What follows is a transcript for the podcast Attributes - Rich Diviney - Optimal Psychology.
Topics within the interview include:
- Attributes vs. skills: what’s the difference?
- How do cognitive biases impact attribute development?
- Why we need experiential environments to refine attributes.
- How loss of identity, tribe, and purpose can lead to PTSD, even in high performers.
- Key attributes for healing from trauma.
- The attributes we need to face a future of uncertainty with courage, hope and resilience.
- Why the courage attribute is multifaceted.
Jamie Wheal: Welcome everybody to this edition of HomeGrown Humans on Neurohacker Collective. I'm super excited to get to speak to a dear friend and esteemed colleague, Rich Diviney, a former U.S. Naval Commander at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, and most recently author of his best selling book, The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance. Rich, welcome and psyched to get to chat with you.
Rich Diviney: Well, Jamie, thanks for having me. Just for your audience to know that Jamie, you're a dear friend, you're also a mentor. Since meeting you have been such a great sounding board, all of our conversations have led me to, I always learn more with you and that certainly helped while I was writing my books. So it's a pleasure to talk, and we haven't talked for a while so this is a great time to catch up too.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah, well, let's just do that to start with, which is I think The Attributes came out, what, 16, 18 months ago? Something like that.
Rich Diviney: Yeah. January 2021. So we're at yeah, about a year and a half now.
Jamie Wheal: Perfect. Well, so first of all, how was that ride? I mean, obviously the creative act of putting a hold a life of ideas down onto the page and then seeing it born into the world and people reading it and interacting with it, that's such a multi-phase parenting experience. How was it for you to take your best crack at what you thought were the most important nuggets and lessons of leadership, and then share it with the world and then go around the world having the conversations that you've had?
Rich Diviney: Yeah. It's been fantastic now. I didn't have a lot to index it against because again, it was my first book and the book tour circuit was not what it was in 2021 because of COVID.
Jamie Wheal: It just wasn't, full stop.
Rich Diviney: It just wasn't, right? Because I remember being with you on the Stealing Fire, at least one of the debuts there. I was, of course as an author, you're expecting that, but it was a lot of podcasts and a lot of talking about it. Regardless, it's been a wonderful experience and really getting feedback from people who resonate with the material and really tell me what I hoped the book would do to them and that is when they read it, they say, hey, this is a book about me the reader. Yes, it has some cool Navy SEAL nuggets, but it's not just that, it's human nuggets, it's athletic nuggets, it's life nuggets, and it's really about the reader. And so that experience has been great.
And then of course the work is not done when the book comes out, the work is really just beginning, which is another a lesson for many people who haven't written a book yet is you write the book but then the work begins in talking about the book, promoting the book. And if the content supports it, building a business around the book and what you can do for others. And so that's been the most fun. And I think one of the most rewarding parts is my wife, Kristen, who Jamie of course you haven't met but you will eventually. She is the executive director of our Attributes company. We get to now work together every day, which is just phenomenal for us because after 21 years in the Navy where she couldn't work with me, to get to build a business together is fantastic.
Jamie Wheal: And you get to check that woman-owned business box you crafty bastard. Yes, you do.
Rich Diviney: Veteran-owned and woman-owned, right?
Jamie Wheal: So that's the craft of it. That was the logistics of it. For any aspiring writers listening in, just note to self, even though you will completely swear this is impossible when you're in the thick of it, when you submit the manuscript. Right. And if you were in high school or college, you'd be like, I'm done, you know, that is halfway.
Rich Diviney: That's right.
Attributes vs. Skills: What’s the Difference?
Jamie Wheal: That's halfway. It will not feel halfway, but trust us, it is. And just prepare for the second wind and the long hike. I'm curious, now let's actually get into the content because you had a very specific thesis, which was sort of like, yes, there's this mythology around SEALs, around BUD/S selection process, around all of these things. You're like, yeah. I'm not sure everybody quite gets that right. That sort of felt like that was the foundation from which you came to articulate The Attributes, the subject of your book. Just unpack that for us a little bit. What did you mean and what was the distinction between the jockos of like I'm up at 4:20 every morning and I'm busting out my push ups versus what you guys might have experienced? Not just in the regular teams but in the Special Warfare Development Group and that kind of slightly, well, actually not even slightly, I would say massively more nuanced and specific set of leadership qualities.
Rich Diviney: Yeah. Well, and it's interesting. Development Group, and Jaime, you visited us, visited me there so you know and you saw it firsthand. But one of the issues that I was faced with when I took over the training and selection for that command... And just for the audience to know, that command, the way that it's a command that selects SEALs from all the other SEAL teams and brings them to our own command and puts that group through our own selection and assessment, nine month selection process. At the time, when I took over that process, it was about a 50% attrition rate. That's normal. As you know, any attrition rate for, attrition is fine for any assessment program, so attrition is okay. What was not okay is we couldn't effectively articulate why the 50% were not making it.
Because again, these were top people from top commands coming to our command. We had things like, well, couldn't shoot very well, couldn't skydive very well, whatever. And that wasn't good enough because again, these experienced guys, they had done shooting, they had done skydiving. And so what I had to do is I had to say, okay, what is performance? We need to break performance down a little bit more elementally than what we're actually seeing. We're seeing shooting, we're seeing scuba diving, we're seeing skydiving. This is where I got into this attributes content. What are those qualities that say and tell us that someone can and has what it takes to do the job versus has the skills? The couple examples that I'll give is, at the time, and certainly when I met you, Jamie, I had done, well, I'll back up.
You know, BUD/S, Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, which is the basic SEAL training that everybody goes through. If you want to be a Navy SEAL in San Diego, California, six months long, 90% attrition rate. You spend hundreds of hours running around with heavy boats on your head, hundreds of hours exercising with 300 pound telephone poles and running around with those things on your shoulders, and then freezing in the surf zone. When I took over training and I started looking at this, I had at the time done hundreds of combat missions overseas and thousands of training evolutions. And I tell you, never on any one of those did I carry a heavy boat on my head or a 300 pound telephone pole on my shoulder. What they were doing to us in BUD/S wasn't training us in the skills to be Navy SEALs, they were teasing out these innate qualities.
Do we have what it takes? Do we have what it takes to be SEALs? The other example that I will give in terms of SEAL training is actually a little bit more funny. I went through SEAL training in 1996, so mid 90s. Back then, one of the first things you had to do when you showed up was swim 50 meters. I was told this story, this happened before I got there. But the story goes that this kid shows up to BUD/S and it's his turn to swim. So he jumps in the pool to swim. When he jumps to the pool, he immediately sinks right to the bottom of the pool and he starts walking across the bottom to one end and then walks across the bottom back to the other end. He comes up, he's gasping for air, almost drowning. The instructor looks and says, "What the hell are you doing?"
The kid looks at the instructor and says, "I'm sorry, instructor. I don't know how to swim." So the instructor pauses for a second, looks at the kid, says, "That's okay. We can teach you how to swim." Right? Because this instructor knew that if this kid had those innate qualities, he had the balls to show up to Navy SEAL training and didn't know how to swim, he had everything we needed to teach him. Teaching him to swim was easy part. The thesis was, let's separate these attributes from skills and these attributes are driving performance. These attributes are in the background. Skills are visible, they're tangible, they tell us what to do in known environments. We learn them. We're not born with them. They're not innate.
And because they're visible, they're very easy to measure. Whereas attributes on the other hand, attributes are more innate. We're all born with levels of adaptability, of situational awareness, of perseverance. We could certainly develop those things over time, but you can see levels of this stuff in small children. Anybody who has children knows that there are some kids who are just naturally patient. There are some kids who are naturally impatient, right? Attributes, there's a nature or nurture element to attributes. Attributes inform our behavior rather than direct our behavior. So that would tell us how we're going to show up to an environment. In other words, my son's level of perseverance and resilience informed the way he showed up when he was learning the skill of riding a bike and falling off a dozen times doing so.
And then, because they're hard to see, they're hard to measure. They're hard to assess. They're just difficult. You see them the most viscerally invisibly during times of stress, challenge, uncertainty. In times of stress, challenge, uncertainty is when these attributes come to the fore because it's very difficult, if not impossible to apply a known skill to an unknown environment. So that was the thesis and really to take that out of the SEAL teams and say, okay, how can I ubiquitous this and say, as humans, what are the attributes that we all could use for optimal performance? What do those look like? The list I had in the SEAL teams was 36. I narrowed that list down to 25 and kind of ubiquitous it, and therein lies the book.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah. Again, listed as 25, but if you had to pick, if you had to do your magic dad hat and make sure that your sons got three, which would be the three that you'd say, golly, those to me are the top of the stack?
Rich Diviney: Yeah. It's a complex question. I'm going to answer this but there's a caveat we can dive into later on. People have asked me to rank those and I try not to. But I would say it's the grit attributes, which are five. Talking about five categories. Grit is the first category to talk about. Those grit attributes are courage, adaptability, perseverance, and resilience. And so I would say that the grit attributes, I'll bump it up almost to say three, I'll bump it up to four. I would say the grit attributes are the most important for any human being. If you don't have an assemblance of those four things, it's going to be a rough road.
Jamie Wheal: And then you also mentioned, you said, and I'd actually love to get back and just share a little bit more of our shared backstory because I think people might not be tracking all the fun overlaps. You mentioned BUD/S has a washout rate of 90%. Team Six has 50%, which is what Green Team, that's the transitional move. Right?
Rich Diviney: Right.
Jamie Wheal: Given you noodling on this problem and given you finding that, hey man, attributes, they're squishy, they're hard to pin down, they're not readily quantifiable. We do all of these to intentionally contrive things like boat team movements and surf zone, sugar cookies, and telephone poles to try and dig at them and get to them. And then for listeners that ever read or were familiar with Stealing Fire, we opened that book with your story. Rich Davis, which you were still active duty at that time. It was a nom de guerre, right? But that's you and you were a major contributor and architect of the Dev Group mind gym and the ability to try and create body-brain to take best in class, body-brain training technologies and methodologies both for rehabilitation and optimization.
It may be that this was just a work in progress and the writing and launching of this book is actually now your cutting edge or bleeding edge, but were you able to shift those numbers at all? Were you able to decrease attrition while maintaining or increasing quality once you clarified what it was you were actually selecting for?
Rich Diviney: The answer is no, we weren't. We didn't decrease attrition, that wasn't necessarily our goal. Our goal was to explain attrition. And the reason why explaining attrition was so important is because a couple things happen. When you have a top dude coming from a regular SEAL team. I mean, top dude Navy SEAL coming to our command and they go through our process at least for whatever, however many weeks and they end up not making it. If you sit down with that person and say, I'm sorry, you couldn't cut it. That person feels like a turd, just to put it bluntly. That's not a good way to exit someone back into the special warfare teams, because it's not true. You're not giving that person any reasonable or professionally developing information.
You are kind of shucking off your responsibility to explain why. Yeah. The guy didn't make it. But then the leadership is like, hey, why are those good dudes not making it? And if you can't explain to leadership, then you get scrutiny on your process. And what you don't want is scrutiny on your process because it's a good process. Right? And so articulating it allowed us to do a couple things. First of all, allows us to sit down and have much more meaningful conversations with the guys who weren't making it and say, "Hey, listen," I would do this at the beginning of Green Team. I'd get the students in front of us and say, "Okay, I'm going to give you the secret to making it through." All the notebooks would suddenly come up. I'd list the attributes.
I said, "This is what we're looking for." And of course, no one would know what to write down. But I'd say, "Listen, it's not necessarily about what we're training you to do. The training we're giving you is going to be collateral, right. We're looking for these attributes. If you have them, great. If you don't have them, we're going to see it. All right. Not a big deal." But now I can sit down with a candidate and say, "Okay, listen, based on your performance, we're tracking. You have a predominance of these attributes." Boom, boom, boom, boom. "Now the attributes we're looking for is this list. So it doesn't really line up, which means you're not going to be a good fit here, but all the stuff we just saw, all the stuff you're good at, you can go back out and do some great things in the regular SEAL teams or do different things."
And so the person leaves feeling more professionally developed. That's one thing. Obviously, we now get to explain and articulate to the leadership, that's the other thing. 00:14:38 But really what's cool is that when you start looking at attributes, I'll put it this way. Skills tell you what is. Attributes tell you what could be. Right. Attributes highlight potential, which means when we started looking at attributes, we started seeing the dark horses early on. Right? So in other words, the guy who wasn't necessarily getting the highest scores on shooting on the shooting drills, we're like, wait a second. Okay. Don't look at that as the marker, look at all the other things that that guy is doing. Look at all the attributes that this person is displaying.
We could now say, hey, just because this person wasn't the top dude on the skills didn't mean that he wasn't the top dude that we were looking for. And that's really the key because I remember, I mean, even in my Green Team class, I went through with a couple dudes. Couple dudes, good close friends of mine were at the bottom of the class in terms of shooting and the scores and the markers you get. Those same guys ended up being on the Bin Laden raid and the Captain Phillips thing. Right. I mean, they were some of the top dudes in the command, right? Attributes allowed us to see those dark horses early on. And when we're taking this, we're exporting this to our lives in our own performance, but especially in business, right. If we're talking about hiring, I mean, who doesn't want to when they're hiring, hire for potential. Pick the people who are going to do the best and might be those dark horses that you don't want to just hire for skills and that's the point.
Jamie Wheal: Now this brings us right to the doorstep of what you alluded to in your introduction, which is nature and nurture. And so it sounds like there's somewhat of a correlation, and correct me if I'm misreading this, but somewhat of a correlation that fundamentally skills are trainable, AKA nurturable, right?
Rich Diviney: Yes. That's right.
How Do Cognitive Biases Impact Development of Attributes?
Jamie Wheal: That good instruction, repetition, focus on results, precision, feedback, et cetera, et cetera, you can get better, faster at a whole bunch of things. That's obviously one of the MOs of Dev Group, right? You take the best in the world mountaineers and you learn ropes and safety systems. You take the best in the world skydivers and you learn HALO jumping. You learn your best underwater folks. You learn, you get that, and then you are actually responsible for that body of knowledge and for teaching other people down commodity. Right? So let's assume that, that skills are, you know, clearly people have different adeptness and facility, right? That's David Epstein and The Sports Gene. That's all those kind of comments. But on the other hand, attributes, this is where I'm a little confused, because my first thought would be attributes sort of are who you are. Right?
That's like the guy who walked the bottom of the pool in the original BUD/S screening, like I'm just going to get it done no matter what. And that's presumably what the CO said, "I see that in you, we can teach you how to swim." Right? Now, another step on that is you take grit. You take Angela Duckworth's work. You take Carol Dweck's work on Mindset. We are hardwired in this last 20, 30 years let's say, this cultural moment with lots of HR, lots of huge amounts of professional development, huge amounts of life coaching, all these things, right? There's a very American philosophy that you can be anybody you want to be, cupcake. Especially if you buy this program, take this training, read this book, whatever it might be.
And you know, one of the others choose to drop on, WAx research has been fuck me, it's not very replicable folks. It sounded great, you know, but those little change the sentence stems and emphasize effort. I mean, by the way, with our own two kids, right. We have one kid who just came out of the box, growth mindset, and one kid who came out of the box pretty fixed. And we were running exactly the same scripts. I mean, ironically Carol Dweck, before she even wrote Mindset, had been contributing to Montessori Journals about this thesis. So while she was still back at Columbia before she'd even moved to Stanford, we were devouring her research because it was very congruent with our educational philosophies and what we were doing. And yet in our own household we're like, yeah, not so much. Right? Given that, given our biases to want to believe in the developability of people, where do you come down on attributes, nature, nurture?
Rich Diviney: Okay. Great question. First of all, a quick, quick back-of-the-envelope test to determine whether or not it's a skill or an attribute is to ask yourself, can I teach it or can it be taught? If the answer is yes, it's probably a skill. If the answer is no, it's probably an attribute. Here's the example. Jamie, you tell me, "Rich, I want to go learn how to shoot a pistol and hit a bullseye every time." I can take you out to the range and teach you how to do that in a couple hours. That is a skill. Okay.
Jamie Wheal: Only if I can hold it sideways like a gangster.
Rich Diviney: Well, that would take a few more hours. Or you say, "Rich, I want to learn how to be more patient," or "I want to learn how to be more adaptable." I can't teach you that. Right. Attributes can be developed. It takes a couple criteria, but before I get into those criteria, let's just think about it this way. All of us, for your audience to know, all of us have all of the attributes as human beings. The difference in each one of us are the levels to which we have each. Okay. For example-
Jamie Wheal: Are they sort of latent versus express?
Rich Diviney: Think of them as a dimmer switch. Here's an example: adaptability. If 10 is high and one is low, I would be about a level eight on adaptability, which means when the environment changes around me outside of my control, it's fairly easy for me to go with the flow and roll with it. Someone else might be a level three on adaptability, which means when the same thing happens to them, it's difficult for them to go with the flow and roll with it. Right. They're still adaptable because they're humans. Right? And so if we were to line up all the attributes on a wall like they're dimmer switches, all of us would have different settings for each attribute. Some of us are high on situational awareness. Some of us are low on adaptability.
Some of us are low on humility. Some of us are high on courage, right? The idea is to think of it, and I use the analogy from the movie Cars, and not just because when my kids were little I had to watch it a thousand times. It's a good movie, right? But I think the idea is sound, right? All of us are automobiles. Okay. But we're different kinds. Some of us are SUVs. Some of us are Ferrari. Some of us are Jeeps. There's no judgment there because the Jeep could do things the Ferrari can't do. And the Ferrari can do things the Jeep can't do. But it behooves us to lift our hood and figure out what engine we're running with, because we may in fact be a Jeep that's trying to run on a Ferrari track, or a Ferrari that's trying to run Jeep track.
Jamie Wheal: And suspension and transmission.
Rich Diviney: And suspension, totally, totally. Right. So now that tells us a couple things. If we understand what we're working with, what engine we're working with, now we can make some more informed choices. I can choose, I can decide to be a Jeep that wants to run on a Ferrari track and start to say to myself, okay, what do I have to do to be a better Jeep running on a Ferrari track? Or I could say, no, I'm a Jeep. I should get on the Jeep track and I'm going to be more congruent with what I'm to do. The other thing it allows us to do is it allows us to say, okay, what are those based on my niche, based on what I guess the track I want to run on, what are in fact the attributes that I might need to work on that are more congruent with this track, right? To be high on all the attributes is both unrealistic and not a good idea, right? Because sometimes being high on an attribute might be detrimental to your overall niche. I always use standup comics, right? Too much empathy in a standup comic is going to be detrimental to his or her ability to make jokes at a funeral.
Jamie Wheal: It'll reduce your sick burn capacity.
Why We Need Experiential Environments to Develops Attributes
Rich Diviney: Totally. Right. Just because you're not high on an attribute doesn't mean that you have to be. And so the idea is understand your attribute layout, who you are as a human. Ask yourself. Okay. How does this fall inside into the niche inside of which I want to perform? And then say, okay, if there are attributes that I want to develop, then I can specifically develop those ones. Now, the next follow on question is the obvious one. How do you develop an attribute? There's three things that have to happen to develop an attribute. One is self-awareness, you need to know that you need to develop it. Two is self-motivation. You have to want to develop it. And then three is you have to have a willingness to deliberately find environments that test and tease that attribute. Step into discomfort. Let's give patience-
Jamie Wheal: Just to clarify for one sec, so you have to be willing to step into an environment that fundamentally honest it or promotes it. How is that different than what you said about a skill being trainable?
Rich Diviney: Well, because a skill is certain, a skill is definable. It has steps that you can be taught and you can follow. Right. And it's repeatable, okay. An attribute is more mushy, right? Let's take patience as an example. If you say, I want to develop my patience. Now you must decide to go find environments deliberately and step into environments that test and tease your patience, whatever that looks like for you. So that might be, I'm going to go deliberately drive in traffic, or I'm going to stand in the longest line of the grocery store. Or I say, I have kids, that'll develop your patience, right. But you have to find environments that test and tease that specific attribute and those are going to be uncomfortable and uncertain. That's how it's different.
Jamie Wheal: Okay, so attribute, you can test and tease, but a skill you can sort of instruct and train?
Rich Diviney: And repeat, you can repeat in the same... I mean, I can sit there and practice my tennis swing over and over again. I can practice my free throw shot. I can do it in one static environment and get better and better at it. 00:24:09 An attribute can't be developed in a static environment. It has to be an experiential environment. And this is the tricky part, is where attribute development becomes tricky. It has to consistently be uncertain because, and I know you and I are going to dive into courage, but if I want to develop courage, well, I have to pick the context and then have to try my courage in one context and then switch context. I joke about this. I've always hated heights. Heights always bother me. So every time I skydive, it was tough for me. But those times that I skydived and I go on a skydiving trip and we do like 60 jumps in one week, by jump 20, I'm not really that afraid anymore.
I've inoculated myself in that environment. As soon as you inoculate yourself in that environment, the attribute development gets halted, gets stunted so you have to switch environments. To develop courage, I have to go, okay, do skydiving. I have to do something else. I have to do something else. Same with patience. You can develop patience with your own kids over and over, time and time, but you might not have patience with other kids, right. Or you might not have patience in other context. Attribute development is tricky and it's contextual. The reality of attribute development is you have to figure out those environments inside of which you want to develop the attributes you might be a little less on.
Jamie Wheal: Then just because you're speaking about these so fluidly and conversantly, you literally wrote the book on them. I just want to, just for folks that are listening, just highlight. You mentioned grit as one, and you've alluded to probably a dozen of the 25, the remaining 25, but just for folks playing along at home, the five big buckets you described is grit, mental acuity or basically how sharp am I, drive. And I'm curious as to how you distinguish between grit and drive because to me on a casual look, they might seem synonymous. Then leadership, and fundamentally teamwork like how well do I blend or merge with the team which was the focus of your section in Stealing Fire. Just for everybody following along at home, those are the big buckets, the big five buckets that Rich is speaking about when he mentions the attributes.
How Loss of Identity, Tribe, and Purpose Can Lead to PTSD, Even in High Performers
Jamie Wheal: You just said something that's interesting, and maybe this is kind of a natural segue into now. Now we're kind of up to speed and we're kind of like now looking forward into the world is our mutual friend and your former colleague at the command, Curt Cronin, who's now the executive director here at the Flow Genome Project. He had shared something that I'm sure you've been experiencing as well, which is the tragic loss of many former team guys to diseases of despair. Basically addiction, depression, and up to suicide. That has been chronic and ongoing and I think that for maybe the beginning, you know, post 9/11, there was sort of 10 years where there was at least me reading research and hearing commentaries.
There was a sense of like, it's weird that special operators tend to be more immune to PTSD, tend to be more immune to these things and there was kind of inquiry around that. Well, is it the heightened level of training? Is it the support? Is that the very clear focus and purpose as they know exactly what they were doing? Is it the tighter support groups? There was a lot of that inquiry. There was like, oh, these guys almost seem exempt, which was kind of hand in glove with the superhero, the mythologized narrative. Right? And then you get into the last 10 years and just sheer, relentless pressure, attrition, and the nonstop nature of a lifetime of deployment without recovery that started showing cracks. I think it became increasingly clear that even the tier one spec ops community was suffering also.
One of the puzzles, I guess, that Curt shared with me is like, I don't understand it, man, because these guys were fearless. They were courageous beyond all reckoning when it was band of brothers in a fire fight, but sitting at home after retirement in their living room, they couldn't do it and it was too much. So can you, and it doesn't have to be diagrammed and chalk boarded here, but what are your thoughts on that? Because you mentioned, you're like, hey, sometimes you develop an attribute and it works in a given domain and sometimes it needs to be built out in another domain or you might feel like you've got kryptonite in your pocket. Can you just speak to that from your heart, what's your experience bear witness to this?
Rich Diviney: I will. First, quick shout out to Curt. You know, Curt and I are good friends. He and I actually went through the Green Team together. He is one of the finest SEALs I've ever served with, but also one of the finest human beings I've ever served with or known. Tell him hello. Okay. So PTSD, it is certainly true that no one is immune to PTSD. I think that's born out. I think what I used to say about SEALs and PTSD is that it manifested itself somewhat differently in Navy SEALs than it did maybe in other human beings. In other words, we didn't necessarily go out and race our motorcycles too fast or have aggressive behavior towards other people. Drinking was part of the culture so maybe part of that was involved. But I don't think necessarily, and again, now this is completely just hypothesizing and my own kind of assessment on this.
No professional backing on this whatsoever other than just me thinking about it. I don't think it's necessarily PTSD. I think what happens is in fact, well, it has to do with identity. It's actually a topic I'm going to cover in my next book because I think it's a powerful part of who we are and what drives our performance. We tend to as human beings as we go through life stack identities on ourselves, okay. And those identities come in different forms. I went to this high school. I was captain of the lacrosse team. I went to this college. I'm a Navy SEAL. I'm an author. I'm a Harley guy. Right? Whatever those identities are. I'm a Democratic-Republican. Those are really strong right now. Whatever those identities come with not only tribalism and brotherhood, but also rules and conditions and constraints.
We tend to then behave towards those identities, sometimes unconsciously. But really when it comes down to these identities, we actually stack, the real point of what I'm saying, because we could dive in deep on this, is that we tend to prioritize and prefer the identity that we put on top. Whatever that is. Now, Navy SEAL is a very, very powerful identity. I mean, it's one of the most powerful. I think what happens when guys leave the SEAL teams is you recognize leading the SEAL teams is not like leaving the Marine Corps. When you leave the Marine Corps, there's a mantra most everybody's heard, "Once a Marine, always a Marine." That's not the same with the Navy SEALs. It's not once a Navy SEAL will always the Navy SEAL. The saying and the code in the SEAL teams is, "earn your Trident every day."
As soon as you leave, you're not earning your Trident every day. You are now a former Navy SEAL and the train leaves. We joke. It's like being on a roller coaster with your hair on fire. As soon as you're off the rollercoaster, it goes away and it disappears, right. That is a huge gap in one's life. I think if someone is unprepared for that gap, they are going to be hurting. It's going to be hard to recover. I think part of the problem, I just don't want to emphasize, part of the problem sometimes is some guys don't know how to build a new identity and they don't have a strong enough identity to fall back on that's powerful enough. I consider myself lucky going through my SEAL career because as I went through my SEAL career, I had two very powerful identities. One was a Navy SEAL, but the other one was a husband and father. I always did. I worked my hardest to always prioritize husband and father.
Now the Navy sometimes says differently. They said, no, you're prioritizing Navy SEAL, but I really worked very hard to prioritize husband and father. Now, what did that do for me? When I left the team, okay, I lost that SEAL identity but I had a really powerful one that I leaned in on as I built my new one. You know, author, entrepreneur, I'm still building it. I'm still building a new identity. I think part of the problem we're finding in the SEAL suicides, or even any military suicides is this loss of identity, this loss of tribe. It's a tough thing to do. It's a tough thing to take. And if you aren't able to really put it aside, put it on the shelf and say, okay, it's time to get back to work. I got to build a new one. I got to build something new. I mean, think about it. Just think about it in civilian terms. Think about someone who starts working in a company and starts in the mail room.
And over the course of 20, 30 years they make their way up to executive level. And then once that executive level leaves, like stops doing that and enters into a world where it has nothing to do with the last 25 years that you spent, that's what's happening to a lot of these military guys. And that's a huge, huge task. I think my thought on it is yes, some PTSD, but I think a lot of it is identity. I think one of the things I've certainly tried to do, I'm sure Curt has too, is I've really started to reach out to all of my old SEAL buddies and reconnect because there's importance. There's power in there. There's catharsis in that. We start to have coffee and we talk about stuff and we can talk as humans. We can talk as former Navy SEALs, which means we can talk about stuff we never talked about before. We can joke about who we were before and who we are now.
Jamie Wheal: In which direction, like slagging off your former bosses or talking about civilian stuff when you say you talk about things you've never talked about?
Rich Diviney: Talk about things like empathy, talking about things like caring, talking about judging people not on Navy SEALism, right? I mean, it's funny. I was talking to a good buddy of mine and both of us are out. We talked about the brotherhood when you're in the SEALs and the brotherhood when you're out of the SEALs. Now, when you're in the SEALs, you have this, and admit it, it's a little embarrassing to say, but there's a judgment. There's a judgmentalness about it. I mean, it's a very mafiaistic kind of thing and you judge people around. You're like, hey, it's like, are you doing the job? Can you do the job? Are you in it? It's all very performance like I'm in it. I'm now. I don't want to talk to this person because they're not part of my thing.
It's almost necessary because of the job you're doing, right. That goes away or should go away when you leave. If it doesn't, you're going to have issues. And so now you can look at people in a much more empathetic, open way. You can kind of laugh and be a little bit embarrassed about how you looked at people before, but you can really be I think more human and you can feel your emotions more. You can cry more, you can laugh. Well, we always laugh, but you can just be more human. I think that's what we talk about.
Jamie Wheal: Well, I mean, and just to I think sort of just provide a tiny bit of context on what you just described. Because it'd be very, it's like, oh, those are just steak head gung-ho macho macho guys, you know? But any elite performing community stack ranks on elite performance, full stop. Including musicians. Like if you're the blistering guitarist, you get respect. You could be a total dickhead but if you crush it on stage, then you have a ranking. If you're in the back, if you're an extreme athlete and you're hacking hundred foot cliffs doing double backflips, you're kind of a big deal and people will tip their hat to you regardless of the rest of your being. The same with a host of other things. Although today that's also creeping into arguably more superficial and irrelevant things like how many Twitter followers do you have? How many views does your podcast get? There's a lot of social media status prioritizing and you can notice.
I mean, I had the baffling experience of going from a series of wonderful invitational talks, whether it was at Stanford's neuroscience conference or some Ted events or Necker Island or whatever where I was like by far and away the least capable person there, but everybody there was completely humble and it was just good human to human. And then I just said yes to like an Austin conference, and suddenly everybody was posturing and everybody were kind of dickheads. I'm like, wait, you guys, I don't even know who you guys are. Why are you fronting so much? And then it took me a moment. I'm like, oh, you guys are all infomarketers. You've got your shticks and you have got the kind of hubris or arrogance of your email list or your followers. You know, so it was kind of this self-appointed versus truly earned in the fires. Sense of elitism. Just to acknowledge that, what you just shared about the teams is I think it's a feature of any high consequence, high performance community.
Rich Diviney: It is. It is a feature. Regardless in that environment, regardless of whether or not you're working with an asshole or not, you're still generating human bonds that are very, very powerful. There's a difference between the dopamine you get from a bunch of likes on your Twitter post and the oxytocin you receive when you're in hardship with another human being. Those are neural networks. You and I are neuroscience geeks. You much more apt in describing than I am, but we all know these are neural networks that get forged much more deeply and they last longer. There's a necessity to that too. There's a bravado. I'll use the MMA fighter, right? There's a bravado people see in MMA fighting that sometimes people can maybe like, ah, why is that?
But you know, it's necessary sometimes in that environment. Same thing in the combat environment, there's a bravado that's necessary. There's an attitude that's necessary to survive and thrive. That attitude is not and that makeup is not necessarily congruent with the real world, which is why people have trouble. Right? Guys would have trouble switching off. This is a whole, you know, guys coming back from deployment, guys and gals coming back from deployment. Having to switch from combat mode to civilian mode. It's because in combat mode, you're in this whole bubble of personality, you have to be something, someone, somehow. Everything about your being has to be focused. And then you come home and you're like, nothing is focused. You know? Everybody seems to be in La La Land. For some people, it was a really tough transition to flip that switch. But think about flipping that switch for good, right. Someone going from a career, now they're not in that anymore. That is a huge, huge thing to deal with.
Jamie Wheal: Yeah. That always brings to mind, and I know that a number of operators really have issues with the film Hurt Locker, but there's that memorable, memorable scene where he is going to the supermarket and he sees 27 kinds of cereal and he just loses it. To your point of like, this is La La Land, this is fucking nuts. Like I've been on the razor edge and then you're asking me to fucking choose between Coco Pops and Rice Krispies. No, shoot me.
Rich Diviney: I remember just a quick example of this. I remember, and maybe if there are folks listening to this who have trouble with this. A buddy of mine, we came back from a deployment, one of many. I remember him saying how frustrated he was because he came back and his wife and daughters were all into American Idol and he just, he could not, and the Kardashians and things like that. He got so mad when he thought about just in his mind the pithy kind of minimal... There's just this nothingness that people were making a big deal of. I mean, there's so much bad going on there. I remember he and I sat down, we talked about it. Through our conversation, we were able to really think through and come to a real interesting epiphany. Part of that was a story I told to him about leaving for deployments.
I remember, it's funny, we'd always leave for the deployments and we'd leave at like our planes would take off at midnight because we'd be flying overseas. Just the timing of it would be in the middle of the night. My kids were little, they'd always go to bed and then I'd have to go, I'd have to leave. I remember every time before I left, I'd walk into their rooms and I'd watch them. A lot of parents watch their kids and I think maybe military people even more so. I watch my kids sleeping all the time, but I remember looking at their little faces and just hoping that they were dreaming of sugar plums and fairies and all that nice stuff. And it hit me. And we talk about that, hey, the reason why we do what we do overseas, the reason why the military goes and does what they do is so that we can preserve the people's ability to be in La La Land.
The people's ability to focus on sugar plums and fairy. I mean, to the extent, to a certain extent, we want people to be aware of the world. But certainly our kids, we do the work so that other people don't have to worry about the work we do and don't have to experience the stuff we do. That's distinction, that reframing really helped him, certainly helped me when I talked about it to say, okay, I can deal with the 300 types of cereals because one of the reasons why I do what we do is so we have 300 cereals we can choose from. So we have the ability to watch things like American Idol and get lost in some of that. Now, you don't want to go too far, but it's a good reframing technique, I think.
Jamie Wheal: This will just take us on a different tangent, one that I was anticipating going on. But let me push back on that. Let me play the devil's advocate. In sympathy with your friend who was just having a what the fuck moment, right? Like we are bleeding and dying ourselves to protect American democratic humanist values and we're fighting on behalf of people getting trampled by, you know, I think it's fair to say like straight up malevolence. Especially in Afghanistan, but I mean, you'd roll ISIS into the mix and you're like, okay, this is just not pro-human anything. The fact that I think in 2016 and certainly several of the elections before that, more people voted in American Idol than they did to elect our next president.
Rich Diviney: Right.
Jamie Wheal: Right. To just again, tip the hat to Curt. He shared a story where Stan McChrystal, who you guys both worked with quite closely. He said, one of the most powerful things that Stan would ever do is that when they'd come back off deployment, they would get up early in the morning in D.C. and they would run the monuments. They would run them all. They'd run Jefferson Lincoln, Washington monument. He said it was the most overwhelmingly powerful thing. Stan did this intentionally. He's like, this is part of your reintroduction into our civil society is like, never forget what we were doing on behalf of these ideals. Right. Now let's loop back to your discussion of PTSD and those kind of things. I mean, several things.
Jamie Wheal: One is, you've mentioned oxy and dopamine, right. You talked about the roller coaster of the SEALs aren't once a Marine, always a Marine. Once you're off the ride, you're off the ride. Just to unpack for folks listening, my sense would be, and you tell me if this tracks for you is that on the one hand, it's high dopamine environment, which doesn't mean I'm getting to eat cotton candy or do lines of cocaine. Like dopamine is not simply a pleasure reward chemical. It's a salience enhancer. Just like this matters, pay attention.
Rich Diviney: That's right.
Jamie Wheal: And so suddenly if you're not going to be on my six or ahead of me clearing a room, then you are no longer salient. Right? I need to focus on the guys I'm actually going to be flying out with and heading down range. So there's that. Then you also mention oxytocin, which again gets wildly simplified and kind of neuro porn, you know, kind of pops like neurology which is it's the cuddle drug. It's the love hormone. It's the trust hormone, but it is also overwhelmingly the tribal bonding hormone. It creates in groups, so starting with mother, child, then lover, lover, but then also clan/pagans across the river. And high oxytocin actually is in soccer hooligans, it's in political violence. And I would imagine that the teams were juiced on high oxytocin. Right. And it also increases your ability to be horrible to the people or ignore or dehumanize the people outside that oxytocin loop.
Rich Diviney: Right. That was a constant thing you had to pay attention to when you're out there and had a team, especially as the leaders of a team. And I know I certainly, me and my troop and my team leaders always paid attention to this idea of you can again... So I think you and I talked about this years ago, PTSD had sometimes a way of showing up in special operators where it would show up as a dehumanization of people around us. Because the oxytocin, the tribalness, you become like, hey, my only job is to protect these people in my bubble. The risk of that is to then dehumanize everybody outside the bubble, that has to be very carefully watched for and addressed. In some cases we've seen quite, quite publicly that it wasn't in some cases where we've had military folks doing things that they shouldn't be doing and dehumanizing people and the enemy.
But you're absolutely right. I think it's a very powerful bonding that happens not only through the bonding of, hey, I'm paying attention to these people who are with me, but also my purpose in this group. Right? I mean, again, you ask most military people, certainly a Navy SEAL, the worst fear is not death. The worst fear is letting down your teammate, right. You'd rather die than do it. Suddenly you get into this environment where all that is gone. All that, it doesn't exist anymore. It's a huge letdown, a huge postpartum experience that in many cases is months or years long if someone I think doesn't very deliberately attack it, but you have to know it to attack it. But I think part of knowing it is to talk to people who are in that same situation, if you can.
Jamie Wheal: Well, I mean, you just said this, not a Freudian slip but just you just wove it in, postpartum depression, which is obviously known for women after having a child, but it is the whole complete chaos and mayhem of all of that neurochemistry. And then lots of just structural stuff, sleep deprivation, loss of body, loss of self-autonomy. There's a thousand things contributing to that, but it is also, I mean, the idea that you would be experiencing a dopamine oxytocin hangover that you were pushed out of the nest, the tribe. You said something else about the PTSD effect and you bundle these terms, but I think they were just holding it up. One you said was a loss of identity and tribe as a sentence, but they are two things.
Rich Diviney: Yes, you're right.
Jamie Wheal: Because if I'm a hot shit CEO, I might have an identity that's lost when I retire to Florida and start golfing. I'm no longer in Forbes. I'm no longer getting invited to Allen & Company, whatever. So that's just an individual identity. But you said, and tribe, which is that sense of band of brothers, which is that sense of community, accountability, support, identity. That's a double whammy, and purpose.
Rich Diviney: Yeah, no, you're absolutely right. It's just to quickly go back postpartum. I don't know if Curt ever talked about this, but there's something, there's a saying when you go through BUD/S called post hell week depression. Have you heard of that? Did I tell you about post hell week depression? Post hell week depression is something you hear about when you first check into BUD/S and before you go through hell week, people are talking about post hell week depression. You're going to finish hell week and you're going to be really depressed. They're like, how can that be? Right? I didn't know until it happened to me. Post hell week depression, when you think about it, it's this whole process that we just talked about just condensed, right?
You go through something like hell week, which again, for your listeners, it's the crucible of SEAL training. You start on a Sunday afternoon. You run. You go until Friday of that week and you sleep for about two hours, two and a half hours the whole week. You're constantly being frozen and physical. You get most of your quitters through that hell week, right? You go through this thing. Every single Navy SEAL has been through hell week. That's the one commonality. I remember going through hell week, the day after, so I got secured from hell week on a Friday. You go to bed at like 4:00 PM and you don't wake up until 9:00 AM the next morning. I remember the day I woke up that Saturday morning in San Diego, one of the best days of my life still to this day.
Rich Diviney: I count that, it's next to my kids getting born, my marriage and all that stuff. Beautiful day, felt on top of the world. And then the next week started like the Monday and Tuesday. I remember feeling really, I started feeling depressed. I said to myself, oh my God, I still have five months of this bullshit. Right? It was the neurobiology. It was all those chemicals, everything was flushed. You're going through that complete flushing of all that. Like I got it, I did it, I did it. Now it's all going away. And so it's a micro example of this happening, but you know, think about it on a career. Right? It's huge.
Jamie Wheal: And a very obvious analog is post-Olympics depression, you know? Michael Phelps has spoken about that, Simone Biles. Lots of elite, elite athletes are like, I've spent my entire life working towards this point and it required everything I had and was a hyper, hyper peak arousal state. Again, the neurochemistry pumping and dumping, like I'm accomplishing the superhuman. And then that is clearly not a sustainable moment. We've talked about that with flow science, and it's a state and it requires recovery, a refractory period and all of those things. That refractory period unmanaged can feel identical to depression and especially decoupled from a narrative where other people are like, hey, this is what you're about to go through. See, you're in it and it's okay. You'll come out the other side. We did. We've got you. Absent that, it's just the fucking wasteland. You're just tearing into the abyss.
Rich Diviney: Totally. Yeah, it is. That's one of the biggest problems.
Jamie Wheal: Well, let me also run past you, because I think it would be easy for us to geek out on, again, mythologize action stories, which I'm sure you've never had a tendency to want to animate further and I think is besides the point. We can talk about neurosciencey, optimal psychology tips and tricks. But to me, I feel like this is actually the conversation that I'm most interested to have with you, which is fundamentally like courage, endurance, suffering, dignity, all these kind of things. Let me run this past you, because for me, this has just been our working definition of PTSD, is that it's not simply an adverse life event, an IED, the wrong person killed, domestic violence trauma. It's not just that, that happens and that's the kind of whole Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score, Peter Levine. That whole world of embodied trauma work, which I think is really important, but it's that plus narrative collapse, right?
My story of how the world works and my place or role in it is now upended. It no longer makes sense. And to me, it's generally both. Because if you just have a hit but you took the hit heads up and you took it for the right reasons and you understand the whys and wave force of how it came, you can move, your story remains intact. But if it's like, oh, if I'd only hugged my kid when they went out the door three seconds longer, they wouldn't have slipped in front of the school bus and they replay that for the rest of their life. Or my buddy got clipped by the IED, I just got a concussion. I'm a single bachelor who's kind of a cad. But my buddy was about to go home to his newborn, wife and kids and I can't get past that. The problem of evil, this is Job in the Bible. Like fuck you, Yahweh. That kind of thing. Does that track for you? Does that feel like a relevant distinction?
Rich Diviney: 100%. I mean, survivor guilt is one of the ways we describe the team, certainly. But I think it definitely tracks because I think all of this trauma in whatever form and the way you react to it in the moment may in fact, you might have thought of yourself as a certain person and then something happens. Trauma happens and you'll react in a way that you then look back and say, well, that's not who I thought I was, or had I done this? I think regret has a lot to do with, well, I mean, part of what you described was this idea of regret. This is why though, I think-
Jamie Wheal: The randomness, the fickleness, the unjustness.
Rich Diviney: That's right. This is why I say, you and I know, we know because we love studying it. There's tools you can use, physical tools you can use that help change your physiology, help you go from sympathetic to parasympathetic, to help you reframe events and things like that. We know that there's tools on that. But I tell people all the time, if you are unable to on your own start to deemphasize the emotions of a certain trigger, of a certain event, the event, the emotions that event triggers when you think of it, get help. Get help, get help. You can't necessarily do it on your own. In fact, most people can't, especially depending on the trauma. There are professionals out there who know how to get you through this type of trauma.
And I say that to people who are even might be in a transition period, and they're like, well, it's not trauma. I'm depressed because I'm out of the teams. Get help. Right? Because there's things that you can do to help change those neurological triggers and deemphasize the emotion associated with that and have you move on and take you out of the whole regret spin tailspin, which is really what regret is. Get help, get help, get help. That's all I can say. Don't try to do it by yourself. And especially if you think you're a tough guy or a tough gal because you come from a community of tough guys, tough gals, whether it be athletes or military or first responders or even high succeeding CEOs. If you think you're a tough, tough person, get some humility and say, nope, I'm going to get help. I'm not. I can't do this on my own. Because if you try, it's not going to turn out well.
Jamie Wheal: You said that one of your success factors was that you always had parallel identities, right? It was team commander, plus husband, and father.
Rich Diviney: Right.
Jamie Wheal: Now, teams in general, military in general, teams especially, right? Last minute deployments, can't tell you what I'm doing. Black box of my existence. You just have to trust me that this is notorious for trashing marriages and families.
Rich Diviney: Yeah.
Key Attributes for Enduring Trauma
Jamie Wheal: Right? It's just a wood chipper for that experience to say nothing of, I can't share. I mean, A, just disclosure, I'm not able to even tell you what's just happened and I'm not emotionally able to have the language for us to meet and heal. So what would you say were the success attributes of your marriage and family? Was it how you were raised? Was it a community of faith with a set of higher values? Was it your specific relationship with your wife? What was it that allowed that to be a pillar and not a tombstone?
Rich Diviney: Wow. What a great question. I'm not sure I can answer it as accurately but as I may want to in hindsight. But I will say at first pass, I was always very, very aware of my responsibility to maintain my humanness in a very kinetic and violent environment. And by that, I mean, when you go through that experience, this experience of combat, you will see stuff that is bad. You'll see bad things and you'll see bad things happen to people that shouldn't have happened to. It's tough to see. When you're in those moments, you have to lean on your compartmentalization to do your job. In other words, I can't think about that. I have to accomplish the mission. That's where I made sure I was cognizant.
Even when I compartmentalize in the moment, I still made a note, okay, I got to come back to that. I remember many times being out there and seeing and experiencing something that was really bad, having to compartmentalize my way through it all the way to finish the mission and go back and clean your weapons and do all the reports and all that stuff. And once I was back in my hooch by myself, I deliberately took time to mourn and experienced it and experienced the emotion because I knew I needed to stay human. The guys who I've talked to and I've shared this with, the guys who were successful did the same thing. They reminded themselves of the humanness of emotion. They were able to put themselves in a position where they could mourn.
I mean, you know, I'll just be blunt about it. One of the worst things you see in combat is when things happen to kids that shouldn't happen to kids. And to be a father in that moment, to understand, okay, I have to do my job right now but I'm still a father, to come back to that later and say and mourn that as a father would, that's important to do. That maintains your humanness. I think that's part of it. I think having a solid marriage, I mean, meeting the right person is really part of it. Some folks don't meet the right people. But having a supportive spouse on the home front is huge. And then I think focusing on that identity when you get home. I always joke. You and I have joked about this, because I've always loved to start kitesurfing. I don't have any hobbies. I remember telling you years ago, I was like, I want to start kitesurfing.
Jamie Wheal: I got hobbies. I got hobbies for days.
Rich Diviney: I know. Well, yeah, you had a lot of suggestions. I want to, I want it. I will eventually. But I always joked, I didn't have any hobbies. My hobby was my family. When I came home, that was my hobby, a hundred percent of me fully engrossed myself back into my family. And that I believe helped me because it just, when I was home, I solidified my identity in that position. I just made it stronger. I don't have any regrets. I mean, certainly I think about all the time I missed with my kids as they were growing up. I mean, that was a job I took. There's nothing I could do about that. When I was home, I was all in, man. I was doing everything I possibly could to be in it, to be part of it. I wasn't going out and playing golf.
I wasn't doing all those so I was in it. I say this for me, for others, other people, I think the key is find your own strategy. But I think this takes a very honest ability to introspect and ask one self, okay, what works for me? What doesn't work for me? Have that honest conversation with one self. I think that's where most people get hung up is either they don't take time to because they're lost in all the devices that steal our attention and no one's in their heads anymore. Or they don't want to because they're afraid of what they're going to find. But I think having those introspective moments and saying to yourself once in a while, I just get it. I want to get into my own head and ask myself what works, what doesn't, how do I feel about this? What am I doing? Those are some key things that helped me.
Jamie Wheal: Well then, it also sounds like you're doing you just shared before we jumped on, a beautiful full circle moment where you're taking your family diving. Which I'm imagining, I mean, you might have had a prior passion for it, but I'm imagine that an overwhelming majority of your time underwater was 100% tactical.
Rich Diviney: Yes.
Jamie Wheal: Right?
Rich Diviney: Yeah.
Jamie Wheal: And now you're getting to share the love of the-
Rich Diviney: I'll tell you, Jamie, and again, you and I talk about this. One of the reasons why I wanted to become a Navy SEAL in the first place, because I love being underwater. I'm the most comfortable underwater any time. What's interesting is when you're a Navy SEAL, 99% of diving is in dark murky, decidedly uncomfortable situations. But I still love scuba diving. So yeah, if you can blend those hobbies, as soon as I could, my boys were like, "Hey, we're going to get scuba qual'd." My wife wasn't as thrilled, but she said, "I'll do it." And so all of us got scuba qual'd and so we've all been underwater together sharing this experience and sharing this hobby. Man, it's just very powerful.
Jamie Wheal: Well, I mean, that's just a gorgeous bit of alchemy. Swords into plowshares, right? It's beautiful. All right. So then if you're cool with it, let's transition to what we teed up in the beginning which was fundamentally my inquiry broadly right now is, hey, it's feeling like civilian life is about to get a whole lot more VUCA. Volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. We're heading into some stormy seas. My prevailing assumption is most of us are deconditioned zoo animals, we are massively unprepared to express any of these attributes.
Rich Diviney: Yeah.
The Attributes We Need to Face a Future of Uncertainty With Courage, Hope and Resilience
Jamie Wheal: Right? And feel free just to, we can edit this out and punt on this one if you don't want to touch on this. But Curt actually read that book Alpha, which was about the Eddie Gallagher platoon. It's written by, I think the Pulitzer winning, New York Times guy, it was deeply researched. It was not a polemic from a political angle. It was just, what is this? What was this intensive, ethical crisis within the teams. And you mentioned that, you kind of alluded to something along those lines where like sometimes team guys dehumanize folks outside the team and then are able to act inhumanely towards others. And so for folks that don't remember that, that was Eddie Gallagher. I believe he was a chief petty officer within a West Coast team.
They were blowing and going in Iraq. It was very much like cuts up the river and apocalypse now. His methods became unsound. There was this question within the team, where are our allegiances? Our allegiances to our oath and to our pledges versus protecting and covering within our insular tribe. And it was this very gripping tale of people having to wrestle with that and then actually step up to call out what felt like unethical to potentially criminal behavior. The thing that I was just gutted after reading it, because at least as, and you obviously, you probably were aware of this in real time as it was happening. But as it was represented in that book, the valor and the courage of those team members to step up and throw a flag on that were undone when it actually came to the courtroom trial.
My assumption was it was effectively task switching. They had the attribute of courage, honor, oath, and they were hardwired to do that within their world. They'd been trained for that. But they got into a civilian courtroom or it might have even been a military courtroom but there were civilian lawyers involved and there was all this [inaudible 01:04:17] situation. And then they were sort of vulnerable to being persuaded and to being bent by people whispering their ears, by threatening bankruptcy, by threatening real world situations that they hadn't been tier one elite trained for. And then the moment of truth in the final courtroom and a number of people withdrew testimony, a number of people opted out of testifying and then throw in a presidential pardoning, et cetera, et cetera was just rocked all the way up to the admiralty. Rocked the Naval system.
I was just left thinking, oh, fuck me. Because every civilian conversation I'm in about hard times up ahead, about creating coherent groups of people where you really can look them in the eye and you know they won't break or fold. That stick with their integrity even if it means their own sacrifice. I was like, well, nobody's got anything better of a filtration process than the teams do from BUD/S right up through combat platoon. If that band of brothers can be pride apart, what hope do the rest of us have?
Rich Diviney: Fortunately we have a lot of hope. The reason why I say it is because yes, the SEAL teams are a band of brothers. It's a very powerful collection of attributes and bonding that goes on, but it's for a purpose. Let's not kid ourselves. The purpose is to go kill people. That's what Navy SEALs do, right. That is the job of Naval Special Warfare or any Spec Ops. Obvious there's ancillary jobs here and there, but the mission is one of violence. And so that whole community, and I'll count all spec operators in this, or even all military. I know Spec Ops the best, but that whole community has to be looked at through a lens of what job they're designed to do. To do that job effectively, that selection process has to very definitely try to find the folks who can do that and walk this razor thin line of good and bad.
It's a tough line to walk, Jamie, because I always say, it takes a bad guy or a bad guy's mind to find other bad guys. Right? I would say one of the predominant qualities, one of the product attributes of all SEALs, and I say this in the book, is cunning. Cunning is the ability and cunning can be used malevolently, it can also be used benevolently. I mean, Oskar Schindler used it benevolently. Whereas Bernie Madoff, malevolently, right? But cunning is really, if we take the judgment out of it is the ability to think outside the box. To ask her, to look at a problem set and say, okay, are there rules and constraints around this thing? And if so, are they real or are they perceived? And if they're real, what happens if I break them? That's what the cunning mind does.
And so the cunning mind and the SEALs being cunning, we're always bent on looking outside the rule systems. How can we do something differently outside the rules? How can I get a jump on the people who might be inside the box? We can't forget that we're selecting for people like this. So you're going to find, you know, whenever you filter cream, you're going to have within that really fine cream, there's going to be a scale, really good down to bad. Unfortunately when it's cream, it's like really, really good and really, really bad. Right? But the environment is one that really dances in that ambiguity of good and bad, how do I do this job? So I think the reason why I say this is because there's hope for all of us because we don't, we as normal people and even SEALs who aren't in the job, we don't have to think about life that way. That life is not a violent endeavor, right?
It could be, I guess, but we have to live. We have to decide. We're in many ways free to look at our environments in a much more open minded and empathetic way, whereas you might not be able to in the SEAL environment. I think if you are surrounding yourself with people who you trust and they trust you, and again, trust is earned through behavior. I can't make you trust me. Right? I can only behave in a way that allows you to choose to trust me, right? So I behave in a way that allows you to choose to trust me. You behave in a way that allows me to choose to trust you. You create that trusted environment that also seeds vulnerability. Now I know who you are. I know your attributes, I know your skills. I know what you're good at.
I know what you're bad at. You have that environment. You will then have in your surrounding people who you can lean on and you'll know what they will do when the shit hits the fan. Okay. I'm just confident because I don't think the shit is not going to hit the fan in our lives the way it hits the fan in combat. What we saw play out in the Gallagher case was we saw the extreme example of this play out for the public and what we have to make sure we do is A, look at it with an open mind and certainly empathy. But then say, okay, that's not us. We are allowed to be in a much broader space and think about this more generally. I hope that makes sense, but that's kind of my initial thought on it.
Jamie Wheal: Now let's take it from within the teams and even the sort of aberrations, like the Gallagher case and bring it out more broadly to all of us, let's say American citizens or even just citizens of the world. I was just going to track, what did Julie and I end up talking about on our daily dog walks. Quite often it's error messages from interacting with other people. We're like, what on earth was that about? And that's fundamentally our dog walk. I mean, we try and we even we found ourselves talking so much about that, just error messages with other humans in the world that we're like, wait, we're upside down. We shouldn't be noodling on these things. Consistently, we should be talking about our kids and we should be talking about our work in the world. That feels generative. That feels like what we should be spending our time discussing.
As a result of kind of like, you know, we sort of playfully just call it the WYSIWYG factor, which is that acronym, What You See Is What You Get, which is a computer programming acronym meaning like what you see on the screen is what it's going to look like live when you hit publish. Right? So WYSIWYG. My WYSIWYG is fundamentally has become, and I would say I fully cop to being a naive romantic. I always assumed. It wasn't until a few years ago that I read Aristotle's three versions of friendship and it was revelatory to me. It was like there's three types of friendship. There's the transactional relationship, you're in it to get something from it, which is fine if both parties are doing that. It's a little more upsetting or destabilizing if you didn't realize you were being transacted.
But then the next one is the hedonistic friendship, we're in it for the good times in the party. You've got a boat. We're at a party. You get me on a guest list, whatever it would be. Some form of social climbing/good times. And then the third one is the virtuous relationship. We're in it for each other's mutual growth and companionship. Right. As soon as I read it, I'm like, oh my gosh, I'm so, so naive. I had assumed that, especially in this day and age where we've had access to all the fun psycho technologies, we can hack flow states, we can listen to the best music. We can have all that. We can calibrate our consciousness with all sorts of compounds and chemicals. We can do all the fun, fun, fun things that that party, if it was dropping us into the deep presence. Right.
I would've assumed, oh, we are all in this to win it. We're in it together. We're like, we are sharing a moment of whatever you would want to call it. Deep time, sacred time, flow state, group flow, whatever. That stamps us, that mocks us, therefore we're all band of brothers. And then I would constantly experience people disappearing when you got to the hard part or only gathered around it because they thought there was some high energy there and they could glean, they could skim something from the till. And so my WYSIWYG assessment these days, and I'm totally open to having you push back or challenge any of it is I think an overwhelming majority of people are transactors and hedonists. A precious few are actually virtuous. Most people will in the crux, like in the crisis moment will seek pleasure or avoid pain. They won't do the proverbial right thing.
For me, rather than that being like a cynical conclusion, it was actually a liberating one. I'm like, hey, I get all that bandwidth back trying to fucking sort through those error messages, which if I just run the WYSIWYG script, I'm like, oh, that's what it is. You know? And it also then really allowed me to identify, celebrate cherish the virtuous relationships I do have versus imagining that I'm supposed to be dragging everybody up that mountain who they never sign up for that and they're probably not built for that. Most people will seek pleasure and avoid pain. So now, feel free to respond to that at any level, including your position on attribute. Let's just say courage, loyalty, and sacrifice. Let's just distill it down to those. What's your take on it?
Why the Courage Attribute is Multifaceted
Rich Diviney: Well, first of all, I agree with you. I think and I wonder how much maturity and experience has to do with that type of epiphany. I find as I've grown older, I've made this realization, hey, I really want to just be around people and hang around people who take joy in my presence, I take joy in their presence. They're trusted. I mean, they're fulfilling, they're uplifting. I wonder. As a younger person, that wasn't the case. You're almost feeling it out. So maybe there's a maturity factor in that. Courage as an attribute is a little bit more nuanced, right? Courage attribute is really more, where do you fall on the scale of that amygdala response? At what temperature does your amygdala start to get tickled?
And I say most of us probably fall around the 212 range, right? The boiling point, where right around 212 our amygdala starts to get tickled. There are some people though whose boiling point is 190, which means their amygdala starts getting tickled way earlier. Then there are other people like the Alex Honnolds of the world whose amygdala is probably set at like 250. I think courage is really where you stand on that and it's a very subjective thing. I would say even the people who are at the 190 might be even more courageous than the rest of us because they're having to step into their fear more often than the rest of us. I mean, courage is literally as you know, just the ability to step into your fear. So that's one. Selflessness, again, an attribute. How willing are we and how predisposed are we to risk ourselves for another person and sacrifice ourselves for another person.
There are just people who are more or less. I think though that as we look at our relationships, that's why selflessness is one of the leadership attributes because it's really, I mean, we choose our leaders. I always joke about this. Self-designating as a leader, you can't do that. It's like calling yourself funny or good looking. You don't get to decide. Other people decide whether or not you are someone they want to follow, and they do so based on how you behave. One of those behaviors is how selfless you are. These attributes stem from these behaviors that allow people to say this person is a leader. I think that type of behavior instills those groups. But again, here's the kicker. You have to go first. You shouldn't be looking out for people and expecting selflessness from people.
We have to go first in this endeavor, right? We have to behave. The more we behave in these ways, the more I think you start to understand who feels that way and start to in fact, and if you're tuned in, start to attract groups of people that actually are more the people you want to hang out with. Then loyalty, loyalty is a tough one for me because loyalty I've seen, and the example with the Eddie Gallagher thing is a great one. But I've seen loyalty be malevolent. Loyalty can sometimes be mixed up with integrity. In other words, do the right thing means stick. Don't be a snitch, stick behind. Stick with someone right or wrong, that's loyalty. So I think loyalty is a little bit of a tough one. I think integrity is a better one when you're talking about, okay, you want to find…
Again, integrity is subjective too, because right and wrong looks different for the Cub Scout troop than it does for the ISIS troop. Right and wrong integrity is defined by the group you choose to be in, that right and wrong, and that's what you have to balance your stuff. Are you with people who are willing to do the right thing in the context of the group you're in?
Jamie Wheal: Yeah. Fantastic. I think it was just interesting that you made that distinction of like, you can't, you can't self-anoint or appoint as a leader, and yet your entire career was within a hierarchical top down command where who was on top.
Rich Diviney: Totally.
Jamie Wheal: And it wasn't your choice. So it's neat that you're emphasizing the structureless.
Rich Diviney: Yeah. It's not leadership. What I was though, Jamie, just to clarify, I was always in charge. That's the noun of leader. I was always in a position where I was in charge. You can self-designate as someone in charge and you can do whatever you want. You can say, oh, you can put a fifth grader in charge of the classroom while the teacher goes and gives something to the principal, right? What you can't do is as a leader. If you consider yourself a leader and you turn around and there's no one following you, I've got bad news for you. We all know we've experienced people. I've certainly experienced it in the military.
We've all probably experienced people who have people who are hierarchically positioned above us and we look at that person and say, I wouldn't follow that person anywhere. Meanwhile, you look over the water cooler and the person over the water cooler has no hierarchical position whatsoever and you say, I'd follow that person to hell and back. Why? It's because of the way that person behaves. That's what makes the leader, right. That's the important thing. It's a verb, not a noun.
Jamie Wheal: Beautiful, beautiful. Well, you know, throughout this conversation but especially when you were describing the difference between skills, teachable, trainable, repeatable, and attributes, where you simply have to fling yourself into noble and uncertain conditions to grow them. It reminded me of, and we can wrap on this, but it's Bob Kegan, the chair of adult development at Harvard. He has this very nuanced perspective on how do we grow over time, how do humans do this thing? He said at some point you move from problems that you're trying to solve, AKA skill acquisition, to problems that solve us.
Rich Diviney: Yeah.
Jamie Wheal: Right. Which feels really complimentary to your wonderful body of work here in The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance. Rich, it's been a blast as always to catch up. I'm glad we got to double dip on just swapping notes on life and also exploring some themes that are hopefully a little bit more timeless and applicable for folks.
Rich Diviney: Yeah. I am too, my friend, I think. If I'm down in your neck of the woods, I will let you know, we need to catch up in person. If you're here up on the East Coast, please let me know. But I value our friendship and it's now been, gosh, we're almost 10 years since knowing each other so that's wonderful. It's a wonderful place to be. You are certainly someone who I consider in my circle of people I love to hang out with. So thank you for being one of those people.
Jamie Wheal: Fantastic. All right, mate. Be well.
Rich Diviney: All right. Thanks Jamie.