How do professional athletes train and build their mental toughness?
In 2018, the Major League Baseball Organization employed a record number of mental coaches.
By being away from home for months, living in an environment that requires constant focus, and facing the publicity that comes with fame, professional athletes struggle with a unique set of mental challenges. Mental strength is an absolute must.
A former MLB player himself, John Baker helped guide the minds of the Chicago Cubs as they won the 2016 World Series. John joins us this week to share how building mental toughness is crucial for not only athletes, but for everyone.
In this discussion, you'll discover:
- The evolution of mental training in baseball...why is there more interest now?
- Mindfulness techniques that help players develop a healthy mindset that combats common problems in professional sports: Staying focused, dealing with fame, and finding happiness beyond the job.
- John Baker's personal experience with the ketogenic diet and how keto is discussed as part of a nutritional strategy within the Chicago Cubs.
Geoff: Hey. Welcome to this week's episode of the H.V.M.N. Enhancement podcast. This is your host Geoffrey Woo. I'm excited to be speaking with John Baker. He's a former Major League baseball catcher, played for a number of your favorite teams: the Marlins, the Padres, and most recently the Chicago Cubs. And now, he's actually a mental coach for the World Champion Cubs. Along with his personal interest with ketogenic diet and jiu-jitsu, he's an experienced coach for famous elite athletes about the mind-body connection in peak performance. So absolutely, a topic that us at H.V.M.N. in our community is very passionate about. Welcome to the program.
John: Thank you very much for having me. Like you said, my job is helping people optimize their lives away from high performance, but then also inside of high performance. It's an honor for me to talk with people that kind of approach life the same way, so thank you for having me.
Geoff: Awesome. I'm sure we'll touch upon a number of different topics, but I think it might make sense to start off with your personal baseball career in your journey from ... When did you realize it that, hey, you could cut it in the major leagues, and that story.
John: Never, never. I never realized that. I was always looking over my shoulder. I'm a very different case than a lot of people. I grew up with pretty bright parents, both Stanford educated, and I was very focused on school as a kid, and I just loved baseball. Well, my dad loved baseball and as a result, as the oldest son in the family, it's really where we spent a lot of time together. It was my connection to my father at an early age. We played a lot; a lot of baseball practice. And from my dad, he was a psychology major at Stanford, got to train under Zimbardo, who did the Stanford prison experiment. He was there in the '70s and it was the kind of rise of behaviorism, so my dad often jokes that he didn't raise me; he trained me. I'm like, "Man, dad, you make me sound like a dog when you say that," but in a really positive way, I think.
There was a lot of trials and stuff that I went through as a child that as I looked back on, I'm like a 28-year-old when I was playing in the major leagues, man, those lessons really made a lot of sense. I used to think I was getting picked on when I was a kid, but I realized as an adult, that I was kind of emotionally bulletproofed to the things that other people would say to me. Not that my dad was awful, but he held me to a high standard and he pushed me to play baseball, and to do school, and to be multifaceted in my interests, which was a great childhood and a great upbringing for me. And I was a walk-on.
I ended up walking on at UC Berkeley. The coach there thought that I had a chance to hit, so I went and did the walk-on tryouts. I made the team, and I was just excited for the priority registration. My plan as an 18-year-old was to go to a good college, get a degree in political science or business, go to law school after that, and then I guess spend the rest of my life suing people like an asshole.
I'm so fortunate that as I matured, I was a better hitter than I thought I ever was as a kid. I batted seventh on my high school team. I was not the best player there. In fact, I can pretty honestly say in my entire baseball career, from the time I was five in tee-ball, that might have been the last time I was the best player on the team. Every year after that, there was always somebody else that did better, and I think through my kind of drive and my love for practice and training, and improvement and mastery, I went from a kid that was a decent athlete, but not great by any means, to somebody that grinded their way through college baseball and got a chance to play every day.
By the time I was a junior, I won the batting title in the Pac-10, and then I got drafted in the fourth round by the As. It was pretty much a shock to everybody that had ever seen me play before that, until that last year, and then I suffered through six and a half years in the minor leagues before I got called up. I thought I was going to get up there quickly. I did great for the first couple of seasons. I thought, "Oh man, baseball is easy."
One of the real blessings that I learned in life is that the moment that I feel like I had it figured out, it's time for me to reassess. It's time for me to reassess. That is the whole point of hubris, when you think you know. When you think you know, when you think everything is bulletproof, when you think you've got your systems all in place and that life is optimized, it's time to recheck those things and make sure that everything is intentional.
I hit a snag in my career, got some bad information on some contact lenses and it set me back, but I eventually got to the big leagues. Get there, do great for the first couple of seasons there, and then one day my arm starts hurting in 2010 and I end up missing a year having a complete reconstruction for my elbow, have to make the team again as a backup. I think I extended my career about three years because of ... after that. Ended up playing all the way for the Cubs in 2014, the minor leagues, the Mariners in '15.
I then got drafted in 2002, played 14 professional seasons, played in the Dominican Republic. Baseball took me to trips to Iraq and Haiti after the earthquake. Took me to Holland and Belgium to do clinics. Took me all over the world. Took me to the Dominican Republic to live and play, to kind of reestablish myself as a player, and spent some time. I don't know very many people that grew up in the California suburbs that went down and spent a couple of months living in a third-world country and playing baseball, and really understanding Latin American culture, Dominican culture, a whole lot better from that experience.
Not the best player by any means ever, but somebody that just really enjoyed that pursuit of mastery. I mean, there is nothing more difficult than getting a hit in a major league game. There is nothing more difficult than that. And further, it feels so good when we hit something hard. It's like our frustration response sometimes is to slam a fist or punch a punching bag. Man, it feels good. Now, you combine that into something that you've been practicing since you were five years old and then doing it at the highest level, and you get a base hit. I always joke it's funny that we call it a hit because it's like a hit of drugs. The moment it happens, you just get lighter and it courses through your system. I was a baseball addict; I think that's the best way to describe my career.
Geoff: I think neurologically, just the stimulus of seeing the pitch come and having that nerve impulse go down to your muscles to swing. Most humans cannot react that fast, so literally, it's a hit. I can imagine that it is one of the ... literally, the hardest things that humans do on a consistent basis.
John: Absolutely. And then one day, it's gone. It's gone. You know, it's gone. I think that that kind of ... Me handling my break from that addiction, me being in recovery as a regular person, the thing that I realized most is that we have, as people, we have generally a negative interpretation of the word 'stress'. We feel like stress is debilitating. In fact, that's the Shawn Achor study out of Harvard, of the two mindsets. Some people ...
Your best bet is to think that stress is enhancing. Anytime I'm in a stressful situation, if I'm in touch, if I'm mindful enough about the way I feel physically, I'm in touch with my body, I can recognize those sensations, the quicker heartbeat, the sweaty palms. If in those moments, I can stop and say, "Whoa shit, this is why I do it. This is why we're here. This is what it means to be fully alive." I've tapped into this kind of autonomic nervous state where adrenaline is coursing through me.
If we look at that as a gift or an opportunity, we're much more likely to succeed. When we look at that like a negative, like, "Oh no, how am I supposed to perform in this context?" That's hard. Well, I lost the opportunity for those moments, and that's what I missed the most. It wasn't actually playing baseball. It wasn't actually getting a hit. What I really missed was that nervous feeling before it all happened, that moment-
Geoff: It's like feeling alive, right?
Geoff: That nervousness is like truly feeling alive, absolutely.
John: And I think so much of us are searching for that. And the other part of this and what I've learned and I understand from psychology now is that if we don't give ourselves those opportunities, we don't actively select and choose the times when we can be stressed out, like on purpose, man, given some space, our brains are amazing. And the stories that we tell are incredibly intricate about how bad we are and how much we suck and why we're stupid, but we'll give ourselves ... We'll give it to ourselves. We have a ... go back evolutionarily, right?
We have this ability to recognize patterns. When something pops out, I'm supposed to jump under the table because it might be a saber-tooth tiger. We're still wired for that stuff and if we don't ... And in the space that we live now, we've never had better access to great food, amazing technology. Everything is easier. Everything is ... I can, instead of having to worry about spending five days being really strict on my diet, I can get some ketones from you and I can kick myself into a six right away. Right away.
We didn't use to have those things, right? This is an age of anxiety that we live in, with this despite all these rises in ease and comfort, and technology and food, we are more stressed out. We are more anxious. We are more depressed as a human species than we've ever been, and it's my belief that we don't have to be that way. That if we study ourselves inside enough and we go out and we challenge ourselves, we find things to do that are equal parts exciting and scary, then that kind of takes the place of that psychological stress that we need. For me, after playing, that's how I find jiu-jitsu. I realized, "Oh, I need something that's really scary." Well, what sucks is when somebody holds you down and chokes you. That's not fun to deal with.
John: And that's another one. It's another sport that takes a long time to master, so I've kind of reveled in that, and that's what gotten me into this line of work with the Cubs. It's coming to these realizations that we need stress. We need to feel freaked out, that it is good. But we need to build a daily habit of building mental strength. I used to have this conversation when pitchers ... as a catcher. Pitchers that make their major league debut and they would come in from the ball pen. And man, I could see it. I could see their heart beating in their chest. I could see the eyes going back and forth when they're looking. We call it the third deck shot. They've never seen 50,000 people all looking at him at the same time, and I would just cue them. I would go, "Hey, do you feel those feelings? Do you feel your heart beating?" Fuck yeah, man. We're alive. This is why we do this.
John: Take a deep breath, embrace it, because there's not a lot of successful people in the world that get to experience this at this level, and we're here doing it. This is why we put all that practice in. And I had some great success with guys kind of just immediately switching. I always felt comfortable catching major league debuts, and now as a mental skills coach for these best athletes in the world, it's all the same stuff. It's all the same stuff. It's about looking inside, finding out what makes you happy, finding out what you want to do, finding out the moments where you can flip the stress response into a positive for you, and then going about life in the best way possible.
Geoff: That's absolutely interesting. There's this notion in psychology, the Yerkes-Dodson law, where if you're under stressed, under stimulated, you don't perform well. If you're over stimulated, over stressed, like the rookie waiting on the third deck, you're freaking yourself out, and it sounds like you're really priming people to the peak state of stimulus where you are healthily stressed, but that stress pushes you to perform at a very high peak level. I think just hearing your thoughts there, it sounds like you've ... I think you're being humble that you aren't one of the great athlete. Obviously to cut it in the big leagues, you got to be a phenomenal athlete. But it really sounds like you thought your way through your career. I mean, it really sounded like your mental sharpness, your mental toughness, your mental strength...those were all key assets for you as you developed as a player and a good leader. Would you say that's true?
John: I think there's give and take, to be honest, because for every positive thinking that I worked out mentally, again, like everybody else, I was also able to give myself problems that weren't there, like over-adjustments, over-thinking the training. When you are conscious about your intentional practice, sometimes you can put yourself in a state where you feel like I can't perform if I don't get to do certain things. Yeah, I had to balance it, definitely, but I do think that being as thoughtful as I was about my practice and my career, allowed me this opportunity, which was when I got to look back after I was done playing, after I didn't have a job anymore and nobody wanted me on their baseball team, like the baseball took the jersey away from me. Looking back on it, it was a pretty easy transition out because when I looked back on my career, I looked back at my numbers and I went, "Now, they might not be the best numbers of all time, but that was the best I could've done," that whole time with the information that I had, putting it into practice the things that I had learned. I don't feel like I could've done any better, and that kind of contentment is all I could ever hope for my career.
Geoff: I'm curious to dive into the mental skills coaching, the mental aspect of baseball. It seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, for this is treated as a serious discipline and not as just simple techniques. I don't know if you know Eric Potterat, who runs a Dodgers program. I actually met him through one of my good friends, who is a retired Navy SEAL admiral. Mental toughness is also super important for the special forces. I know Eric used to be the psychologist for Naval Special Warfare Group One. He was the psychologist for all the Navy SEALS on the west coast. It sounds like there's more of these programs in the big leagues. I'm sure that ... I presume, I don't know, that you didn't have this kind of training and support when you were coming up in the big leagues. I'm curious to hear about your story. Why do you think that this is an area of interest now? What have been the technological or scientific shifts to make the mental game so important?
John: Well, I think this is a really deep conversation because what we're talking about is how people have changed, how we consume information, and how we learn. We have all this technology, and it's great, but it's resulted in the shortening of the human attention span. It's resulted in human communication sometimes going through a medium instead of face to face. And so, when we look at, for example our younger players, they communicate differently than the 37, 38, 39-year-old players that I came up playing with. We communicate differently. Their social skills are not bad. They're just not trained like ours were trained. What we find is that we have a group of people that is experiencing more stress than they were the same age group of people 10 years ago. If you look at the American Psychological Association's numbers on stress in the work place and you find out in 2014, it was maybe 15% or 16% of the working population was reporting "I can't deal" levels of stress. By 2016, that was over 20%, and by 2031 I think the prediction is that we're going to be at 50% of the U.S. workforce is going to be at "I can't deal" levels of stress.
Geoff: That's ridiculous.
John: Now, the question is why. That was the first question we asked. Why is this happening? Well, I think technology for its benefits has a big say in this because if you think about ... One of the examples I use is WebMD. It's a great example of this, right? The ability to choke on information that we don't understand. It's out there everywhere. It also kind of explains the rise of fake news. If I can't determine what's real or not because all of this content is coming in from seemingly reliable sources, we're getting to the place that if ignorance is bliss, the environment that we live in right now is the opposite. Information, especially a flood of information, is stress.
And so, understanding that our players are like that and then trying to figure out ways to mitigate those concerns and get people back to being more human and less robot, you also add in as well the helicopter parenting that the millennial generation experience, where everybody all the time is making every decision for them. You're going to go here. You're going to swim at this time. You're going to go to this practice.
I used to go see my nephew's games and I'd watch the parents, he's in college now, but I would watch the parents a couple of years ago at his high school baseball games just screaming the instructions that they were getting from the private hitting coaches at the kids while they were playing. And I thought, "Man, at some point, we need to figure out how to do things ourselves." We need to figure out how to work this out on our own. We need to figure out ... This kid needs to figure out what makes him happy and build his personal beliefs, his own inner strength. It's not your responsibility to tell them what to do.
So, you add all these things in and what we have in our organization as a result, the positive side of helicopter parenting is that man, we got the most coachable kids of all time. I mean, you tell them to stand on one foot and they're like, "Okay, right now?" "Yep." "While I'm batting? Okay, no problem." They'll do it, but they're also not looking internally and trying to work it out themselves as much because if they have a question about hitting, all they've got to do is this. They just pick this up, right? They pick up this phone. I make a little Google search. I got the answer right there. As a result, I also feel like by just do it a couple of times, it's going to become part of my ingrained habitual routine, and we have to explain to these guys that it's going to take 18 months.
Understanding what the population is like, I think kind of helps set up what we do and why we do it. Truthfully, we use all this technology with the Cubs to measure everything, from how fast their arm is moving to the amount of sleep that they're getting, to things like Whoop bands to measure of performance and their states of readiness. We measure all those things.
We're at this interesting place in baseball now where now the debate is as an athlete, how much do you need to know to perform well on a daily basis? Do you need to know all those things or do we need to have the athletic trainers know and come find you and say, "Hey, your sleep numbers are down. Is something happening at home?" Or does the player need to know that? Because like I said about knowing the information, if I know that I'm not ... If I have that band on and I show up and I check my reading and I find out that I'm at 72%, what kind of mental toll is that going to take on me when I go out to perform if I know that this thing is saying that I'm not as good as I'm supposed to be.
I don't know if you've read Andy Galpin and MacKenzie's book, Unplugged, about learning how to more efficiently use all of this technology that comes in. So we have the state ... all this technology. We have all this data and analytics too about the speed of the bat and how high the ball is supposed to come off the bat for the best possible result, and how fast guys need to swing. We're talk about launch angle. We've never been able to measure and predict baseball more accurately than we do now, but a lot of that information now is filtering into the players and we're trying to figure out what do we give them for them to be able to perform, and then what are the results of those things when they do overthink things, and that's another big part of our job. We meet these demands very specific ways. If I was going to describe our philosophy on life with the Cubs, we are very big into Stoicism, Marcus Aurelius. In fact, we handed out, I legitimately handed out-
Geoff: You're having the players read Meditations.
John: Oh yeah. Well, they're not reading Meditations per say. I give them the millennial version of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. There's two books by Ryan Holiday that we use, The Obstacle is The Way and Ego is The Enemy, because ... and we use The Daily Stoic too because the way that those books are written are kind of how this generation consumes information. You never want to do anything more than four and a half minutes with these guys because that's when attention span wanes. And so The Daily Stoic is three paragraphs and a quote, and those other books are like three pages and a quote, in a systematic way about understanding Stoicism. What does understanding Stoicism mean? Man's first job. First job, determine the things that you can control and the things you can't control, and spend all your energy on the latter.
Instead of saying those things, we have them write it out in the very beginning of spring training. This is where I ruminate. This is where I ruminate on things that are outside of my control. Or this me choosing to focus on the things that I do have a say over. They don't have a say over which team that the front office puts them on, but they do have a say over nailing their prep and their routines, and their diets and their sleep. They have a say over those things. So, these are under your control; that's the first week of spring training for us. Let's nail those things at a high level.
Then we move to ... We start talking about the root of happiness, which I think is strange for people to hear a lot of the time. We don't talk about confidence; we talk about self-compassion. We don't talk about being tough. We talk about being happy more often because these kids are tough, man. Anybody that makes it to professional baseball, they're tough. They play hurt. They don't say anything about their injuries. They try to get out onto the field. These kids are strong kids, man, and I got a lot of respect for them, but sometimes we like to push happiness over the horizon. "Well, if I do this, if I get this money, if I get this thing, if I get this notoriety, if I get this outcome, then I'm going to be happy." Well, the outcome is a coin flip and it doesn't always work out, and not because you did anything wrong. Sometimes, just that's the way life isn't fair and this is the way it all works, so start spending your time. If we're the summary of our perception, just start spending your time perceiving things that make you freaking happy, and so-
Even if you get the outcome, it's no guarantee that ... You don't get off the hedonic treadmill, where you just want the bigger and bigger high of the next outcome anyways.
That's generally our natural impulse. When you think about the age group, a lot of these guys when they're 16 to 22, I'm sorry, but their brains aren't fully formed yet. They don't have the executive function to believe in the treadmill, so we have to really hammer home what are the things that you love away from this game that you can focus on when you're away. It might be playing Fortnite all night. Just make sure you've got some blue blocking glasses on, right? It might be you love to read, you love music, you love this. But let's really explore who you are and what you like so that when you do feel beat up because man, this is a game of failure, it's 70% failure-
Geoff: It's a long season too. There's a lot of games on the road.
John: A lot of games, it is. These guys reported February 12 and they won't be home until November hopefully. That's 10 months. It used to be eight months. Now it's 10 months of constant focus and drive and competition, so if they can't find ways to be happy, which leads to bad off-field decompression from the stress, then they're going to be tough. That's the second part of it.
Then we move to visualization. On the micro level, we know the idea of mirror neurons and how if I can see myself doing it through my own eyes enough times, it's like I'm getting real reps, and should be able to ingrain those patterns in a little bit faster. And then on a macro level of what is my aim? Where do I want to go? Who do I to represent myself as? What do I want to be? Let's start not just as a baseball player, but as a human being, as a person. What are my goals in life? So we get those down.
We start with these are things I can control, these are the things that make me happy, this is where I want to go. And then we move to being present; this is me doing it in the moment. And so at the beginning and at the first one, when we talk about control, we're also talking about awareness, and so that's where we really meditate. And then we get to that fourth week again, and we're talking about being present. That's where we introduce our body scan meditation, because our bodies only know the present moment. They don't think about the future or the past, so if I can connect to the physical sensations of this body in this moment, I have a better chance of being present, and that's what we need. That's the overwhelming message of the organization, when it comes to performance, when you ...
Joe Maddon's famous quote "Be present not perfect". I need you to be you in the moment, not what you think is perfect. I don't need you to do anything different than anything you've ever done before. Up until now, you've already practiced, you've already trained. And when we get in the competition towards the end of that, now it's just about you getting out of the way, figuring out a way in that moment to get out of the way, to let the conscious mind take some time off. It already prepped; it's already ready. We don't have to just consciously bring up why we're going to swing or what's going to happen. We just need to be there in that moment, and open and able to respond to whatever stimulus we run into.
Geoff: It sounds like all these tools and mindset is applicable to just broad life in general. It sounds like you're not just building baseball players. You're really building human beings and building a framework for them to really foster and grow as successful humans.
John: That's our intent and mission statement. Our main intention is to make mentally strong people and increase confidence for life beyond baseball. When you look at a minor league organization, I think maybe 5% of these guys the major leagues for us, so when we're talking to these guys about these things, we're thinking about life after baseball for sure. We're thinking about life in general and life after baseball for sure, and we're thinking about workplace environment. We want these guys to show up and have a good time because if we're going to preach that you need to be happy, but we're not going to set up the environment for you to do so, we're not going to give you the tools, then what are we doing? What are we doing as coaches or instructors or simply baseball support staff? So yeah, and then ...
But these things bleed over into performance. I'll use mindfulness as an example. If we're going to talk about mindfulness meditation, the practice that I believe in, that I practice every day, is I set an intention to focus on one thing. I personally like to use the sensations of my body breathing, so kind of as I inhale, I feel my ribs expand. My chest might rise a little bit. My stomach pushes out away from my spine. My bellybutton pushes away from my spine, and I really feel this big intake of oxygen. And when I exhale, I feel the structure kind of stay the same, but the tissue that's around it, it softens, and I just really try to be in every part of that experience without changing it.
Now inevitably, in the second part of a mindfulness meditation, I'm going to get distracted. My mind, if you can't tell already, goes 7000 miles an hour. I say it's 7000 miles an hour. I think of so many things at once, which is great for mindfulness practice because it gives me so many opportunities to do the next step, which is to recognize that I'm actually distracted. I'm trying to focus on my breath, but I'm thinking about a bat I had 14 years ago for some reason. It just starts to pop up. "Oh, I'm having ... I'm thinking. I'm thinking about something that happened in the past." That's okay. That's what I tend to do. And the final step, I reorient my attention back to how I originally intended it, back to that object, which is my breath. And how many times can I complete that loop in 15 minutes?
Okay, now let's put a guy on the field. He's out on the mound pitching. Or he's out on defense playing shortstop and he just keeps thinking about his last play and how he struck out, and he just keeps replaying it. And the way that these things compound and kind of exponentially get worse is guys think, "Well, man, I struck out. I know the statistics, so I know that my batting average is now at a certain place, and I know that my coach told me to do this thing, so I now know he's disappointed in me, and I'm disappointed in myself, and my girlfriend's here and she brought her parents to the game and they just saw me suck." And then the next thing you know, the ball's hit to that guy. He misses it because his mind is somewhere else.
By teaching these guys to recognize when they're not thinking about what they intend to think about, that guy has now a better chance if he has a good base of mindfulness. He now has a better chance to go, "Oh, I'm thinking about all of these things that have nothing to do with what's happening right now." Like, that's gone. It's no longer a part of reality.
I loved the comment from Bo Burnham, the comedian Bo Burnham. He's got a thing he talks about, "Tomorrow is a relative term." It doesn't exist but for today. So if our mind is there or our mind is there, where it doesn't need to be, I have way less chance of reacting to the ball as it's hit to me in that moment. If they can recognize it, they go, "Oh no, I'm supposed to be focused on this defense." Okay, back into my routine. Step into the circle. Refocus for this pitch. Expect the ball to be hit to me. Bam. Step out of it again. Let my mind go and come back in. You know, baseball, there's on average on defense maybe 150 pitches a game, and so these guys have 150 opportunities to come away from their focus and to step back in and be focused again, and come away and step back in, which kind of mimics that mindfulness loop. It works really well for us to instill this program at the ground level, start when they're 16, so by the time they get to 22, 23, 24, and maybe 25 in the big league-
Geoff: It's instinctual.
John: Yeah. They've got it before their brain was even fully developed, so they think that that's just what you do as opposed to something that, for somebody like me, I learned a couple of years ago.
Geoff: That's fascinating. It sounds like you've really pulled together a real protocol around all these different aspects from the latest in quantitative technology to, really, tradition spanning over thousands of years, like mindfulness, coming from Zen Buddhism traditions and what not. It doesn't have to be religious in connotation, but all sorts, like Roman emperors facing the barbarian hordes, and getting through that mindset reading Meditations. I think it's fascinating that you've really collated the tried and true techniques from all across, I guess, human experience. I'm curious from a technological perspective. You mentioned visualization. Do you use things like VR headsets, AR headsets, to help people visualize? I know you mentioned a Whoop band, which is a biometric tracker. What are some of the highlights in terms of tech or gadgets that you seem to be more successful?
John: We have two neuroscientists on staff that make us proprietary stuff in-house, and so we use it at the major league level where they do cool things such as measuring our brain-wave activity. We have an extensive VR system that works with specific regions of the brain to kind of quicken the ability to make decisions on the field that our major league players use. That's only available to them. We have some other technology that we use as well for kind of that same thing throughout the minor leagues, but we're not huge on ... Like for example, with meditation, we're not big on putting anything on people while they're meditating because when they're competing, they can't have any of that stuff on, so we ...
Baseball is the kind of game where what we're really trying to teach people a lot of times is that kind of ... the sweet spot of feel. The particular challenge is that feel is different to every single individual, and that's something that as anybody, you have to find for yourself. You have to find it for yourself. So, a lot of the stuff that we do with mental skills, we do it kind of blind or without technology, but we do have that.
We also messed around with ICOS. That's kind of a visualization system where you watch a VR headset of yourself doing things in slow motion. You have some sounds that correspond to it, and then you do a ... Then you do it blindfolded, and you kind of go through the stuff yourself, and that's when you're really visualizing it from your own eye. We've messed around a little bit with enhancing some of that visualization, but not too crazy yet. I imagine, like I think we're on the bottom of this bell curve of the technological explosion, so I can't imagine it's going to be too far away from us being able to put a VR headset on and being ... I mean, we already are on the field, to be honest, but to making it look 100% like reality; I don't think that's very far away.
Geoff: Right. I'm curious. You mentioned so much about feel and ... In a lot of my conversations with elite performers, there's this line between the animal instinct, the feel, intuition. You as an athlete on the field or an operator in a battle field. Just having intuitive, instinctual feeling for the game or the mission versus the metrics, the numbers. It sounds like you, as part of the coaching staff now, but you were previously a player. What is the balance between how much information, how much data, should we be surfacing to the individual? Does it depend per person? Do you see ... What do you see to be the most successful players in your experience?
John: Well, I think the best player I've ever seen using information definitely is Ben Zobrist, because as he ages, he's 36 now. As he ages and his reaction slows a little bit, as we all get older it happens, he's really dug into understanding and using the information to his best possible benefit. What he's told me about it is that there're some times when he has to sacrifice the ability to do certain things to give himself the best possible chance of success, and it's a very measured and reasonable approach, and we can't expect that out of everybody.
We measure the game consciously, right? We measure it consciously, but we play kind of subconsciously. We play in that lizard brain. And so, I always look at it now like ... We use the information to train the lizard. We're training the amygdala-driven athlete to be able to do things like he thought them through in the first place, like he used all that executive function that he didn't have time to use by training it and making it habitual. We know that we're going to be emotional. We know that we're going to be stressed out. We know that we're going to be anxious. We know we're going to be freaked out. We know all those things. We know that those things are going to happen, so let's train ourselves to A: see them, like I said earlier, as enhancing qualities, but also let's not run away from that. Let's not run away from who we are as people and having this kind acceptance.
And that's another big part of mindfulness. If you think about John Cabot's definition of mindfulness as paying attention on purpose in the present moment and without judgment, use it. Use those things. Use those things to ... Your feelings, like how you feel in the moment, there is no replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts. We're just trying to get back to neutral so that we can perform. That's who we are. Be accepting. When you're in that meditation, one of the mistakes that I often make still is I'll make a judgment about something while I'm ... like, "Oh shit." I'm there again. I'm in the future trying to plan out three days from now again. And then I'll go, "Damn it, I'm judging myself." And then I go, "Damn it, I just judged myself for judging myself." You could see how it compounds when in reality it's like, I am nervous. Okay, I should be.
Geoff: You see these thoughts. Accept it and let it flow through, right? It's kind of like the-
John: Just accept it. It's who you are. It's real. Your emotions, they're real. I think one of the biggest disservices that we've ever done to people is taught them that stuff like crying or something is bad, or a sign of weakness. No, it's not at all. It's not a sign of weakness at all. It's really actually how you feel. If your emotions are that powerful in the moment, are that strong, you need not to submit to them, but face them head on immediately and accept how you feel because that's you as a human being.
Again, so many times when I was growing up, I wanted to run away from those, stuff it down, run away, push it to the side, not face it. But as I've matured, I really realized that that's another way that you can build these problems that are foundational in level kind of. They're core, underneath everything, and they'll start to infiltrate all the things that you do, these doubts and stuff about yourself, if you're not willing to take the time to search inside yourself and find out not only what makes you happy, but what makes you emotional, and face it head on, and accept it and be positive about it because that's who you are. It's who you are as a person and that's really what we try to teach.
Our mental skills program is more of like a search inside yourself style course and training than it is anything dealing with peak perform, and what we realize is that by helping these people become better thinkers, better decision makers, that when they go out onto the field, we know that they're fully prepared to play in the game. And further too, to separate themselves from their performance.
"You're a person first," we say it all the time. Tommy La Stella is a player in a major league team that is the voice of that team even though he's a young guy, and that is his main message to all those guys all the time, is that we are people first and we're baseball players second. If you don't nail the first part of that, it doesn't matter how much money you make or how much success you have, when you retire with $170 million in the bank, you're going to be miserable, and I see it all the time.
Geoff: It sounds like we need this course taught to everyone. I'm just hearing about the lessons you're teaching to the guys. I think everyone should be at some level having some of these skillsets, how to live, how to respond to stress, how to deal with challenges, how to deal with emotions. These are just fundamental human experiences that we all face, and it's not just elite athletes that have these problems. All of us are dealing with our own shit.
John: The athletes, they're magnified. They're just magnified as athletes because they have more publicity, more attention, and more money, but athletes are people. They're all regular people. They're just really intelligent in one specific area of life, like you might be able to swim really fast. That doesn't mean that you're happy. It doesn't mean that you wake up every day excited to go.
I know a lot of guys that play baseball for 15 years that hate baseball. They were just good at it. And it crushed them. It crushed them having to go out every day. They would've had more fun in a van surfing all the time with $4 in the bank than they would with a bunch of money and a bunch of fame and a bunch of notoriety. They would've enjoyed that a whole lot more. Now, I would never tell them to, "You know what I'd do? Just quit the contract. Buy that van. Go drive down to Costa Rica somehow and go surf." I would never tell them to do that, but I think in the long run, baseball careers are short, but we hope that life is long. Again, let's handle the person before we even deal with what happens on the field.
Geoff: What other aspects are you helping your guys at? It sounds like you personally have experimented the ketogenic diet. I know that it's been interesting for injury recovery. Curious on the things off the field. What does, in your practice as a mental skills ... baseball operations, or just personally?
John: Personally, I injured my knee doing jiu-jitsu a couple of years ago, tore my meniscus, bad sprains of all three ACL, MCL, PCL in my knee, and that kind of got me turned on to keto, through Kyle Kingsbury. I was listening to the Joe Rogan Experience and Kyle was on there. I found out that he lived in the Bay Area, which was where I was living at the same time. I reached out to him on social media, and then we ended up having dinner together. He came over to the house. We cooked. We did a seminar for people on the ketogenic diet. He broke everything down for me from the meters he uses to his exact processes, to the things that he eats himself, and I put them into play in my own life.
My first round of keto, I went eight months, but five days or four days in the ketosis, all of my knee swelling was gone. I never had any surgery to fix the meniscus. Didn't take a painkiller or an anti-inflammatory. I did it with food and I was back on the mat about a week after being pretty seriously injured. You know, this is how I caught for 15 seasons in 18 years, and I never had a knee injury or a knee problem. It wasn't until jiu-jitsu that that happened because that's a rough sport; it's just organized roughhousing basically.
Geoff: It's a fight.
John: Yeah, we're fighting each other kind of, right? And so that's what got me turned on to keto, but then ... So the inflammation was going away, it was great obviously, but really noticing how I felt. Something I've always been very thoughtful about is when I eat, is the food that I'm eating, how do I feel afterwards, because this is kind of like the ... Any time we can delay gratification, there is usually some sort of a benefit to that. On this mini scale of delaying that gratification, whether it's delaying eating if you're fasting, or just over and over again delaying eating some stuff that's going to make you feel like shit that seems like it might taste good. Like, I look at donut now like a stereotypical kid looks at broccoli, because I look at that and what I think about is-
Geoff: It's like poison.
John: I'm like, "Man, it's a stomachache." That's what I say all the time about alcohol and I'm definitely a sucker for a good glass of wine or a good beer, but yeah. When you wake up that next day with that rotten headache and weakness in ... I always noticed with my grip strength especially. If I'm under slept and I had a couple of beers, my grip strength's gone, and I go, "Man, I just poisoned myself." That's what I did, the last night. I consciously and actively, knowing what it would do, I poisoned myself. One of the great side-effects of eating ketogenically is that all that alcohol is going to kick you out, and so it just goes away. It just ended up going away. And I feel great doing it.
Some people that I know, they haven't had the same experience. My wife for example, she doesn't do well on keto and that's okay. This life is about figuring out what works best for and trying as many things as possible. I can't say that I spent ... after the China study came out, which I know is not kind of since been debunked, but I read that book and I'm like, "Yeah, I'm going to give this a shot," since people lived till they were 150 years old, I'm going to eat all vegetables for a while. And after about six weeks, I quit because I felt like shit. I mean, awful. I was waking up exhausted. I was fatter. My numbers were down in the weight room; it was an off-season. I'm like, "I can't do any of this." But I've learned over the years, I'm 37 now, that I function so much better off of a lot of fat and a lot of vegetables than I do off anything else.
We, with the Cubs, recognize two things. One, that fat is important, so we don't do any low-fat stuff with our players. Dawn Blatner's a fantastic nutritionist. She runs the whole program for our organization. I go to Chicago and she sees me, and the first thing she does is go, "Hey, can I make you a Bulletproof coffee?" Right away, she starts putting ... and we have that for the players there. If they want to have a coffee that has Kerrygold unsalted butter and some high-quality MCT oil in it, she makes it for them before the game.
And all the food, we're very mindful about the sources. Even all throughout our minor leagues, we cater wholefoods for all our players to be able to eat high-quality food. We're still on the carb train there. It's offered, but now I've even noticed as I've been through the last couple of times this year, we've added gluten-free options for guys that have either celiac or gluten intolerances, and when you go to Chicago, it's grass-fed and free-range steak. It's free-range chicken. It's local organic vegetables. It's we're killing a pig and roasting it and putting it at the field for the players to eat. It's the highest quality fuel to serve these high-quality athletes.
I get to be more like a cheerleader for the nutrition program when I go and I go, "Oh yes, look, you got jungle peanuts. Good job." Or, "Hey, look at all that wild salmon, perfect. Thank you." I'm always hugging and telling Dawn thank you because every time I go visit the Cubs in Chicago, I get to eat the best quality food.
Geoff: It sounds like you guys are eating well.
John: Very well.
Geoff: Aspiring baseball players, look at Chicago as a stop. When you were eating keto, I'm curious. Were you measuring? How strict were you? Were you eating close to 80% net percent fats, net carbs? Were you finger sticking to measure your blood ketones?
John: I finger stick. Yeah, I got a Nova Max and the little ketone strips, and I have very easy ... It's a very easy diet for me to follow. I make my coffee in the morning with two, two and a half tablespoons of grass-fed butter. Right now, I've been using the emulsified MCT oil because I just bought ... I like the flavored oil; that gives it a little taste. Sometimes a little cacao, sometimes a little cinnamon, maybe a little cayenne. That's it. I put it in this thermos, and I got kind of a larger one. I put it in this thermos. That lasts me from about ... Well, I'm still drinking and it's 1 o'clock. I'm sipping on it; I sip on it all day.
And then I usually test myself about 3:30 or 4:00, see how I'm doing, and if I'm really high, if I'm three and a half or four, then I'll let myself have a handful of macadamia nuts and some butter usually. I always try to put butter with everything to up the fat intake. So I'll do that. And then I'll have dinner. What I notice on the ketogenic diet is we'll make a massive plate of vegetables and I'll put a couple of eggs on top and a little bit of cheese, maybe a couple of blueberries to have.
Geoff: That sounds familiar to me.
John: So I do that and a lot times I can't even finish it because I'm just ... It's like I'm full, I'm satiated, and I don't eat after that and I'm not hungry. And then other times, I'll forego the Bulletproof coffee, make sure that I have a little caffeine in me so I don't get too bad of a headache, and I'll try to see how long I can go before I feel like I'm really hungry. I think people would be surprised. A lot of times with me, that would be, I'll get hungry around 4 o'clock and I'll eat my last meal at ... Say the last thing I put in my mouth besides water was like 8:30 at night, and then I won't eat again until 4 o'clock the next day. Those times, I really kind of notice ... Well, my wife notices it and she goes, "You smell." That starts coming out of me, and that's when I know I'm really actively using my own fat for energy.
I think it's hard for our athletes because competing all the time, sometimes that ... I'm not a nutrition expert, so, but I do think that that sometimes requires carbs, that the men require some sort of sugar or carbs to be able to perform or recover, so we're not fully ketoed with everybody there, but it's definitely something that's discussed openly and not looked at as negative. I think that if people are trying to maybe cut some weight in the off-season, it's a very good option. The problem is when they come back, they've got to be very mindful of how they recycle carbs back into their diet, that they don't just spend all this time, get lean, and then eat.
Geoff: Get fat again.
John: Eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch for two weeks after that and blow right back up.
Geoff: I think that's a good point that you bring up. I think there are a couple of points that just underline, is that ... I think a lot of people, when they think ketogenic diet, they think just like, "I'm going to eat a ton of meat." You actually should be eating a ton of vegetables. Make sure you have the fat math though, right? Like, have the eggs, have some butter or some oils in that vege casserole if you will, but you can actually get a ton of fiber and micro nutrients from those veges with those leafy greens and still be keto.
That's one thing I'm glad you brought up because I think a lot of people are like, "Oh, you're just eating a bunch of steaks and pork and all that." It's like, well, you have some of that of course. You need the protein and the fattiness of the meat, but also you can have a lot of veges, and I think I've been eating a lot cleaner when I've been eating keto because one, you're just a lot more thoughtful of what you can eat. And two, you can actually intake a lot of fiber as things that don't kind of count as carbs.
John: Eat the vegetables, man. Hulk Hogan's been saying that for years, "Take vitamins and eat your vegetables," but that's a ... I agree with you on that, is that that's something that pops up for me. It's like when I started doing this a couple of years ago, I started eating five times the vegetables that I was eating before because when you think about the traditional paleo diet, you'll at your plate and you'll have a steak and you'll have some green vegetables, and then you'll have this big ...
We always have a big portion of sweet potatoes or something, right? You look at that plate and you go, "It looks good," but I feel better if I remove the potatoes. Maybe put some sort of cheese and fat on top of the vegetables. Make that portion the same size as the potatoes, and then just cut my protein in half. I don't need a 22 ounce steak. I'm good with four or five ounces of steak and a bunch of olive oil, fresh olive oil on top of the salad. I'm much more satiated like that than I am if I go eat the 22 ounce porterhouse and a baked potato. Then I just kind of feel like crap.
Geoff: I also it's a good point that you brought up that. Carbs are useful for athletic performance as well, right? There's a role for carbs. You need it for anaerobic, heavy-lifting, power movements. I think a lot of the most recent sports science, sports nutrition is saying that some sort of cyclical routine. You train metabolic flexibility with your fuel sources, with your nutrition. There seems to be this like ... Nutrition is always an evolving field of inquiry. It sounds like at the Cubs, it sounds like it has a pretty thoughtful run incorporating different eating protocols for different use cases.
John: Yeah, man. Everything is contextual. Everything is based on the person and individual, not only what they can handle, but what they like as well. And you have to provide people with options so that they can experiment and find out the routines that work best for them.
Geoff: Right. I mean if you're eating nutritionally to two, three, four millimole of ketones, you're doing it pretty well, because I know a lot of people that say they eat keto and test 0.5 or less than 1.0, so you're doing it properly. Good stuff.
John: Well, I think the easiest way for people to do it is just drink Bulletproof coffee. Make that Bulletproof style coffee mix and then just wait. Just wait, like how long can you go? Test yourself. How long can you go? You might not feel like you need to eat the rest of the day. That's fine. But that's, at least for me, how it's really kicked in, is kind of the combination of doing the coffee and exercising. My jiu-jitsu practice is usually from about 10:00 to noon, so I'll even have my coffee at practice mat-side, and when we have a little break, I'll take a big swig of water and a couple of sips of coffee, and that keeps me fueled for ... I feel like it keeps me fueled, that combination of caffeine and fat, for my practice.
Geoff: Tell me about the jiu-jitsu. I did a little bit of jiu-jitsu. I'm actually a Stanford alum, so it sounds like you went to the opposite side of the Bay. I actually was going to ask you about that. Was there any sort of friendly ribbing between your parents and yourself because you said you went to Cal?
John: Of course. Now, the baseball coach at Cal, Dave Esquer, is the one who really pushed me to go to Cal. I was going to UCLA, that's where I wanted to school. I got in there, I was going to go to UCLA. He called me ahead of time, said, "Hey, come walk-on for this team. Tryout and see how you do, and we'll give you priority registration." So I'm like, "Cal is a better school than UCLA is so I'm going to go there," so ended up at Cal. Now, that head coach, he left. He went to Stanford; he's the head coach at Stanford. So I went to Cal, but I'm definitely a Stanford baseball camp because I'm following the coach. I've been in professional baseball for too long to pick any specific regional team, like, "You were born here. You have to like these people." That's a stupid idea. I like the people that have impacted me in my life, so I'm an avid Stanford baseball fan now.
Geoff: By referencing Stanford, I was part of the Stanford jiu-jitsu club for a little bit, so just had a little bit of experience rolling around. I'm curious as you transitioned from the active baseball career and going to jiu-jitsu, curious to hear your experience and your thoughts. Was it a thoughtful, like, "Hey, I've always thought jiu-jitsu was an interesting combat sport," or was it your friends? How did you discover jiu-jitsu?
John: In 2006, I had a really good season, made the All-Star team, and when I was called up to the big league and I was frustrated. I realized that I'd never been in a fight, and at the same time it was like a perfect storm. I read Sam Sheridan's book, A Fighter's Heart, and he kind of does the same thing where he goes to an Ivy League school, realizes that he grew up in this charmed life and never been punched in the face. He flies to Thailand, starts training in kickboxing and does a professional fight at Lumpinee Stadium, and then he writes a book about the whole experience. When I saw that I'm like, "I'm doing that. Fuck that. I'm not going to get in a street fight. I'm going to get in an organized fight."
So I started kickboxing at this place called Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. It was the combat sports gym to where I was living at the time. The first day I was there, I did the kickboxing class, and then I showed up the next day at the same time thinking kickboxing was the time, but it wasn't. It was grappling; it was No-Gi grappling.
So I got onto the mat and our instructor at the time was a young black-belt named Vinny Magalhaes, who ended up fighting in the UFC. In fact, he just beat Gordon Ryan at ACB recently. Gordon Ryan, one of the best jiu-jitsu guys in the world, or one of the most kind of notorious jiu-jitsu guys in the world right now, in Renzo Gracie in New York. Vinny just beat him, and he saw that I was new and me and him were about the same size, I was a little bit bigger than him, and so I got treated like a grappling dummy for 15 minutes. I got ... just choked me, arm-barred me, leg lock, everything. I got done with that and I knew in that moment that when I was done ... I knew two things, that if I kept it up while I was playing baseball, I was going to get hurt because it's dangerous. People are literally trying to hurt you.
Geoff: I'm sure it's good cross-training.
Geoff: It's the craziest workout.
John: You're going to get hurt, right? So I knew I couldn't do it then, but I always had it in my mind that this was something that I wanted to do in the future.
Geoff: Better than kickboxing. Once you start rolling, this is more fun than kickboxing.
John: Yeah. Honestly, kickboxing was a lot easier for me. As a catcher, I was used to having things fly up my face, so I really picked it up fast, and a lot of it hitting mechanics of kicking and punching are similar to swinging a bat and throwing.
Geoff: Right, you're torquing your body all the time.
John: After about three weeks of consistent training, I was hanging with guys that were professionals in the ... Once I learned how to get hit in the face with my eyes open, I was hanging with some of the professional guys. In fact, I almost took a smoker in California, like a head-gear fight. My coaches found out about it, they were like, "No, you're not fighting anybody." When I first did jiu-jitsu, I felt like somebody threw me into the ocean and I couldn't swim. When I started to do kickboxing, like okay, I see how I could kind of be pretty good at this, but I already had something that I'm good at. I'm not looking for things that are easy climbs. I'm looking for what's the next Mount Everest.
John: I was home for about two months after my career ended, just kind of hanging out and decompressing. I'm just crushing my three-year-old in tic tac toe over and over again mercilessly and talking shit to her, and my wife comes up to me, Meghan comes up to me one time and she's like, "I think you need to find something to do because ..." Like you're working out and I'm like, "Let's play Pictionary." And they're like, "No. No one wants to play any games with dad anymore because he's too aggressive trying to win." I was so used to competing. And that's the other great thing about jiu-jitsu. I think it's different than all the other sports that you can find out there, is that every day you go to the gym, you can train full-speed and compete with somebody else.
I so cherish the fight. I so cherish like the ... I love being in a place where I get beat all the time because it's something for me to constantly aspire to and strive to be. I just don't like to do things that are easy. I never liked it. I think it's the side-effect of being a baseball addict and loving trying to practice hitting so much. There's so many techniques and like I said, the ocean is so deep. I went from barely being able to swim to now, three years in, a little bit over halfway through a blue-belt. I'm still barely treading water, and I love that about it.
I love going out there and competing and it provides me the opportunity, like I was talking about earlier. If I'm going to work with you and you're a baseball player, or I'm going to be doing some sort of consulting work on the side and you're somebody that's trying to perform somewhere, how the hell am I supposed to relate to you if I don't ever put myself out there? You see so many of these coaches and kind of internet celebrity experts giving people advice, and then you look into their background and you realize that person who's telling you how about to think in competition don't fucking compete at all or anything.
Geoff: Right, they've never done it.
John: They don't know what it feels like for your chest to be beating or for you to start doubting all your preparation before it happens, or for you to worry about all the people around you watching. They don't do that. How am I supposed to be authentically real to the players that I deal with all the time? Now, I can go up and I say, "Hey, I know how you feel." I know how you felt in baseball, but every year that I get away from playing, I understand that I am further and further removed to these guy. But every time I go do a jiu-jitsu competition and come back and they want to talk about it, we get closer and closer again.
And I can talk to them, like the younger guys about, "Hey, I'm a novice too. I'm a novice too. I'm a low-intermediate level player in this. I'm in jiu-jitsu A-Ball right now." I'm going to IBJJF tournaments and competing as a blue-blet in the Master's division and I get nervous. I get nervous. I get scared. I get worried. As we lead up to the event, I have trouble sleeping. I have to worry about my weight all the time. To be honest, I fucking love it. I love drive ... The last couple of times driving to the tournament, being so worried. I'm like sitting and I'm so happy because I'm like, "Oh, there you are again. There you are. I feel you're alive once again." I don't know if some day that thrill-seeking kind of mentality, it might kill me, but at least I'll be happy when it happens.
Geoff: I think that feeling, that emotion, I think more people should experience it. I won't claim that I have a lot of experience with it, but I did a friendly boxing match last December. I think that most people don't realize the intensity of someone looking you in the eye trying to kill you, right?
Geoff: I think once you live that, you're like, "Whoa okay." There is a plane of existence where some things are just so crystal clear, like, "Okay. Someone, in their eyes, is trying to kill you." You're trying to kill them too; you're in the fight. And something is raw, and that nervousness, that energy, that I think more people should tap into. I think it's something that we all should understand at least a little bit, that part of human experience.
John: I've heard the same thing from a couple of different MMA fighters that are done fighting now, from Kyle, and then from Shayna Baszier. I went down and did some work with the WWE at their performance center and I was talking about reframing, reframing the moment of stress to a positive, "Oh, this is why we're here, right?" And she pulls me aside afterwards and she's like, "I really know what you're talking about." She goes, "That's why I stopped fighting." And in my head, I'm thinking, "Well, it got too much for her, right?" She couldn't handle the stress.
And she goes, "I was in the locker room for my fight in the UFC and I wasn't nervous, and I couldn't get my heart rate up, and I didn't care. I wasn't scared. And so I went in and I fought, and I tore my ACL and everything kind of hurt and I lost. It didn't excite me anymore." And I'm like, "Shayna, did you just tell me that you were over it? You couldn't get up for a fist fight in a cage?" And she's like, "Yep." She's like, "The feeling that I'm looking for is not the feeling that you get when you're flying off the cliff to jump into the water." She goes, "I'm looking for the feeling right before, right before it happens."
John: And Kyle told me the same thing. He said his last fight was with Patrick Cummins; he's a really great wrestler from Penn State. And he's like, "He just kept taking me down. He took me down." He goes, "He took me down 11 times." And he's like, "I was in the cage. He was on top of me, and he was elbowing me in the head and my head was bouncing off the canvas, and I'm like, 'This doesn't hurt and I just don't care anymore.'" I'm like, "You guys are savages." I can't ever relate. I can't ever fully, I don't think, relate to that level of raw authenticity that it would take to ... or even in your case, boxing. At my age now, I have no interest in getting punched in the head repeatedly.
Geoff: No, I think it's like a one time gig. I mean that's some brain trauma for sure. I can see how kickboxing is a smart thing to stay far away from. Yeah, you're just taking blunt-force trauma to the face again and again and again, but I think it makes sense that a couple of your friends. I think once you don't have that edge of wanting to kill and be killed, I think you got to hang it up. I mean, another person is trying to kill you, like you're going to take some damage.
John: Yeah. And I don't even think they were so concerned about the other person, you know what I mean? It was just for them, their experience was like, "Oh, this doesn't stimulate me anymore. This is not enough and I need to go find enough in a different avenue or a different facet of life." And both of them, man, both of those people are doing ... I think because of that recognition, and I think that we should point out too. The self-awareness of both of those people is incredible to me. To recognize that it wasn't for them anymore, in like that healthy of a way, and to go out and find ... Both of them are successful. Shayna's NXT Women's Champion in the WWE. She's working her tail off to get to the main roster, which I think she will be on soon.
Kyle went from kind of aimlessly wandering around to the Director of Human Optimization at Onnit to this massive advocate of plant medicine. And people are finally getting to experience his personality and it's fantastic for me to see, because he's one of the people that in so many ... When I have a question about anything kind of bio hacking or of life optimization, or maybe it's something having to do with plant medicine for my own personal use, he's the first person I go to immediately. I'll send him a text message right away and he's just so much insight, so much information, and such a great person to be able to learn from.
Geoff: This is a wonderful conversation. How do I listeners follow you? Any upcoming events or projects? How do they find you on social? What are the things to shout out?
John: You could find me on social on Twitter. It's at manbearwolf. It's a shout out to an old, old Southpark episode about Al Gore. One was a bear, one was a wolf, and one was a man. So they added together kind of in that Southpark-ian way to make that handle. And I'm on Instagram at seejohnlearn. I'm just kind of actually getting used to Instagram; I never really used it before. I'm realizing that I have to go out and do things like this so that I can develop a side business.
My partner and I with the Cubs, a guy named Darnell McDonald, he's embedded in Chicago for us. He's at every home game. He is a former major league player that is also a yoga instructor now, and we work closely together on and off the field, and we have a company that we're building called Svadhyaya Sport. Svadhyaya is the Sanskrit for self study, and so what we're trying to-
Geoff: How do you spell that?
John: That's the problem, right? That's our problem. It's S-V-A-D-H-Y-A-Y-A Sport.com is the website that we're building right now. You can find us on Twitter and on Instagram at those same handles. I think that it would be much better for us to change the URL to our website, which we will be doing soon. But what we're trying to do is provide the things that we do for the Cubs. We're trying to develop a way to just get that to the general public. At first, all the content will be free. We're going to post some guided meditations up there. And there is contact information if anybody wants to actually reach us out, reach out to us and bring us to either their business, their team, their company. We're happy to come in. Unless you're in professional baseball and you're not with the Cubs, that's our ... We've gotten the blessing of Theo Epstein.
Geoff: That's awesome.
John: Yeah. We've gotten the blessing of Theo Epstein to go out and spread this word as much as possible. I mean, he hired all of us. He believes in these programs we have. We live in this great progressive place where we're constantly looking for the newest and best information, the newest and best practices. And so what we really want to do is be able to take the things that we're doing. It's like I said earlier, this isn't just about high performance. This is about life and how can we take ...
If we can leverage our notoriety with the Cubs to get this into more people's hands, then we feel like we're really making an impact on the world in a positive way. It's more about that than it is anything about us making money or having a business. We're really just trying to get this message out because we believe in it so much. We live it ourselves. We live it with our families. I could take you on a tour of my house, but one of the rooms here is ... There is no furniture. It's for meditation. We have meditation poufs and Buddha heads and a fire place and candles, and it's where my family spends a lot of time in the morning, in the afternoon, just making sure that we're working on modulating our own attention and focus all the time so that we can use it as best we can.
That's where you can find us though. I think that the easiest for me to reach out, is reach out to me on Twitter at manbearwolf, or on Instagram at seejohnlearn. I'm happy to answer questions and interact with anybody. I love spreading this message. It's like I said, it's so valuable to me. Whoever I can get it to, and again for you, thank you so much for having me on and for providing a platform to get some of this stuff out. And I hope that somebody out there, just one person benefits, then I'm happier than I was yesterday.
Geoff: All right, well said. Thanks so much, John.
John: Thank you.
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