On the show today, I have Kevin Smith, a 13-year special operator in a special operations unit and former Division 1 swimmer. At a young age, Kevin was always interested in learning about sports physiology and psychology, and he plans to dive into the mental performance world once he is out of the military to pursue a career in cognitive neuroscience.
In today’s discussion, we dig past the surface level of what true mental toughness and performance is by discussing the tactics and strategies that largely impact the mind. Kevin explains how the brain in constantly rewiring itself, which all relates back to controlling how we think. The conversation then leads into how important it is to take brain breaks during the day and wind down at night in order to take care of your foundation. We introduce the idea that you really can do more than you think you can do, and we go into different tactics to get past the mind barriers holding you back. Kevin shares the difference between confidence and belief by stating confidence is thinking you can do something, while belief is knowing you can do it.
We then do a deep dive into the many exercises we can do to execute mental toughness. In particular, we talk about framing the way you look at certain situations by intentionally removing everything except for the core aspect taking place. The reframing needs to follow up with using your inner monologue to get through whatever obstacle it may be. Using this tactic in training is huge and can be that extra deep breath you need to push through. We also discuss how you can use teamwork in your reframing and self-talk; knowing you’re not experiencing it alone can help make the suffering feel less awful.
Listen in as Kevin explains two mental toughness strategies: chunking – breaking up tasks into simple and digestible pieces, whether it be one rep at a time, one set at a time or taking breaks on a long hike. Arousal control – bringing your body into more of a balance through breathing and HRV.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode:
- [03:05] An introduction to Kevin Smith
- [05:44] Correlation between physical performance and mental toughness
- [07:00] Understanding how to control the way we think
- [19:05] Mind tactics to do more than you think you can do
- [24:05] Difference between belief and confidence
- [29:00] Reframing your mind in certain situations
- [39:45] Implementing what you are learning
- [55:05] Kevin’s parting advice
James Cerbie: Really excited today to have Kevin Smith on board. He’s a special operator. He’s been a special operator for the past 13 years. And the big thing that we dive into today is mental performance and mental toughness, because there is this two-way street that exists between your capacity to express your performance physically and then the domain of the brain looking down on that from above. And so, we talk about breaking through barriers, the tools, the tactics, the strategies, the things that you need to do to kind of unlock this mental performance, improve your mental toughness.
And by doing this, you’re just essentially removing a potential handbrake, something that’s maybe holding back your capacity to fully express your physical performance. So, an amazing episode today. We’re so glad that Kevin agreed to come on board. I’m not going to keep you any longer. Let’s jump in the day with Kevin Smith. So glad you’re here, so we have Kevin Smith on board, a special operator and beyond, excited to dive in and talk about training, in particular the mental side of performance, this mental toughness.
How can we get people to dial in their mental game, because it’s like we were just talking off-air, right? Like we spend so much time developing this physical body, like we are in the gym, we lift, we train.
We’re getting these like central adaptations, these peripheral adaptations. We’re getting bigger muscles or chasing mitochondria, a capillary density. I want to be bigger, faster and stronger. All this good stuff. Right. But there’s this inherent connection between what the mind does and it rules over everything.
And it’s this two-way street of if you really want to be able to express yourself to the full extent as an athlete, then you have to get the mental game on board as well.
So, before we get there, though, I will have you just give a quick introduction for people listening. They may not know who you are and then we’ll dive in and get after it.
An Introduction to Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith: Appreciate you having me on, James. So, first of all, a client of James. Rebel Performance is amazing. Check definitely a hop on board if you haven’t already. Good plug for you. There they are.
James Cerbie: Thank you. Very sorry. We didn’t talk about that.
Kevin Smith: We didn’t. We didn’t. So, yeah, Kevin, I. I grew up in New York. I was a division one swimmer. And I’ve always been interested in the science of sport physiologically and psychologically. That started actually in college. I had a coach who really kind of innovative.
We helped design some of the swimsuits that were made in the early 2000s without getting banned because they.
James Cerbie: Just when all the world records got shattered.
Kevin Smith: Yeah. Yeah. So, I helped test some of those in the flow. So that kind of piqued my interest. And then the mental side of things, stuff as I’ve always been interested in myself from a young age even. I’m not sure what sparked it, maybe just being the youngest of three boys and getting the crap kick out of me all the time. And so, I needed to be mentally tough just to make it.
And I think my mom had an influence there as well. She was always big into that. And also kind of like stoic philosophy with me, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius from a young age. So, I just had an interesting background. I always been interested in the performance side of things. Yeah. And special operation that I’m getting out of the military here very shortly and may even pursue a career in the cognitive, neuroscience or mental performance world. So, yeah, I think that’s good for background and let’s get to it.
James Cerbie: We’ll jump right in. So, a lot of the systems that we talked about this briefly off air, we did a really good episode. I had Tommy Hackenbruck on, and we scratched the surface of this whole concept of mental toughness. But we didn’t really get into actual tactics, actual strategies, actual things that people can go and use and work on to improve their mental toughness, to kind of unlock this mental performance, like this brain performance, if you will, to remove because like the brain has a capacity to be this massive handbrake on everything that’s happening downstream of it.
So how to better control that? So, you’re not trying to handbrake and drive down the highway going one hundred miles an hour, which is a not a great idea.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, so exactly.
James Cerbie: I will turn this over to you and let you kick this off and start that kind of wherever you would like.
Correlation Between Physical Performance and Mental Toughness
Kevin Smith: Yeah. So, when I think about kind of the mental side of things, think about two different areas. There’s mental performance and mental toughness and just like with physical performance, if you work out more, you are going to be physically tougher, right? If I run a mile every day, it’s going to be easier for me to run a mile two months from now, right? And so, I’ve gotten physically tougher when it comes to mental toughness. Kind of the same thing.
If you practice mental performance regularly and some mental toughness tactics, they’ll get into a little later. It’s easier to do and therefore makes you mentally tougher because you’re just well-practiced at it. I think there’s some people who just by the environment they grow up in or genetics, probably a mix of the two kind of have this naturally and then maybe they’re lucky enough to hone it further throughout their lives. Some people maybe don’t start off as mentally tough, and that’s fine, too.
But you absolutely can practice the way you think. And that’s a great thing about the brain. And we’re talking a little bit beforehand about neuroplasticity. You know, the kind of well-proven idea now that the brain is continually rewiring itself based on what you’re thinking about and not only what you’re thinking about, but how you’re thinking. So, start off there with how you’re thinking on the cognitive performance side of things and talk about like three different kind of areas of strategies.
And when you give a shout out to the Brain Performance Institute in at UT Dallas here, who have been fortunate enough to work with a couple of times, they had a great seminar called Smart where kind of cherry-pick and some info out of here that I’ve used. It’s all things I think that smart people or even regular people do occasionally. But it’s kind of like just eating well or exercising. Right. You know, a natural athlete may be very good naturally, but if they know what they’re supposed to do, then they can hone in and do.
More regularly and thus perform better. So, I’m kind of the foundational side of things for the brain. I talk about taking brain breaks throughout the day, especially nowadays. People seem to be always connected, always doing something. And that does take away some of your capacity, right. You’re constantly on your phone, even if you think you’re just kind of scrolling and not doing much. It is taking energy. So, it’s important to take kind of those brain breaks five, 10 minutes every hour to just let your brain wander, you know, if you stare out the window or whatever you do.
Understanding How to Control the Way We Think
And then at the end of your day, really important taken like that 30-minute wind-down kind of process your day, what did you do? What did you learn? Kind of let your brain wander. But also, what your brain’s doing here in that time is filing away everything it’s taking in that day. And it’s processing connections it has made throughout the day. And then further in the foundational side of things. And again, some of these probably some people will just be saying, wow, this sounds simple and it really is, but it’s surprising how often we don’t do this right.
James Cerbie: So just doing simple work. I love when people say it’s too simple. Are you doing it?
It’s 90 to 95 percent of the time. No, they won’t do the simple stuff. Like let’s hit the big rocks here before we try the and the pebbles in the sand.
Kevin Smith: That’s right. That’s right. And I’m guilty of not doing many of these things sometimes, too. And I realize it. And then I get frustrated with myself. And anyways, so another foundational thing is just doing one thing at a time, right? I mean, how often are really trying to multitask or do too many things at once because we think it’s more efficient? Well, two things. It’s usually not actually more efficient, usually just switching between doing two or three things poorly and taking more time.
And then also the act of switching between tasks like that. Very quickly, let’s say you’re on the phone and writing an email at the same time about different things. That’s really hard on your brain. That’s really tiring. That’s a behavior you want to avoid. So just do one thing at a time. And then additionally, your ability to think deeply and critically, think right. You can’t do it. Twenty-four hours a day. Right. Just like you can’t work out twenty-four hours a day.
So, one of the things the brain forces talk about that I really like is doing two things. Taking about a 45, 90-minute window twice a day to do something that requires critical thinking. Right. Not scrolling on Instagram or just reading an article, but thinking about something. Right. So, for you, James, critical thinking about, you know, what’s the direction you want to take Rebel Performance in the next year, formulating a strategy or something like that.
So, something that requires critical thinking and that’s going to make you feel good to actually do it, too. And then I kind of move into how to think about things, I think, especially in modern society now. I always have this fear that we’re all turning into like mindless drones, just kind of information receptacles.
James Cerbie: Yeah, well, I was like a random aside on this topic. I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about this, like how we are perceiving and thinking about things nowadays. And I 100% that positive that every generation reaches these weird tipping points where it just feels like everything’s collapsing around them.
But right now, in particular, it’s one of those things where I kind of look at what people are talking about and it’s like, well, as a species, we’ve kind of reached this point where we don’t have real, like, real problems anymore, right?
Like, you have shelter, you have food. I can go on a walk in my neighborhood and I don’t need to worry about getting eaten by a predator. So, like, historically, the things that we would be spending the vast majority of our time worrying about are now off the table. And now we’re getting into this whole another realm of different problems.
All right. Yeah, I’ll let you run with that, whatever you want.
Kevin Smith: But yeah, that’s a that’s a great and something I think about all the time. And I think there’s some good psychology and science on that. You know, your body from evolution, right? We’re like we’re wired to become stressed to certain times for good reasons. Like if a predator shows up a lion or something, that’s actually a threat to eat me. Stress is good. In that case, it’s going to give you energy to do something right.
And that’s actually to talk about stress. And that’s a good way to frame stress. It’s giving you energy to do something. But now we don’t have those evolutionary cues for stress. Life’s almost too easy, and I actually personally believe that’s why we kind of have more mental health issues nowadays. And I really disagree with some of the futurists out there who believe in a future where people won’t have to do anything or will just be plugged into our computers and just kind of float through life out of that.
If you see the movie, Wall-E, but all the people are just floating around and doing nothing. And I think that I think people will feel really, really bad about themselves if that sort of, you know, you’ve got to have something you’re striving for, something you’re fighting for, kind of otherwise your stress is going to come out and places where it doesn’t make sense. And then you’re going to feel bad that you’re stressed about something, it doesn’t make sense as kind of this downward cycle.
So, yeah, it’s a it is an odd time, I think, in history in that in the last hundred years since the industrial revolution, that has really, really changed and that people don’t have to really fight for their survival. Obviously, there are cases where people do and certain parts of the world in particular, where things were really bad. But in America, for the most part, people are worried about, am I going to live or die today?
Am I going to find food and things like that? So that’s the curse of excess, I guess.
James Cerbie: Yeah, it’s one of those things where in order to really appreciate the light, sometimes you have to understand that there’s this darkness. And it’s like without that struggle, without a lot of those evolutionary cues, then, yeah, it’s like, well, OK. Like it’s just going to get funneled to someplace else where historically it’s never been before because and we don’t need to spend a lot of time here because this is such a huge topic.
Kevin Smith: So broad.
James Cerbie: Yeah. It’s such a broad topic, but it’s like historically if you’re thinking hunter-gatherer times, right. It’s like you don’t really have time to sit around and stress about, well, it’s like, well, I’m not really with the popular kids.
OK, well, we need food and we need shelter and make sure you don’t get eaten by this thing over here when you go out to get this taken care of it, like there are constantly things you needed to be working on to supply and help the tribe all this other goodness. But yeah. So, we can we can circle this back here and come back to this mental performance and then mental toughness realm.
Kevin Smith: Yeah. I mean, it’s just good to know that the evolution aspect of it, though, because so much of how we’re wired still comes from that, even though things have changed much in the past hundred years, the evolutionary cues that live inside you and I DNA are there.
James Cerbie: Yep. DNA doesn’t change very quickly.
Kevin Smith: It takes a pretty long time. Right. So, technology in the world is changing much faster, is evolving much faster than our bodies and our brains are. But yeah. So, I was about to go and I think how to think about things. Right. And again, I’m going to keep him in the Brain Force Institute in Dallas. People should check it out. centerforbrainhealth.edu, I think in Google Center for Brain Health Dallas has some really cool stuff. They talk about how to think about things like what to think right in school, because we do like rote memorization to learn right and don’t learn kind of the critical why.
Using Critical Thinking to Make Your Brain Stronger
And that’s something that’s really powerful for your brain is understanding the critical why and the critical facts and something. And they’ve shown that thinking that way improves every aspect of your brain. Right. So, if you want to have a faster brain or have better memory or better pattern recognition, just practicing critical thinking about anything, we’ll make your brain stronger. And like every facet of some of these brain games online that just work on one specific thing, like, you know, Lumosity, you’ve got a bunch of games.
A lot of them just work on processing speed and you’ll get a little bit better processing speed. Mostly you’ll get better at just playing that game. So how to think about things and critically thinking about things, that’s like the total body workout for your brain. And a couple of ways you can do that when you’re analyzing any kind of set of information, say at some article you’re reading about somebody’s physiology development or something like that, you need to zoom in first and find with the critical factors are within that.
Right. There’s always a bunch of fluff and connecting words in any article and take out what really matters from this. And that ties into filtering life. Right. Nowadays, especially, we’re surrounded by information. And when we’re surrounded by information and it’s everywhere, the brain kind of had a tendency to place the same value on all of it. Like everything is important, which means kind of nothing’s important, which makes it very hard for people to make decisions.
So, it’s really good to practice this practice of filtering things, taking the time to look at what you’re reading on your phone, whether it’s the news or whatever else you may be into and being like, OK, what is not necessary here and what’s kind of the critical fact? What can I learn from this? And then go in the next step out, which is kind of zooming out and thinking about, OK, what is the meaning here? What is the theme?
What are they talking about? How would I how to explain this in one sentence to somebody and then finally trying to make a connection between that and something else. How does this relate to something else that is seemingly unrelated on the surface?
And that’s just thinking through that. Even if you don’t necessarily come up with a great connection trying to do that, one is really healthy for your brain. And as you practice, the more you’ll get really good in it. You’ll see an article about Subject X and an article about subject Y, and they actually have the same root cause, even though they’re totally different things. I’m blatant examples for that right now, which is unfortunate, but yeah. So that’s kind of the bread and butter of how to think about things right there.
And then finally kind of talk about innovation. And this is more like the imaginary aspect and how healthy it is for the brain to do that. Right.
And the first thing is trying to this concept of removing limits and measurements. Right. And infinite possibilities. Right. So, if you’re a like a let’s say, James, you asked me to help you brainstorm some ideas. What you want to do with Rebel Performance for the next year, right? A good practice would be to just throw out every crazy idea. Right. We’re going to have Rebel Performance, become like an astronaut training center. Right. That’s crazy, right.
But just. Yeah, exactly. But just for the just because it’s doing that and just kind of throwing out every crazy idea, you think of the infinite possibilities, like remove all the toxins we put around ourselves and day to day life and all the measurements. And when you talk about sport and lifting, you know, how often is it like, oh, I run a four or five, four forty and I seem to get down to four or five too. But it’s like so far and it’s like, well, in your brain, you’re not giving this measurement like so much importance that like you’re almost making it impossible for yourself to do it right.
And so, removing those limits, thinking about endless possibilities, one really healthy for your brain, it’s going to make you more flexible in the moment. You’re going to be more innovative. You’re going to come up with better ideas as it relates to sport or athletics or anything like that. That’s going to help you kind of break through barriers. I think it’s kind of like this idea of how far could our brains go if we remove the restrictor plate. That is kind of all the rules and limitations we grow up seeing around us.
It’s really interesting to think about like. What humanity has done in the past hundred years compared to the thousand years before that, we’ve proven time and time again that we are really only limited by our imagination. We keep going further and farther in almost every endeavor that people put energy towards. And yet still, there’s a lot of people who view all these things as like restrictions that we can’t do this, we can’t do that, and obviously we can’t.
And that’s what the broad band of humanity shows us over its existence. There’s so much we can do.
James Cerbie: Yeah, it’s kind of one of those deals where it’s only impossible until someone does it. Yeah, yeah, right. Because I got four-minute mile for a very long time was not possible. Like a human can run a four-minute mile and then the second one person runs a four-minute mile. People start coming out of the woods. It is doable. Someone’s like, oh, this can be done. OK, cool. Here we go.
Kevin Smith: Exactly. I think there was a study done on cyclists maybe where they basically lied to them like they had them do their fastest race, didn’t tell them what the time was, and then they adjusted it 10 percent faster and told them, OK, this time you’re racing. You’re just following your ghost, so to speak, of the last time, not telling them that they made it faster and the vast majority of them kept up with it. That was 10 percent better than their personal best.
Belief Versus Confidence
So, I kind of think about that sometimes about training. I was like, oh, sure. The way I didn’t know how much weight it was on the bar and I couldn’t see it. And I was just like this pure effort base and see if we can really go a lot farther that way. Yeah, it’s interesting, but yeah, the bottom line, we can do so much more than we think. And having that belief in your mind, right. That’s going to that’s going to build towards your toughness as well.
And then finally on just the performance side of things is learning from mistakes, right. So, I don’t know if you’re right. Nassim Taleb book Antifragile.
James Cerbie: It’s a huge, huge Taleb fan
Kevin Smith: Me as well. But the fragility versus antifragile right in society and a lot of ways very fragile and antifragile for the listeners to understand, it’s really just when something bad happens, you taking it and turning it into a positive or your system becomes stronger from it. The great example is the immune system, right? Typically, a virus is introduced to it. It may get a little sick, but then it turns out to feed it and now it can’t be made safe again by the virus in the future.
And that’s kind of the core concept of antifragility. But viewing your life from that lens, I think is a really powerful one in terms of just being positive when things happen. You like. OK, well, that was a crappy situation I went through, but what did I learn from it? And I made it through it. So, one, I know I can get through that and. Right. So that’s kind of your fortitude. And then the lessons you learned from that are usually kind of great stepping stones into kind of stepping forward into something else.
James Cerbie: I was going to hit you with a follow up question. Yeah, actually, so because I think outside looking in. When we start talking about special operators as a whole, people that go through some shit, to say the least, and so much your training and prep, it seems like it’s built kind of on that core principle that you just mentioned of who you’re going to get put through things that. 90 plus percent of people are going to tap out and quit on.
But every time you cross that next hurdle, every time you get over that next barrier, it’s like, oh, well, I just did this thing and that really sucked. And this thing I’m doing now really sucks. But I can probably get through it because I like and it just you build that confidence over time. Like, every time you get through something challenging and hard, it’s like the next challenging hard thing you see. OK, well, like, I know that I can handle this, like I’ve done this before. It’s not my first rodeo.
Kevin Smith: Exactly. It kind of builds towards, you know, in every selection process and different special operations, you know, slightly different. But they’re really all trying to do the same things, put you through a bunch of stuff to reveal who in the course has the mental and physical toughness and grit to make it through things when they’re really bad and not just make it through, but also kind of make good decisions during those times. It’s interesting. So, I was thinking about this today.
I was like, you know, we don’t as far as I know, in any of the services that don’t do a ton of actually training on the mental toughness side. But the training, the selection itself reveals kind of who has it naturally.
Right. Going back to what I talked to before, some people just kind of have this or developed it as a child, whatever it may be. But I go back to your question. Sorry, I got off track there. I lost my train of thought there.
James, you know where it all worries. Refresh me on the core of your question there so I can address it.
James Cerbie: It wasn’t even like that. Greater question was more of a statement than a question of rights. Just this. When you work through challenging hard things, it makes the next challenging hard thing you seem more doable.
Kevin Smith: Oh, right.
James Cerbie: Because like in the special operations you were talking about, kind of in the selection process is right there. The goal is for you to quit. We’re trying to figure out who can’t make it through this process. Right. And it’s meant to be terrible and hard. It’s like every terrible, hard thing that you get through makes the next terrible, hard thing more doable.
Kevin Smith: So, yeah, towards that, I kind of go into like this, this talk about what’s the difference between belief and confidence, right? Confidence is like I’m pretty sure I can do this. Belief is like I’m going to do this. And some people would say that’s arrogance. Maybe, I don’t know. I don’t see it that way. I think that’s just strong self-belief. And so, I think that’s really important. Right. Don’t just have this confidence that, like, yeah, pretty sure I can do this.
I can do this right. And you can practice that. You can kind of do some self-talk, inner monologue. I’ll talk to that a bit to help back yourself off or you’ll be your biggest cheerleader. And then at the same time, any difficult situation, whether it’s some sort of selection course or anything someone’s going through in their life, generally somebody somewhere has gone through maybe the same thing, certainly probably something worse and harder and made it.
And so that’s, I think, always really powerful ways to look around and be like, hey, look, my friend is going through a divorce and they’re a single mom and working three jobs to make ends meet. And they’re making it work. So, I can to. Right. So, relying on the community around you, teamwork, that’s a huge reason some guys well, in certain selection courses, but in general in life, that’s a great thing, you know, using your friends and your community as your teamwork, as your mental toughness, or if you hit the gym, the people you’re around.
Right. Supporting each other. You see that couple of guys in front of you. We’re able to crush three by seven at three fifty first off. So. All right. Well, I can do it, too, if they can do it right. We’re all similarly close to similar sites like the freak athletes out there,
James Cerbie: That’s for sure. That is clearly the case. So, if we want to talk about because at the beginning you mentioned we have this mental performance realm and getting better at unlocking the mental performance, like doing these things that seem simple, yet have a really big impact on the things you should be doing. By the way, I really complicated fancy stuff usually gets you a small R at the simple stuff. Tends to be that twenty-eight principle. Absolutely. But if we want to transition this and talk about OK, we can do these things, we can get this more mental performance unlocked for us.
What’s in that transition. That bridge over to the mental toughness side.
Kevin Smith: Of the world that you mentioned earlier, yeah, absolutely, so just kind of some of the tactics or things you can do to practice, to exercise mental toughness. I should say. Right. And there’s a few things and there’s a lot of these out there. And again, none of these are going to be mind-blowing. Most people probably heard of them, but it’s just a matter of executing and doing it regularly. Right. So, one of the first things that I think is really important is just framing how you look at any given situation.
Right, because we do have control over our brains. Right. And what we’re thinking about to some extent. Right.
James Cerbie: We always intervene super quick. Sorry. I was like, that’s one that always sends me on just like a whirlwind.
And it’s like my brain. My brain is thinking about itself and it’s like my brain is controlling itself and it’s like, sorry, that’s just always like a weird I know it’s like the you’re sitting in the fire pit at night.
Someone starts talking about the universe and you start talking about the brain and you’re just like.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, it’s like one of those things that’s like thinking about time travel, if you think about it too much or am I having any original thoughts or like, where is this coming from? Where’s the input coming from up there, you know, and that’s what’s interesting. So, I think there’s kind of there’s always the unconscious thought, which is really just the prism of your own experiences.
Right. If I see. If I see a wolf running at me, I don’t have a lot of experience with that, so I actually don’t know how I react. That’s never actually happened before. Now, if I lived like somewhere maybe in the plains of Africa where that’s happened, I probably have like a pre-defined response. So, your brain’s kind of just always working off of experience. Right. And so, we see things or we sense things and then it has some initial reaction, which you probably don’t have a ton of control over, but you do have control over what you then think about next.
Reframing Your Mind in Certain Situations
Right. And that’s the framing piece. So, looking at the situation through a different lens, let’s say you’re a closer for a baseball team. Right. And you called in ninth inning on the World Series. Right. You can look at that a lot of different ways. You can look at it as, oh, my God, I have all the pressure in the world on me. If I blow this game with this and then you’re probably going to get really stressed and not in a good way.
And what happens when you get stressed? Maybe you’ve talked about this before the show, but your blood goes kind of more to the center of your body, goes away from the limbs and the extremities, which is why it kind of gets shaky when you get nervous. Well, for a baseball pitcher, being shaken hands, probably not the greatest thing for your pitch control. So, if you’re headed that way, that’s not going to work out so well.
Right. But if you reframe it as an opportunity to be the man here and win the World Series, this is fun. Like, this is what I’ve thought about since I was a kid. I’m just going have fun with this. And that kind of dovetails right into my next one self-talk, because if you reframe something and then you don’t have the self-talk to back it up, you’re probably going to fall back to maybe something negative if that’s how you at least initially reacted.
But the more you practice positive framing, the more I think your brain will naturally view things through that lens. If that makes sense.
James Cerbie: Yeah, absolutely. And I think on that framing bit, one that I’ve used historically, that helps as well is… Trying to intentionally remove everything but the core essential aspect of what’s taking place.
It’s like, OK, in the pitching example, it’s like, all right, well. I’m stepping on a mound to throw a ball to the catcher behind the plate.
I’ve done this a bazillion times and nothing else matters, right?
Like, it shouldn’t matter if I’m doing it in Yankee Stadium or if I’m just in my backyard doing it with my dad. It’s the same 60 feet, six inches. It’s the same baseball. The only thing that’s changed is the external circumstances that are feeding into my brain.
Right. Nothing else is different. This is funny, actually.
I had this exact conversation when we said I just wanted that backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon, which was amazing and phenomenal.
Kevin Smith: It’s funny, I was supposed to be there at the same time. You were my brother. Here we go. Yeah, we pushed to do it a little later, but yeah, I’ve done that a few times on it.
James Cerbie: So, they were they were a few like real sketchy sections that we went through, like a real narrow ledge with like a rock jutting out.
And you got a sheer drop on the side.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, it’s like the Grand Canyon. Yeah.
James Cerbie: It’s like you’re like tightrope in this thing, trying not to, like, bang your bag into this stuff over here on the right. That’s kind of like knock you off. And it’s just I had to keep reminding myself I’m like, don’t let the external circumstances impact what you’re doing.
Like, if you were walking on the sidewalk, you would not be concerned about spontaneously just falling to your left. Right?
But the minute I put a ledge there, I’m like, what happens? I’m just going to fall over. I’m just I’m going to spontaneously just fall to my left out of nowhere.
Kevin Smith: What is that thing to do? Right. If you’re if you’re trying to, like, throw a ball and you want to make sure you don’t hit something, but you’re then staring at the thing you don’t want to hit, you end up hitting it. Right. And it’s just the same like walking on the ledge or I don’t want to fall a thousand feet to my death. You just keep looking at and see.
I feel your body moving that way and you’re oh my god going to kill myself by accident.
James Cerbie: In this framing self-talk tactics strategy, which is so important if we want to circle this back to something that’s primarily physical, right.
Because most people listen to this. Thinking athletes, they’re chasing strength that to power, endurance like so they will do things and find themselves in positions where it’s like.
Physically, you’re just getting, you got to go into the meat grinder like it just gets really hard sometimes, right? So, for you in particular, like when physically when shit starts to hit the fan, what is what’s that self-talk look like to you?
Like, what is the mental triggers you’re putting in to be like, OK, like just take a deep breath, focus on breathing, you’re going to be fine. Like it hurts. It sucks. But you can keep going. You can keep moving. Just do it.
Kevin Smith: The first thing I think is kind of I think I was born kind of weird when my brothers used to beat me up. When I was little, I would laugh. And I think that was just my brains like natural way of being like this isn’t that bad. Right. So that’s kind of something I do now. Right. When you’re in a tough situation, like, let’s say we’re backpacking in the Grand Canyon. Right. And we’re nine miles in and we’ve gained like five thousand feet and you’re exhausted and you still have two miles to go.
Pack feels heavier and heavier. You look at the look at the positives. Right.
For me, I always draw on, like, teamwork. That’s a huge part of my personality is loving the teamwork aspect. So, this may not work for individual athletes, but always for the teamwork aspect, like looking around your teammates, like, hey, we’re all doing this together. Maybe tell some jokes, lighten the situation. Right. Like, man, this is so ridiculous that I’m walking twelve miles today with one-hundred-pound bag on. But it is what it is.
Right, so just and that’s kind of reframing. Just look at it like this is just me and my buddies walking to the kitchen and getting the crap kicked out of us and what could be better. So just got to and that helps lighten it and that’ll help laughter helps remove stress and stuff like that. So that’s a really powerful one. As far as like self-talk, that’s just the inner monologue, like, hey, I’m going to be OK.
I’ve trained for this or I know I’m just going to make it right. Is that a self-belief? And you just got to keep that voice in your head like, hey, I’ll we fine, we fine. And, you know, usually there’s kind of like wave tops and troughs you’re going through when you’re doing some very difficult physical activity. Right. There are points, right? Oh, good. I’d be totally fine at the end. And then an hour later. Oh my God, I think I’m going to die here.
James Cerbie: I’m on fire.
Kevin Smith: Exactly. So, it’s just it’s realizing I think, you know, going back to like you mentioned, this, too, when you’re talking about reframing about the ledge or being the baseball example, like zooming in and seeing what the critical facts are, hey, I’m just throwing the ball over the plate. I’ve done this a million times for weightlifting or whatever. It’s like, hey, I’ve got a back squat ten thousand times in my life. I’m going to be fine on this one or I’ve done whatever and rapper Crosthwaite workout we’re doing today and I’ve done this and I always make it right.
And even if I don’t, then I’m going to learn from it. Right. Unless you’re in a situation where the sport could actually kill you, that’s a little different. Like big wave surfing, which I haven’t done. So, I don’t speak towards that. But again, I think it just goes back to that belief, though.
Right. And not being afraid to fail is a big part of that, too. Right. See, there’s this weird trade off, not trade off, but like I try to always have if I’m doing something believe. Right. I’m going to do this. I’m going to do this right. And then inevitably, you know, sometimes you fail. And so, you got to have also this mindset of like when that happens. Right? Well, I really believe that I can do that.
I didn’t take a breath. What can I learn from that? Right. How could I prepare? How could I have prepared better? Maybe I should have seen it coming that I was going to fail on that moment. I didn’t sleep well enough the night before or something. Maybe I should have put this activity off till tomorrow. There’s a lot to go with the self-taught peace in the framing, I think. But it’s practicing it, too.
You know, just on your regular gym days. I do this some days you don’t wake up feeling is good. But then I know my workouts coming up and I’m like, OK, I don’t want to put out today right in the I’m about eighty percent through the Apex program with you. And so, we’re starting to put up more weight and so trying to get myself in the right mindset before I even start warming up. Music’s a good trigger for me.
Certain types of music, you know, kind of just getting right in the zone and get me my brain thinking the right thing. So whatever works, everyone has something that probably helps them get in the zone, so to speak, and just making sure you do that and not let yourself get distracted. I think nowadays, avoiding the distractions. Is it may be the biggest one?
James Cerbie: Yeah. You’re trying to prep then you part. And it’s funny, too, how often people do this. They don’t realize that if you just count the number of times a day, you just grab your phone out of habit and just happen to start doing crap.
And it is yeah, it’s pretty sickening.
Kevin Smith: But I think I am slave to this device. Yeah.
James Cerbie: I mean like it’s who’s training who. Right. So yeah. I think one of your points there about the teamwork, it’s something that we really prioritize with what we do it like. That’s a huge piece of what I want to try to bring people remotely. It’s obviously hard. It’s not as good as us all being together in person. We’ll have some in-person stuff throughout the year, like we’ll have training camps for all of our training members and our athletes and stuff.
It’s like remotely that’s why in our forum, you have built-In challenges and it’s like, hey, I go post a video of yourself doing this because if you log on the forum, you just like Sea Scrolls of of humans, just like getting after it and doing their thing.
It’s like you’re getting this situation where we have a rising tide that raises all ships.
Kevin Smith: I mean, for me, that always taps into my competitiveness. You know, it’s like I’m out on the West Coast, so I see what everyone else is on first and like, OK, well, I’ve got to get at least eight reps because I can if I want to be the strongest. But I definitely also can’t be the weakest.
Yeah. So, you just I think a big part of it is understanding your own personality and what motivates you. Right. Like, I’m naturally a very highly competitive person, and so I usually tap into that. The competition, the competitive part of my personality or the teamwork part is what’s going to get me firing on all cylinders and everyone’s different. I think it’s just having that self-awareness of what gets you going.
James Cerbie: Excellent.
How to Implement Chunking and Arousal Control
Kevin Smith: Two other things really important, I think, when we talk about mental toughness strategies. And this would even go back to where it’s like when you’re grinding through something really tough. And that’s shocking. Right. So, bringing a task into small, digestible pieces. Right. One step at a time, one step at a time, whatever it may be, or if you’re doing more endurance thing like hiking the Grand Canyon, it’s making it to the next water stop.
Then we’re have 30 minutes or so of the snack man, or she’ll come back up and get some water and then cool and we take off and make the next water stop. So, you’re just doing a mile at a time instead of doing 18 miles all at once. And that makes it easier on your brain and your body and just helps you out. So that’s again, super simple thing people to talk about, but this is just a matter of practicing it.
James Cerbie: Yeah, I think. And then sorry I was back; I was going to say it always comes back to. The capacity to actually implement execute these things. I feel like the vast majority of people, a lot of people listening to this podcast right now are professional consumers of information. They read books.
They go to all these workshops that go to all these conferences. They consume, they consume, they consume, and they never do anything with it.
Oh, yeah, I’ve heard that before. Yeah, I’ve read that. And it just sits in their brain and it’s like broke like the rubber meets the road with action.
Like if you’re not taking action, if you’re not implementing these things, then it’s a waste. Like you’re just like what’s the point of consumption if you’re not going to do something with it? Yeah, just that’s what I see all the time. All the time. These professional consumers of information never implement.
And I’m like, yeah, like you’re missing the boat here. You’re missing, like what’s really important.
Kevin Smith: Absolutely. It’s something I struggle with even myself. Right. It’s tough to not get sucked into your phone or whatever on a daily basis because everyone else is right in saying, all right, well, I guess I’ll do it, too.
Yeah, but it is something because it’s really become us. It’s just kind of how society is worldwide nowadays. I think we’re seeing it actually in the stats on mental health and stuff like that, especially with the teenagers right now, like depression and stuff like that. It’s gone up quite a bit. And I think that the technology and the social media, all those things are kind of the root cause there. And so, we just kind of need to educate people on these like practices that, again, are very simple and people have been doing for thousands of years.
But we just got to get back in those good habits that are more in line with kind of how our evolutionary selves want to be. It’s funny because as a side point, like, I’d highly recommend Andrew Huberman’s podcast for anyone who’s listening. And if you’re familiar with it.
James Cerbie: I haven’t listened to it, but I will. I’m going to shut it down here and I’ll go give it a look.
Kevin Smith: Yeah. So, he’s a cognitive neuroscience at Stanford. He’s got a lab and he’s doing these podcasts which are free. He’s going through up to like fifteen episodes by now and they reach for an hour talking about all these different ways to make sure your brains in line with how it should be. And it’s funny because science is just now supporting that like millions of years of evolution had our bodies working pretty well, actually.
James Cerbie: Yeah, that’s celeb one on my man, right? Yeah. Nature has run the ultimate experiment. If it survived thousands of years, that’s probably the best way to go about doing things.
Kevin Smith: What is sleep science say like it basically says go to bed when the sun goes down and wake up when it comes up because that’s where your body wants to do.
James Cerbie: Yeah. So, if you ever need one.
Kevin Smith: Yeah. If you told me that two or three years ago, if you asked me, OK, where should I go to bed, that look at you like what do you mean. Like yeah. Well what was this. Yeah.
James Cerbie: It gets dark and then I make a fire and then I fall sleep.
Kevin Smith: That just goes back to that filtering. Right. We have so much noise in our lives, not a lot of signal. They’re good to love. It’s in there and we need to filter out the noise better. And again, you control that. You know, you control how much you’re on the phone today and how much you’re having interactions that are just consuming info by taking things for action and doing things. And you always feel better when you actually do things.
It’s just easier to just consume things.
James Cerbie: Yeah, and just like a note on the chunking, like that’s something that I wasn’t good at. Kind of like 18, 19, like really early twenties in college along the stuff of stuff that I didn’t implement well. And like chunking for me is enormous because it’s like I don’t care what your goal is, what you’re trying to achieve, you can only get there by doing whatever the next thing is like that immediate. Next thing like I can’t hike out of the Grand Canyon unless I take one step.
Kevin Smith: Right.
James Cerbie: So, it’s I take one step and then I’m going to take the next step, like you got to figure out, like, what’s the domino right in front of my face. This is like, all right. Like say that maybe have a set of ten squats and I know it’s going to suck like I got buried. A few days ago, five squats, it’s like a brutal protocol. I knew it was coming. It was one of the things I looked at my phone.
I was like, fuck, this is what’s happening tomorrow. And like, I was dreading it.
But then, yeah, like, you have your routine, you break out it and I’m like, OK, like if I look at the entire set in the scheme of what I’m doing, OK, it’s just like this is going to be so terrible.
It’s a really imposing like I know how much this is going to hurt, but I know that I have to finish the first set. And in order for me to finish the first set, I’ve got to at least do the first rap. And so, it’s just like, OK, if I can just break this down, I’m just going to focus on it one step at a time. Like I can’t think about the whole big picture because that’s terrifying and intimidating.
But if I can just focus on that first step and then do the next rep and then do the next rep after you do a handful of reps, you’re there like you end up where you want to be. And it’s like that for anything that you want to do. But physically, it’s like sometimes people get too zoomed out, right.
They just zoom in on that immediate picture like, yeah, it’s good to zoom out and look at everything that’s happening. But then it’s like, what am I doing right now? What’s the thing I’m executing on? What’s the one rep? The one breath? You’re running and it sucks. Are you doing a metcon? It sucks. You’ve got to breathe. You need to make it as simple as that.
Right. Just be like OK, I’m just going to focus on taking my next breath.
I’m going to be in and out and in and out. Right. And so, chunk it down to whatever the smallest unit is that you can focus on.
Because if you can just focus on that small unit and do it repetitively again and again and again, you’d be amazed what happens over the course of a workout, over the course of a day, over the course of a month, six months. Humans just aren’t wired to inherently do that. Like it takes a lot of very, very intentional. Yeah.
Kevin Smith: And I think part of the reason that’s tough for us in modern times, right. Is like, what’s the purpose behind it? Right. You know, like thousands of years ago when we had where hunter gatherers and I was going to leave the cave to go get food, I didn’t think about how hard it was going to be because I was really motivated to get food right. Whereas now most stuff we do is like just the choice. You know, I work out hard because I want to be in good shape.
But technically, I don’t need to be. Yes, I’ll be healthier, but, like, still going to live quite a while, you know, either way. So, the urgency isn’t there. Right. And that’s the part you got to give yourself with the self-talk and the competitiveness. And just realizing, too, that it just feels good. You know, at the end of it, it always kind of like hurts when you’re doing something physically tough during and then afterwards, everyone feels this way after you do something hard, that’s suck.
But now that I did that, I just remember that, like, at the end, you’re going to be happy you did it instead of choosing to sit on the couch and do nothing.
James Cerbie: Yeah, so we got a chunking and then I think you said he had one other tactics.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, and that’s just arousal control, which can be done pretty effectively just with breathing, right. And there’s all kinds of stuff about out there about this.
There are apps that help that give like guided breathing at night and help people fall asleep. But generally, those patterns will also help bring your body more into balance. Right. The fight between the parasympathetic and the sympathetic system. And there’s some biofeedback devices out there where you can practice it to get you to what’s called your resident breathing frequency, which is the frequency where your breathing is perfectly aligned with your heart rate, your heart rate variability, which is a good measure of the balance between parasympathetic and sympathetic system where that is, it’s high level.
Right. So, you’re not totally distressed, but your body is kind of ready to do anything you can do for four breathing, four seconds in, four seconds out or with a two second pause between. There are all different ones. And I recommend some of the biofeedback devices because they’ll help you find what exactly works for your body, because for everyone else, that rate is going to be just slightly different.
James Cerbie: But I think that you like.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, we’re using system, I can’t remember the name right now inner balance or…
James Cerbie: I will touch base with you afterwards, I’ll figure out what it is and what the link in the show notes if people want to go check it out.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, yeah. But basically, eclipsed your ear to your heart rate and then it gives you a breathing protocol to follow and it changes it up a little until it gets you to the spot where you’re getting the best heart rate variability. So, get your body in control. And so going back to the arousal control piece, right. When we encounter a stressful situation, our senses see or hear or smell something that makes us feel like stress. Right. And for some people, that may be the first day of school college.
And for some people, it’s a big meeting at work. Public speaking is like everyone’s number one fear, right? If you know you’re going to go into this situation, that’s stressful for you. Right. Then you should be mindful enough to do something to help mitigate it. Right. And breathing is a great one because the mindfulness of focusing on your breathing one is going to take your mind off whatever that stressful event is a little bit. And then also modulating you’re really just right is going to help remove some of the stress hormones, the cortisol levels pumping through your blood when you’re all worried and nervous. So, yeah, that’s kind of the final one there.
James Cerbie: Yeah. Because something that people need to appreciate is that when stress comes and it will it will happen. Right. It’s all about timing and dosage. Stress applied at the right time in the right dosage is incredibly beneficial.
Stress applied all the time. At 30 is a terrible thing, right? But as an athlete or as a special operator, like you’re going to be experiencing stress, some you will choose to put on yourself intentionally. Others probably not, like when it happens, you’re not built to really be cognitive when you’re stressed.
It’s like historically we think about, oh, here’s a lion. I just need to get away from the lion. I don’t need to worry about figuring out math right now. Yeah, or making a legitimate decision. It’s just I just need to get away from the lion. And so that’s where this arousal control is so huge because if you if you don’t have the ability to take those deep breaths, like I think the four in four out is awesome and the other strategies.
But if you can’t use that to send yourself to then make good decisions, then you’re in a severe, severe disadvantage.
And it doesn’t matter what realm we’re talking it. Right. Maybe you’re right. We can take any strength sport around. Like if you think powerlifting like if you don’t do a good job controlling that arousal before you step on to a platform, I’m willing to bet that you’re not going to be dialed in and hit the rep that you need to hit.
Strategies Behind CrossFit
CrossFit It could be another great example. A lot of people don’t realize this CrossFit is an enormous strategy sport. Right. You’re chasing off everyone around you. You’re trying to hit reps in certain chunks. There’s so much strategy that goes on behind the scenes and really high level CrossFitters. And it’s like if you can’t stay on top of the mental game. And you’re just kind of throwing it to the wind and like I’m just going to I was going to go in this headfirst, let’s just see what happens and then you can’t cognitively, like, really think you’re going to lose. You’re going absolutely buried. Right. And it’ll be like that even in training. Your ability to have a really good set up is going to be dictated by your capacity to pull yourself out. And use the strategy.
Kevin Smith: Absolutely, and I think to I think everyone has natural rhythm as they go through throughout the day, too, and I think I don’t want to be a too scientific here because I’m not a scientist, but everyone kind of has an up and down flow to their day between arousal and more kind of like sleepiness. Right.
James Cerbie: I understand what the inspiration portion for me here on the back end of the day. Right.
Kevin Smith: If suddenly it’s quiet for my end of the summer sleep, having the awareness to understand, like put your workouts or times when you need to be productive, whether it’s physically or mentally during those times a day where you notice your energy is the best and putting the times to like eat and rest and digest during those times where your kind of on the down part of the curve and not fight it and not try to be up all the time. I think that’s another modern society problem is like my nine to five and all eight hours I got to be one hundred percent surrendering one hundred cups of coffee. Right.
James Cerbie: And it’s just so stupid. I’m a morning person. I do my best cognitive work first thing in the morning. So, anything that’s high priority for me gets plugged in first thing in the morning. I. want to be working on it at 7:00 a.m. Because I’m really good for about seven till probably 11 a.m.
Kevin Smith: I thought you were going to say like 7:00 to 7:10.
James Cerbie: Right. Because I feel that mental side tapping hours are cool. Now I’m going to hit my workout. Yeah. All right. I’m right in the middle of the day. I’m primed and ready to go do this crush workout. And then that gives me a little bit to go do my afternoon tasks, essentially. But for us right now, like in Salt Lake, what is it, five thirty. Five forty. And I come down so quick after about five thirty because I go to bed at eight.
Yeah. Well what time is the sun going out there right now I am in bed and it’s still somewhat sunny outside.
Kevin Smith: Oh wow. Well, you’re set up pretty good. It sounds like that is what you should be getting tired. Yeah.
James Cerbie: I mean the downside here in Salt Lake in the summer, it’s great. It’s really cool.
But the downside and sleeping is that we get really long day cycles, like the sun will come up.
6:00 a.m., and it’ll still be light out at nine thirty at night, and then you get the opposite in the winter where it gets super short unless you live on the equator.
Everyone’s going to have to have that fluctuation.
Kevin Smith: Right. But it’s great that you’re mindful of when you’re most productive and you kind of schedule your day that way right now. And I think a lot of people don’t do that or you’re self-employed essentially. So, you have a little more control over your schedule. I would argue, then someone who works for, say, a corporation. But, you know, if you worked at a corporation or in the military or whatever, I think leaders should be aware of this and kind of encourage their people to build their day that way.
Right. And or maybe even talk about as a group within your whatever your team is, you know, if you’re on the design team at Google or the engineering team at Lockheed Martin, say, hey, when do you all best perform? Right. Do you work that right? Because other than when we all need to be working at the same time together, if I’m the team manager, I don’t care. I want people to maximize their productivity.
James Cerbie: Yup, and then you have all the tactics and strategies that we’ve been talking about. Right. Dial it in when your hand is forced because as ideals, it is like, OK, we’ll have this really nice, perfectly laid out schedule for myself.
Sometimes life takes a dump on that schedule and you’ve got to deal with. Right. So, this is why we have all these other tactics and strategies that we’ve been going over. The we can still like break through these barriers. We can unlock this mental side of performance. And by unlocking that mental side, you’re just feeding fuel to the fire, right? Like it. Like legs, like feed the wolf or something along those lines.
Are you just feeding fuel and fire down into the body to do what it wants to do?
Kevin’s Parting Advice
Kevin Smith: Yeah, it’s like do everything you can to optimize yourself.
And then also kind of dovetail in my one final little point here is like I have the philosophy of like I can’t control everything that’s going to happen, like you said you could. I could have the perfect plan and sleep in wait. Times are totally aligned. I eat my meals exactly how they’re supposed to. Right. I would then start to argue you’re getting into the fragility realm if like everything has to happen the way you planned it for it to be OK.
Right. So, to be a little more anti-fragile and to be a little more resilient. Right. And this is kind of stoic philosophy, ancient Romans. And that’s you can’t control what happens to you. You can’t control how you react. And that’s something I was just fortunate enough to learn as a kid through my mom. And I think I kind of naturally have that disposition again on the credit. My brother’s there for beating the crap out of me a lot.
But I do think if people out there read Sankar by Marcus Aurelius, they’re becoming more popular. I see like an Instagram, the daily stoic and stuff like that, and then a lot of good stuff. And it’s all about just taking what you have and making the best of it. And I really think that is probably one of the better outlooks on life to have as your foundation. Right. Do what you can to make it as best he can.
And when everything goes sideways because your plan got blown up by some of those unforeseen OK, reorient figure out what’s going on and just go at it.
James Cerbie: Beautiful man. I think that’s a phenomenal, phenomenal way to wrap this. Yeah. Yeah. Close it right on that. Kevin, thank you so much for coming on. I really enjoyed this. This was a lot of fun for me.
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