Ex-General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt on guiding the company through crisis and why leaders need to be ‘masters of chaos’

jeff immelt
Former GE CEO Jeff Immelt.

  • Jeff Immelt succeeded Jack Welch as the CEO of General Electric just after 9/11.
  • With Welch known as one of the best CEOs in the history of business, Immelt had big shoes to fill.
  • Immelt shared how he overcame challenges and what he would have done differently with The Profile.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jeff Immelt’s first day as CEO at General Electric was on September 10, 2001. The next day, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon shook the world, the financial markets, and GE’s business. The airplanes, one of them powered by GE engines, crashed into the WTC towers, which were insured by GE Capital.

At the time, GE was heavily invested in commercial aviation, insurance, and media – all three of which were rocked by September 11.

“It was the first terrorist event I had ever seen – that most Americans of my generation had ever seen,” Immelt told The Profile. “I think what you learn in a crisis is that good leaders absorb fear. They’re not accelerators of fear – they know how to manage a sense of calm while still being really clear about the challenges ahead.”

And unbeknownst to Immelt at the time, the challenges ahead were many. The terrorist attacks would be the first of a number of crises that Immelt had to grapple with in his time as CEO. He was at the helm of the company through the bursting of the dot com bubble, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the fall of Enron, and the 2008-09 financial crisis.

“You learn to hold two truths,” Immelt said. “You learn to say, ‘Things can always get worse, but here’s a dream that I have for the future, and I’m not going to give up on that.’ You learn how to make decisions even when you don’t know all the facts. In a crisis, you just got to make decisions.”

Read more: Wall Street legend Jim O’Shaughnessy talks Bitcoin, the psychology of stocks, and what young people should know about investing

Unfortunately, many of the decisions that Immelt made in his 16 years at the helm of GE did not pan out in his favor nor were they particularly popular. At one point during his tenure, he characterized his role as CEO in this way: “I feel like I want to vomit all the time.”

“I never felt sorry for myself, but it was just the pressure and the consequences of all the decisions, how little was known,” he said. “That period of time – it was just relentless.”

Immelt succeeded Jack Welch, who was largely considered to be one of the best CEOs in the history of business. He had led GE through two decades of extraordinary corporate prosperity, so when he named Immelt as his successor, the pressure to perform was immense.

Even though Welch was no longer CEO, his legacy loomed. He was regarded by many as the greatest leader of his era by people both inside and outside the company.

During the summer of 2001, Immelt went on a golf trip with his friends before it was publicly announced he was CEO. In the locker room, a member asked him what he did for work, and he simply said, “I work at GE.” The man looked at him and said, “GE, huh? I feel sorry for the poor son of a bitch who’s taking Jack Welch’s place.”

Shareholders blamed Immelt for his inability to turn the company around and for allowing GE to lose $150 billion of market value under his watch. In his new book, “Hot Seat: What I Learned Leading a Great American Company,” Immelt doesn’t make excuses: He takes responsibility for his missteps and lists the thorniest mistakes he regrets making in his time as CEO. They include failing to generate more shareholder value from GE Capital, missing an opportunity to reset the company in the early 2000s, and not developing a deep enough bench of rising leaders.

“It’s a complicated story, and I didn’t want to seem defensive, so I wanted to let the reader be the judge,” he said. “I thought it was important for people to see the totality. That’s why I decided to write the book.”

In this conversation, Immelt shares what he’s learned about leading in crisis, how he’s taken responsibility for the consequences of his decisions, and why he believes the next generation of founders and CEOs need to be masters of chaos.

(Below is an excerpt of the interview, but I encourage you to listen and watch the full interview here)



Just to paint the picture here: Your predecessor Jack Welch was largely considered to be the best CEO in history.

IMMELT: Fortune magazine had named him the best manager of the previous century in the year 2000. That’s a pretty tough act to follow, but he was just very well known. He was a celebrity CEO – kind of like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos all wrapped up into one. He had done a good job, and he’d done it for a long time. He was very charismatic, and so that was a pretty daunting task. That was the person whose shoes I was stepping into. That was my task in 2001.

When you were offered the job as CEO, did you ever think, “Those are really big shoes to fill. Maybe I’m not the right person for this?”

You know, I was a realist. There was no way not to think that his image would cast a shadow. That’s just the real world. But I never really wanted to be him. I was a very different person, and I felt like that the job that the company needed was going to be different, and you have to make a choice of how much to honor the past versus how much to push forward.

So when I was at GE, I was never critical of him for over really 16 years, but I always wanted to do things my way and work on things I felt were gaps inside the company. You just have to be really comfortable with that judgment without dwelling on it for too long.

I was in Tokyo in 2014, and I was being interviewed in front of 2,000 people by the Nikkei press. We were in the green room, and the person interviewing me says, “What was it like following Jack Welch?” And I was like, “I’ve been asked that question in 100 languages, 30,000 times over the last few years.” We kind of laughed about it, so we go out on stage, and the first question was, “What was it like following Jack Welch?” So you just get used to making it part of your repertoire even though I never really carried it as a burden in terms of what I thought was important to the company.

What was your relationship to Welch when you became CEO?

I had immense respect for Jack, but when someone’s that powerful inside the company, it’s hard to have a mentorship relationship. I had other mentors, but not him. We had about eight months of overlap where I got a chance to ask him a ton of questions, and he was very helpful then. And then I think over the first four or five years, we had a good relationship, but I think the financial crisis kind of changed the nature of our relationship and made it a little more difficult.

Even through the arc of my career, every tough problem I ever encountered, I would ask his opinion – even when I didn’t really like him that much or when he didn’t really like me that much. I would always ask him for his opinion because he had great judgment, and he knew the company. We both cared about the company in different ways.

From the outside, things looked great. Under Welch, GE had been the most valuable company on earth for a period of time. Can you discuss the reality of the business that you inherited?

The business model was kind of an old-line industrial company that generated a lot of cash. That cash would go to a financial service company. We had a 50% stale industrial company, and 50% financial.

The perception didn’t quite match reality. We understood that as we were taking over, and I had conversations with the board. And that’s what we said about re-investing in the industrial company to try and rejuvenate the business while still growing financial services. That’s the decision we made. That’s one of the challenges that every leader runs into – it’s how do you match perception with reality?

Looking back now, do you wish you had been more clear and transparent about the reality of the business at the time?

There was a window of time after 9/11 when I think people after a crisis have a chance to reset their companies and their narrative. There was probably a window at that time when I had a chance to kind of reset: lower earnings, less financial services, and a really clear path of how much our industrial businesses needed to be invested in in order to get them positioned for the 21st century.

It’s a long-winded way to answer your question, but the answer is yes. There was a window. I do look back on that as something I wish I had done.

The 2008 financial crisis shook GE to the core. You had missed your earning numbers three weeks after you promised to hit them. And then Welch went on CNBC, where he said that if you missed earnings again, he would “be shocked beyond belief, and get a gun out and shoot you.” What was your reaction in that moment and how did you handle that?

Yeah, I was really hurt because, in 2008, I had very carefully never looked backward or pointed a finger at him. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re doing, there are like five moments in your life when you just need a friend. You screwed up, you know you screwed up, and you need somebody to give you their hand and not smack your butt. And he chose to smack my butt, not give me his hand – and you remember that.

I never thought it would be a good thing for the company to see us bickering in public, so I never did that, but we had a very direct, private conversation. It was a line of demarcation in our relationship for sure. Even after that, when I had a really tough decision to make, I always called him – even when we weren’t friends. I thought he had a good perspective that I could learn from and listen to.

Let’s be clear – I knew I goofed up. I knew that, but I was trying to recover, and I needed a friend. I just needed a hand. And what he did was just the opposite of that. He made a two- to three-day story become a one-month story. It was unnecessary roughness.

In your time as CEO, it was crisis after crisis after crisis and a lot of turbulence in your professional life. How did you manage to have a solid personal life?

I’ve always been good at compartmentalizing. I’ve always been good at focusing on staying in the moment to focusing on what needs to happen and trying to separate that from other things that I’m working on.

The fact of the matter is that I have a really great wife and a great daughter. And they were always really unaffected by what I was doing. Clearly, they read things and heard things, but they were always into the person and not the business person. That was a blessing.

There were days when hundreds of thousands of people hated me, but one person loved me, and that was enough to keep persevering into the future.

Shares plunged nearly 30% since you took over the company. How do you respond to the people and the shareholders who feel genuinely angry at you for the decisions you made as CEO?

Look, the share price is important. It was $38 when I started as CEO, and it was $30 when I left. I understand that. I completely understand that, and I don’t run from that.

What I try to point out is that we generated almost $300 billion of cash and earnings over those 16 years. We had great businesses. We generated good leaders. In other words, the team really worked hard through different crises and did their best. That’s the best I can offer – a more complete story of what happened.

In the book, you have a section in which you list several of the thorniest mistakes you believe you made during your time at GE. Can you share the one mistake you regret the most?

We had good leaders, many of which are CEOs of companies today, but we ran the company for efficiency. We had eight big P&Ls. Having lived in Silicon Valley for a period of time, what I would’ve done differently is run the company with 100 P&Ls to give leaders more focus, accountability, and to make them more innovative earlier on.

A question from a Profile reader: “Although Jeff takes public responsibility for the overall volatility during his tenure at GE, if given the chance to do it over, what 3 things would he have done differently?”

I would’ve simplified the company even further, faster. I would’ve shed more businesses and doubled down. I would’ve made the company deeper. I would’ve actually driven the digital initiative even harder. I would’ve been even more determined and more dogmatic in that regard.

In this uncertain world we live in, you advise a lot of young founders in your capacity as a venture partner at NEA. How do you advise them to learn to become masters of chaos?

There’s this notion of holding two truths at the same time. Knowing that the world is unfair, that it’s really tough, and that just when you think things can’t get worse, they can. You also need to keep your head up and know that the best opportunities may come your way during COVID, or after 9/11, or during the financial crisis. What every young leader can do is understand that you can hold two truths at the same time. You must hold two truths at the same time. But only a select few can do that.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Wall Street legend Jim O’Shaughnessy talks Bitcoin, the psychology of stocks, and what young people should know about investing

GettyImages 165223596
Jim O’Shaughnessy.

  • Jim O’Shaughnessy is a Wall Street legend and the founder and CIO of O’Shaughnessy Asset Management.
  • In March, O’Shaughnessy participated in an hour-long live Q&A with readers of The Profile.
  • In the Q&A, O’Shaughnessy talks investing, timing the stock market, and avoiding blind spots.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jim O’Shaughnessy is a Wall Street legend and the founder, chairman, and chief investment officer of O’Shaughnessy Asset Management, which has $6.2 billion in assets under management.

O’Shaughnessy is also my friend. We’ve gotten to know each other since he subscribed to my newsletter, The Profile, and I had a wide-ranging conversation with him on his podcast, Infinite Loops.

In March, O’Shaughnessy participated in an hour-long, live “Ask Me Anything” with readers who are part of The Profile’s members-only Telegram chat. (To join, consider becoming a premium member here.)

We discussed the stimulus package, digital assets, intellectual curiosity, and why O’Shaughnessy believes we’re living through “the golden age of the individual investor.”

Read more: Women founders and investors share what it takes to raise your first round of funding

Below are the highlights of O’Shaughnessy’s Q&A with the readers:

Q: Loved your interview with [your son] Patrick O’Shaughnessy. Can you describe the process of premeditated success?

Thank you! I’m glad you like the interview with Patrick. So, premeditated success was something I learned from my grandfather. He told me that when you really think things through, you need it to premeditate all of the possible outcomes of what you were trying to achieve and the way you were trying to achieve it. When you go through this process, you sometimes find holes in your knowledge that the process uncovers. You may also find that maybe you really don’t want to do this activity at all. I recommend doing this as a writing with a pen and paper exercise.

Q: You mean it should be a conscious stream of writings on a specific project I have in mind (more like the Morning Pages of The Artist’s Way) or using my intellect to brainstorm all possible scenarios and outcomes?

Ideally, both. It’s a bit like a pen and paper Monte Carlo simulation. It’s worked very well for me and I have used it since I was in my early 20s. Writing about something often shows you how well you understand it or don’t understand it! It’s a great exercise end it unlocks a creative stream.

Q: How do you take notes and remember them?

As far as note-taking goes, I use a variety of methods, so for example, I read everything on Kindle for iPad where I make many, many notes and then export them to Word. I then review them and jot down with pen and paper the ones that I want to explore more, or combine with others to come up with a new way of looking at things. Paper notes can definitely be a hassle, but I also then transfer the most important stuff to a searchable database on the computer.

Q: What’s your view on bond yields and the stock market?

I think the future for bonds is quite negative given where rates are. Bonds are pretty much pure math, as interest rates go down, bond prices go up and as interest rates rise, bond prices decline. I think it depends on what your time frame is as far as the stock market is concerned. Trying to time the market has been something I’ve never been able to do. But for long-term investors, I think world stock markets are a great buy and hold.

Q: What are your thoughts on the recent stimulus bill passed, and what impact will this have on assets? Also, do you have an opinion on Bitcoin and other digital assets being held on the balance sheets of companies?

As to the stimulus bill, as usual, when Congress passes one of these massive packages, there is a tremendous amount of waste and patronage being doled out to their favorite constituencies. But people on Main Street need this money, and I guess that’s the price we must pay. When COVID began, I was unusually vocal about the need for a $5 trillion package to be passed to keep people solvent.

As to Bitcoin on balance sheets, that’s a more difficult question. Typically, corporate treasuries keep cash in stable instruments. Whether you love or loathe Bitcoin, it has been anything but a stable instrument. My problem is, the company is on the hook for this type of behavior, and it could end in tears particularly if Bitcoin goes into a bear market.

Q: What have you seen are the best ways for investors to control their psychology and emotions during bull and bear markets?

I’ve long said that the Four Horsemen of the Investment Apocalypse are fear, greed, hope, and ignorance. Only ignorance is not an emotion.

We unfortunately are optimized for an environment that no longer exists. When our fight or flight instinct kicks in, it literally takes over the decision-making in your brain. That’s why I often say there’s a big difference between understanding something intellectually and emotionally. My solution was to become a quantitative investor whereby all of our models and algorithms that we have built buy and sell securities based on our research. This has allowed me to in essence gate my very human emotional responses using the models.

If quant isn’t your thing, there are several ways to deal with these emotional take-overs. One would be to have a friend or significant other that you can discuss the emotional reaction with, kind of like a co-pilot. I have a friend in Vienna who is not a quant at all, but notices when his emotions are rising, and then he immediately gets up from his computer, puts on some running gear and takes a run, which allows him to break the emotional cycle that he was spinning into.

Q: How do you generally avoid blind spots/bias – do you run these by outsiders or members of your team?

Good question. We all have blind spots and simply acknowledging that they exist helps us to understand and look for them. I think we’re making a mistake when we think that we have a complete solution to almost anything.

Try following as best you can a “scientific method” where you are continually asking questions, putting them to the group, and always have an error-correction methodology as part of your process.

People sometimes confuse bad outcomes with bad decisions. I tend to look at outcomes in aggregate and not individually. I also try to use mistakes as learning opportunities and get excited when I find something that can make me a little less dumb than I was yesterday.

Q: If you could wave a magic wand and help young people truly understand one thing about investing, what would it be?

I guess if I had a magic wand and could help young people understand one thing it would be that successful investing is much less about financial acumen and much more about emotional control.

Q: What’s an effective way to communicate and make an investor understand what risk is?

I like Jason Zweig’s example of how to teach people about risk. He jokes that what we do currently is show people a picture of a snake and ask them how frightened that makes them. His suggestion, which of course is in jest, is that we would get a much better reading by throwing a live snake in their lap and seeing how that affects them. Now I know this is a joke, but it underlines a profound truth: the real time experience of both gains and losses is very, very different than looking at such things on paper.

I think it’s very helpful for the asset manager to point out all of the flaws in him or herself, what I call human operating system, and then try to make the client understand that we all have the same human OS.

Q: It sounds like a lot of your thinking is based upon a strong understanding of our evolution. How would you recommend studying this further to gain a deep understanding of what you called “human OS”?

I often recommend that people read broadly outside of finance, specifically evolutionary psychology and biology. After all, human beings price securities. And yes, even for high-frequency traders, a human being programmed that and can decide if he or she chooses to override it. I think the best advice I can give is to understand that temperament and not intellect is what turns you into a successful long-term investor.

Q: Why did you decide to start a podcast?

I started the podcast because I love featuring people doing cool or unusual things, and I thought that there was room for a podcast that was really more of a conversation than a question and answer. So far, I’ve been absolutely delighted and really enjoyed learning so much from all of my guests.

Q: How is your weekly schedule divided between work, Twitter, podcast, and family?

I am very lucky in that my normal disposition is to be lazy bordering on sloth, but seriously, after I elevated Patrick to CEO of OSAM, I set up my daily calendar to be as open as possible. I basically do a ton of reading every day, have some fun on Twitter, and talk to a lot of people – many of whom I actually met on social media.

I think that for Twitter and other social media to become what they can be, which is a global intelligence network, you need to take the next step and meet people and speak with them in real life. I’ve done that and it’s quite amazing the quality of people you meet, and especially those that come from outside your normal network, which allows for ideas and other thoughts to come in to your domain. I think it’s a tremendous use of Twitter and things like Polina’s Profile Telegram chat that we’re doing right now.

Q: You seem to have passed on your curiosity and thirst for learning to your kids. They’re successful and seemingly fulfilled in their own ways. Any parenting tips?

Thanks very much for the kind words about my kids. I really appreciate it. And yes, I do have some advice that worked well for me. When my wife and I were young, we discussed what we wanted to achieve as parents.

Patrick was born when we were both 24 years old, but we already had a very strong idea of how we wanted to raise him and our other kids. In a phrase, our goal was to raise great adults. If you think about that for a minute, you see that it precludes all sorts of behavior that many parents naturally fall into.

You can’t say, ‘Because I’m the boss,’ you can’t say ‘Because you’re living in my house, it’s my rules.’ If you want to raise a great adult, you want somebody who can explain and think about why they want something. The same goes for curiosity. I love books and have a large collection, and any time either Patrick or one of my girls came and tried to use me as Google, I would point at the bookshelf and say, ‘Look it up in there.’

My kids found that increased their interest in other things they found along the way of looking up the answer they were seeking. I’m very proud of all three of my kids!

Q: What have you found to be the key to a long, happy marriage?

For me, it was the understanding even at age 22 when I got married to my wife that successful marriages don’t just happen – you have to work at them constantly. The best advice I can give on that score is to be as communicative and open with your spouse as you can be, and don’t assume that even though you might have been with them for years that they can intuit what your thoughts or feelings are. We’re not mind readers, and being constantly aware of this keeps you conversing with your spouse and “checking in” to make sure everything is OK.

There are lots of times when things aren’t OK, and you need to deal with them. If you let them fester, they can become deadly. Another thing that both of us agreed to before we got married was that we were truly in this for the long-haul. And so the hills and valleys of our relationship were just that and not anything that would make us want to end our relationship.

Q: What fields or assets are you most excited about over the next five t0 10 years?

I think that we are in a golden age for individual investors. The amount of tools, platforms, and access to new ideas both through social media and other areas on the Internet have profoundly changed the field.

It’s become far more level for diligent people who want to search out the latest and most interesting investment ideas. Personally, I think that the basics of investing in public markets remain pretty much unchanged, but one thing that I’m incredibly excited about is the future of customization for people’s portfolios.

My company has a platform called Canvas that allows clients to tax manage their portfolios in a way that generates possibly 50 to 100 basis points of additional return outside of market return. We can also immunize large positions that they may have because of where they work so for example, if we have a client who is a bigwig at Google, we can exclude the technology sector from his or her portfolio.

We also have the ability to fine-tune ESG, or social investing, right down to the client’s very specific needs. An example, one of our clients wants part of her portfolio to be devoted to companies that have 20% or greater women in C-suites or on the board. We can do that.

For people who aren’t using an asset manager, the quality of insights available just on Twitter really amaze me. I did a podcast with a young researcher named Lily Francus who is famous for her ‘NOPE’ indicator. It’s really quite a fascinating approach to investing, and now everyone is available to follow her because of social media. These types of things would’ve been impossible when I began my investment career.

Q: What’s your favorite story of perseverance that has helped you through your career perhaps and/or other difficult life moments?

I love the books about [Ernest] Shackleton and the perseverance it took to get his team out alive. I also love the book “Unbroken,” which is about the ability to survive a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II. If you’re looking for more current examples that I find inspiring, the book “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins is quite good. (Read David Goggins’s Profile Dossier here.)

Q: How do you decide who you will mentor? What generally goes under mentoring?

That’s an interesting question. I have many requests from people who would like to work with me on mentoring issues. One of the things that I look for are traits where I know I may be able to help that person. So once such trait is perseverance. I’m sure you can see where this is going, right? I love to see individuals continue to engage me either publicly on Twitter or privately through DMs or texts.

One thing that I passionately believe is that I can’t change another human being. Only that person can change and only if they want to – I can assist them in that change and I’m happy when I’m able to do that, but I also think that external motivation is very fleeting. You need internal motivation to make any real change. Finally, several of the people I work with I actually invited because I found what they were working on so exciting and different, so this is a two-way street. I am learning a lot too!

Q: What pushes you to stay curious and humble?

I have been voraciously curious since I was a kid. My parents got so tired of me saying, ‘But why?’ They channeled my energy into things like reading encyclopedias, and in fact, reading virtually anything. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house that had a ton of books, and I find that curiosity is something – as Dorothy Parker remarked – that there is no cure for.

I also like the Steven Wright joke that goes, ‘Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect.’ So I really don’t have to try to be curious, it’s a natural affliction, but one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

As to being humble, as you go through life, you learn a lot and one of the first things you learn, is for the most part, you’re not nearly as smart as you think you are. Coming to this realization is a godsend, because it keeps you in what I call ‘beginner’s mind.’

Q: What are you most interested in learning about these days?

These days, I have been fascinated by and continually studying what I’m calling ‘The Great Re-shuffle.’

We are living through one of the most fascinating periods in human history, where all of the old models and institutions are crumbling, and their successors have not yet been determined. Social media has within it the seeds of a global intelligence network, but only if you use it correctly.

Curate your timeline and who you follow with diligence, try and pay as little attention to the noise and the shouting, and spend more of your time concentrating on the great ideas and then getting to know the people who are offering them.

I think a side effect of the great re-shuffling is a sort of emotional mind virus that unfortunately I have seen infect far too many people. It seems to be a result of the increasing velocity of information and knowledge that are rapidly changing what I call base rate or consensus reality. In such environments, many often simply say this is too much and end up reverting to simpler and or more emotionally appealing models. I think generally, that’s a mistake.

So I spend much of my time reading about and trying to synthesize ideas about the world of tomorrow and what it will look like. I personally am very bullish on it and I think if people spend more time looking at sites like progress.org or humanprogress.org, they would see that there is a tremendous amount of great strides being made in the world in general.

Things like the number of people dying from dysentery or bad water are rapidly declining and sometimes we focus too much on our ‘first world problems’ and lose sight of just how much the rest of the world has advanced.

Q: Since The Profile is all about improving our content diet, what are your go-to sources for quality information or education?

So you begin with an excellent resource, Polina’s Profile. There are lots of great blogs like Alex Danco, Tim Urban, and really almost too many to mention. The good news is that most of them are also active on Twitter, so you can curate a kick-ass information resource that was impossible prior to social media.

Read the original article on Business Insider

7 mentally tough people and the tactics they used to build resilience and perform under pressure

Kobe Bryant
Mental performance coach Lauren Johnson says Kobe Bryant created the alter ego “Black Mamba” to give him confidence on the court.

  • Mentally strong people often use specific practices to build their resilience, says writer Polina Marinova.
  • At least two of them – Kobe Bryant and David Goggins – created alter egos to build confidence.
  • Mental performance coach Lauren Johnson says these tactics can help you overcome fear and defeat.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Lauren Johnson is a mental performance coach who most recently worked with the New York Yankees, where she helped develop strategies for athletes and sports professionals to help them cultivate mental resilience.

In this conversation, Johnson and I deconstruct the strategies and tactics of seven mentally tough people and how they learned to perform under pressure. Below is a summary of our conversation, but you can listen on Apple Podcasts.

1. David Goggins, the toughest athlete on the planet

David Goggins grew up living in fear. At school, he experienced incessant bullying and racism. At home, he suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his own father.

By the time Goggins was in his early 20s, he had asthma, a learning disability, a stutter, and crushingly low self-esteem. He was earning less than $1,000 a month spraying for cockroaches.

One night, he came home with a 42-ounce shake from Steak and Shake and sat down in front of the TV. He stumbled upon a documentary on the US Navy SEALs that changed the trajectory of his entire life.

Through a relentless determination and grit, Goggins went on to complete three Navy SEAL “hell weeks,” more than 50 endurance races, and holds the Guinness World Record for most pull-ups (4,030) in 24 hours.

He used a number of mental strategies to help him become mentally unshakeable.

Create an alter ego: Goggins believes he was built, not born. He intentionally created a separate identity that separated him from his past of bullying, fear, and abuse. “I had to create ‘Goggins,’ because ‘David Goggins’ was a weak kid. So I created ‘Goggins,'” he said. “I wanted to be proud of who I was.”

Johnson says that self-distancing is a helpful strategy in helping us manage our emotions better. “When you create an alter ego, it actually feels like we have a choice, and we’re not identifying with who we are in that very moment but that we have a choice to be who we want to be. When we distance slightly, we give ourselves the ability to choose.”

Follow the 40% rule: There’s a reason why even though most people hit a wall at mile 16 during a marathon, they’re still able to finish. Goggins explains it through his 40% rule: When your mind is telling you that you’re done, that you’re exhausted, that you cannot possibly go any further, you’re only actually 40% done.

“Your brain is wired to protect you,” Johnson said. “Most of the time our brain will show up to protect us when we don’t need protecting.” If you do one difficult task per day, you can increase your threshold for discomfort.”

Face the accountability mirror: When Goggins decided to become a Navy SEAL, he looked at his reflection in the mirror and said, “You’re fat, you’re lazy, and you’re a liar.” This sounds harsh, but Goggins says that he needed to face his insecurities head on in order to overcome them. He created something he called the “Accountability Mirror.” He pasted sticky notes around the outside of the mirror outlining the practical steps he needed to take to achieve his goals. They would say things like, “Go one day without lying for external validation” and “Go on a 2-mile run.” If you’re not happy with your reflection, Goggins suggests asking yourself, “What am I going to do today to change what I see in the mirror?”

Johnson says this strategy is so powerful because you are the only person in the world you can’t lie to and get away with it. “The same way we earn trust with others by doing the things we say we’re going to do is the same way we earn trust with ourselves,” Johnson said. “When you talk to yourself in the mirror, it opens up your blind spots and the things you may not want to admit to yourself. It may hurt, but it’s so necessary to get to that next level.”

2. Courtney Dauwalter, the ultra-runner who personifies pain

In 2017, Dauwalter dominated the headlines after she won the Moab 240, a 240.3 mile footrace through some of Utah’s most challenging terrain. It took her 58 hours, and she beat the second place finisher by more than 10 hours. In 2018, she won the Western States Endurance Run, which is 100 miles, in 17 hours and 27 minutes. The list of impressive achievements goes on and on.

Dauwalter credits her success to being able to master the art of suffering. She has managed to stay calm even through bouts of severe nausea, a bleeding head injury, and temporary blindness. “I don’t think those types of pain and suffering are signs you should stop,” she said. “I mean, I troubleshoot and try to fix what’s causing it, but my solution is usually to just keep going.” Here’s how she does it:

Embrace the “pain cave:” Dauwalter talks about pain as an actual place: the pain cave. The reason it’s helpful to personify pain is that it serves as a reminder that you’re in control when you enter and equally as aware that you can leave. “It’s not a place I’m scared to enter,” she said. “It’s a place I’m excited to find the entrance to.”

Johnson says there’s an important distinction between listening to yourself and talking to yourself. You should avoid the former and encourage the latter. When you listen to yourself, you hear all the negativity and all the reasons why you can’t go on, she said, but when you talk to yourself, you can tell yourself the things you need to hear in order to overcome the challenge ahead of you. Johnson adds: “Courtney approached it with a challenge mindset instead of a threat mindset. That’s why she’s performing from a place of power instead of a place of fear.”

Stay motivated with a “carrot” goal: In one ultra-race, Dauwalter’s goal was to complete 200 miles in 48 hours. But she had a rough race, and another competitor passed her for first place in the very last stretch. She needed to find another reason to continue pushing her body, so her new goal became: “If you’re not going to get first place, then try to finish under the 50-hour mark.” It became a new “carrot to dangle.”

Same goes for everyday life. If you fall short of a goal, you can find another carrot that will keep you motivated and get you closer to the goal for your next attempt. “Be committed to the outcome that you want,” Johnson said, “but stay flexible in your approach.”

3. Tara Westover, the relentless student who overcame it all

Tara Westover was 17 years old when she set foot in a classroom for the first time. Born to survivalist Mormon parents in the mountains of Idaho, she grew up isolated from mainstream society. Her father had a severe mistrust of the government to the point where he forbade the family from visiting hospitals or attending school.

She taught herself enough algebra to pass the college entrance exams and became a competitive applicant to Brigham Young University. There, she studied history and learned for the first time about world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement.

“For some people, education is self-determination, and that’s what it was for me, and for other people, it’s like predetermination and it’s something that keeps them down,” she said. “It’s like the difference of education being a ladder or being a fence.”

Here’s what she learned along the way:

Don’t mistake your reality as the only truth: When Westover was growing up, she considered her father’s opinion as “the truth.” After she began to attend school, she realized that there is no universal, absolute truth. Our version of the world is not the only version – it is simply one of many, many perspectives. It takes strength and courage to start questioning your own family’s beliefs and opinions in order to adopt ones more in line with your own path.

“At first people are going to tell you that you can’t do something out of their own fears,” Johnson said. “But the second you start doing what you want to do and you start doing it well, they’re going to tell everybody how they met you.”

Break your patterns: When Westover used to return to her family’s home, she felt herself falling right back into the same identity she once had – that fearful and insecure 16-year-old girl. As kids, some of us learn unhealthy patterns from our parents.

The second we venture out on our own, we feel liberated and changed, but as soon as we get back in that familiar environment, we repeat the same patterns. “The environment is that invisible hand that shapes us, which is why it’s so important to pay attention to who you’re surrounding yourself with,” Johnson said. Spend your time with people who challenge your existing beliefs and teach you to be more resilient.

4. Anthony Ray Hinton, the man who survived death row

In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and wrongfully charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Hinton knew it was a case of mistaken identity and naively believed that the truth would prove his innocence and set him free.

But as a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He maintained his innocence through the entire duration of the 30 years he served on death row, which makes him one of the longest serving death row prisoners in Alabama history.

In his time on death row, Hinton watched 54 men walk past his cell to be executed. Another 22 took their own lives. “My cell was 30 feet from the chamber, and I could smell the burning flesh,” he writes. Yet he managed to maintain hope and befriend those society had given up on.

Visualize a better reality: On death row, Hinton figured out a technique that was able to get him out of his tragic circumstances: Daydreaming. While in his cell, Hinton traveled the world, married Halle Berry, had tea with Queen Elizabeth, and won Wimbledon – all in his mind. “I never used my mind for garbage,” he said. “I used it to cope through some lonely days.” Hinton started a book club for fellow inmates who also wanted to experience the power of visualization.

“The cool thing about visualization is that our brain doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality,” Johnson says. “It’s the same as watching a movie – we’re not part of the movie, but we’re having an emotional reaction to it.” Mental toughness is easy when things are going well, but the true test comes if you can train yourself to use mental strategies like visualization in moments of crisis, panic, and disaster.

Find the good in the awful: It’s hard to imagine you’d be able to forgive those who abused the system and sentenced you to death, but Hinton sees it differently. “I’ve never had an apology, but I forgave those involved in my conviction long before I left prison. I didn’t forgive them so they can sleep well at night. I did it so I can.”

Research shows that people who are good at framing negative life events in positive ways have better mental health. “I’m sure there are a million things Anthony could tell you about his misery and the things that were awful and unjust,” Johnson says. “But when you look back and you choose to find the good in the bad, your experience of it changes. It’s not for anyone else – it’s for you.”

5. Emily Harrington, the climber who befriended her fear

Emily Harrington became the first woman to free climb El Capitan’s notoriously difficult Golden Gate route in under 24 hours. She attempted it in 2019, but it ended in disaster after Harrington fell 50 feet, hit her head on a ledge, and suffered a concussion. “It’s definitely a mental struggle, coming over that hurdle, coming back into this year and trying again,” she said.

Here’s how she learned to accept fear:

Learn how to accept fear: Rather than push away the things she’s fearful of, she’s learned to befriend them. “I work through it by just accepting it and trying to understand why it’s there and then taking steps to move forward,” she said. “In a lot of ways, we can use fear as fuel and as strength.” But how can people learn not to fear the things they’re afraid of?

Johnson says it’s possible to think and feel one way, but act in a totally different way. “Your feelings and actions don’t have to match to co-exist,” she said. “So yes, you can feel fear and do it anyway. [Emily] is not ignoring the fact that she feels fearful, but it’s accepting it and choosing to act anyway.”

Use mantras in times of panic: Harrington uses mantras when she’s in difficult situations in order to soothe the panic in her brain. She says this to herself over and over again: “Be vulnerable, accept failure, and embrace fear.”

Passion is the result of identifying what makes you uncomfortable and scares you most. “Feelings aren’t facts. They’re data points,” Johnson said. “Fear is often a good indication that this is something you care about.”

6. Sarah Blakely, the founder who used failure as a weapon

Sara Blakely is no stranger to failure.

Growing up, she wanted to be a trial attorney, but then she bombed the LSAT. After college, she auditioned to be Goofy at Disney World, but she was too short to wear the costume. After a stint as an Epcot ride greeter at “the happiest place on earth,” Blakely returned home and moved in with her mom.

One night, she decided to wear her new white pants to a party, but her underwear left unflattering panty lines. So she cut the feet off a pair of pantyhose and turned them into a slimming undergarment. “The moment I saw how good my butt looked, I was like, ‘Thank you, God, this is my opportunity,” she said.

That moment changed the trajectory of her entire life. In 2000, Blakely used her $5,000 in savings to start her company Spanx, and by 2012, she was named the youngest self-made female billionaire.

The key to her success has been that Blakely sees an opportunity in every failure or disappointment. “Spanx wouldn’t exist if I had aced the LSAT,” she said.

Learn to celebrate failure: When Blakely was growing up, her family would go around the dinner table and share their biggest failure of the week. “If I didn’t have something to share, [my father] would actually be disappointed,” she said. The exercise re-defined failure in Blakely’s mind. “Instead of failure becoming an outcome, it simply became about not trying,” she said. “And that truly is the only failure – to not try.”

In reflecting on Blakely’s story, Johnson explains that we could never know how much we could achieve unless we go so far that we reach the point of failure. She adds:”How will you know how far you can go if you don’t risk losing it to some degree?” If you frame failure as a data point, you can get a lot of great feedback on how you can improve in the future.

Diffuse difficult situations with humor: Life can be heavy, Blakely said, and having someone who can lighten the mood or make you laugh is one of the most important things. For example, when she and her husband get in a heated argument, he extends his hand, and they slow dance.

Johnson explains: “Sometimes we can take ourselves too seriously. When we joke and laugh, it brings us back down to reality.”

7. Kobe Bryant, the player who turned greatness into an obsession

One year ago, Kobe Bryant’s life came to an end in a sudden and tragic manner. The 18-time NBA All-Star who had a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. His 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others also died in the crash.

But Bryant’s legacy continues to live on. On and off the court, he was best known for his obsessive pursuit of precision and excellence, which he dubbed “the Mamba Mentality.” Bryant’s life and career remind us that the only answer to surviving unimaginable hardship is to keep moving forward and drawing on our own resilience.

Use an alter ego to summon confidence: Bryant created his “Black Mamba” alter ego as a way to get through the lowest point of his career. His nickname was inspired by the movie “Kill Bill,” in which the snake, known for its agility and aggressiveness, was used as a code name for a deadly assassin. At a time when people were chanting “Kobe sucks,” while he was playing, Bryant said that using an alter ego gave him emotional distance from his real self.

“Kobe and the Black Mamba – both of them were him,” Johnson said. “But there was a time in competition when he could turn it on and use [the identity] that was appropriate for the situation.”

Remember that life only moves forward: To Bryant, the antidote to listlessness and defeat was drive and relentlessness. He never believed in “go with the flow.” Rather, he believed in moving forward with intent. Instead of shying away from adversity, bring this Bryant quote to the forefront of your mind: “I’m reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward…I reflect with a purpose.”

That’s because he knew that action is the only thing that leads to confidence and improvement. “Kobe would gain an understanding around the unknown,” Johnson said. “When we can prepare for something and gain competence, we actually gain confidence.”

Read the original article on Business Insider