The Habits of Masters

We talk a lot about Self Mastery in Unbeatable Mind. It is one of the two primary disciplines of the Warrior-leader, and a driving force once we experience the impact of integrating the principles of Five Mountain training and Front Sight Focus in our lives. We introduced the habits of the Master in the companion book to the Foundations Course, and I would like to review them one last time now that you have traveled to Lesson Twelve with me. I think you will understand them at a much deeper level now, after a year of training.

Masters are unflappable, unfazed and dead certain in the midst of the most intense, chaotic and grim circumstances – thus appear larger than life. They are “so in control.” What you have now learned is that they are not in control of the events, but rather, of themselves. I was clearly impacted in a very strong and positive manner by my first mentor, the Karate Master Tadashi Nakamura, founder of Seido Karate. I continue to be positively influenced by this Master’s example of stoicism, beginner’s mind, and effortless perfection in his disciplined approach to all aspects of his life. Mr. Nakamura achieved Mastery simply by following the principles outlined in the Foundations Course, and not wavering from this path. There are many unknown warriors who possess these same traits. They are the quiet professionals like Glen Doherty and Ty Woods who have stepped up to the plate to live the warrior’s life and stepped into the shit to take the bull by the horns in Libya. They did not wait around to be told what to do, but strode forth with courage and confidence to be the subject of the story, and not the object of their enemy’s story. They sought to create the reality and move the outcome to one they were satisfied with. They exhibited single point focus, uncommon resolve, a positive mind, discernment, high pain tolerance, unflappability, heightened awareness, focused on the welfare of others and humbly accepting of their responsibility. These habits we will continue to cultivate in the Unbeatable Mind Mastery Course. At first they will seem hard to achieve, but will accrue to us naturally as we polish the mirror of our minds and spirits daily.


Masters practice KISS with passion and are able to reduce their mental attention to a single point focus regardless of what is going on around them. This is the single point focus required to survive a parachute accident, to dominate an opponent in a sparring match, or to succeed time and again with business ventures. Deal making the way Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger do it requires incredible single point focus, and they are the wealthiest men in the world for it. Developing the “still water that runs deep” in our minds allows us to clear the clutter in our minds and focus with intensity on the task that must be done right now. This does not mean that we lose awareness of our surroundings. On the contrary, single point focus also includes an expanded field of awareness so you are taking it all in while focusing on the task. It seems contradictory but it is natural when we learn it.


Why will warriors such as Glen and Ty, or the Spartans at Thermopylae, fight to the death for a cause they believe in? This habit or trait is true of all warrior traditions. How can one develop this uncommon resolve to persevere in spite of the odds against us? Masters develop this resolve by developing confidence through training, and courage through a faith-based humility. Faith is a loaded term. I am not necessarily referring to faith in God, rather faith that there is an intelligent order and that we are part of that order. If our actions are aligned and in integrity with our purpose (as our belief tells us), then we know we are doing the right thing, regardless of the outcome. Stepping into the breach to save teammates in grave danger is in complete alignment with the warrior’s code; therefore the warrior exhibits uncommon resolve born of the courage, backed by their faith that this action is the right action to take. The potential loss of life is given consideration but does not deter the warrior from taking action. This is where the honor is displayed. Any purpose worth living for is also worth dying for. A warrior is spiritually aligned and willing to live and die for a worthy cause.


The Master maintains a positive mind and attitude no matter how bad things get. He or she understands the corrosiveness of negative thinking, feeling and talking. They know things only get worse when negative thinking rears its ugly head. They maintain a vigilant watch over their mental state, controlling their minds and channeling their thoughts to positive and purposeful things. When things go wrong, they don’t blame and wallow in self pity, rather they immediately seek the lesson, the silver lining, and act on it. The Master finds victory where it is at. No negativity is allowed.


The Master learns the art of discernment. This means that they avoid faulty thinking and cultivate right thinking. The mind has five ways it “thinks:”

Direct perception – induction
Accessing stored memory
Analysis – deduction

The Master will work on all five of these. Enhancing our direct perception is done through concentration and meditation exercises. Intuition and expanded awareness is the fruit of this labor. Accessing stored memory accurately is done by practicing and drilling memory – such as the Keep in Memory Games, practicing to remember names, etc. Strengthening analytical abilities come through focused use of the mind in problem solving, and the use of mental models such as OODA loop, GROW, SMEAC. Also it is important to study thinking processes to and avoid mental trickery, so brilliantly described by Charlie Munger in the last chapter of “Poor Charlie’s Almanac, the Wit and Wisdom of Charlie Munger,” and in other great research such as we found in “The Tipping Point.” Creating is a skill that we hope you have started to learn in this course. Creating is done in the subconscious and is a visual process. It requires us to see in our mind new patterns, new ideas and new distinctions, then to bring these out into the world in a form that makes sense. Entrepreneurs, artists, musicians all see their work in their minds before putting them to paper or canvas. Finally, though dreaming is thought of as random and uncontrollable, Masters also learn to use this powerful mental state to solve problems and “see” things that they cannot see clearly. All this leads to greater discernment, greater ability to ascertain the truth, and to apply wisdom in our lives.


One of the more unique habits of the Master is to be super aware. Being super aware means the Master cultivates a unique sensitivity to:

His own thoughts and emotions
His teammate’s or enemy’s thoughts and emotions
The environment around him
Natural laws and principles guiding human behavior

At SEAL Team 3, I was privileged to do work with some of the same guys for over 3 years. Much of this time was spent in the field on very quiet missions. I developed an uncanny 6th sense of the environment and what my teammates were thinking during this time. I noticed that this skill waned when I left the operating environment and went back into an office environment. It resurfaced when I started my yoga practice and began to practice visualization and meditation daily.

Special ops missions required long durations of silence. That silent time serves the same purpose as sitting in meditation. When in the field as our minds settled down we would actively seek to see and hear things in the dark, to get any indicators of impending danger. I found that images would flash in my head of a route or something that my teammates were thinking. Or I would just “know” what they were going to do. Intuition and heightened awareness are cultivated through many hours training and by observing human behavior. The Master does not shy from these skills but relies on them as essential tools to be used to accomplish the mission and maintain a front sight focus.


Masters are calm and unflappable while under extreme pressure. It is this quality that followers or those caught up in a crisis are drawn to when the Master naturally takes control of a bad situation. How is the unflappable attitude developed? Perhaps the most valuable skill is breath control. Breath control is a core practice of Unbeatable Mind. Masters. Learn this early and practice it often. Tim Miller is my Yoga teacher – I have studied for 200 hours under this Master. He is the first American certified in the ancient Ashtanga Yoga system, believed to be over 4,000 years old. Tim meets a few die-hard students at 6am daily to practice breath control for one hour. That is a serious practice, and I am again humbled by the discipline and service attitude Tim has. I practice breath control daily also, sometimes with Tim but most of the time with my SEALFIT HQ team. We do it before each training session, before Kokoro Yoga, and often at other times throughout the day. It has proven to be crucial to developing the calm and focused mental state that allows me to remain unflappable as well. Through deep, controlled and rhythmic breathing, we are able to slow the brain’s conscious activity, develop a relaxed but alert mental start, and regulate the heart rate as well as other bodily functions. The stress response is brought under control, and we turn stress into success!


Masters have an “embrace the suck” attitude and they suffer in silence. This habit is trained through the deliberate internalization of any expression of pain and discomfort. Whining or wincing projects weakness and undermines trust, especially if displayed by a leader. People want to follow those who can bite their lips and turn their attention to helping others. Nobody wants to participate in your pity party. Start by putting a smile on your face in the middle of challenging workouts. You will find this difficult, but the action will give you strength and train your pain tolerance. Say to yourself “pain is weakness leaving my body!” You will begin to grow tolerant of pain, and then even embrace it as a necessary aspect of developing self-mastery.


The Master focuses on the team and not himself. Early on they realize that they are much stronger and safer if they serve their team rather than remain sel shly focused on their own needs. This is not easy to do. The human is typically a self-centered being and a large effort is required to grow out of this to truly enjoy serving others. In any challenging circumstance, those who survive and who come out of it with their dignity are those who put others needs before their own. Avoid the natural urge to be first in line, to grab the good stuff, or to recuse you from others to avoid their troubles. Dive in and be helpful. Be part of the solution, rather than a casual observer or taker. Imagine if everyone in New Orleans had this habit during Katrina. When the towers were taken down on 9/11, as everyone was leaving New York, a couple SEALs I knew immediately jumped in their cars and drove to the city to see how they could help. They were welcomed with open arms by the first responders and helped comb the wreckage for survivors. Imagine getting caught up in the next natural or man-made disaster – how will you be other focused and serve?


The Master shows grace and humility in the face of their obligations, especially when things don’t go their way. Sometimes we win, and sometimes the win is a bitter pill we must swallow to learn a valuable lesson. Resisting these lessons and shying from challenges because we are afraid to experience the blowback of failure is not the Master’s course of action. Accept that you cannot control the situation, or your teammates, or your enemy. In fact you can’t control anything but your mind’s reaction to external stimuli. Humble acceptance starts by acknowledging that most things are out of our control, and that temporary pain of discipline and overcoming a failure is better than the permanent pain of regret for not having taken the chance, of living your life to your fullest. Humble acceptance keeps us focused on our responsibilities and commitments, and allows us to leave this world with no regrets.

Course Discussion