Mark spent 20 years in the Navy in both active duty and reserve roles before retiring with the rank of Commander in 2011. His path to becoming a SEAL was as unique as it gets–Mark started out as a CPA in New York City before finding his calling as the No. 1 graduate in his SEAL training class. He is also passionate about helping veterans with PTSD and has founded an organization for those struggling with the invisible wounds of war and military service.
Mark and I discuss how he discovered meditation and zen in his early-20’s, and how those tools allowed him to excel in SEAL training. We also explore what SEAL training is really like, as well as how WHOOP has helped him overcome his skepticism of wearables. He’s a remarkable guy with some great stories to tell, and I think you’ll really enjoy this conversation.
4:24 – Using Wearables (from the perspective of a SEAL). “I was kind of against wearables mainly because my personality is not to rely on tech. Even in the SEALs we said ‘First you’ve gotta know your map and compass and then you use the satellite tech and GPS,’ because if the tech goes down you’re toast in the field. Having said that, I’ve kind of come around because I think tech can be a good enabler, as long as you don’t rely too heavily on it.”
4:55 – Becoming a Navy SEAL. “I’m probably the only SEAL who’s ever been a CPA.”
6:36 – College Athlete to Corporate World. “I refused to let that part of my life go and just become some sort of fat corporate guy, because everyone around me was that. There was no way that I was going to wear a suit every day, eat donuts, go out and have the martini lunch and see my body just wither away and be some bald, fat guy.”
7:51 – Martial Arts & Finding Zen. “It was a moment that changed my life. I walked into that studio and I just felt like ‘Whoa, this is amazing.’ The energy there was incredible. The Grand Master was a 10th-degree black belt who created this style of karate. And unbeknownst to me, the real benefit for me was that he was a Zen Master also … he used karate basically to teach zen to people.”
9:39 – Finding a New Career Path. “I just kept having a sense that I was heading down a wrong path and fast by being a CPA and that there was some other thing that I was meant to do that was really, really urgent and important and that if I didn’t figure it out quickly then the opportunity or whatever it was would pass me by and I’d live this life of regret.”
10:09 – “I Was Meant to Be a Warrior.” Mark’s Journey to the SEALs.
12:04 – Intuition. “Some people would say that intuition is more astute pattern recognition.” Mark references Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.
12:31 – Listening to Your Heart and Gut. “When you start to meditate and you get control of the rational, cognitive, left-brain aspect and you can drop into these moments of silence where you’re not doing anything … you’re not actively doing anything you’re just listening and you’re searching or being quiet, and all of a sudden that’s when you can hear or sense what the gut is telling you.”
14:24 – The Value of Meditation. “There’s zero chance that I would’ve been a SEAL had I not gotten into meditation. … Meditation has many, many different aspects to it, many different tools, that will lead to pretty extraordinary outcomes if you work it and if you follow the trail markers deeper and deeper.”
17:26 – Sticking to Meditation & Finding a Teacher. “It’s hard for people to just add something like meditation to their schedule and stick with it because it’s so new, it’s different, and they don’t have a good way to measure success. They’re used to external measurements like with exercise. With meditation you don’t have those external measures. It’s much more subtle. … It certainly helps to have a trusted teacher and that teacher who can point out what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong and can give you insights and tips and can hold you accountable.”
19:26 – Similarities Between Meditation and Exercise. “Meditation is one of those things like exercise. If you just keep doing it and stick with it, day in and day out, you will look back over time and see your progress. … Zen is like boot camp for meditation. The technique is the path of concentration. Transcendental meditation is the path of mantra. And mindfulness meditation is the path of mindfulness or awareness. They all train your brain a little bit differently.”
21:02 – Slow Breathing Exercises. “Your mind is pinned to that breath. It’s following it ever so closely like a Navy SEAL sniper following a target. … It took me over a year to do that.”
22:49 – Meditation & Breathing to Improve Concentration. “It helps you sharpen your mind like iron sharpens steel.”
23:42 – Mantra Mindfulness. “Mantra becomes an all-the-time meditation. That’s the beauty of mantra and mindfulness. Eventually you take it off the mat and it’s a thing you can do throughout the day.”
25:12 – Leadership Benefits of Meditation. “It has enormous benefits for leaders to be able to be laser-focused on the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.” Will adds that meditation is “a secret that’s not actually a secret amongst very high-performing individuals.” Mark continues, “I think it’s the next frontier for all leaders. These skills will probably be fairly commonplace in 10 or 20 years.”
26:39 – Measuring the Benefits of Meditation. Will notes that WHOOP data has shown “meaningful physiological improvements to resting heart rate being lower and heart rate variability being higher” with users who meditate.
28:26 – Helping Veterans with PTSD. “We want to use the WHOOP with our veteran programs.”
30:41 – Overcoming Skepticism of Wearables with WHOOP. “I needed the proof that it was going to be useful and it wasn’t going to add complexity to my life … I’m inclined to wear it all the time, whereas I won’t wear my watch at night because I know for sleep hygiene I don’t want the electronics on me or near me. But it’s such a low energy signature with the WHOOP and it’s important to get that sleep data. I’ll wear it all night long. WHOOP improves over time as you start to learn from your patterns.”
34:14 – Quality Sleep Performances. “I’m averaging 7-8 hours of sleep a night.” Will says Mark is the “model citizen of SEAL behavior” because many SEALs are recording 40-50% sleep performances when they start on WHOOP.
35:19 – Meditation for Better Sleep. “Meditation is one way to really dial in your sleep.” Will points out that meditation is “virtually good for everything,” especially sleep and heart rate variability.
36:29 – Zen & Visualization to Prepare for SEAL Training. “I immediately went back to my toolkit from zen and said ‘what’s going to differentiate me?’ The skills were there for me and I doubled down on them.”
38:33 – SEAL Training & Hell Week. “Hell week is 7 days of round-the-clock, non-stop training. No sleep whatsoever … Every week you’ve got to improve your timed runs, your timed swims, and your timed obstacle courses and if you fail anything more than once you have a good chance of being performance-rolled back.”
40:44 – Beach Landings, Hydrographic Reconnaissance, Underwater Demolition, Diving, Ship Attacks & Navigating Underwater at Night. “It’s just intense … and then we go into land warfare, and land warfare is where you learn how to shoot, move, and communicate and do small-unit tactics. Basically SEAL stuff.”
42:07 – From 185 to 18. “We graduated with 18 guys, and I was the honor man in my class, the No. 1 graduate in my class. It was no big deal for me because I was leveraging the skills of meditation and visualization.”
43:03 – His Secret Weapons in SEAL Training. “An ability to concentrate and have that concentration practice, which became an anti-distractor. So anytime something tried to distract me, like a Navy SEAL instructor, for instance, they’re masterful at trying to distract a candidate and to get them to start to think negatively or to think they can’t do something. That is their job, to look for weakness. And that weakness is in the mind and in the emotions.” His mantra was “I’m feeling good, I’m looking good, I ought to be in Hollywood … I would use the mantra and get back into a positive self talk where I would talk to myself in terms that would give me strength.”
46:06 – Teaching the Soft Skills of Warfare. “You would think that the elite warriors would’ve been using this stuff forever, and they were back in the old days, imagine the Samurai … they innovated a lot of this stuff, but it didn’t really get ported over to the West. We’ve focused on the hard skills and we’re masters at the tech and the hard skills of running-and-gunning, but it’s these soft skills which are really now necessary for the type of warfare that exists today.”
47:10 – Creating a More Complete Warrior. “True warriors are the last to pick up the weapon. I want to bring that integrated, holistic approach to warrior training back. … The warriors are generally those who understand violence, they abhor it but they understand it, and they can use it with precision against evil. My point is to have a warrior that is sensitive, emotionally aware, morally strong, and can kick ass and take names.”
51:04 – Entering the Business World. “Entrepreneurs’ and SEALs’ mindsets have a lot in common. … In business it’s really important to do something that you’re passionate about and aligned with your purpose.”
53:10 – Finding Purpose After the SEALs. “Through SEALFIT I could become a warrior business man. … I started to teach all these special operators while I was building a business.”
1:00:54 – Showing Vulnerability as a Leader. “All leaders have issues. Nobody’s perfect, but if you pretend to be perfect or if you wear a mask with your team they’ll see right through it and you won’t bring out the best in them because courage and trust and respect won’t be there.”