Mandy-Rae is an accomplished freediver based in Vancouver, British Columbia.  She holds 7 freediving world records and 13 national records.  She owns Performance Freediving International where she teaches freediving courses to the general public.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Entering a flow state allows you to hyper focus and achieve amazing results.
  • The mammalian dive reflex is a survival mechanism we share with whales and dolphins.
  • Visualization plays a critical role in the pre-dive planning.
  • She views the 14 underwater blackouts including one trip to the ER not as deterrents but as learning experiences.
  • Success is as much mental as it is physical.
  • Working toward achieving ambitious goals should be fun and enjoyable, not feel like a chore.
  • Anyone can be trained to hold their breath for several minutes and dive deep. We all have the potential to push ourselves further than we think possible.

 

What’s so special about holding your breath under water?  Not much if your plan is to dive down 10 feet in a pool while holding your breath for a few seconds. But try going down 500 feet in the ocean while holding your breath for several minutes.  That’s what the competitive sport of freediving is all about.  It’s about as “pure” a sport as you’ll find.  No fancy equipment.  No burdensome rules.  No crowds.  It’s just you and the water and your willingness to see just how far you can push yourself.

So how is Mandy-Rae able to do it?  How is she able to submerse herself to depths fifteen times the pressure we experience on dry land while holding her breath many times the average human breath hold?  It turns out there’s both a physiological component and a mental one.

Let’s start with the physical.  There’s something known as the mammalian dive reflex that humans share with whales, dolphins and most mammalian sea creatures.  It’s essentially a survival mechanism that kicks in the minute you submerse yourself in the water. First our heart rate slows way down which reduces oxygen consumption.  Next, the blood vessels constrict, reducing blood flow to the limbs while maximizing blood flow and oxygen to the most critical organs in the body – the heart, brain and lungs. Finally, the blood accumulation in the lungs acts as a protective barrier, preventing the lungs from collapsing under extremely high pressure.

As with any endurance sport, the physical element is just half the battle, sometimes even less.  The mental toughness is what separates the wheat from the chaff.  It is the mental edge which gives champions like Mandy-Rae the ability to set new world records over and over again.

First there is the pre-dive prep.  For Mandy-Rae, there is a mental shift that occurs from being a land-based human to a marine animal. It’s not just about the physiological transformation but the mental one. In her own words, you must learn to “become part of the water”.  For the next few moments, that underwater world is one in which you must feel very much at home.

Next is the visualization.  Just like with skiers going through an entire slalom race, turn by turn, in their heads before they leave the gate, so too does Mandy-Rae go through an entire dive before she ever submerses herself.  This exercise includes working through potential issues that may arise during the dive so if and when they happen, she’s already dealt with them and can be calm while working through them.

Finally, she enters what is commonly known as the flow state.  This will allow her to focus 100% of her mental abilities on the task at hand.  This will remove all external distractions as well as the internal ones – those voices in our head that give us pause and make us second guess ourselves.   In the flow state, there is no thinking and there is no feeling.  There is just doing.  It’s a hyper-focused mental state that allows her to push herself to the limits and achieve extraordinary results.

Why does she do it?  What drives her to go deeper toward the ocean depths again and again?  For one, it’s fun for her.  She truly enjoys going through the rigorous training and discipline it takes to set a new record.  She likes seeing how hard she can push herself. But just as importantly, achieving something you once thought impossible can be life changing.  She sees this in many of her first time dive students. The breakthroughs they have in the pool change them in profound ways by giving them the confidence to try new things in life and achieve other breakthroughs outside the water.

Mandy-Rae is the first to admit that she has a few physiological advantages that give her a slight edge on her record setting dives.  Her lung volume is larger than average and she’s able to equalize her ears rather easily.  But her confidence, her attitude, her mindset and her belief in herself are the advantages that any of us can share with her.  If there’s something you want in your life and you believe in yourself and apply yourself, there’s nothing holding you back.

 

Sid is the co-founder and owner of Sid Mashburn men’s clothing store.  Both Esquire and GQ have named Sid Mashburn one of the best menswear shops in America.  Today they have five stores in five cities and 135 employees and are continuing to add new stores every year.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • How Sid sees himself in the hospitality business, not the retail business.
  • To find the white space, just follow your heart.
  • How a company culture kit is critical to scaling a business.
  • What are economy of time, economy of mind and economy of money.
  • How trying to be all things to all people can be an effective business strategy.
  • You can have enormous success by just taking things one step at a time.
  • Aiming to be the best at something is more important and rewarding than trying to be the biggest.

 

Walking into a Sid Mashburn store is not like walking into any other men’s clothing store.  It’s a full sensory experience, from the classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes cranked up high to the stuffed wildlife protruding from the walls to the seagrass on the floor to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  Oh, and of course there’s also the ping pong table.  This is all part of a master plan to make the store feel like a warm and inviting place to anyone who walks through the doors.  “The store is meant to feel like a fraternity that everybody gets a bid to”, as Sid conveys the ambiance he’s trying to capture.

This unique in-store aesthetic is just the tip of the iceberg in Sid Mashburn’s retail experience.  It’s all about the high-touch service you’ll find the minute you enter the shop.  You’ll be greeted with a smile and offered a beverage of your choice. They’ll ask if you’d like to have a seat while they hang up your jacket. What you won’t find here are high pressure sales tactics. That’s because the sales people are not on commission.  The goal is simple – to have you feel like you’re walking into someone’s home.

Sid was raised in a small town in Mississippi and it’s not hard to see how the southern hospitality he grew up with has become a core piece of the brand DNA.  It’s not fake.  It’s not for show.  It’s just an authentic expression of who Sid is as a person. He doesn’t see himself as being in the retail or clothing business but rather, the hospitality business.  He craves having that intimate relationship with the customer which is why he likes to benchmark against best-of-breed hospitality brands – think Danny Meyer in the restaurant space and the Ritz in the hotel world.

Marketers are taught that you need to have a well-defined target audience to succeed. Sid never got that memo. He wants everyone to feel welcome in his shop which is why you’ll find a $65 pair of Levis just a few feet away from a $10,000 suit.  Customers range in age from 11 to 87 and between his physical stores and his e-commerce business, he touches pretty much every corner of the country.

We’ve all heard the cliché to follow your passion.  It’s usually easier said than done.  But Sid Mashburn has done just that since day one.  He’s as enamored today about fashion as he was in his youth when clothing defined his childhood as much as music and sports.   And you can see that he truly just enjoys helping people.  He’s as happy to patch and repair an old worn pair of pants if that’s what you need as he is to sell you an elegant handmade suit.  His business goals are much more centered on taking care of people, both employees and customers, than they are on growth and profits.

This isn’t to say Sid isn’t ambitious.  He’s very success-oriented.  It’s just that success in his mind is defined much more by quality than it is by quantity.  The overarching goal is simple – to become the best shop in the world.  And judging by the accolades bestowed upon him by GQ and Esquire, he’ll already well on his way.

Raj Raghunathan is a Professor of Marketing at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas.  He has also become an expert in the field of happiness.  He is the author of the book If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy.  He teaches an MBA course on happiness as well as a class on the online learning platform Coursera entitled: A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment.  Over 170,000 students have taken the course and it’s consistently ranked as one of the top ten courses (amongst thousands of others).

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?
  • Why do we devalue happiness even though we know how important it is?
  • How fear of failure often prevents us from trying things we know would make us happier.
  • How having wealth and status and success can make us happy, yet the pursuit of those things can make us miserable.
  • Once you stop comparing yourself to others and just focus on immersing yourself in your work (or activity), you’ll actually increase your likelihood of success.
  • How we can rewire ourselves to increase our level of happiness.

 

If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?  This counterintuitive philosophical question is the aptly named title of Raj’s quintessential book on happiness.  Generally speaking, smart and successful people are pretty good at setting goals and achieving them.  So one would think that if they are able to set goals around wealth and success, they could just as easily set goals around happiness.  But more often than not, they don’t.

So why exactly do we devalue happiness?  Why is it that despite knowing intuitively how important happiness is, we rarely prioritize it?  One reason is what Raj refers to as “Medium Maximization”.  That is, we focus on the means to the end (i.e. money, status) and not the end itself (happiness).  Since we think the money and success will naturally lead to happiness, we end up concentrating all our efforts on the money and success while forgetting about the very reason we were wanting it to begin with.  While the money and success may boost happiness levels initially, those feelings quickly subside in which case we need even greater levels of wealth and power to maintain those levels.  It’s a vicious cycle that repeats itself over and over.

We also have a difficult time articulating what happiness means to us.  And if we can’t visualize the goal in concrete terms, we don’t prioritize it.  So we end up prioritizing those things which are easier to measure (and easier to control) such as money and accomplishments.

Raj also points out that as humans, it’s in our DNA to seek superiority.  In fact, studies show that higher status does indeed enhance the quality of our lives and our happiness levels.  Yet, paradoxically, the actual pursuit of that higher status can backfire and cause us misery.  Tethering your happiness on being superior to others is ill advised.  Instead, if you focus solely on immersing yourself in your work (or hobby or activity), you’re much more likely to enjoy yourself and actually end up being more successful as well.  This “immersion” is what’s commonly known in positive psychology circles as “flow”.

So while we may have a better understanding intellectually why happiness is so elusive, how do we reverse course and become happier people?  Raj offers a few action items:

  • Do the things on a day to day basis that are meaningful and enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be work-related (although that’s ideal).  It can be tennis or guitar or gardening.  Anything that brings you joy.
  • Spend more time on personal relationships. Don’t take your friends and family for granted.  Your interactions with the people you care about in your life are as important as anything else.
  • Build habits that give an internal sense of wellness (i.e. exercise, meditation). Being physically and mentally healthy are essential ingredients to happiness.

As Raj reminds us of the cliché we all know too well, days and weeks will become months and years and next thing you know, you’ll be 70 and regretting your life.  So don’t wait another year or even another day.  Start today.  Take baby steps if you need to.  But take action.  Do something.  Anything.  After all, this is your life.  You deserve to be happy.

Andrew Skurka is an accomplished adventure athlete, known for his solo ultra-long-distance backpacking trips.  In total he has traveled by foot, ski and raft over 30,000 miles.  He has been named “Adventurer of the year” by Outside Magazine and National Geographic Adventure and “Person of the year” by Backpacker magazine.  And he’s also an ultra-runner with top 3 finishes in a couple of the big 100 mile races.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn about his Alaska/Yukon hike which covered over 4,700 miles in the frigid temps of the Alaskan backcountry without using any trails or guidebooks.
  • How he learned to follow his heart and pursue happiness despite all the pressure from family and friends.
  • “Fun” is when you’re pushing yourself to the limit, both physically and mentally.
  • It’s not just about the destination but the journey that matters.
  • The key to accomplishing something incredibly challenging is to simply start small and figure things out one step at a time.
  • How he feels so strongly about his expeditions that he’s willing to risk his life.
  • The steps he took to turn his passion into a full time career.

 

You’ve likely heard of the Appalachian Trail (commonly called the A.T.), a 2,200 mile trail stretching from Georgia to Maine.  It’s considered the granddaddy of long distance trails and quite an impressive feat if you can hike the entire thing.  Andrew knocked that one off just for fun one summer during college.  And he loved it.  It was at that moment that he knew he was hooked.

But always seeking a greater challenge to push the envelope, he later hiked a 7,800 mile Sea to Sea trail connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across the northern United States.  That’s the equivalent of doing the entire A.T. three times over and then throwing on another 1,200 miles for good measure.  What’s even more amazing is that this incredible accomplishment wasn’t the culmination of a long hiking career, but rather, just the beginning of it.

Never wanting to stay too long in his comfort zone, he would continue to discover and conquer even bigger challenges. When marked trails became too boring, he bushwhacked his way in the untouched backcountry.  When the weather became too comfortable, he moved his expeditions to regions with sub-zero temperatures.  And when hiking wasn’t enough, he added skiing and rafting to the mix.

You might be wondering how in the world someone can balance these multi-month expeditions with a career.  The answer is simple.  These adventures are his career.  He’s figured out how to monetize his passion and feels anyone can do the same if you’re entrepreneurial and resourceful enough.

It was in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains over the summer during college when he was first exposed to people who were living life much more spontaneously and pursuing happiness above everything else.  Life was about climbing mountains and running rapids, not about pursuing careers and accumulating wealth.  That was when he had his first aha moment.  That’s when the tired cliché “life is short” came into sharp focus.

So instead of caving into the peer pressure and following the herd, he decided to follow his heart.  And he’s been following it ever since.  Have you ever felt such joy and pleasure about something that you’d be willing to risk your life for it?  Very few of us have.  Andrew Skurka has.

Many moons ago I spent the summer working in Porto, Portugal.  At the time, the country was far less developed than the rest of Western Europe.  Portugal was lightyears behind the economies and hustle and…