed with increasing the throughput or set another way which is the way you said it, decreasing the attrition rate by 3 to 5% at BUD/S training. So, that’s powerful but then one more thing because this is a stat I saw on my way to the SEAL.

Brett McKay: Sure.

Mark Divine: I went on to create SEALFit which is for private citizens who pay me. It’s not a government contract. I don’t have any formal relationship in the Navy but I have SEAL candidates and Spec-Ops candidates from around the world who come train with me. And of the SEAL candidates that come train with me and spend time at my Special Ops Immersion Academy which is a three-week live-in academy that ends with a simulated hell weekend experience called Kokoro Camp. So, the guys who want to be SEALs invest that amount of time with me, they have over a 90% success rate getting through SEAL training. So, those are the two different stats. One is the stat from when I actually was hired by the Navy and the other is the results from the individuals who don’t want to be a statistic.

Brett McKay: Yeah, yeah. So, here’s the question, so I mean what did you find, like, when you went in to be a government contractor.

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: To help these candidates just get ready, right? Like what were the candidates doing or not doing that caused them to not succeed and how did your training change that? I mean what were your observations?

Mark Divine: My observations is a lot of the guys going into the program and we can translate this conversation to anything in life. Anything challenging, right? The SEALs just tend to – are one of the more challenging things you can choose to do in life right?

Brett McKay: Sure.

Mark Divine: Well, many of them had a very – there are two ways. They didn’t prepare properly because they didn’t adequately research and understand the magnitude of the task that they were going to undertake, right? And so, maybe they spent too much time watching SEAL stuff on TV or in a video game and they didn’t really get out and do things like come to my training and find a SEAL mentor and really get out there and spend a good two or three years preparing for it because that’s really what it takes. So, that was one and the other thing is they had an unreal expectation or view of their own competency, right? And so, they really lacked the awareness to understand their weaknesses, to understand the mental shortcomings and to really do the work to shore up their chances of success and to inoculate themselves in failure.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: So both of those are with the right training and guidance are usually overcome, right? You can learn how to prepare properly for anything, I mean you and I could go climb Mount Everest but we’re not going to get in the plane and go there tomorrow right?

Brett McKay: No.

Mark Divine: And same thing with SEAL training and then as part of that training you’ve got to understand where your weak points are, where you’re going to break and then you close those openings so that those are strong and then it is okay for you to focus on your strength so that you can accelerate. But you got to at least close the openings for those weaknesses.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that second observation to me that everyone overestimates their competency that gets – everyone thinks they’re above average, right? But that’s not possible.

Mark Divine: Right. It’s not.

Brett McKay: It’s not.

Mark Divine: it’s really this brings up a really interesting thing. I’ve been toying around with Lumosity which is brain training I’m sure you’re familiar with that.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: And I honestly I do a lot of mental training. And I’m a former Navy SEAL and have an MBA and everything and so I ripped to a few rounds of Lumosity and I’m like “man, I must be doing great” and then I checked myself against the standards and I’m like below 50% on every one on it. I’m like what the hell? Like you just made me feel like a dunce. I’m going to start training.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: But yeah.

Brett McKay: That’s really funny.

Mark Divine: I know your point everyone overestimates.

Brett McKay: Everyone estimates. And I think maybe there’s also, I guess a popular conception that like Navy SEALs are born not made.

Mark Divine: Really?

Brett McKay: Like you either got it or you don’t and like BUD/S or other is like the sort of the filtering factor.

Mark Divine: Yeah.

Brett McKay: That determines whether you got it or you don’t.

Mark Divine: Right. That’s not true at all.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: Physical and mental toughness are developed, right. Now they can be developed deliberately through training or they can develop by your life’s circumstances but either way they are developed.

Brett McKay: Okay, so let’s talk. Let’s get into your book The Way of the SEAL because basically you take all these life experiences from your martial arts training through your experience serving as a Navy SEAL, your experience as an entrepreneur.

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: You sort of set out these principles and lay out these principles and one of the – what I found interesting is as I was reading it, I’m really into this stuff right? I’m all into like building your mental resilience and your meditation and as I was reading it, I was thinking a lot of people can read this and pick it up and they thought oh, this could be a Navy SEAL book hoorah. But a lot of people would read it but like this is sort of woo-woo, it’s like visualization, developing your intuition but what I found that’s interesting is it seems like the military is actually sort of embracing this mental development.

Mark Divine: They are, yeah.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: Very much so.

Brett McKay: So I mean can you talk about that a little bit?

Mark Divine: Sure.

Brett McKay: I mean did – the principles you laid out sort of the mental development, did you see some of that using the military? Or is that you’re just starting to see that develop now? What’s going on there?

Mark Divine: The answer is both. It was not prevalent at all when I went through training. Having said that back in the 80s there were a couple of projects that were kind of fore-runners of what’s we see happening on a broader scale today. The Trojan Horse project is a good example where they took some SEALs and Green Berets and they train them in meditation and Aikido and awareness practices and tested them more over the six month period and they found that they were more resilient, they were more focused. They were calmer and they were performing better and of course those programs ended up getting scrapped when they just was deemed impractical and all it takes is one guy, one skeptic that’s been through that.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: And so they didn’t really go anywhere. But I remember reading about those and thinking about those early on when I went into the SEALs and because of my martial arts experience before the SEALs and my experience in meditation, I understood that advanced warrior traditions from many cultures throughout history had used a combination of hard and soft training to develop warriors and I figured why should I be any different? Even if the SEALs weren’t actively teaching me this stuff, I continued to train on my own and there were a few other people in the teams that had the same warrior ethos that were developing themselves along these ways. And having said that, the nature of special ops really is, so there’s a couple of aspects that really, really support that type of training for instance and most notably is that you really spend a lot of time in silence in the special ops community. You can imagine that right?

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: We have to sneak everywhere we get and if you get caught basically you are screwed up or you might spend like for me 10 hours in the submarine, mini-submarine surrounded by a cone of cold water. The only thing you can hear is your breathing. While then you tend to get – you can either just waste that time and get to the target and do your op or you can use that time to condition yourself mentally and emotionally and do some training, that internal training, that concentration and deep breathing and stuff like that. And so, there’s a lot of opportunity to develop and a lot of the guys do develop deep intuition and some of those other aspects that come out of that type of training and the SEALs tend to be very instinctual, intuitive, and accelerated learners because of the nature of the operations and the training that they go through.

Brett McKay: Interesting, yeah.

Mark Divine: And one more thing that I do want to say is today first of all I’ve trained hundreds of SEALs now or in the force who had gotten through and they’ve all been doing yoga and visualization and breathing practices since I train them and so and they’re now leading teams and so it’s become a lot more common. And I know a bunch of marines are getting trained in yoga and mindfulness and then there’s some tests going on. In fact Dr. Doug Johnson was with us, worked with me at our SEALFit Training Center as an athlete and now he’s with like naval health research lab or something like that and they’re actually testing the effects of medication and breath control and visualization on active duty SEALs. So, there’s a few very interesting and optimistic type projects going on where I think the prevailing view is that within 10 years that this type of training would be a common place in the military.

Brett McKay: Yeah. And actually I did an article about that through researching like biofeedback in the military.

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: And they’re hoping not only to make people better soldiers but it can also help with the PTSD that’s become very prevalent.

Mark Divine: Sure. And that’s where it all started initially, it’s like the rehabilitation of the warriors coming back but then there’s also another interesting thing with a lot of the EOD guys coming back saying that they reporting really intuitive experiences or inside experiences where they could sense that there is a bomb in the road right ahead or they could see, have an image of that being placed by someone and then they started to pay attention to these and it saved a lot of lives. And so, another – I’m not sure which group in the navy is studying this but they’re really studying intuition in the role that played in the combat warrior as well. It’s going to be both from the post recovery using the tools to help facilitate recovery from PTSD but also in the training phase to make the warrior more resilient and more aware and to be able to handle the chaos and the confusion a lot better.

Brett McKay: Very cool.

Mark Divine: Yeah.

Brett McKay: So let’s talk about some of your specific principles the ones that really leaped out to me when I was reading the book was the first one was you have to establish your set point.

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: What is your set point and why is that so important that you do that first?

Mark Divine: Well, one of the things that again was powerful about the SEAL experiences that we had very clearly understood where we were at because of the training right. The training itself base lined us and we could see where we were at compared to our peers and where we were at compared to where we needed to be to operate at an elite level. So, the Delta between where we’re at and where we needed to be was measured and then a road map was created so that we can get from here to there. And of course there was to be able to accomplish a Navy SEAL mission set. And so, this idea what I carried forward into the way of the SEAL and that I try to teach people is that in order to know where you want to go in life if you can radar lock on your future mission and your purpose in life or your purpose and then the mission is kind of tied to that purpose. That’s really powerful but we can’t get there until you also know where you are today, right? And that’s your set point and the elements of the set point are they’d be very, very clear about what you’re passionate about and what your principles are and those principles then are going to be like guard rails that guide you and hold you steady as you, progress toward that future mission and future state that you’re looking for.

So, the set point is like looking deep within yourself and then determine okay, where am I right now? What are my passions? What are my purposes? What are my principles? Where do I stand? What are the skills and knowledge that I posses and what do I need to develop in order to get where I want to go in life?

Brett McKay: Yeah, I like that idea of figuring out where you are first before you begin. It sort of takes away the illusion of that I’m above average, right?

Mark Divine: Exactly, yeah. And everyone’s got some unique skills and stuff but if you really want to, to break through to another level and to live an incredible life you have to step back and acknowledge that you’re probably operating it and just a fraction of a percentage or at least a small percentage of your potential.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: And that potential is ever expanding as we dig into our own awareness and in our creativity opens up and we start to use the full capacity of our human intelligences and I say that with a plural S, intelligences. So, you have to have a pretty honest and humble acceptance of where you are today so that you can start driving forward.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that can be really hard.

Mark Divine: It can be, yeah.

Brett McKay: It can be very hard but it’s worth it in the end. So, okay like after you establish your step point then you start talking about some, what I love about it is with the way the SEALs all about and something I’m loving because I’m constantly working on this is developing mental toughness. Developing emotional and mental resilience.

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: And something, what are some specific tactics? We talked about meditation.

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: But beyond meditation, what are some other specific things that people can do to develop that sort of mental resilience?

Mark Divine: Right. Mental toughness and emotional resiliency are like two sides of the same coin. And so, emotional resiliency really is best developed through challenging yourself, putting yourself in circumstances that are very uncomfortable, learning to take some risk and to put yourself out there. And that causes you to – and that doesn’t have to be physical, it can be it can be a task or a skill like coming out of an airplane or just engaging in really difficult conversations that are hard for a guy to engage in and so you got to take risk and you got to open yourself up and that develops emotional awareness and emotional resiliency. Another thing that develops the resiliency is really having a – really taking your eyes off yourself and putting them on others and this is another area again that guys can be slow to the bad on, right. Women typically are quicker to be able to serve others this way they are wired but when men can start take their eyes off themselves and put their eyes on their teammate and really seek to serve their teammate and honor – teammate, this is a powerful concept for Navy SEALs because we learn to rely on our teammates with our lives and so I had to trust you, in order to trust you I had to be trustworthy. And by me taking care of you, I understand that you’re implicitly going to take care of me. And so, if I have a platoon of 16 SEALs and I’m watching out for 15 and now there’s 15 guys watching out for me.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: How cool is that.

Brett McKay: That is really cool.

Mark Divine: That’s a powerful way to develop emotional resiliency. Mental toughness, there’s a whole bunch of really cool things that we could talk about. But one of the most powerful ones is to you keep your front site focused on your major goal or your mission but then you, when it comes to the day to day task you chunk it down into micro goals and really achievable bite-size chunks that you can bite off, have a success, note the success, develop momentum and confidence around those small successes and then pretty soon you’ve already achieved the big one without even thinking about it.

Brett McKay: Yeah, very cool. I love that point about to develop emotional resilience focusing on others because right now I’m doing a series of articles about attention. The science of attention and one of the things that we’ve discovered or researchers discovered is that whenever we start thinking about ourselves sort of like that going inwards deep in ourselves like we tend to focus on the negative.

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: Right. That’s what our brain does automatically. That’s where they are biased. So, yeah, once you start thinking of yourself you start thinking about you start getting down, you turn into an E/or basically.

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: And what they say is that once you start like the research has done like they’ve done the MRI scan of the brain like once people start thinking about others that negativity that plays in our brain that sort of flashes negativity to give us away silenced and quiets down.

Mark Divine: Yeah it does. Yeah. Well you can’t – it’s the ultimate act of positivity right?

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: When you’re taking care of someone else, when you’re serving someone else, you the act is positive and by its very nature and so it eradicates or shuts off any negativity both emotionally and thought wise in your body, in your mind.

Brett McKay:Great.

Mark Divine: So you’re right. Let me talk about that point you just brought up. We do have these two sides to our lives. The intentional which is basically just our own thoughts and feelings and desires and then the attentional as you said which is how we focus on others and how we interact with the others. I call those two spheres the I and the we right. The we is the team and the attention and the or the I is the intentional that’s just me and then the we is the attentional. Now one of the keys to mental toughness is to learn to interrupt and to shift that negativity bias. It’s to acknowledge it and to interrupt it and shift it. And that that takes a little bit of practice, right? And so the tools that we teach to basically become intentionally positive to where it’s mostly I’m not going to suggest that you can 100% be positive because I don’t think that’s really realistic because you’re right the human brain is wired to always be on guard for danger and you’re medulla takes that information and process everything and it’s got a negativity bias. But you can and I’ve proven through my training you can be aware of it and create a nice gap between the arising of that negative response and your reaction to it and so within that gap you have the choice to essentially shift fire and to cancel that out and to move toward positive territory. That’s one of the things I teach.

So, intentionally it’s very powerful to maintain to learn how to maintain what I call positivity which is a positive mental dialog in a positive imagery and a positive emotional state. And when you do this it attends to supercharge your performance because you are able to really affect others a little bit more positively from an example standpoint even if you’re not in an attentional stage or working with another team, your attitude, your optimism, all these things are going to be attractive to the right kind of people and are going to put you in their leadership role because you’re motivating, right? And you’re optimistic. And so, part of being a great leader is to be both intentionally positive and attentionally positive. Does that make sense?

Brett McKay: Yeah, it makes sense. This sort of leads on to the next question, sort of that being aware of that negativity bias or being aware of just what’s going on in your mind and in your body. So, I’m not a law enforcement, I’m not military but like I do sort of like I love learning about tactical stuff and one of the things I learned about is the Cooper Color Code which you covered, which is sort of like for those of you who don’t know, it’s sort of a color code that is one I guess it’s gun fighter, right. One of the best gunfighters really revolutionized gun fighting in America developed sort of like situational awareness. So, how do you apply that to a civilian? I mean because it seemed like it’s just like if you got a gun, okay, I’m on yellow or I’m on red, like how can you apply that just to a guy who that is not caring?

Mark Divine: Well, a lot of it is but again coming back to developing – you call it situational awareness, coming to go back to what I was just talking about situational awareness is awareness of what’s going on around you and the situation that you’re around. Well, in order to have situational awareness around you, you also have to have situational awareness of what’s going on inside of you. And if you’re great example I’d like to use in my training is how many times have you gone shopping and some women or guy literally is so unaware of you that they literally run their car right into you.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: That practically happens to me every time I go to a shopping, whatever. I go to a store. And so, they are clearly not situation aware. Now, what I teach my trainees is that you now the color code system – white is ignorance, yellow is passive alertness okay. And passive alertness is the state that we want to develop to be always in. Now, it doesn’t mean you’re going around like sneaking around corners and you’re some paranoid nut no. It just means that you’re always scanning. It’s like you’ve activated a radar scan and your scan is out there and it’s active, it’s looking for threats externally and internally. But it doesn’t mean you’re not having a good time and stuff but you don’t let your guard down. For instance, you go into a restaurant at night and you just scan the environment before you go in and you just look for anything unusual and you want to sense is there anything unusual, you get a sense of something being off and 99% of the time you’re not going to have any sense walking into the restaurant. But instead of just sitting next to the door with your back to the door and start pounding beers or glass of wine or something, you move to the rear of the restaurant, position yourself with your back to the wall, so you can see the entrance and you can scan the environment and then just have a good time. But maintain control of your situation because you’re out in public and many time you’re out in the public you want to be a little bit more cautious and a little bit more alert than if you’re behind the lock door in your home, right.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: And so you always have that state of yellow using Cooper’s system of yellow, passive alertness, right? Now, let’s say using this restaurant example, some big burly dude comes marching through the front door and he’s starting to move toward you and you’re sitting there with your wife and son. And he’s coming straight toward you. Now, all of a sudden you’re going to start to – you’re going to jack up from yellow to what’s called orange which is active alert and now, orange is like preparing for action rationing up the death con from death con or two maybe. And you don’t know what this guy’s intentions are, you don’t have any clue yet it seems like danger is coming to your way right. A loud noise would do this for people. If you hear a car crash or screech and all of a sudden that’s when people go from either white to orange in their normal life. Well, I’m suggesting you stay on this state of level and you go to orange when necessary. Now, in my example let’s say this guy is coming toward you then he smiles, turns and walks into the bathroom.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: Well, you might go back down to yellow at that point or you might stay on orange until you see him leave the bathroom and depart the restaurant. But my point is you’re still ready for action now you’re a little bit relieved that you didn’t take action. You didn’t have to escalate you to red which is some sort of massive action is going to happen.

Brett McKay: Yeah. So, I guess the point of it is just remind you, it’s a way to remind yourself not to be passive in life.

Mark Divine: Right. It’s not – part of it just think through it and be like oh, yeah that makes a lot of sense. I want to be more alert. But then in the book I also have drills to really develop that alertness, right? To develop the sensitivity to your intuitive self and to develop an awareness of your surroundings and those are the things that we taught or we trained for actively in SEALs.

Brett McKay: Very good. So, another thing throughout the book and you kind of mentioned this earlier in the podcast but throughout the book you mentioned 20X challenges as a way you need to plan for those. I mean so what 20X challenges and how do they help forward mental toughness?

Mark Divine: Right. To preface this, as human beings we grow through challenge. And you and your listeners are very aware that this probably be a big part of what encourage people to do is get out and challenge yourself. If you can’t do pull ups then get on the pull up bar and challenge yourself to be able to do ten pull ups, right.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: And so we grow through challenge. Well, interesting thing about the human experience is if you don’t go for the challenge, if you don’t go after it, then the challenge will find you anyway and often times it will find you unprepared, right.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: And so that can be in the form of an accident or an illness or death of a loved and now you’ve got to go through it but you’re not prepared. So, the 20X concept is that first of all you’re capable of so much more than you think you are but you’re not going to find it unless you challenge yourself. So, go out and find a challenge that’s going to prove to you that you’re capable 20 times more than you think you are. For me the Navy SEAL Hell Week was such a challenge, not that I don’t expect everyone to go join the SEALs and go through hell week. Obviously that’s not realistic. So, you want to find challenges that are appropriate for your skill level and comfort level and physical aptitude but then you want these challenges to grow in their magnitude so you’re constantly growing. So, a good example is like physically if your listeners are in the physical training some of the challenges that I have my athletes do is like, okay, well let’s do a thousand pushups for a time.

Brett McKay: Wow!

Mark Divine: And last time I did this, it’s been a couple of years I did it in 39 minutes which was cool because that was that made me feel good and I knew that Wow! I still got it and at 49 years old then I can still do a thousand pushups in 49 minutes or 39 minutes and it was very, very gratifying for the one of the guys who I was doing it for an hour and ten minutes but he finished it. And when he finished it he felt great about himself and it wasn’t something that he would have done it wasn’t not everyone just thinks oh, I’m going to do a thousand pushups right now. But how empowering is that?

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: So, I have a whole host of recommendations in the book and it doesn’t have to be physical, right? It can be like I referenced earlier ago my stepdaughter, Catherine just went and did a tandem free fall jump. She always wanted to do it and finally she’s like I’m going to go do this and man she have a ball and now she can’t wait to get back and try like a static line which is without a tandem guy and then something else. So, that was a 20X challenge for her and it expanded her sense of aliveness and ability to be in control of her life.

Brett McKay: Is the 20X challenge something you do like on a weekly basis or is it like quarterly I mean how often should you plan for this? I mean should it be like really big I guess. I mean I guess the idea is it is supposed to push you, right?

Mark Divine: Right. Well, the way well what works for me and what I think is really useful is to have small challenges that you hit up every week and then you have a little bit bigger challenge that you hit up either quarterly or twice a year. And then to schedule and plan for like a major 20X challenge in every year to year and a half, you know what I mean? That would be like that go climb McKinley or go to our 20X challenge that people do with SEALFit, my company is called Kokoro Camp. And Kokoro Camp is 50 hours of nonstop physical training and it’s modeled after hell week. And so, you give people a taste of hell week but our main thing is to help you get through it and to develop your mental toughness and your emotional resiliency not to just to have you quit and so we try to get you through it. About 80% of the people who do it will make it as opposed to the SEAL training which is 80% does not make it. So, that’s an example of 20X challenge that people plan for over a year to a year and half and train for and it becomes a big deal for them and when they come and accomplish it their life is changed. There is like pre-Kokoro and post-Kokoro life just like there was me and the SEALs pre-SEAL and post- SEALs.

Brett McKay: So, I’m sure there’s guys listening to this podcast. They’re thinking like man, sign me up. This is awesome. They read the book like this is great I’m super motivated. But then like two weeks later they’re sort of just like nah, they fall off the wagon and I think that happens to a lot of people with sort of self developmentstuff.

Mark Divine: Sure.

Brett McKay: I think it’s interesting that your book is called The Way of the SEAL, right?

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: So I mean how do you, how do you help you get past them and what advice do you have for people who begin some sort of self improvement program or building some mental resilience, do they get past those moments where there’s just I don’t want to do this anymore. This is like too much work.

Mark Divine: Yeah. There’s a couple of things, first of all in the SEALs we took a crawl, walk, run approach to training. We had to basically learn how to crawl when we were shooting or jumping or diving. And there are baby steps and so the level of challenge was very doable and we made it very fun and we found victory where it was at in that crawl stage. And as we developed our skills and we were more accurate and more confident then step it up and run a little bit more and work at a little bit more intensity and then as our competence grew even more. It just kind of began to flow out of us in a more unconscious competency. And so, part of the training is number one is to look at your, look at this as a lifestyle.

Brett McKay: Yes.

Mark Divine: It’s to develop a lifestyle around training yourself for ultimate mastery that state of unconscious confidence in many areas of your life to include physical training and these mental toughness or mental development skills but you must begin where you’re at which is understanding your set point and then do a little bit everyday. And so, you can eat an elephant one bite at a time and you can master yourself one day at a time and so instead of looking at the end state and say hey, I want to be like Coach Divine or I want to be like Tadashi Nakamura who was my mentor. I didn’t look at that. I just said I’m going to come in and train hard today and try to improve myself by 1% today. But 1% everyday improvement adds up pretty quickly right and ultimately leads to geometric growth.

Brett McKay: Yeah, well, and then how do you do a setback? So like say you wake up one day and like it’s just you were trying to be like cool, calm and collected but yeah, you couldn’t keep it together.

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: And you’re just like so it happens to me sometimes like man, I screwed up today. I was just going to give up, you know. How do you do setbacks with like with The Way of the SEAL method?

Mark Divine: Be attached to – not to be attached to the outcomes of those things.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: Like you do the best you can and one of my daily training drills is called the Evening Ritual and the Evening Ritual really is a, it’s a look back at your day and then you find the silver lining. So, anything that you did if you’re comfortable and happy with the results you acknowledge that, hey, I did a good job with that. That was cool, good. So, you’re developing confidence but then anything like you just suggested that really didn’t sit right with you, like you screwed up or you really embarrass yourself that kind of situation where you just want to throw in the towel. You basically look at them say what, I’m not perfect. I tried my best. What can I learn from that situation? And you will inevitably find a really important lesson when you, you get out of your own way and say okay, yeah that’s the lesson there. And so, then you clear the ground and you go to bed that night with a victory. So, everything was a victory even your screw ups. And so, then you get up the next day and you do it again right and you just do the best that you can try to improve by 1% and then you look back at the end of the evening say okay, what did I do well? What didn’t go so well? And what did I learn from those and then so turn those failures into victories and then just keep on rolling forward and it tends to be very motivating, I call it a lifetime of no regrets right. In fact that there’s a great quote it’s like better to suffer the temporary pain and discipline than a lifetime of regret.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Divine: And that’s one way to do that.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome great stuff. Well I appreciate the advice. So, your book The Way of the SEALs is directed at both genders, both men and women.

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: I know that both men and women can attend your training camps right?

Mark Divine: Right.

Brett McKay: But is there something specific or specific benefit that you think men can get from following The Way of the SEAL?

Mark Divine: Absolutely. I think that what I’ve noticed in the society is that when people who find SEALFit, it’s very much of an aspirational and an inspirational training. And when people start to train the way that I recommend which is what I call Integrated Warrior Development, I mean we’re actively not just trying to kick your ass but we’re trying to make you better human being and that focuses on five human capacities. Your physical development as a human, your mental development, your emotional development, your intuitional development and awareness, I use those two words interchangeably, and then your spiritual development. And we train those through our different training methods so that you develop in a more balanced manner and at least you kind of have an accelerated growth and a greater sense of being in control and you feel really good about yourself and you feel like, man, you feel really freaking solid and lot of people look to the SEALs and say Wow! You guys you’re kind of like the modern day Spartans and it’s very aspirational. People think SEALs are all studs. Physically they are. Mentally they are smart but it’s because they are trained for it right? They’re not just we’re not just born this way.

We’ve decided that we wanted them to be unique and wanted to show up as uncommon in the world and so we train for it, but if a SEAL gets out of the Navy and stops training, guess what? He’s going to back slide until he’s kind of common and I actually know a couple of guys who back slid and got into alcohol and they were pretty damn common and miserable, right? And so, there is the training that’s the secret sauce and training in a lifetime manner it’s every day. It’s not just for an event and to train in an integrated manner so that you’re covering all these capacities, so you don’t grow unbalanced and titter tatter over some day.

Brett McKay: Very good. Well Mark Divine, this has been a fantastic conversation.

Mark Divine: Hooyah.

Brett McKay: Thank you for your time. Hooyah indeed.

Mark Divine: Yeah, it’s been great. I really appreciate it man.

Brett McKay: Our guest today was Mark Divine. Mark is the author of the book The Way of the SEAL, and you can find that on Well, that wraps up another edition of Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at and if you would like to support our podcast, really appreciate it if you would go online to whatever service you used to listen to your podcast whether it’s iTunes or Stitch or whatever and give us a rating. That will help us be exposed to more listeners and help the podcast grill. So, until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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