Finding Mastery with Dr Michael Gervais

October 26, 2021
James Whittaker

Check out this episode on the Win the Day Podcast

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all.”

Michelangelo

You’re in for a treat today! 

Dr Michael Gervais is the world’s leading expert on the relationship between the mind and elite performance. As a sport and performance psychologist, Dr Gervais has spent his 20-year career with world class performers and organizations in every field.

Through this work, Dr Gervais developed a framework for the mental skills and practices that allow athletes to thrive in pressure-packed environments.

His clients include world record holders, Olympians, internationally acclaimed music artists, Fortune 50 CEO’s, sporting organizations like the Seattle Seahawks, and MVPs from every major sport.

In his spare time, Dr Gervais is host of the top-rated Finding Mastery podcast that explores the psychology of the world’s most extraordinary thinkers and doers. His book, Compete to Create, is co-authored with Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll, to help people train their own mind for massive success.


Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Dr. Michael Gervais does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more🚀


Dr Gervais holds a PhD in psychology, specializing in sport performance, and a master’s degree in kinesiology. There’s nothing airy-fairy here. All his work is research-based and is the proven guide to elite performance. 

In this episode, we’re going to talk about:

  • What the top 0.1% of the world’s best performers do differently
  • Why ‘purpose’ beats ‘goal-setting’
  • How to achieve mastery in business and in the home
  • What the research says about the ideal morning routine, and
  • And how you can begin your journey to mastery right now. 

Before we begin, remember that the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode, share it with them right now. 

Let’s WIN THE DAY with Dr Michael Gervais!

James Whittaker:
Michael, it is great to see you, my friend. Thanks so much for coming on the Win the Day Show.

Dr Michael Gervais:
I'm stoked to be with you. Thank you for including me.

Congratulations on your amazing body of work. To kick things off, is there a memory or a story you recall that summarizes what your life was like growing up?

Thank you for the compliment and the chance to share a memory. And a little context before I share the memory or the story is that one, people love stories. And we love listening to them. But you know what we love more? Our own stories. So I share that in helpful disclosure and context that I love my stories! But I know that you and your audience love your stories more, so I'll be brief. But I will tell you a story.

The second layer of context is that from a psychological perspective, one of the things that I would capture my younger years with was a very laissez faire approach to parenting. So the rules were more grounded in virtues and morals than it was anything else. And performance was not an issue. It was not something that we spoke about in the family, it was more about kind of roots and moral code, if you will.

So I'll tell you a story that summarizes actually two paths: one is how I got here, and the second is more about the family life. I'll start with the family life. I grew up in Alexandria, a small town called Warrington in Virginia, the state. We had a big backyard, a running creek, and I was about eight or nine years old.

I just knew that I had to be home by the time it got dark out. I was playing in the creek — and I think about my nine year old kid, and I'm not letting him play near running water, if you will. It was a small creek, but still. And I was digging out crawdads. So you could call me a hillbilly at some point, and I would not be offended!

I was digging out crawdads in the mud. I was up to my ankles and elbows in mud, trying to catch these crawdads and try to figure out their pattern. I didn't know what I was going to do with them, but it was just the thrill of being outside, being by myself, being in nature. I'm an extrovert by trade, but there was something special about being in the outdoors by myself.

When it got dark, I needed to start to hightail back home, because there's no lights, literally there's no streetlights, there's no one around. And it's that type of environment. So I share that with you as a context that my rules were the rules of Mother Nature. And the moral code was the code that my parents were installing, if you will, or guiding me on.

Fast forward a handful years, I get to California, and now I'm in my teenage years. I picked up surfing and it ended up being the most significant sport that I played because it taught me so much. Again, back to Mother Nature, back to the real rules that nature would provide — not these artificial rules that humans provide. You can tell I might have an opinion about some artificial rules that we live by.

There's two types of surfing: free surfing and competitive surfing. Free surfing is being out in the wild and doing the thing. And there's like a code there amongst surfers, which is you don't talk about it, you just put yourself in a high risk situation. You do it, and if you make it, great, and you have the knowing of what it takes. And if you don't well, you suffer some of those consequences that come from hold-unders or just the whip from waves. I'm not saying I was doing big, heavy surf, but there was a core to it, if you will.

And then the other type of surfing is competitive surfing, which I know you understand. With competitive surfing, there's judges, there's critics, there's people on the beach that are examining and actually giving you a score about how well you're doing.

And I'm 15 years old. It's 7:00 in the morning, with beautiful glass conditions out in the ocean. There's two other surfers in the water with me. It's a competitive moment, and I didn't have a thing to offer. I could not do anything that I knew I was capable of.

This older competitor paddled by me, and he says, "Gervais you have to stop worrying about all the things that could go wrong." With his posture, he was saying like, "Geez, dude get yourself together," and he paddles off.

The surf was about head high, super playful, great conditions, only a handful of people out, and I'm a disaster. I sit there, and I was like, "How does he know what I'm thinking?"

My technical nature didn't change, the only thing that changed was my mind — the way I was thinking.

And it was the beginnings of this fascination that I came to appreciate about psychology. Because my physical nature didn't change. My technical nature didn't change, the only thing that changed was my mind — the way I was thinking. That was the beginnings of this wake up that there was something I could do to be less anxious.

I didn't know there was such a word called anxiety. I didn't know there was a discipline, a science called psychology. So that was the beginnings of going, "what is this thing that has constricted around me that I can't think right and I can't move right?"

And I'm not so sure that most people would notice. But he noticed, and I definitely knew. And that was the beginnings of a path for me.

Thank you very much for sharing that. A lot of people know about books like Think and Grow Rich that talk about the power of the mind. Most people think that the antithesis of think and grow rich is remaining stagnant. But just as you can think and grow rich, you can think and grow poor. Through the power of the mind, we literally create our circumstances from the stories that we tell ourselves.

Yeah, that's exactly right. And in my story, I didn't have a proper threshold to manage what other people might be thinking of me.

And so, come full circle 20 years later, where I now work with some of the most extraordinary thinkers and doers on the planet, I know that they suffer from that too.

Early in my career when I was getting my license, and I was working with people that were not necessarily in elite performative environments, certainly not dangerous or high stakes, but pressure packed environments, they had it too.

There's this thing that we carry around in our modern DNA of our thinking patterns, certainly in the western world, the great threat of "what do they think of me?" And it's unfortunate, because it's such a constrictor, but at the same time, it offers a great opportunity for us to find freedom by exploring the suffering and the pain that we co-create within ourselves, based on this magical idea of what somebody might be thinking of us.

And if you've ever had the experience where you're really excited to talk about something, and you've got an opportunity to share it in front of 10 people or 1,000 people in an onstage moment. And backstage, your heart is thumping. Like, what is that?

Why does our heart and our breathing and our mind change when we're going to go to a party with friends? What happens when people look at us in a social setting, their gaze is on us as we're telling a story, and all of a sudden, we tighten up and our throat tightens and we lose the eloquence and the playfulness that is more grounded to the human we want to be. What happens there!?

That was a fascinating internal expedition that I wanted to sort out. Exploring how to find that freedom has been a big part of my adult life.

You need to track down that surfer and say, "See — I finally made it!"

Well, he was right. He pointed it out. Like he was my greatest fear. He was the one who was like, "Hey, dude, you're a mess." Thank you very much. You're right! I want to thank him for pointing out Captain Obvious to me.

Today, you work with the elite of the elite in so many different fields. And what I love about your work is that you're in the trenches on the research side, too. What meeting of the frontier and the laboratory makes you so excited nowadays?

That's a cool question. It is that intersection that I'm most interested in. And there's things happening right now that we're paying attention to on... It's not necessarily new, but it is becoming more applied. There's the default mode network, which is a network in our brain that is chronically active, and that network is really a self preserving network, which is checking in with itself to see if it's okay.

And so that's basically that fear of other people's opinion that I was talking about. Like, am I okay? And we're finding ways to tap into that, to quiet that down. So imagine a world where you checked in to see if you were okay a little bit less. So there's some fun practices there that I'm interested in.

Also, we're in the cross-section right now between Applied Psychology and Applied Technology. So it's a fun time right now, because I think most people are pretty familiar with terms that, I don't know, six years ago, were phrases that were not used, like heart rate variability, respiratory rate sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep. I think people now at scale know the difference between REM sleep and deep sleep.

We're finding that technology and psychology are in an interesting convergence, which is really an application opportunity for many of us.

It offers a great opportunity for us to find freedom by exploring the suffering and the pain that we co-create within ourselves.

What else is happening in the laboratory? We're going back in many routes to how our attention systems work to be optimized. And that's probably an out sprout from our attention being pulled in so many different directions right now.

And let's call it 12 to 15 years ago, social media and technology got pretty advanced, very sophisticated, and they're on it — they hired bright mind engineers and bright mind psychologists to cook together ways to hook people's attention. So you and I are out-mathed and outflanked, really we're out talented. There's hundreds of psychologists and engineers, depending on the size of the company, they've got us.

The out sprout right now is how can we go back to take ownership of your attention. In an unsophisticated way, what that means is how do you attend to your internal world? And how do you attend to the environment around you? And can we get better at both.

The reason that's so significant is where you place your attention, the downstream effect is a physical, physiological, chemical exchange that happens in the body. And when we go upstream, and we focus well on what we want to focus on, the downstream performance aspects become much smoother. So there's some good stuff happening there as well.

You mentioned environment. There's a Marcus Aurelius quote, "The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts."

On one hand, we know that our attention is getting manipulated by these social media companies. On the other hand, we also have many people who have grown up in very difficult circumstances. Kids are wearing masks at school, they're missing physical connection, and have been learning remotely. There's a lot of these things that are happening right now.

It's almost like this perfect storm for human development. How do we manipulate our environment and our circumstances to generate as many positive, productive, and aligned thought impulses as we can?

It's a good question, because there's so much change happening, and I would not know where to begin, other than becoming aware. So I'm speaking to adults at this point. It's a different conversation with kids. And so let me just speak to adults who are wanting to experience a high performing life. And when I say that I've got an asterisk, like it's left to interpretation what "high performing" means.

For me, a high performing life is I'm going to slide into home base with some scratches, bruises, and breaks. I'm going to have gone for it in life — emotionally, physically, and in business. And more importantly, I have this need to frame a high performance life as understanding inner peace, wisdom, connectivity, and integration. There's a psychological and there's also some evidence of a life lived well, that I'm interested in.

It's a good exercise for your community to spend some time with this. What is a high performance life? Like, really. Write it down and let that be a bit of a guide post for you in the way that you line up your thoughts, your words with your actions.

For me, a high performing life is I'm going to slide into home base with some scratches, bruises, and breaks. I'm going to have gone for it in life — emotionally, physically, and in business.

For me, I don't know where to start before awareness. Building awareness about how I'm responding to the external world is much more powerful and further upstream than trying to manipulate my external world. So I would go upstream as far as I can, to increasing awareness. And that is where one of the beautiful ancient practices of meditation and mindfulness pays dividends. That's one way it pays dividends, there's also others.

And then the other I would do is define high performance, like what does it mean to live a good life. And then the third thing I would do is say, what is my purpose, and then from that with great awareness with a guidepost of what a high performing life looks like. The animation of it, and snap to your purpose, then it's like, very clear and mechanical, waking up in the morning, with better awareness and intention about what a high performance life looks like. Then setting everything on fire to get after the purpose.

And that's hard work. Nothing I just said there is easy! It is much easier to wake out of bed and grab your phone, grab your toothbrush, grab some soap in the shower, grab some food quickly, and not attune to the inner experience, not attune to purpose. It is much easier and much more common to do that.

So then, the fourth bit that I would add to this is to wake up with some... Your body naturally wakes up, wake your mind up, finish the job. So wake that part of it up too.

And so those are it. So high performance, defining it. Purpose, what is it? Now that's intellectual work, only. Those are two intellectual bits. Then the practice of mindfulness would be materially important as an ongoing experience.

Then when I wake up, I am now taking that intellectual work and putting it into practice. What does that mean? It just means dusting off what am I doing today right? High performance life. What does it look like? Okay, good. That's just a calibration. And then my purpose is right. And then I go through my day in my mind, and I just kind of see myself living aligned with those two, to whatever my calendar has in front of me.

That's a long way of saying there's some work to do! So I apologize for the extended narrative there.

In my experience, for most people, the source of their frustration is they have never taken the time to figure out where they want to go and who they are. And once you can get those things dialed in and have at least some concept of what a high performance life is for you, then you can stop worrying about those comparisons and all those other unnecessary pressures that we put ourselves on.

When our purpose is off a little bit, it makes it harder to do the hard things. So when purpose is not clear, it becomes much more difficult to have conviction when it's hard. Look, it's easy when it's easy. But when it's hard, that's where we learn about our internal resources.

I was fortunate enough to work on a project called Red Bull Stratos. And it's where an adventure athlete and astronaut at this point called Felix Baumgartner was challenged.

And it was an internal challenge, it was an opportunity — there's a better way to say it — an opportunity to go up 130,000 feet, right at the edge of the stratosphere, and then be the first person to jump from that height. And about four years into the project he had to wave his arms. He had the brightest minds in aerospace. He had XX millions of dollars invested in the project. He had two spacesuits that were customized for him, each at about $2 million. This was XX millions, exponential investment, and some incredibly bright minds in aerospace that were supporting him.

Building awareness about how I'm responding to the external world is much more powerful and further upstream than trying to manipulate my external world.

The capsule was built, the technology was on point, the experience from the team was great. And there was a lot of money on the line. And so about four years in, he waved his arms. This is all public, so I'm not sharing something as a psychologist that is not already public.

He's in the airport crying, and he says, "Guys, I can't go through with it. I'm scared." Reasonably so I mean, the chances of success were not incredibly favorable. Because it's such a dangerous hostile environment to jump from the edges of space, even the brightest minds were not sure if you pass through the sonic experience if his arms and his legs would make it intact if he passes through a sonic boom.

Imagine that you've got people counting on you, and you're about to go to the facility, to the office, and you call into your partner, or your boss, and you say, "I'm terrified, I'm overwhelmed, I can't do it. And I know people's lives are counting on it, and I'm overwhelmed."

Well, that's happening now in modern times. We're seeing a rise in anxiety, depression, and suicidality. Engagement at work is 38%. 38% of people reporting that they're engaged at work!

Back to the story, this is where they gave me a ring, and they're like, "Hey, is there something that we can provide Felix to as a resource?"

So Felix and I did some good work. He is extraordinary. And part of that work — which again, this is public — was shifted back to his purpose, so what is the purpose of this for you? Getting back realigned there is really important. And so that was part of the work.

The second part of the work was identifying the necessary psychological skills so that you can live in alignment with that purpose. And then we built out some of those skills.

How did it turn out? It worked. Another few years went by, and he was the first person to jump from outer space, his purpose was intact, and he forever changed our understanding of human capabilities.

Incredible! The photos and videos that have come out of that experience are amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I think it gives a lot of people confidence, knowing that some of the top performers in the world go through these things, too.

Are there any athletic performers in modern times who have the mental fortitude to back up their physical abilities and simply don't need any psychological edge to perform at their best? Recently there was the Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance which you might have seen. And someone like Conor McGregor was talking about visualization when he was a plumber in Ireland.

Are there people who are able to deliver at their best on game day and in the most challenging and the highest of stakes situations who simply don't need additional support for that psychological edge?

Oh, yeah. So it's a good question. I'll answer it as a psychologist first and then as an applied practitioner second.

Narcissists, true narcissistic personality disorder, they don't need any psychological skills training. Matter of fact, we know it doesn't work with them. What they need is to have the lights turned on. So the lights switch on, they know that they matter, they turn up, and they put on a show.

It's the most obvious population it doesn't work with, which is interesting because there's a healthy bit of narcissism in elite sport.

Now, let's consider the rest of us. So the NPD is actually quite rare. Narcissistic tendencies is more common than true NPD. Michael Jordan, Conor McGregor, Tiger Woods, and all the others that we could maybe put in a list, they have had exposure — either from parents or coaches or books or something — about how to cultivate the psychological skills.

Perhaps it was a psychologist they work with, or a wise man or woman, or a coach that was certainly switched on, like Phil Jackson with Michael Jordan. Jordan was meditating before anyone in pro sport was making it available.

We are community minded people. We are influenced by those around us, and nobody escapes that the psychological aspect of human performance is important. Nobody escapes that. So there's a genetic component. And there is a skill development component that either comes from explicitly getting training, which is what's happening now in the modern era of sport. Psychology is folded into the fabric and DNA of the training. There's physical, technical, and mental training.

Michael Jordan was meditating before anyone in pro sport was making it available.

Or wind back like 20 years, 50 years, 120 years ago, it was people talking about psychological frameworks, and breathing techniques or meditation techniques, with some of the unsophisticated kind of systems. Like, a coach might say something or an adult might say something to a kid like, "Hey, go be confident now."

"What? I mean, how? Tell me how! I understand the endpoint. I want to be confident, but how?"

So that's where we are now. We know from evidence or research that one of the most challenging things you can say to somebody is, "Hey, I see that you're kind of worked up, just relax." It's like a double dip. It's like, oh, now the world knows that I'm a mess. I've been trying to hide it from everybody. And tell me how, what am I supposed to do.

And if you don't frontload the practice, the psychological skills practices, it's not there for you when you need it. So someone says, "relax", the evidence would say, well, you can tweak the way you're thinking or you can do some breathing work, but if you haven't practiced breath work, that breathing is not going to be so effective for you right there.

So it's a good question that you asked, and other than narcissists, they are doing something to strengthen their mind.

Now, we are following good science. And the science is saying, hey, there's things that you can do. And there's people highly trained in it, sports psychologists and the like. There's highly trained people, why don't we bring them on board and see what they have to offer our mission. So it's an exciting time from that framework as well.

With those athletes, it's obviously a well documented struggle to make it to the top. For those people who are at the absolute top of their game is maintaining that often harder than getting to the top in the first place?

When we are chasing something, and we have some evidence that we're getting closer to it, our reward system and circuitry in our brain lights up. And that reward circuitry is really important to stay in it. So we can do lots of things, when that reward circuitry is not quite firing correctly. We can make up our minds and express willpower, and we can do those things.

But when it's too long, where the brain and the environment are not matching well, it's really hard. So when we're chasing something, we've got a goal, there's an attainment, that it's just out of reach. So it's stimulating and exciting, but also doable, it's a really important mechanism to stay in it. Then what happens once we attain it.

Well, for those who don't reestablish a new goal, and I'm not a fan of goals, I'll tell you why in a minute. But those that don't reestablish the goal, it can become really problematic, because now we've gone from the signal to noise ratio being pure. The signal is clear, I know what I'm getting after, I've got these clear goals. And then once you attain that goal, then it becomes a bit noisy.

I'm much more interested in purpose. It's a higher order principle. When purpose is really crisp and clear, goals just become markers on the path.

So one of the things we like to do before, let's call it Olympic Games, or a big contract that somebody might get in business, is we take some time with those extraordinary performers and say, "Right, so what's next? Let's just assume things go really well, or they don't go well, either way, what is next for you?"

And so it gives this really clear mechanism to explore based on success and or not what will the next phase of your life look like. It's getting ahead of the science, which is having clarity of where you're heading toward, and how you want to experience your life is best done in a bit of a whiteboard experience. Where there's a clearing mechanism, as opposed to the frenzy of trying to deal with it in the midst of a performance or an outcome or whatever.

Let me explain that thing about goals. I'm much more interested in purpose. It's a higher order principle. When purpose is really crisp and clear, goals just become markers on the path. But purpose is something if you follow the science of purpose, it's not necessarily attainable. It is the groove of which you move through life with. Because it's what matters most to you.

Let me just be more clear, the science of purpose has three arms to it. One, nobody can give you purpose, it has to matter to you, and it has to have personal meaning. Second, it needs to be bigger than you. So it's not something that you can accomplish on your own. Third, it's down the road. It's in the future. It's like it's out there.

Those are the mechanisms of purpose. And when you get your purpose, it is far more powerful than goals. So let me answer this really concretely, James is that yes, getting there is easier than staying. I could have said that like six minutes ago!

Morning routines are more and more popular than ever. What does the research say about how important the morning routine is for the top performers on the planet?

The research is not clear here. I am not aware of what the data would suggest in pre-performance routines; however, it is a practice that many people have, including myself. Would you like me to explore why I think it's important?

Absolutely. In Compete to Create, your amazing book on Audible, you share your morning routine: one deep breath, one thought of gratitude, and one intention all before you get out of bed. And then the acknowledgement of presence.

Is it just the discipline of having a morning routine that makes good people great over the long term? Is it about the discipline rather than a specific practice?

There's some value to the content and there's some value to the structure. When you put the two together, that's probably a 1 + 1 = 11.

Gratitude circuitry that we have in our brain is really interesting for me for a lot of reasons. It's an antidote to anxiety. It's foundational to joy, happiness, kindness, peace. It's a really important circuitry. So I want to at least fire it up. I want to just kind of warm that part of the engine up, if you will. So that's why at least one thought of gratitude.

And really, for my experience is that one thought feels so good that it leads to a couple. And so it's not just like a check the box like I'm grateful for the roof over my head, it's like, really feel that.

That was one of the big things I picked up on your book. There's a difference between writing gratitude versus feeling gratitude.

Yeah, so that's the practice. It's literally warming up that part of the engine.

Then the part about the intention — having one clear intention for the day — we're using performance imagery. I'm seeing myself moving through the day with a particular groove, if you will, like a particular way that I want to move and behave and think.

And literally, I'll go through a couple things that are important in my day, and I'm just kind of snapping in. Like, how do I want to be today? Oh, okay well, I've done that work on what a high performance life is, I'm very clear about my virtues and my values. I've got a personal philosophy that I'm working from, I know my purpose.

Now, how does that show up for me today? And this is only like a 30, 60, 90 second drill minimum. And then if I want to extend it, that's cool. That's bonus.

And so again, it's waking up another circuitry. So what you actually do is probably less important than having some structure to wake up particular parts of you that you want to warm up. Just like when we go to the gym. We need some mobility going and some flow going before we're going to lift some heavy weights. Before we stress our body. We do some warm up mobility work. Same is true for the mind.

For people who have an extremely important event coming up, maybe they're about to go and speak on stage. Maybe they're running out on the field for the Super Bowl, maybe they're in the Special Forces about to get dropped in a war zone, whatever it might be.

Is there anything in common for those people that they can be doing in that final five minutes before they are out there in the arena? Or by then is it too late?

Yeah, that's a good question. Because I'm not sure anything's ever too late. But diminishing returns, would be maybe a way to look at it.

I'll share a story with you when I was on the field, it's up at the Seattle Seahawks. I was with the team for nine seasons, and it was a phenomenal phase of my professional arc.

It's how do you see yourself in the world and how do you explain events to yourself and others.

A coach comes up to me, this is early in my experience there. The team's warming up, both teams are out there. There's a stadium that we're in, it's about 68,000 people that would sit. It's at the CenturyLink. It's now the Lumen Field. And there's a buzz in the area in the arena, and the stadium is always sold out. But at this point, there's something like three quarters of the environment are there.

So we're just kind of in the finishing touches of warming up. One of the coaches comes out, and he says, "Mike, okay, so what do you think?"

And I go, "About what?"

He says, "Well, are you guys ready?"

And I'm looking at the 60 or so men warming up and moving around. I look up at the arena, and the buzz in the air, and I look back at him, and I go, "I can't tell."

He goes, "Well, you're the psychologist! What do you mean you can't tell?"

"Yeah, I can't tell. It's not possible to tell."

And I said, "I could maybe point out a couple things that are interesting to me. What do you think of their framework?"

He goes, "Well, what do you mean?" And this was new in our relationship.

I said, "Well, how about this player?"

And he says, "Well, what do you mean about this player?"

I said, "Well, what do you think of his framework?"

He goes, "Oh, yeah, strong, sturdy. Sturdy framework."

I go, "Okay, let's bet on them, then."

I go, "How about this player over here."

He goes, "I don't know about the framework over there."

And I go, "Right. Maybe there's some work to do on the framework."

So what's the psychological framework? It's how do you see yourself in the world and how do you explain events to yourself and others. And when we have a sturdy framework, meaning we can bend and move, but we don't break, we can take a large earthquake and we don't fall to pieces.

In the last five minutes going into anything, that is where people know if their framework is true or not. So doing that upfront work about knowing who you are, and having the psychological skills to be about it, independent of what the environmental conditions are, those are the people I want to be around. That's the human I want to be. And those are the ones I want to bet on with me.

And so, the last five minutes, what do you do if you don't have that? I mean, I think you're kind of in trouble! You could do some breathing, you could smile, you could look to somebody else for advice, which all have, those are like, okay, but they're kind of weak. When you really know you're what you're about, man, it pays dividends.

Yeah, it's that presence and process isn't it, about what you're doing and doing all those reps behind the scenes when no one's watching means you can deliver on game day.

Yeah, and the ones I'm interested are the invisible ones. We see the physical ones, you've got to be physically extraordinary to be in an elite performing environment of sport. It's just the same as intellectually extraordinary to be in a Fortune 100 as an entrepreneur. But what are the psychological skills? And what is the psychological framework that sits underneath it?

And those are the ones that it's the invisible work. And this is why I love the science, James, it's invisible. And it's complicated.

If it sounds overwhelming to folks, you don't have to boil the ocean. You can just start making maybe one small little tweak: what can I do today a little bit better? And then could I practice that and refine it tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow? And then maybe you pick up another skill that you want to work on. Or another framework element that you want to work on. So we don't boil the ocean.

When it comes to finding mastery in the home, is there anything people can focus on?

I'm spending more of my time right now moving from best practices in elite sport into business. And the reason that it's so exciting and intriguing for me right now is because there's so much to learn from sport, and so much of it is portable, into where the majority of us spend most of our time, which is at work.

I will get to the answer here, because it is about recovery, is where I'm going to take it. But there's a hybrid work model that's coming. The genie is out of the bottle about travel and the office, and people's need for autonomy. People feel more empowered in how they organize their day, and we're not going back. It's not going back.

And there's good research that has pointed to some CEOs who are missing this. They think that people want to come back and the evidence is strikingly contrary. People do not want to come back. But they want to be connected.

The genie is out of the bottle about travel and the office, and people's need for autonomy. People feel more empowered in how they organize their day, and we're not going back.

Having a threshold that you walk through that is a clear as possible delineation of where work and home are, is important as a practice. And if you don't have that, there's something that you can do to make sure that you are almost cleansing, taking off of your work gear, if you will, your work mind.

When I first started my psychological services practices, one of my mentors, just kind of as an aside comment, she says, "Hey, Mike, after each client, take a moment for yourself. Chart your notes, take a moment, maybe go to the bathroom, wash your hands, do something to kind of be re-grounded."

And so I took that practice and brought it into sport, which is anytime somebody is leaving practice or entering practice is to take a moment. When you put your cleats on, activate your mind to be the most dominant competitive athlete or colleague that you can be in sport. Like, switch it on, cleats on. When your cleats are off, done. Like that part of you is now deactivated.

The same holds true at home. So I will never walk into my home with my cell phone on my ear. Never is probably too much, like the last time I've done it, it's probably been a couple decades! It's really important that when I cross my threshold, that I am the husband, and the father that I've designed from the inside out that I want to be. It's really important that we practice those.

Now, the second bit, to your point about this hybrid work environment, is that we, in the work world, we are not doing right by recovery science.

And so when I first popped my head into big business, and working with them on the psychology of being great, I couldn't believe it, James. I don't know how people in business are recovering. Because there's no formal practice. Sleep as a mess. Stress is at all time high. Nutrition is average. The sacrifice of home life is tremendous.

And so right now, this is incredibly exciting. We're moving from, I believe the extraction model to the unlocking model. New entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurs and leaders and managers, are now going to be measured in the next decade, we'll give ourselves some space here, we're going to be measured by how well we unlock the humaneness and the performative aspects of the people that are trusting us to be part of the mission that we're sharing.

So it's no longer extraction, how many minutes and widgets, it's more about unlocking. And that will be a new measurement for leaders. So we're moving from a manager leader model, to a coaching model. And what are we coaching, psychological practices.

I'm not talking about doing therapy with your employees, I'm talking about the frameworks. This is happening at scale, big business, Fortune 50s are down this path. At scale, how do you organize best recovery practices? And how do you organize basic psychological skills? And how do you help with creating the space for people to have a sturdy psychological framework?

And so that's it, man, I'm so excited about what might happen if we get humaneness back in work, humanity back in the place that we spend so much of our time stressing over, and then compromising the relationships we have with our kids and our spouses. Forget about it. It's changing, and I'm fired up about it.

Yeah, it could be a good thing that comes out of the whole pandemic.

Yeah, I mean, it's happening. And listen, like I said, the genies out of the bottle, and people are so stressed out, it's ridiculous. There's no real alternative here. And so that part is unfortunate and exciting.


Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Dr. Michael Gervais does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more🚀


On your best day, what's an affirmation that you would write on a flashcard to show yourself on your worst day?

That's a cool question. So like, what's the internal narrative when I'm at my best? Well, I'll be cheeky for a moment and just say like, I'm not really saying much to myself. On my best day I'm not coaching myself, I'm in it. It's great. It's fluid. I'm on it. So if I'm cheeky there, it's probably it's a blank statement.

But if I double click underneath of it and say like, what are some phrases? "You can do fucking hard things." "Let's fucking go." "You're built for this shit." "Chill the fuck out." "It's all good anyway." "Hey, dude, remember to smile and have some fun." "Be joy, period." There'll be that kind of stuff that would make it for me. And if I had to reduce it to one thing it would be, "You do hard things. So forget about it."

I'm clear that I can do some hard things because I've been through some hard times.

Now I say that James, and it might sound cheesy to somebody else, I don't know what it sounds to somebody else, but really I've earned it. And I'm clear that I can do some hard things because I've been through some hard times. I would bet that most of your community has been through hard things.

So having that be very clear, and making a commitment to never turn your back on those hard things that you've experienced, and the lessons you learn from them, is a very powerful framework.

One more thing. If my mentor would hear, he'd look at me like kind of sideways and he'd say, "What are you doing?" I've got him in my head right now! He goes "What are you talking about? You don't matter." And that's what he would say, that should be on your thing. "You don't really matter."

And so I got to explain this a minute, because it was a magical gift he gave where one day we're in a good conversation and he says, "You know Mike, you really do matter. You do matter to people in your life. And so that I think that's special Mike." And I was like, "Oh, thank you." His name's Gary. "Thank you, Gary."

He says, "And you don't really matter. The world's been around a long time." So let's keep those two things in check! It's a good perspective.

Final question, what's one thing you do to Win the Day?

Oh, good question. I prepare myself to be in the presence of bliss and joy. And so what I do to win the day is all the work ahead of time so I can be fully present with things that are amazing.

For me that shows up in conversations and so how I win the day is prepare my mind to be present more often.

Michael, some amazing stuff today, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Appreciate you James. Thank you.


I hope you enjoyed that interview with Dr Michael Gervais and are now ready to find YOUR mastery! He’s an amazing guy and is doing some incredible things to shift the possibilities of human performance.

Our guests are always so generous with their time, so show Michael some love by leaving a comment on the YouTube version of this episode with your favorite takeaway.

Is there a friend who needs to hear this episode or could use some help to Win the Day? Share it with them right now. 

And if you haven’t already, hit ‘subscribe’ so you can get access to awesome episodes like this one as soon as they are released. Win the Day with James Whittaker is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

That’s all for this episode! Remember, to get out there and win the day. 

Until next time…

Onwards and upwards always, 

James Whittaker


Resources / links mentioned:

📷 Dr Michael Gervais on Instagram.

⚡ Dr Michael Gervais website.

📚 ‘Compete to Create’ by Dr Michael Gervais and Pete Carroll.

🧠 ‘Mind Gym : An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence’ by Gary Mack.

🗝️ Apply now for The Day Won Mastermind (strictly limited to 12 people).

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