The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Nick Norris — Navy SEAL and Athlete on Training, Post-Traumatic Growth, and Healing (#378)

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Nick Norris (@nick_norris1981), a graduate of both the United States Naval Academy and Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL (BUD/S) Class 247, with deployed roles that have included combat advisor to Iraqi and Afghan military units, Cross Functional Team Leader, and Ground Force Commander during combat operation in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nick was most recently assigned to Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command—SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) as Officer in Charge, prior to transitioning off Active Duty. He is on the board of directors of the C4 Foundation, which provides support and resources through science-based programs to active duty Navy SEALs and their families, and he is the Co-Founder and CEO of Amavara, a sunscreen company that has invented a new mineral sunscreen technology to protect both consumer health and the environment.

Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#378: Nick Norris — Navy SEAL and Athlete on Training, Post-Traumatic Growth, and Healing


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Tim Ferriss: Nick, welcome to the show.

Nick Norris: Thanks for having me.

Tim Ferriss: So I thought we could start with Tokyo. It is certainly one of my favorite places, having spent a good amount of time there. And I told you as we were having brunch a little earlier to save the story, because I don’t like to hear things a second or third time when I’m having these podcast conversations. But it seemed like there was quite a bit to dig into.

So your first trip to Tokyo, what took you there?

Nick Norris: So I went out there with a four-person team, to compete in a dynamic, four-way wind tunnel competition called a Sakura Cup.

Tim Ferriss: So the sakura is the cherry blossom, but what on earth — I heard wind tunnel, then there are a bunch of different phrases associated with that that make no sense to me and sound vaguely obscene. What was it?

Nick Norris: Okay, so dynamic four-way is a discipline of wind tunnel flying that — you know, it probably started — I’ll probably butcher this; people will correct me, but — 

Tim Ferriss: It’s okay, the Internet’s good for that.

Nick Norris: Probably six, seven years ago, maybe longer. Where guys predominantly in Europe, these guys whose team name was The Skywalkers, they started flying a lot of tunnel time. And you get bored just kind of doing normal, vertical formation skydiving, so static formation building for time. I think they started moving around the tunnel with like, two people, and then adding three and four, and then this thing has blossomed into a full-on discipline where you compete in two different, I guess, formats. You do a series of speed rounds, so you have a, I guess, a number of different movements, either in a vertical plane or horizontal plane, that are predetermined, and you fly them in — three of those, in succession, three times, per time. You enter the tunnel, and then exit the tunnel, and then you get a time and you compete against each other.

Tim Ferriss: So you have to hold a specific position for increasing periods of time?

Nick Norris: You’re moving the entire time. So think like synchronized swimming, but flying around in a high-speed column of air, in a glass cylinder, fish bowl.

Tim Ferriss: Got it.

Nick Norris: So you do that, and then the other portion is an artistic round. So you do a 90-second artistic round.

Tim Ferriss: So that’s like a breakdance battle.

Nick Norris: Yeah they actually call it battling, you battle against another team.

Tim Ferriss: What would people want to search online to find videos of this? Are there any particular videos of search terms you suggest people start with if they want to see what this actually looks like?

Nick Norris: oh man. So if you put D4W, like wind tunnel, into Google, it’ll pull up a whole bunch of videos. And there’s some super elite flyers that we saw out in Japan that were way better than our team. And if you look at the Sakura Cup wind tunnel competition, there’ll be some videos of the rounds that were flown. It’s really impressive athletes in a very fringe, outlandish sport.

Tim Ferriss: So you have a whole range of skills and attributes that you’ve developed, and we shall not name the person who will not be mentioned, who’s sitting also in the room with us, he’s a snake eater in the shadows who prefers to remain as such. But he described you initially to me in a number of very sort of laudatory ways, and then he said, “He doesn’t have any physical weaknesses; yeah, it’s really annoying.” And so I thought we could shift to another area that you’ve explored quite a bit, which is — I’m going to prompt and then we can jump into it, because I said, “Save it, save it, save it for the podcast.” Let’s talk about MoonBoards. What on Earth is a MoonBoard?

Nick Norris: Okay, so a MoonBoard is a thing that was created by a very famous rock climber whose name is Ben Moon out of the UK. And Ben is like — I mean he’s like OG, strong rock climber. Super inspirational, did some of the hardest sport climbs in the world, and some of the hardest boulder problems in the world. And Ben started a company called Moon Climbing, and he has this really famous place called The School Room in the UK; it’s his training gym. And he had this thing, a board, a templated board, that has holds on it that never change. So he has these problems that’ve just been there forever, like some of the hardest problems, I think he said he’s ever done, are on this board.

Tim Ferriss: How big is the board?

Nick Norris: Oh man, and I will be off on this —

Tim Ferriss: Just roughly, yeah.

Nick Norris: So it’s maybe 12 feet long, I think it’s set at a 40 degree angle, so it’s overhanging, so it’s like three consecutive sheets of plywood, and maybe a touch more, and it’s gritted, so set distance in between each bolt hole, and Ben created a specific set of climbing holds with a compass rose on them. So the —

Tim Ferriss: With what on them?

Nick Norris: A compass rose. Like a north arrow. So you would go — he basically told you where to set this number hold, in this orientation, in this grid square, or in this bolt hole, and by doing that you set the board a certain way and he was able to create boulder problems that people could replicate all over the world by just building this exact copy of his MoonBoard. And it’s caught on like wildfire in the climbing community, they’re all over the place in commercial climbing gyms.

Tim Ferriss: Where’s the strangest place that you have used — strange or atypical place you’ve used a MoonBoard?

Nick Norris: So I, on active duty, built three MoonBoards. I built one in Zamboanga, in the Philippines, I built one in Ramadi, Iraq, and I built one in Zabul Province at a firebase called Naw Bahar.

Tim Ferriss: How long does it take to build a MoonBoard once you’ve had a rehearsal on one or two?

Nick Norris: I’m a terrible carpenter, so I’m really good at convincing people to help me do other things that I can’t do. So I had a talented group of CBs, combat construction guys, that I convinced to shirk all their other responsibilities and build a climbing wall in the middle of combat zones.

Tim Ferriss: So let’s talk about these two disciplines just to start with, because I find that, generally — well, I find it interesting how someone like yourself looks at different disciplines and I’m fascinated with high-performing cohorts of people in any discipline. It really doesn’t matter, it could be carpentry, it could be rock climbing, it could be painting, the discipline itself is less interesting than the commonalities among the top performers.

So if we look at, for instance, the synchronized swimming in an air column, what separates — it could be in any of the different formats you described, it doesn’t have to be — it could be in the battle format, it could be in any of the different formats we discussed. What separates the good from the truly exceptional? I think — what are the characteristics or the defining practices, anything that you’ve been able to pick up since you are very accomplished in this area as well as in climbing. What separates the good from the great?

Nick Norris: So there’s a number of things, but I think time together as a team, being able to read people’s body language, flying in a wind tunnel, I mean you start to see how people telegraph certain movements, and you learn that through repetition and just time together. So I think that time as a team, that kind of, I guess you could call it stress inoculation, you do it so many times that you can just see, you kind of predict where people are going to go just by how they look moments before they do something. I think that’s one of the biggest attributes that high, high-end teams have. And then I think the other thing is just, in that discipline, their ability to move constantly, like no hesitation, moving almost with no fear that they’re going to impact each other. Because you’re talking about flying in a very confined space at very high speeds, and you just trust. Like you have total trust that the guy — that’s in front of you or behind you — is going to do his job really well.

Tim Ferriss: When you say high-speed, for people who have no exposure to this, because for instance I’ve spent one or two sessions in a single day at an iFly facility, I want to say in the East Bay in northern California, many, many, many years ago, which was a phenomenal experience. But I was so concerned with just not eating it face first into something that I wasn’t paying much attention —

Nick Norris: Valid concern.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to speed. I don’t think my input would have mattered. So what is high-speed?

Nick Norris: A lot of wind tunnels will fly anywhere between a 150 and maybe 170 mile an hour wind, so they’re pushing vertical wind speeds at like 150, 170 miles an hour. And when you’re flying in that wind, you’re not going 170 miles an hour, you’re flying upside down, or right side up in a vertical orientation. And when you see the guys that are really, really good, I mean they’re moving. They’re probably going I mean — maybe 20 miles an hour, 30 miles an hour, of closing speed, so like, really fast. I mean you can get going, if you were in the sky, like jumping out of an aircraft, I mean you could be moving 120 miles an hour over ground if you were in one of the orientations you’re flying at in the wind tunnel.

Tim Ferriss: Got it. So you’d be covering — we were talking a little bit earlier about wingsuits, and those people who haven’t seen a wingsuit, a: It’s terrifying, b: the humans tend to resemble flying squirrels; there’s a high mortality rate, and then there’s another term for it, which is proximity flying. Why is it called proximity flying?

Nick Norris: Okay, so I will say this for the record: I don’t base jump, I never have, and I don’t proximity fly, but I have a bunch of friends that do. So it’s flying very close to land masses. So when you base jump, you watch guys wingsuit very close to the side of a mountain ridge line.

Tim Ferriss: And what can there — and you mentioned, I suppose just moments ago, 120 miles an hour. So are they achieving those types of speeds?

Nick Norris: Yeah, even — I mean, probably even faster. So their glide ratio over ground is like three to one or higher. So they’re traveling three feet for every foot that they descend, so like really fast speed over ground.

Tim Ferriss: If we look at rock climbing, to throw the same question out there, and you could use a specific example if you wanted in terms of picking someone who you recognize as an elite climber. But if we try to separate the inborn attributes that allow them to be superior climbers, much like you had — I can’t learn to have my ankle seemingly dislocate like Michael Phelps, so that’s unlikely to be something I can train for, but there are different training approaches or ways of looking at say, bouldering problems or other things, that might allow people to progress faster and develop faster than others.

What are some of the differentiators that you’ve observed in exceptional climbers versus people who are just kind of like me in half the things I do, like permanent blue belts, never quite graduate?

Nick Norris: You know what, I think it’s an innate ability to just try hard, like try very, very hard and you know, that sounds easy, but it’s much more difficult in practice. You look at, there’s a guy named Adam Ondra, who arguably is the most talented, or the strongest rock climber in the world. Just amazing to watch the guy climb. And you can see the level of tenacity, like just the way that he approaches climbs, where he just does not give up. It’s just a relentless pursuit of perfection, and an endless pursuit of perfection. And the guy is magnitudes stronger than the average, even elite level climber, and is still just — even trains tirelessly to get better. And I think it’s that grit, that ability to just continue to persevere, which is a huge standout attribute.

Tim Ferriss: Is that something that you can develop? I mean, is there a sort of mental theater in which how you speak to yourself allows you to do that? Or helps you to do that? I’m just wondering what, if people wanted to try to develop the ability to try harder, which I think can be done. I mean, I think there’s certain presets. But then if you are training in just about any sport or area with a, say a coach who believes you can exceed what you take to be your limitations, then you can begin to sort of instill the conditioned default of trying really hard.

So I think there are probably things that you can do. How do you approach a new problem that you’ve set out for yourself? Because I know that you have explored some virgin territory when it comes to bouldering problems. Maybe first you could explain to people who don’t rock climb, or aren’t familiar with it, like what is bouldering? And then when you’re tackling a new problem, what does your internal voice sound like when you’re tackling something that you know is probably going to be pushing your level a bit?

Nick Norris: So to start, bouldering in the realm of climbing is like powerlifting as it relates to weight lifting or weight training. So small, very intense, technically difficult pieces of terrain that you’re climbing with no rope and crash pads laid out underneath you. So you’re not soloing, doing something that’s death defying, you know most of the time it’s less than 15 feet off the ground. So it’s a very high intense pursuit in climbing, as opposed to sport climbing or traditional climbing, which is a little bit longer, more endurance based. For me, I know that tenacity or the ability to persevere is something that I’m in control of, and I was never the most talented athlete growing up. I wrestled as a young guy, and I didn’t have the innate talent that a lot of my peers had. But I knew that I could work hard and I could do all these things in the off season and even during competition to help get me closer to be on a level competitive playing field as these other people. So I approach bouldering in a very similar sense. I’m shorter, I have shorter arms, I’m probably a little heavier than the average boulderer.

Tim Ferriss: What are your dimensions? Just for people wondering.

Nick Norris: I’m five-foot six, I have a negative two ape index, that means my arms are five-foot four. So I’m shorter, stubby arms. And I weigh anywhere from like 160 to 165 pounds. So I’m not heavy by any means, but in the realm of climbing I’m a little bit heavier for my size.

Tim Ferriss: And in case it’s not obvious to people, just based on the context, you’re also — I mean, that’s a lean — that’s not a doughnuts and Dr. Pepper 170.

Nick Norris: I’ve been trying to get my legs to be smaller so that I weigh less, too.

Tim Ferriss: Okay, so you have this variable, which is sort of training intensity and consistency, which is under your control, unlike some of the sort of innate talent that other people might have. And then, if you are — just from a psychological perspective — when you are getting ready to attempt, whether it’s the first time or the fifth time, a very hard route, how do you prepare for that? Like in the minutes leading up to it, what does that look like?

Nick Norris: In the moment before I’m going to give something like a red point attempt, like try to actually climb the line, try to clear your head. I mean, its a huge mental game when you get to the point where you’ve done all the moves, you’re strong enough to do it, there can be a big mental block. And I think a lot of athletes experience that. You know the kind of higher echelons of performance, so I think clearing your brain and not letting that be the limiting factor. I think leading up to that it’s practicing grit and that kind of try hard, in all of the structured training that I do leading up to that moment. So fingerboarding is a way that you can train your fingers, your tendons, connective tissue to be stronger. In every fingerboard workout, trying to apply that level of grit, that try-hard, hang-on things that might hurt my skin, or just be very rigorous and tough on me. Trying to put that same level of intensity into every training session, trying to get high quality training, not just volume of training and checking the boxes.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, this is what I was hoping we’d explore a bit, because I mean repetition — like practice does not make perfect.

Nick Norris: No. Perfect practice makes you perfect.

Tim Ferriss: Right. And I think a lot of quote that I’m going to butcher the name, I need a classic scholar in the room, but Archilochus, I think is one of these old names that it’s difficult to know how exactly, at least for me, how it was pronounced. But, the phrase is, “We do not rise to the level of our hopes, or expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” And so if you haven’t stress inoculated, as you mentioned, it’s very difficult to execute when you’re actually trying to push yourself into a performance rep, right?

So let’s talk about clearing your mind. So practically what does that look like? A lot of people get wrapped up, like they put in a ton of practice and then it’s time to go out and perform, and you’ve no doubt seen this. And we’re going to segue to military shortly, but whether it’s in sports, in any high-performance situation, you people who do really well in training and rehearsal, and then they freeze. And then you see people who are the opposite, who do really well under pressure and they may not, in training, be the standouts. But then, when it comes to actual performance for any number of reasons, they are kind of in pole position. So how do you clear your mind?

Nick Norris: So for me, the things that are the times where I’ve performed my best, I’ve actually used visualization. I’ve actually adopted that successfully. And it may not work for everybody, but I literally try to visualize myself climbing through all the movement that I know I’ve done, I’ve practiced in the past and I’ve successfully executed it, and watch myself climb through the entire boulder problem. Even to the point where I will find myself moving my hands in the positions that they should be hitting each specific hold. You know, just grabbing the air. I’m constantly trying to pursue a higher level of bouldering, and I’m not by any means the strongest boulderer in the world. But just recently I had this kind of breakthrough experience on a really hard boulder problem for me, and right before I did it, I had been visualizing literally the entire day leading up to it. And then just sitting down and breathing, a couple big deep breaths, and just trying to empty all other thoughts out of my brain.

Tim Ferriss: And we’re going to segue into how the military entered the picture in a moment, but what other physical feats are you proudest of? Because this could be military or it could be civilian. Actually, let me put this a different way, because you’re so understated. If someone else were to brag on your behalf, I might have to pull in some reinforcements here if necessary, but what other physical feats — whether it’s in competition or otherwise — are you proudest of?

Nick Norris: The prelude to that is that I’ve surrounded myself with people that are better than me in every athletic pursuit that I’ve fallen in love with. So beyond climbing, I mean, climbing, I’ve surrounded myself with very talented people, and I’m very proud of some of the progression I’ve seen in that sport. Prior to that I got way into longer distance running I ran 50k, 50 milers, like a lot of trail races. I did my first 50 miler on the East Coast when I was at the Naval Academy with a handful of friends. I didn’t know what to expect, and that was a big accomplishment for me, you know more mentally. It wasn’t that you’re going super fast, or you’re going to win the race, it was just kinda persevering. It was the grit that you had to show through that. I’ve competed in some multi-sport races, like adventure racing, back in the day. Did a lot of like one-day, two-day, three-day races. Raced in Eco Primal Quest back in 2002 in Telluride, Colorado.

Tim Ferriss: What is that?

Nick Norris: Eco Challenge was made famous by Mark Burnett, and I think it was developed after the Raid Gauloises. So all map and compass, team of three or four people, and normally one person of the opposite sex, and it was all man-powered movement over terrain: paddling, hiking, mountaineering, mountain biking, just puts you out in the middle of nowhere in just the most epic places in the world. And sleep deprivation is factored in, and I think that’s what drew me to it more than anything else. I mean, I knew I wanted to go to BUD/S, and be a SEAL, and I figured this was probably the best train up for mental toughness that I could do. So I got way into it when I was at school.

Tim Ferriss: So how did you end up becoming interested in becoming a Navy SEAL, or being directed towards that territory at all? How did that all start?

Nick Norris: You know what, somebody mentioned this community within the military, the SEAL teams, when I was in, like, seventh grade, and before that I knew nothing about the SEAL community. And I think I’ve always been really good at setting goals for myself and just working really hard to achieve these goals, because I can have a lot of innate talent. And I think I fixated on that as a really, kind of almost unattainable goal when I was in seventh grade, and just latched onto it. I mean, I just wanted to achieve that. And I had a lot of people that were naysayers along the way that doubted my ability to go and do that, but I knew that I was in control of my destiny. I could put the structure together to achieve all the small goals that would lead up to ultimately realizing that bigger goal.

Tim Ferriss: How did you end up having even the concept of structuring it in these incremental bites — taking this large goal and breaking it down? Is that something that your parents demonstrated? Is it something mentors or coaches demonstrated? Did it come from a book? I mean, where did that come from?

Nick Norris: So my dad was instrumental in that, growing up. My dad was a college football player, firefighter in the city of Chicago, really like, addicted to fitness, like really into calisthenics and weight lifting, got me into that when I was pretty young. And I can visualize it right now, he had all these motivational quotes written in calligraphy up on the wall in the basement in Chicago. And he’d always quote Vince Lombardi and really push me to just try hard and start working out, because he was all about discipline, setting these goals. So I probably embodied that because I was just in that environment with my dad and I looked up to him a lot.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I mean, I would imagine with the weight lifting, I don’t know — and you mentioned wrestling as well — I mean, at least for me, where a lot of the kind of methodical tracking began, was with training and weight cutting and so on, because you wanted to have a training log of some type to track progress. So you have this dream that is kicked off some way around seventh grade; when does it start to become a reality?

Nick Norris: I think I went to the Naval Academy, you know I was accepted to the Naval Academy, started down that path, and then super competitive from the Naval Academy to get a billet as an officer into the SEAL training pipeline. So I think it started while I was —

Tim Ferriss: Billet is like a position?

Nick Norris: Yeah, like an opportunity. Like you get one slot to go and attempt the training. So I think at school I started to build this really cool comradery, like a fraternity with the guys who were all competing for that finite number of spots into the SEAL pipeline. And I think back, I think I got hooked on that brotherhood, like the fraternity that you had a bunch of guys that all aspired to do the same thing, all sacrificing to achieve that one goal. And I would probably point back to that moment, or that period in my life as kind of that was when I really started seeing it manifest as reality.

Tim Ferriss: Was there any aspect of BUD/S or any part of the training/vetting process that you expected would be most difficult, or that you were concerned about?

Nick Norris: I was always concerned about the cold. I’m a pretty thin guy, I don’t have a lot of insulation on my body, and I remember going through some screening events at school and getting extremely cold. So that was something, probably in the back of my head, is a big fear, like, would I get too cold? Would my mind quit on me in that scenario? Because it starts to really test you. I think beyond that, I was never that good of a swimmer. I have kind of an example. When I was a junior in high school, I was a Chicago Park District lifeguard on the lakefront, on the shore of Lake Michigan. And the senior guards used to make me wear a rescue buoy out when we’d go and do swims, ’cause they thought I was going to drown.

So I was a terrible swimmer. Never swam until I had a — my dad actually was the one that told me, “You need to go get a job, go be a lifeguard, it pays really well and you get to hang out at the beach.” I’m like, “Great, well, I don’t know how to swim, so I need to figure that out.” And then even at the Naval Academy, I mean I think my senior year I probably swam like four times in preparation for BUD/S. And thankfully you put fins on after the first week of BUD/S, and you do all your swimming with fins. So I was a fairly good finner, but I was a terrible swimmer.

Tim Ferriss: You mentioned a term earlier that I think is worth exploring a bit, that’s stress inoculation. Could you talk about, maybe give some examples of that? And maybe also, some misconceptions. I mean, for instance, one that came up yesterday while we were having dinner was cold exposure, and I had never really thought about it, but the counterintuitive aspect of that example I think is worth mentioning too.

So what is stress inoculation, and where do people sometimes get it wrong?

Nick Norris: In its simplest form, stress inoculation is just exposing yourself to stressors through experience to get you more comfortable. So you can inoculate yourself to stress in pretty much any environment that would impose it. And I think the example that we are talking about, the misconception that we were discussing yesterday was cold exposure or exposure to heat. You know, if you put yourself in cold water thinking that you’re going to build up this tolerance to the cold, I think it’s actually, well it actually works against you. You can be more susceptible to hypothermia.

Tim Ferriss: It could can backfire.

Nick Norris: And then the same thing with hyperthermia. You know, you get heat stroke once, you could be a victim of heatstroke repeatedly.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. That’s actually ended up happening to me with the heat specifically. I’ve never told our mystery friend sitting here this before, but I was a subject, I volunteered to be an experimental subject in testing at Stanford where they would, because I wanted the data, right. I’d always been susceptible to heat and I wanted some hard numbers on how susceptible I was or if I was like what the actual problem was.

And so they put in — it’s about as pleasant as it sounds — an anal probe, which is, like to measure core temperature, so it’s like 18 inches long or something like that. And then they had new technology, which is an esophageal probe. So you also had like an 18-inch probe going down your nose, down your throat to try to get close to your heart, and then they’d put you in full military gear with a weighted rucksack helmet and put you in a sauna on an incline treadmill and just march you to heat exhaustion.

Nick Norris: Sounds awesome.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it was about as pleasant as it sounds, but I ended up being more sensitive over time, which I didn’t expect. I thought, “Oh, this is going to be like building up a base suntan.” And it just so happens it’s not true for everything.

There’s someone who may be a character in the story of stress inoculation and your exposure to that, I suppose, pun intended, who’s been on this podcast before. Can you describe how you know Jocko Willink?

Nick Norris: So Jocko and I served at SEAL Team Three together. So when I was a new guy, he was the sister troop commander and he and his troop went to Ramadi that summer and then we were deployed about 20 kilometers to the east of Ramadi. So I worked up with Jocko and then Jocko took over our training detachment on the West Coast for the SEAL team. So when I was a platoon commander, I took my platoon through the entire training cycle under Jocko’s guys. So he was the individual that was charged not only with running training for everybody but specifically vetting and mentoring the officers that were going to be taking deployable elements into combat.

Tim Ferriss: So there are a whole slew of reasons why I was eager to have you on the podcast. You’ve been highly successful in multiple fields. You’re well respected in multiple fields, certainly as a physical performance specimen. As the snake eater put it, you’re irritatingly well-rounded and also one hell of a nice guy, which makes it harder to find that bothersome. I should say but — and it’s more of an and, really, because I think it’s so common — you’ve had some challenges since leaving the military that I thought would be worth getting into. And I wanted to sort of paint a picture of a lot of your accomplishments first because I wanted to establish that context, but can you talk just — and we’ll of course dig into a lot of the details — but there’ve been a lot of highlights along the way. But what did you experience after the military?

Nick Norris: So I left active duty service in 2013 after several deployments into combat and everything was actually great initially. I left because of my family. My wife and I had been with each other since high school and we had just had our daughter in 2012 and that was, for me, the catalyst that was ultimately going to help me make the decision to choose my family and get out of the military at that point. So I transitioned into the private sector initially in a commercial real estate brokerage, which is super high stress. I wasn’t making any money whatsoever. And kind of the polar opposite of the SEAL teams, the military combat units in general, I was by myself. I was kind of alone on an island, responsible for my own performance.

I didn’t have any teammates to look to; there was little to no camaraderie. And you know, I kind of carried on with that career until we started the current company that I’m running. You know, sunscreen company. And you know, I’d say it was probably 2017, so four years had lapsed before I really, I kind of had a moment, I guess a moment of clarity for myself where I realized I just didn’t feel myself. And you know, it’s difficult at times to put it into words, but I remember my family was away on a trip and I decided to stay home to work, as was the normal for me at that point. And I just kind of was feeling total apathy toward things that I really find passion in, like climbing. I had zero interest in it; would find myself driving to the gym and sitting in my truck for like an hour — not wanting to go in and do something that I normally love. 

I was becoming a little bit more aware of feelings of anger, agitation, edginess in conversations with people. I’d be at a normal kind of one-on-one meeting with somebody and with a really nice person — and there was no reason why I should be feeling angry or irritated — and I would have to excuse myself from meetings and didn’t want to interact with them. And it was like 180 out from my normal personality. I was just very confused. You know, I’ve always been a very even-keel, nice person, don’t look for conflict, try to walk away from fights. I mean, normally if I, I mean I was the guy that was just very even-keel and even-tempered and I would just find myself getting just very angry all the time.

And I think it was bleeding into my personal life with my wife and my kids, just no ability to cope with kind of distractions in the house. I just felt overwhelmed, almost on edge all the time. And I got to a point where I just didn’t know how to fix it, so I talked to some people and just asked them if they’ve felt that way.

Tim Ferriss: So former SEALs?

Nick Norris: Yeah, some buddies of mine, like guys that had exited the military at that point and you know, some guys shared blood work and testosterone count — potentially, that’s an issue. So I remember going in and getting a full battery of blood work done and my testosterone was fine. It was very healthy. And I remember kind of having a one-on-one with the physician that I was seeing and described everything that I kind of described in brief just now.

And they framed it as depression and I said, “That’s crazy. I’m not depressed. I just don’t feel myself, there has to be something else wrong. I’m not locking myself in a dark room. And I’m just — that’s not me.” And they were insistent on trying to put me on a serotonin drug, on an antidepressant.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, SSRI, yeah.

Nick Norris: Correct. And there’s nothing wrong with it, but just for me, personally, I just didn’t want to. I looked at it as a Band-Aid fix. I just didn’t think it was going to help me get back to the person that I knew I was. So I just tried to go out and find other things, something else to snap me out of it besides 40 ounces of coffee every single day to try to wake me up and actually get me motivated.

Tim Ferriss: So at that point, I mean, how long were you in that wandering, searching ,sort of coping, but not having returned to normal you? It doesn’t have to be exact, but for how long were you on the search for some type of a fix before you found anything that helped?

Nick Norris: You know, it probably took me six months or so. It was kind of a frustrating process of trying to vet the blood work and just see if it passed, see if I would just get back to normal, and I wasn’t getting back to normal. I ultimately found something called personalized repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. So it’s a mouthful. I kind of stumbled upon it by accident. I had connected with a doctor in San Diego that had been doing it for depression.

Tim Ferriss: What is the acronym for that? I mean it’s a form of TMS.

Nick Norris: So it’s PR TMS. Just a very focused form of a TMS. You know, they did an EEG initially to kind of look at your brainwave activity and then treat frontal lobe with some magnetic pulses to try to, I guess, like retune the piano. And I talked to some veterans, actually talked to a Marine and then a couple SEALs, or former SEALs off active duty. This was all kind of post active duty service. Where it worked for them. I mean, they felt like it, it kind of snapped them back into the person that they were so they could get on a healthier track. And because ultimately the way I looked at it as, “Hey, I just need something to make me feel myself, or [make it so] I can sleep again. Where I could start eating healthy again or I can exercise or actually have a passion to exercise again because those are like the core foundational pillars that have been my foundation. That’s the reason I’m able to stay healthy. It’s because of my diet and sleep and exercise, but I just, I need something to kind of help push me in that direction.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s what you’re describing. Certainly I’ve never been in the military, but for people who’ve listened to the podcast for a long time or read any of the recent books, I mean, I’ve had many extended bouts with, certainly in retrospect what I would call depression. And seems to be a family — there seems to be a software component. Like what I came preloaded with just has maybe a few unusual lines of code in it. But there’s also the large, behavioral piece and one of the trickier aspects of, for some people, and this has been true for me as well, is that if humans are kind of reward and punishment, sort of incentive-driven machines, if the reward that you received from activities that were good for you — in part, the joy of rock climbing, let’s just say disappears, right? So you have this like anhedonia, the inability to feel joy, the normal kind of feedback loops that help encourage you to follow these beneficial patterns of behavior can kind of slip through your fingers. Because you’re just not getting the payoff — you’re not getting the initial drive and you’re not getting the payoff.

So the PR TMS, it is really interesting. This is something that actually came up not too long ago very briefly with a physicist who was on this podcast, but we didn’t get into it because he had no personal exposure to it; he was just very interested in the science. How quickly did you see a response to that?

Nick Norris: It’s crazy. It was like immediate for me. So I’ll frame it. I walked into this office and I was in a terrible mood, like very antisocial, just in a very low spot. And I actually was very agitated with the guy who was kind of bringing me in and asking me the questions. I didn’t even want to deal with him and they did an EEG and then sat me down and I went through my first battery of treatment. And then I guess the way that I reacted to it, I’ve talked to other guys, maybe that didn’t have the same type of reaction, but it’s almost like a sense of being caffeinated. You haven’t drank coffee for three weeks and then all of a sudden you have a double shot of espresso. Just feel like super on-point and kind of a wave of calm where all those feelings of agitation and anger subsided and it was crazy. I did not expect that to happen and I had to back it up. I mean after it would fade and then I was going in pretty much five days a week for like 30 minutes for six weeks or so. And then I was good for a while, probably for like six plus months.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. So the flywheel was spinning at that point. Like you had enough momentum, I know this is metaphorically speaking, but at that point the durability you needed to — So you had five, roughly say five times per week for, what’d you say? How many weeks?

Nick Norris: Six weeks or so.

Tim Ferriss: Six weeks. And at that point then the durability of effect seemed to be about six months.

Nick Norris: It took effect and then immediately I started sleeping better. Sleep is the root of everything, I think as it relates to — at least my experience with — this mental health. As I slept better, I just felt better. The apathy went away. I was more excited to go climb. More excited to spend time with my wife and my two kids, and then it was this positive feedback loop where it just kind of jump started me into a track that I had been on, but I had just fallen off of.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It strikes me that you needed the, in a way the reboot or the tuning. So that you could have a sort of “normal” window within which then you could make the decisions you would have made normally.

Nick Norris: Absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: Does that makes sense?

Nick Norris: Yeah. No, perfect sense.

Tim Ferriss: I mean it’s like the PR TMS, it doesn’t make the longer term regular behavioral decisions for you, but it opens a window in which you can make those decisions for yourself. Which is true of a lot of some of the treatments that I find more interesting for this is that they’re not sort of causal in and of themselves. It’s not one and done, but it opens a window of opportunity within which you can make decisions with your mind in a better, more focused place.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: You mentioned sleep, and this is another variable that has just become over time more and more interesting to me. And certainly you’re no stranger to sleep deprivation and we can certainly talk about that. And there were long periods of time where I used stimulants and caffeine to self medicate and it works for a while, or at least it makes you feel like you’re being productive for a while. What types of systems or habits have you built around sleep, or are there any other tools or resources that you found helpful for sleep?

Nick Norris: Yeah, so trying to get sunlight in the morning. Going through the TMS battery. I mean that was a very positive habit that was formed because of that treatment. You know, the doc said, “I need you to get at least 30 minutes of direct morning blue light exposure to kind of kick your, I guess, your circadian rhythm into alignment. So you actually get tired. You start to produce the chemicals internally that you need to to actually fall asleep and get restful sleep.” So that was a big one. I was cognizant of how much time I did not spend in direct sunlight with no glass in between me and the blue light. Once I started actually looking at that, I make a point of getting outside and doing that.

It has impacted my positive quality of sleep, but I drink a lot more water every morning. I drink 32 ounces of water, no fail. Sometimes I don’t want to, but I do. And I’ve become more cognizant of just being more hydrated. I’ve supplemented with vitamin D, even though I’m getting sunlight — that seemed to help. And then caffeine intake, I mean, I love coffee. It’s an amazing performance-enhancing drug as it relates to climbing. It’s probably the best. Like, best that I’ve found. Drink a cup of coffee and you just focus and you perform well. I’ve gotten into a habit of not drinking it later in the day and not drinking it at 7:00 or 8:00 at night.

Tim Ferriss: I was going to say, I don’t want to take us totally off the rails, but one of the things you mentioned during lunch that I never would have thought of in a million years. You’re talking about heading out to climb in the middle of the night with headlamps. And I was like, “What? Why would you do that?” And you’re talking about the temperature and how your skin is tighter or more resilient. You can climb more effectively.

Nick Norris: Way better to climb in the cold. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So that I can see that being maybe not the ideal time to down a whole lot of coffee.

Nick Norris: And I definitely had fallen victim to drinking coffee at 11:00 at night.

Tim Ferriss: We’re going to keep going so you can think of any other things that might have helped as it relates to sleep, but the sun exposure first thing in the morning and not having anything between you, even if it is, say, panes of glass, is something that a number of guests on this podcast have mentioned. I only thought about it right now because it’s been a while as being instrumental in completely changing the trajectory of their physical life. Like Rick Rubin, legendary music producer, has a very similar practice, like at least 20 or 30 minutes of direct sunlight every morning. That doesn’t mean it has to be sunny out, also. It can be overcast; it just means being outside and you know, shortly thereafter along with other things. I mean he lost 100 plus pounds, right? But that was sort of the first domino, which was a daily ingredient, first thing upon waking, that made a huge difference. When do you stop drinking caffeine during the day? What are the rules you’ve set for yourself?

Nick Norris: So it’s been recently, it’s been better. I actually have fallen into drinking butter coffee first thing in the morning and I don’t drink coffee after that. So I’ll have that at like 8:00 a.m., and then it kind of has forced an intermittent fast, like a short-term fast where I feel focused throughout the day and don’t need to drink coffee in the afternoon. Prior to that I would feel this afternoon energy dump and feel like I need to drink more coffee to go climb or something be productive. So that’s helped. So I tried to cut it out completely. After my morning coffee, I’m not touching it again.

Tim Ferriss: I think this caffeine piece is really, really key for a lot of people, including myself. And I’ve noticed, for instance, there are certain things — we’re going to talk about this — that are sort of like harbingers, or like the canary in the coal mine as it relates to possible periods of depression or apathy or anhedonia, all these things.

And that for me at least, the caffeine can precipitate a lot of it, right? Because if, for whatever reason, I’m consuming too much caffeine, too late, too high quantity, what does that start to affect? It starts to affect sleep. Even if you’re in bed for eight hours, you may have very disrupted sleep. And then it becomes this vicious cycle that tends to exacerbate all of the things that you’re trying to avoid, right? And so for me also combining, say, extended exercise at some point in say the afternoon gives me a break from my habitual caffeine consumption window, if that makes any sense.

Nick Norris: No, it definitely does.

Tim Ferriss: Because I know, as someone who’s effectively worked by himself — which I think is problematic in a lot of ways psychologically — for 20 plus years, it’s like, okay, well I go to a coffee shop, go to a restaurant, and a lot of these places, it’s an endless cup of coffee or it’s endless refills of iced tea.

Nick Norris: Well, you got to get your money’s worth!

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah. You end up, it’s like, okay, over a handful of hours, at least I would, I’d drink like 15 cups of iced tea or, like, seven cups of coffee. And then I realized at one point I went to this, I did this retreat at one point where I had to dial down my coffee and get to the point where I wouldn’t have these withdrawal headaches, and then I came back and just went straight back into my normal routine of inadvertently consuming six cups in a day. And I thought to myself, “Holy shit, was this my normal? No wonder I was so anxious and had so much trouble sleeping.” And so for me, this is a long, roundabout way of saying you can use all the meditation apps and take all the supplements and do all of these things to decrease your anxiety and improve your sleep, or you can just have, like, one or two cups of coffee in the morning and not have six.

Nick Norris: Yeah. I would much rather perform a little bit at a lower intensity in the evening when I work out than suffer the consequences of having caffeine that late in the day.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m not former military, but I’ve spent a lot of time with former military and a lot of guys seem to experience this tired and wired phenomenon where they’ll try to go to sleep and then suddenly they’re wide awake and they have this surge of cortisol late at night as opposed to early in the morning when you’re evolutionarily designed to have this surge of cortisol so that it liberates glycogen and you get a spike in blood glucose and then bam, you’re awake.

And some folks, and I don’t know if you’ve ever bumped into Kirk Parsley, he does a lot of work with —

Nick Norris: I know Kirk.

Tim Ferriss: You do?

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So he’s worked on some interesting concoctions for sleep and you know, phosphatidylserine is not a replacement for cutting back on your caffeine consumption, but can help blunt that cortisol release prior to sleep. Anything else that you’ve found helpful for sleep or rest?

Nick Norris: So funny enough, I tried a magnesium supplement called Calm. Yeah, it actually worked for me. Very well. I mean, like I would drink it in the evening and I would start to yawn and actually feel like I wanted to go to bed. And that was such, like — before, I kind of went through that initial battery of TMS and kind of getting myself back on track. I couldn’t recall the last time I actually yawned and wanted to go to sleep.

I would force myself to go to sleep because that was just what I was supposed to do when it was really dark and my wife was in bed and the kids are asleep and I’m sitting there, wired, working, or just laying on the couch staring at the ceiling. So it was, yeah, pretty interesting. I mean, the TMS definitely — I’m like, “Man, I’m tired, you know?” And then I turned to that magnesium supplement I thought that was pretty helpful.

Tim Ferriss: It’s one of the biggest bang-for-your-buck supplements for sleep that I’ve come across, and there are a million variations of magnesium threonate citrate, and there are a million different varieties, but the Calm product’s pretty good. Doesn’t have a strong flavor to it, generally.

Nick Norris: The raspberry lemonade.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that’s got a strong flavor to it, but it really does help with sleep. And for people who are struggling, that’s potentially worth experimenting with. I will add a caveat to that, then maybe I’m speaking specifically to you, my fellow Americans: More is not necessarily better with magnesium. And if you overdo magnesium, there’s an increased likelihood of disaster pants. So just follow your label directions so you don’t foul out would be a pro tip.

What other rules or practices have you built into your life to either keep — well, let me ask the question. So you go through the PR TMS; you instill these habits. Have you had any recurring bouts of challenges with what you might term apathy or depression, or has that gone away entirely?

Nick Norris: Yeah, absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: You have had then?

Nick Norris: Yeah, it’s not an end-all, be-all. There’s no magic pill. You know what has been, I guess, the most impactful part of that whole experience beyond the treatment — and probably even more so than the treatment — is the first period of time that I went in for the TMS. I ran into three or four guys that I hadn’t seen in years from the teams in the waiting room in a totally discreet building. You would never run into anybody there.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, right. There wasn’t a Starbucks in the lobby.

Nick Norris: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And the lobby conversations with my boys, my guys that I served with in the teams, I hadn’t seen in forever, was killer. We were in a place, I mean I think part of it is we have mutual respect and trust and loyalty to each other and you were in kind of a safe place with safe people to share very, very similar experiences. And that shared experience and just talking about it was probably the most beneficial part of the entire thing. 

Because I had three or four guys immediately that I could reach out to and talk to as soon as I felt myself starting to slip. And it also kind of served for me as a — it was kind of that shove in the back to open up to some people that I was close to that weren’t people I served with in the military. You know, my wife, who actually opened up to me and told me that this wasn’t something new. She had noticed it for years and it was probably a point of contention and trouble in our marriage from time to time that we’d had to struggle through that.

Tim Ferriss: If you don’t mind, I mean, because of all the people that are listening to this, there are going to be people who are listening with the fascination of watching an exotic animal in a zoo where they’re like, “I’ve never experienced that, but this is interesting.” Then there are the people who’ve experienced it directly in some way, whether it’s just down periods, extended funks, or clinical depression or really extreme varieties of that, which we can talk about. And then you have the people who may have not experienced it directly, but they’ve been affected because of someone, a close friend, a family member. If you don’t mind me asking, what was it like for your wife having this experience with you? I mean, being with you while you’re going through it?

Nick Norris: Yeah, I think probably very frustrating for her for years. I think probably a lot of our arguments and — you know, we love each other. We have a very healthy marriage, and we have two wonderful kids, but you get into arguments, right? And I think there was probably a lot of frustration because she saw me differently. I mean her own words at times were: “You’re different. You’re not the same person that I married.”

And I think part of that is probably the separation. There were long periods of time, both in training and then deployment, where we just didn’t see each other. And you do that repeatedly. I mean, I did it three times. There’s guys from our community and other branches of the service that have done it 12 times, 15 times. And I thought I knew myself and I’m like, “I didn’t change, I’m the same person.” But she kind of watched this and was just frustrated because it was like I couldn’t see it. 

I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror and see the changes that she saw, because she would be removed from me for eight months and then all of a sudden it’s like, not seeing your six-month-old for two months. And the little guy or girl has changed considerably, right? Because you were removed from them, and they went through this period of transition or change.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nick Norris: So I mean, I feel terrible that she had to go through it, and I didn’t recognize — and I think part of it is I just, I probably was in denial. I mean, this is probably another whole channel of conversation but, I mean, I think society, especially the community that I came from, being in the military and the SEAL teams, I saw it as weakness, right? I didn’t even want to think about, like, I don’t have a mental health issue. In society, it’s like it’s painted in such a negative light.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: That I did everything in my power to a. ignore it, or b. just pretend that it wasn’t there.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: Like, don’t be, not be honest with myself. Because I don’t want to show weakness.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, totally. And it’s worth noting that this is not a small issue. And by “this,” we could be talking about depression, we could be talking about mental health-related problems and challenges in say, the US as a whole. Certainly, globally, but I’m more familiar with the sort of state of affairs in the US where it’s something like 20 to 23 — is the range I hear most often — veterans commit suicide, is it daily? So on a far more loss of life, sort of, after service than during —

Nick Norris: It’s terrible.

Tim Ferriss: — active service. And last year — if we’re taking it outside of the context of the military, but still there’s a huge overlap, because a lot of returning vets are prescribed, say synthetic opioids and so on — you have more synthetic opioid-related deaths, I want to say in 2017, than all the casualties of the Vietnam War.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: When you put it in perspective. And these are common issues.

Nick Norris: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: They’re very common, but the perceptual illusion that’s created — because relatively speaking, few people talk about it publicly —

Nick Norris: Right.

Tim Ferriss: is that you, if you’re feeling depressed or fill in the condition that is stigmatized, you feel maybe uniquely flawed. Or you don’t want to admit that it’s an issue because you think you’re one in a thousand people who would possibly have it. And it’s just not the case.

Nick Norris: Go get a pill and fix it so you don’t have to talk to anybody about it.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And you know, in some cases the medications can be incredibly, incredibly helpful.

Nick Norris: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: But, at the same time, I think that it’s one tool in the toolkit.

Nick Norris: Right.

Tim Ferriss: And a lot of people will be nonresponders or very short-term responders to some of the medications, because some of these alternative tools are, I think, very, very important. So what are some of the signs, because we were chatting about this last night —

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: where I was saying in my mind, as someone who’s seen family members really affected by, say depression, specifically. And friends certainly, I mean my best friends, just again to broaden things a little bit so people realize the pervasiveness of this, it’s like, one of my best friends in high school offed himself by the time, before he graduated from college. Best friend from Long Island died of a fentanyl overdose. You know, aunt recently died of alcohol and percocet about a year ago, overdose. And you know, two of my best friends in college killed themselves within a few years of graduation. I went to some fancy schools — like, that shouldn’t happen. And so it shows that these issues also do not discriminate, right?

Nick Norris: Right.

Tim Ferriss: Because in part, I think they’re a byproduct of the human condition, but also a lot of modern societal factors, right? These things don’t care how fast you are. They don’t care how athletic you are. They don’t care how much or how little money you have. They don’t care what race you are. And that’s part of the reason I care so much, and to wind back to what I was going to ask, because I think it’s important, and as context, last night I was saying that there are, in terms of people who are directly affected by this, there are people who will end up at some point experiencing say, depression or chronic anxiety or something that just feels off, right? They don’t feel themselves, and they don’t know how to get back —

Nick Norris: Yep.

Tim Ferriss: to themselves. But there are the people who haven’t yet experienced that. There are the people who are in the middle of it, that are in the trough of sorrow. They’re in this period of maybe despair, desponse, apathy. And then there are the people who are in a good place currently, but who dip in and out, right? So you mentioned when you start to see symptoms —

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: or the telltale signs like, “Oh, a storm is brewing on the horizon.” What are those for you?

Nick Norris: I think that the people that have experienced it and are willing to talk about it, and share maybe even unsolicited with people that they know care about trust. I mean, I think that’s one of the biggest things that we can do to kind of help those people that maybe are ashamed of it, see it as weakness.

Tim Ferriss: Yep.

Nick Norris: Because I mean that for me, it helped me open up and I’ve had some pretty gnarly people from the teams that I look up to open up after having that kind of shared conversation of experiences. So I think that would be a huge part of it is just the people that are brave enough to share it and not feel like they’re exposing themselves as somebody that’s weak, is a big thing. The symptoms are different for different people right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. For you?

Nick Norris: So for me personally, frustration and agitation are probably like the two core kinds of telltale signs. So for instance, Tim, you and I would be talking to each other and you might not even be talking over me or interrupting me, but I will stop. Almost as if I’m irritated that I’m not getting my thoughts out fast enough. I’m not, I can’t kind of finish my train of thought and I become visibly agitated and irritated. You know, my brother-in-law, that spends a lot of time with me at our company, he’s been really good at picking up on it. I mean, he’s actually, we’ll be in conversations where I know I’m not feeling myself. And I might not even, well, I’ll say I’m not feeling myself. I have not even realized that I’m falling into a bad spot.

And he’ll pull me aside after a meeting and he’ll say, “Hey, man, you should take off. Just relax. I got your back. You don’t have to be here right now.” And I think it’s because he’s recognized that pattern.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: And it’s going to be people that are closest to you, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And you know, you remind me of something just because I feel like we have some maybe, shared, DNA might be, I mean, as a species, obviously. But, the point I’m making is like, I am not able to do one-tenth of the things you’re able to do, but I do have some shared history in terms of experience with these things, right? And if having a teammate, like your brother-in-law, to flag things when your self awareness is kind of dimmed, is really valuable. And you don’t have to wait for like, a guardian angel to fall out of the sky.

Nick Norris: Right.

Tim Ferriss: You can go to your friends and say, “Look, I just want to, if I could ask you for a favor. I will not get upset, maybe I will a little bit, but I’m giving you permission in advance because you’re my friend. Like, if you spot any of these things or you think I’m really not being myself, please bring it up.”

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Like, encourage the people closest to you to do that, because they will. It’s sort of like having someone who’s specially trained to diagnose certain conditions that you are unable to see yourself.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It’s very, very valuable to have those people. So frustration and agitation.

Nick Norris: The biggest ones for sure.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So for me, just for people out there, I mean, this is something I’ve had to learn over time is like, many, not many. Let’s just say, at least three or four days of continuous fatigue, even though I appear to be getting enough sleep.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Is another one. And the unhelpful response to that is just to say, fuck it, I’m going to double down, let me have —

Nick Norris: More caffeine.

Tim Ferriss: four triple espressos.

Nick Norris: Right.

Tim Ferriss: And just power through whatever this is, which magnifies the problem.

Nick Norris: Your sleep’s wonderful, then.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, then your sleep’s fantastic. And it gets a lot better, that’s sarcasm. So kind of flagging that and realizing the world’s not going to end if you need to take like three hours —

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: to go for a long walk. Or to, what I will usually try to do is kind of work up, one historical mistake that I’ve made is, if we’re looking at say, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, right? You’ve got physical safety, shelter, and all this stuff down at the bottom. Food, and then it goes all the way up to self-actualization. I’ve found it often unhelpful to try to sit down with a journal and figure out the existential underpinnings of why I’m feeling off. It’s like, “No, stupid, like, sunlight,” right?

Nick Norris: Simple stuff.

Tim Ferriss: Simple stuff, right? Like sunlight. Maybe you get too grumpy if you try what everyone seems to be doing, like intermittent fasting. So you should probably, maybe you should just have a meal when you wake up. Right?

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Rather than trying to sort of unravel some Gordian knot of philosophical complexity in your head, which you think is going to solve your problems, maybe you just need like a handful of macadamia nuts and a cold fucking shower.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And like, that’s actually —

Nick Norris: Pick it up the next day.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And so creating space for that, right? In response to the fatigue, but having that as a red flag. And also, try to train people around me, or ask people around me — whether it’s family members, a girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever — to flag that.

Nick Norris: Well, I think it brings up the importance of a strong community.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: You know? It might not just be your spouse or your family member or your friend. Like, finding community in something else is a great second line of defense.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: Or even first line of defense. I mean, I spend a lot of time climbing and training with people. I probably spend as much time with them as I do at work at periods of my life.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And these are, I should also suggest to folks because I’ve voluntarily self-isolated, a lot.

Nick Norris: Yep.

Tim Ferriss: Historically. That’s just been like, “Okay, if it’s my problem, it’s my problem. I don’t want to be a burden. I also don’t want to be embarrassed, so I’m going to isolate and sort this out myself.” Sometimes that works, a lot of the time it backfires. And just exacerbates the problem. So you can, when you’re talking about support systems, like, I know because I have been this person that a lot of people out there are like, “That’s great, but what if I live by myself; I work by myself; I don’t have that support structure?” 

You can actually sort of rent friends and support structure. What I mean by that is that, as one example, humans are weird creatures. And we’re not all rational actors, even though a lot of economists would love us to be rational robots doing our various things. It’s often not the case. And humans, for instance, will work a lot harder to avoid losing $100 than they will to earn $100.

Nick Norris: Right.

Tim Ferriss: And so you can do something I’ve done, which is pre-book group activities. Whether that’s like, a dance class or a Brazilian jiu jitsu class, or fill in the blank. Like, some type of group activity. Pay for it in advance so that you’re going to feel like a schmuck if — and you’re going to have that loss aversion. And you’ve just stacked the deck in such a way that makes it more likely you will not self-isolate. Right?

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And then you can create that structure. If you don’t have it, plug and play, ready to go, if you don’t have, like, five people around you who are immediately available, you can — it is something you can engineer is what I’m trying to say.

Nick Norris: Yeah, I mean, I’m lucky in that regard. I have people that I’ve surrounded myself with that love me and care about me. And I know that’s not the case with everybody.

Tim Ferriss: Now, nonetheless you were, at one point, with commercial real estate, it sounds like, sort of lone-wolfing it.

Nick Norris: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: And even though you had family and so on, you felt isolated.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: At times. Right?

Nick Norris: Yeah. I isolated myself, too.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, so how have you corrected that? What steps have you taken to correct that?

Nick Norris: Well I mean, I think at the time I was rationalizing that I had to work really hard to take care of my family.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nick Norris: So I was literally, I left the military to be with my family, yet I was ripping myself away from my family under the guise of “I’m doing this for you guys.”

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Nick Norris: So I think it was having to man up and realize that it’s a cop out. You know, I was pretending like I was, it was easier for me just to focus on work —

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: than to invest in my family, invest in those people that care about me.

Tim Ferriss: So this makes me want to return to a question that I would imagine some people have who are listening to this, which is: why did you suddenly have this apathy and this depression? Like, what were the causal factors? Like, we’re talking about how to address it, but why did you go from having none of that as part of your history to suddenly having that experience? What do you think contributed to that?

Nick Norris: So it’s a multiple-factor situation, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: You can point to the stress, right? Chronic sleep deprivation during military service. I did have exposure to blast; I was in two IED strikes, vehicle IED strikes in 2006. And then as a member of a SEAL element overseas, we were explosively breaching. So that concussive element may have had something to do with kind of this later term —

Tim Ferriss: In terms of like TBI, like traumatic brain injury?

Nick Norris: Yeah, I mean, I think all that stuff. I mean, lack of sleep is a TBI —

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Nick Norris: in and of itself. You don’t have to be exposed to an IED blast to have a TBI.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: I mean, that just repetitive small concussions. Pro athletes, football players, hockey players, have CTE, which is a form of TBI, from repeated concussions both major and minor.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: Right? So I think that that all contributed to it. But I think the most common thread that I’ve picked up in conversations with other buddies of mine that have transitioned and have felt similar things is this kind of loss of brotherhood. Loss of purpose. Losing the identity of being a member of this team of people that love and care about you, and have your back no matter what. And I mean, will give their life to protect yours. It’s like, really heavy, right? That’s the reason when we lose a guy overseas, I mean I’m —

Tim Ferriss: Yeah I can see it.

Nick Norris: I get a physical reaction to it. It’s like the pure — I call it love now, and I never used the word love either, Tim. Most of my life, until recently, I just rarely used the word love. Never told guys I served with that I loved them. And I try to make a point of saying that more often because you have this deep sense of love and then all of a sudden I transition and it’s gone.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: And I don’t have any — I have my wife and I have my kids, and I love them and they love me — but I don’t have that brotherhood anymore. And I’ve talked to more guys that like, they go through this transition, whether it’s at retirement or five years into a career in the military, and you miss it. It’s like this void in your life. And I think that is probably one of the biggest contributing factors to me going through this — frame it as depression, or whatever. But yeah, I think you know, it’s taken some years of being kind of introspective and trying to ask the why to get to that conclusion. But it’s surrounding myself with more people that I do consider one of my boys. Like a brother that I love and they love me.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nick Norris: Both at work and kind of my new life and this you know, pursuit of entrepreneurship, but also kind of reconnecting with guys that I served with. I mean, I’ve probably reconnected with more buddies from the teams in the last two years than I had done in the four years prior to that.

Tim Ferriss: This is worth spending a little bit of time on. One of the things that has helped me quite a bit when I’m feeling, like seeing the storm on the horizon. Like, spotting some of the symptoms or having people point out the symptoms to me. Or, I shouldn’t say the symptoms. Like, the tell tale signs, right? That something might be coming. Which you can sometimes kind of head off at the pass. I mean, it’s not inevitable that when you spot something coming that it has to arrive in full, at least in my experience. And I haven’t had, I would say, like I used to have probably two extended depressive episodes a year. Something like that.

And I haven’t had anything that I would characterize as a major depressive episode probably in the last four or five years. So like, there are levers you can pull and systems you can put in place that work really effectively. And one of them, for me, and this ties back to what you were just saying, has been when I’m unsure of — and I’m looking at it through a slightly different lens, but practically I think they’re very similar — when I’m unsure of what to do to get myself back to normal, reaching out to old friends or mentors to say thanks for something, right?

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Like, somebody from college you were really close to. Or someone from high school you were really close to, childhood, a former coach, a former professor, whoever it is, could be anyone, family member you haven’t talked to in a few years. Right? And just reaching out to reconnect and say thanks for something or to tell them that you love them, or whatever it might be. Has a real re-tethering effect —

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: that is really grounding. And the fact of the matter is like, what we take to be normal right now in most modern, industrialized countries, and I’m not saying there hasn’t been a lot of good that has come from globalization and industrialization, I mean, if you read Steven Pinker’s, I think it’s Angels of Our Better Nature, a lot of this becomes clear. Like, we are living in some respects, in a golden age with respect to all sorts of societal problems and forms of violence and so on, that were much more prevalent in pretty much every historical era up to now.

That having been said, the nature of like, hominid cohabitation has sort of been fractured in the last century to a point where what we take as normal, which is this default isolation and at most, nuclear family, sort of cohabitation, is pretty abnormal. It’s sort of like the last page in a 700-page book that chronicles human evolution, right? And so if you want to take, so in a sense like, feeling depressed or isolated or anxious is a very natural response to unnatural recent developments.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And if you want to counteract that, you need to develop these sort of countermeasures. Right? And be more proactive in creating what, a thousand years ago, would have just kind of fallen into your lap, because it would have been something you experienced in your daily course of living. So reaching out to people for, when I start feeling myself dip, whatever, however that manifests, very often I’ll start reaching out to people I haven’t connected with in a long time, to say thank you or express my gratitude or love to them in some way. And it’s remarkable how much of an effect that has, and how quickly the effect can set in.

Nick Norris: I couldn’t agree with you more. I mean, I literally, I’ve done that recently with a couple close friends. Guys that I was close with while I was on active duty, I served with overseas, then just hadn’t talked to them in years. I mean, seven years. And then all of a sudden actually having the courage to reach out to them, knowing that you know, if they really do care about you and love you, they’re not going to judge you for the lapse in communication.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: And that’s, I don’t think I’ve, not a single instance that I’ve reached out to somebody that I’d lost contact with, had they ever received me poorly.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: And it’s awesome, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: And you feel like we didn’t skip a beat. You got another friend you can actually show gratitude for who they are and what they did for you.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: It’s pretty badass. I mean, it’s awesome.

Tim Ferriss: So speaking of badass, part of the reason I was eager and excited to have you on the podcast is I’d heard a lot about you. Just as, from the perspective of like, badass motherfuckery, which I found interesting in and of itself, is you as high performer. But the combination of that and the openness to come on and talk about these things, I really wanted to magnify through the podcast because this is not uncommon.

Nick Norris: No.

Tim Ferriss: And you know, people who might hear this are, I think, accustomed to, as I have been, as we all are, to seeing sort of the Instagram highlight, magazine cover version of other people’s lives. So you hear the stories and it seems like these titans of industry, these Navy SEALs, these fill-in-the-blank that you might aspire to be more like, have none of the challenges that you’re experiencing yourself. And so it can become very easy to just assume that you’re some broken toy without a fix that can lead to a lot of despair and ultimately suicide and all sorts of awful things. And like you said, in certain communities, whether that’s yours or, I have friends in law enforcement —

Nick Norris: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: within which they’re effectively not allowed to have mental illness or challenges with mental health.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: These are, in some respects, like the exact places where people feel least likely to, or open to talking about these things is where they need to talk about them the most.

Nick Norris: Absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: Right? And so I wanted this to, not just provide you know, an example of a very high performer who’s willing to talk about these things openly, but also to give people some tools and approaches.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Which you’ve developed and found. Which I’ve also sort of over time, it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to fucking figure it out, but, so I’m hoping having you on will help kind of shorten the learning curve. Or steepen the learning curve for a lot of people.

What would you say to folks out there, men and women, because certainly these types of challenges do not care about gender or anything else.

Nick Norris: No.

Tim Ferriss: What would you say to someone who’s really struggling right now? Is there anything else that comes to mind off hand that you would say to them?

Nick Norris: I mean, I would say you’re not alone.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: You’re not weak. You’re not broken. You’re not different. You know, I’ve been through some terrible times dealing with this, and I’m dealing with it, I’m not ignoring it.

Tim Ferriss: Yep.

Nick Norris: You know, I’m confronting it face on, just like I would anything else.

Tim Ferriss: Yep.

Nick Norris: And I’m not broken. I feel very effective in what I do day to day. And I would say don’t fall victim to the definition that everybody in society has put on mental illness —

Tim Ferriss: Yep.

Nick Norris: as it being a badge of weakness, ’cause it absolutely isn’t.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: It just is.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And you know, it’s one of those phrases also that it’s just, could use a rebranding, right? In the sense, like, mental illness just sounds so —

Nick Norris: It’s terrible.

Tim Ferriss: bad. It’s like, “Oh, he’s fallen ill with a bout of melancholy,” or whatever. It’s like, “Oh, wow. What’s wrong with that fucker?”

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And, whereas it’s like, in some respects you have mental illness, you have mental injury, too, right? So there can be, and a lot of people experience these, whether it’s single acute events, that have a traumatic impact and lead their life to take a 90 degree turn. Or, as you put it, there can be these sort of repeated exposures to different types of stressors. Whether it’s traumatic brain injury or sleep deprivation or otherwise. And in some respects, I mean, we tend to think about, I think, mental illness in a very abstract way. In so much as it’s like, oh, there’s something wrong with our mind and therefore it is somehow less legitimate than like an Achilles tendon sprain.

Nick Norris: Absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: But the fact of the matter is, it’s like, the brain’s an organ. It can be damaged very easily. Things like dehydration can dramatically increase the likelihood of some type of sort of neuroanatomical injury. I can say from firsthand experience having done lots of stupid things, as a wrestler cutting tons of weight. And similarly, it’s like, you wouldn’t be ashamed to go to an orthopedist to look at like, plantar fasciitis —

Nick Norris: Right.

Tim Ferriss: chronic, right? Or acute, like Achilles tendon tear. Like, no, you wouldn’t have any shame associated with that. And similarly, I’m not saying flippantly that you should just brush aside any concerns about how things will be perceived, because I think that over time this will become a broader conversation as more and more people come out of the closet, so to speak with something that I think is actually the rule, not the exception.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Certainly. That these are experiences and conditions and injuries that can be rehabbed and they can be prehabbed also, right? So you can do things to fix it; you can also do things that make you more resilient and less susceptible.

Nick Norris: Yep. Well hey, I’d say this too. These issues that we’ve been talking about, I almost look at them as like, the currency that I pay, I’m paying for, the growth that came out of all these experiences. Right? And people talk about post-traumatic growth. I am so deeply thankful for the experiences that I had in service to this country. And I know you’d struggle to find another guy that served, guy or gal, that served in combat in defense of this nation that doesn’t feel like they are a better version of themselves because of it.

This is a small price to pay. I’ll deal with it. It’s just like the pro athlete that has some jacked up knees and shoulders now, but do you think that they would trade all those days of glory competing in athletics because they knew that they were going to be injured? Do you think that they would give up all of that glory for maybe healthier knees and shoulders? I guarantee you every single one of them would be like, “No, I’m glad. I’ll deal with it.” The experience that I was able to draw, and the growth personally that I was able to pull from those experiences. You can’t put a price tag on it.

Tim Ferriss: I think that’s true, also, for — personally, I think it’s very true for less obvious examples. By obvious I mean less high profile examples, right?

Nick Norris: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: I think that if I look at, for instance, now that I know them as adults, some of the mentors who had the biggest impacts on my life. I mean, really kind of fork in the road, they led me down a much, much better path type of impact on my life. I look at the teachers, and I look at the writers. Now that I’ve gotten to know some of these writers personally I’ve realized how their superpowers, in some sense, were forged from a lot of their greatest pain and their traumatic experiences. Without those they would have been unable to develop the things that made them who they are, and enabled them to actually put a positive dent in the world.

Which does not mean you have to impact 10 million people, or 100 million people, or 1,000 people. It could just be your kid, which is there’s no “just,” right? That’s a big deal. That your gifts are — and other people have said this to me, Graham Duncan on the podcast, and quite a few people have said this, because I’m fortunate that people speak quite openly in this forum — that your greatest talents are right next to your greatest pain. They’re not diametrically opposed. They’re actually integrally related, right?

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: One thing I’ve tried very hard to do also is to look at some of these experiences and be like, “Okay. I’ve had some very, very dark periods. How can I make that part — not divorce it from myself, not hate that part of myself, not try to compartmentalize it and lock it away?” Because I will say you’re going to deal with it whether you deal with it or not.

What I mean by that is you can choose to look at it in the light, and incorporate it, and thank it in some ways for what it’s taught you, and enabled you to endure so that you can help other people to do the same. Or you can lock it away, and you can have it manifest in the anger and frustration, or you can have it kind of seep out through the cracks and deal with it in a much more complicated way.

For me, it is in a way putting on, not necessarily rose-colored glasses, but looking for the silver lining, and trying to look for the gift that is attached to the pain.

Nick Norris: Absolutely. Adversity tempers, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: I mean —

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, exactly.

Nick Norris: Some of my greatest lessons learned, both in the military and outside of the military, have come through pretty serious failures. I mean, if you asked me about the number of times that I did great things as a leader in the teams, sometimes it’s tough to even come — I have to actually think very hard about the good things, because the things that resonate with me are those times that I screwed something up. I got a pretty stern talking to from the troop commander that was in charge of me. I fixed it and I moved on, and I grew from the experience.

Tim Ferriss: What other habits, or tools, or practices have you incorporated that have become more important to you, or you’ve recognized as more important, after having these various experiences and realizations? Aside from the PR TMS.

Nick Norris: I think learning to — so not just share my — you know, if I’m feeling off, sharing that with people. I think just being more open, and communicating grief that I’ve swallowed and kept hidden away. I’ve lost a bunch of friends in combat, but I’ve also lost some very close family members, a younger brother, a father. I never talked about it. I never talked about them. Recently I’ve been in situations, like probably opening up to people, and becoming more honest and vulnerable with people. I’ve shared that a lot more openly, and it’s been one of the best medicines that I’ve found. I mean it’s liberating. Talking about grief has been something that’s unlocked a lot of happiness for me.

Tim Ferriss: How did you decide to do that? Was there a particular conversation, or a particular day when you were like, “Fuck it. I’m going to talk about this.” If you didn’t for so long, what was the catalyst, I mean what —

Nick Norris: To be frank, I was kind of forced into it. I belong to Entrepreneurs’ Organization, San Diego chapter, and I joined about a year and a half ago. And put into a forum, like seven, eight guys or gals, all entrepreneurs, and we went on a retreat. In that construct, which is all in confidence, sharing top and bottom five percent of your life, I shared what you call lifeline. It’s an exercise where basically you walk from the beginning of your life to where you are present day. It almost looks like a cardiogram, right?

Tim Ferriss: Up, down, up, down, up down.

Nick Norris: It’s like a seismic — 

Tim Ferriss: Chart.

Nick Norris: Yeah, so I was kind of forced into talking about some very shitty times in my life, and talking about losing guys overseas, and riding home with a bunch of casements, and putting myself in people. Like, seeing myself in some of the guys that died because they were in very similar places in life compared to me at the time that we lost them.

It was the most therapeutic experience being forced to share that, and uncomfortable, to say the least, and I’m not a very emotional person. But it was like doing that, being forced into that exercise, has made it so much easier to share more openly with people. It’s like every time I talk about it, it gets a little bit easier. To the point where now I can actually talk about it, and I’m not a mess.

I remember the first time I talked about — there’s a guy, his name was Brendan Looney, that we lost in a Black Hawk helicopter crash in September of 2010, in Afghanistan. He was killed along with eight other US service members. Every time I talked, and I didn’t talk about it for a long time, but I saw myself in Brendan. Brendan was newly married; I was newly married. Young Naval Academy officer; I went to the same school. I flew home with him when we went to Baltimore and spent time with his family, and got to see his high school, which was a private Catholic high school; I went to a private Catholic high school. It’s just like — it resonated with me, it impacted me tremendously. I don’t know, I’ve lost other guys that I’ve been close to before, but for some reason it was almost like watching your own funeral, which was super heavy, and I just refrained from talking about it.

The first time I did start to share it, and I talked about it, I was just a complete mess. Like snot, and I couldn’t stop crying, and like it just — I haven’t been like that, probably the last time I was like that was at my brother’s funeral. I find myself now being able to talk about it. To talk about it in this forum, it’s almost like I’m comfortable. I’m dealing with it instead of just keeping it suppressed, and I think I’m better for it.

Actually talking about it keeps his memory alive. I think it’s the biggest show of gratitude that you can give to somebody that has sacrificed at that level, is to keep their memory alive by telling their story, and talking about how much they meant to you.

Tim Ferriss: You’ve made so many really important points, I’d love to just repeat a few of them because I want people to remember at least a few things that you just mentioned. One is that the expression of grief — how the expression of grief has given you access to greater joy —

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: and happiness. Just so I don’t sound like I’m interviewing myself this entire conversation, I’m not going to get too deep into it. There’s a period of like 25, 30 years when I did not cry at all. Funerals, you name it, no crying until about five or six years ago. Accessing that, and what I always considered to be a negative or weak, or fill-in-the-blank bad adjective emotion, has unlocked so much of the top line in terms of the peaks of what you would consider positive emotions.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It’s been this entirely unexpected, for me, a consequence of that. If people are entrepreneurs, I mean that seems like, just that exercise alone, seems like reason enough to join the EO, and I certainly have no dog in that fight. I’m not paid by the EO. But I do know a lot of people who have really, really benefited from the forum structure.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It seems like for a lot of people who join something like that, and I’m sure there are many different alternatives out there, I just happen to have been told of the EO forum structure a fair number of times. For a lot of folks, it seems like it’s the first time when a, they have the sort of comfort of speaking to a small group of people on a similar path in confidence.

Nick Norris: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: Right? Explicit confidence.

Nick Norris: They feel protected, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Explicit confidence, and second, where they also feel a beneficial level of peer pressure to be fully transparent.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Right, and that’s an incredible combo.

Nick Norris: It’s like competitive, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: The deeper one guy goes, you want to one up him or her, and go deeper than that.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it gives you permission.

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It gives you permission. There’s a book for people who maybe struggle with this. There’s a book that I have only read bits and pieces of, but I know that it’s been tremendously helpful to a few friends of mine who have lost family members, and had perhaps not come from highly expressive environments and have really struggled to kind of metabolize the experience. On Grief and Grieving. It’s a very generic, boring-sounding title, but exceptionally well-developed book for people who may want to explore this.

So that was the catalyst? That’s — sometimes you need — 

Nick Norris: A bunch of people that didn’t serve in the military, and it took them to force me to deal with things that I have been suppressing for a very long time.

Tim Ferriss: That’s really powerful.

I think we’ve covered so much, and there are all sorts of other things we could talk about. Now I mean we are going to mention, and I’ll mention, a number of foundations that both active, former military, non-military can look to if they want to support you and your brothers and sisters both within the SEAL community, and outside of the SEAL community. So what we’ll talk about that, are there any other — I want to mention a few adjunct therapies that I think are worth researching for people who are either affected directly or affected by loved ones who struggle with some of these challenges we’ve discussed.

Any other resources, or suggestions, books you found helpful if any, really anything at all that in terms of tools you would recommend to folks? It doesn’t have to be fancy, it could be something very simple like the — simple, but underestimated in its impact, like the 20 to 30 minutes of sun.

Nick Norris: Yeah, I know we started with rock climbing, and that’s a big part of my life. I mean I have a true passion for it, it gets me excited. I would much rather do that than go on a European vacation staying at the best hotels. I’d rather go sleep in the dirt and go climb boulders someplace!

I think it’s just finding something outside of family, and/or work, that you’re just stoked on. Climbing is a big part of my life. I will say this year a good friend of mine, David Wells — who is a former pitcher, threw a perfect game as a Yankee, nickname’s Boomer — he’s a phenomenal human being. He has been there for me through thick and thin, going through some very low points. He’s opened up his check book to help fund some of these alternative catalyst treatments, and David took me to a piece of property in Michigan that he owns to go bow hunting. You know, I grew up gun hunting in Illinois, just for — bird hunting, normal Midwestern hunting. I never picked a bow up. I’m afraid that I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, because it’s like climbing. It will consume your life. It’s a perpetual pursuit of perfection that you’ll never attain. It was super therapeutic for me; it was cool to pick up a bow, and you don’t have to go out and hunt. You could pick up a recurve, or a compound bow, and go to the local archery range.

The breathing — I mean, I don’t even want to pick up guns anymore. I don’t shoot, but going into the backyard and shooting arrows into a speed bag was super therapeutic. I mean —

Tim Ferriss: I’ll second that. It’s hugely therapeutic. I do think the breathing is a big piece of it, because you really have to pay attention to sort of the rhythm of the process. Right?

Nick Norris: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: There’s also something, not to stretch too far, but there’s something innate over, let’s call it hundreds of thousands of years, it might be more, of evolution that has made holding and practicing with a bow gratifying on a level that exceeds — more than the sum of its parts. If that makes sense?

Nick Norris: It’s kind of like it’s a tie back to the warrior roots, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Nick Norris: I mean, I’m a total novice. The target needs to be 20 yards from me for me to be confident I’m hitting anything. I’m no Tim Ferriss.

Tim Ferriss: No. I’m definitely — this is yet another example of where I’m stalled at blue belt, but — 

Nick Norris: I would say that, and this is something else that I wanted to say before we left today is, I had the honor of serving with some of the most brave human beings that were not Navy SEALs during my time overseas in combat. Like in Iraq, in 2006, I served with both 3/2, and 3/5 Marine Corps infantry units and was able to stand in combat with some of the most heroic human beings ever. There’s a lot of those guys and gals out there. You know, the SEAL teams, and SOF in general, is in the spotlight a lot for better or for worse, and there are so many people out there that have served this country with more courage, and honor, than I could ever admit to serving during my own time.

I want to make sure that people understand that there’s a lot of remarkable human beings out there, and my hope is that being honest today allows some of those folks out there, that are total badasses, to be able to come forward and talk to their buddies and keep themselves healthy.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, and their families.

Nick Norris: And their families. You know what? We’re lucky within the SEAL community, we have a lot of benevolent support through great organizations, and I think it would be a tragedy for these other veterans to not receive that same type of support.

I consider myself a conventional SEAL, I served a lot in daylight combat and alongside conventional efforts during General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine. That’s where my heart and soul as a SEAL was serving on the battlefield during the day with very brave men.

Tim Ferriss: Well, I’m so glad that we were able to do this in person, for a million reasons. Let me mention a few organizations that people can take a look at if they would like. I’ve had some exposure to a number of these. The Navy SEAL Foundation, which is a four-star non-profit on Charity Navigator, which we could discuss in a separate time, but you can check out The Navy SEAL Foundation at There’s also The C4 Foundation, which supports active duty SEAL families. That’s C4 — letter C, number four — I will link to all these in the show notes, so people don’t have to scribble down notes. I’ll come to the URL for that in a minute, but Special Operations Warrior Foundation is another, and The Station Foundation.

I want to mention a few other things, and these will all be in the show notes at where you can just search Nick Norris, and all this will pop up, of course and links to everything.

People who are interested in a few other adjunct options potentially for, say, treatment resistant depression. I would encourage to take a look at, it’s not a panacea, there is some addictive potentials, so you should read the indications, speak with a doctor. But ketamine can be one very powerful tool, particularly if you are at a point where you’re suffering from the very bottom, meaning suicidal ideation, is one tool that has proven from a research perspective, and is legal and available in clinics around the United States. And was only actually recently approved for nasal administration as well. I think is very worth investigating for people who are really in a dark place, or know someone who is.

There’s a documentary called Trip of Compassion, which I just put out. I do not make any money from it, I did it pro bono to help get this film out, which covers specifically addressing PTSD using tools including psychotherapy, and MDMA. There are some veterans in that documentary, and that’s also a therapy that is currently going through phase three trials. People who are interested in learning more about that can go to and look for the phase three trials related to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.

Nick, people can find you on Instagram @Nick_Norris1981, and your company, which I would have already mentioned at this point in the introduction as well, can you just give us a short description of your company?

Nick Norris: Yeah. We have a sunscreen company called Amavara, and we invented a zinc-oxide only product that we have some provisional patents pending on. Basically, it’s a healthy sunscreen. Healthy for you, and the environment. The differentiator for us is that we’ve solved all the poor aesthetic issues that zinc has. Typically it makes your skin white, it feels terrible, it’s thick and greasy. We have a product that goes on dry and clear. It is super gnarly, water resistant, so if you’re an athlete — We’re endorsed and partnered with the North Shore Lifeguards Association out of Hawaii. The Special Operations of the lifeguard world. I have a profound level of respect for those guys. They put themselves in situations that I can’t even imagine, and they’ve used our stuff, and it’s the only sunscreen that those guys use.

Tim Ferriss: I have a bunch at home as we speak. People can learn more about that at Amavara, A-M-A-V-A-R-A, .com. Do you have any closing comments, requests, anything at all that you’d like to say before we wrap up?

Nick Norris: I mean I just — I appreciate you giving me the platform to share this. If anything, I mean we talked a little bit about it yesterday, hopefully it’s a message of hope. And hopefully relabeling PTSD, and mental illness, and whatever other label people have placed on these issues, relabeling them in a positive light, and looking at them as a — you know, it’s a currency that people have paid for some great personal growth in other areas of their life.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I feel very confident that certainly, if we discard my long-winded soapbox moments, I think that you delivered upon that really well today, and I do think it’s a message of hope. That’s why I wanted to have this conversation, and record it, and share it.

The fact of the matter is if so many people, not just you, you’re one example of someone who’s been at the top of many different disciplines, and I know scores more. Some of whom are still too embarrassed or unwilling at this point, which is totally fair, to talk about it publicly. But if people who are at those levels are experiencing these things, and contending with them, just as hundreds of thousands, or millions of people are who are listening to this, there doesn’t have to be, on top of the challenge which is manageable and addressable, of developing the habits and putting together the group activities, and maybe joining a forum and so on. You don’t have to add shame to that — 

Nick Norris: Right.

Tim Ferriss: — to solve this. It’s not just unhelpful, it’s unnecessary.

Nick Norris: If anybody shames you, or looks at you in a negative light because you’ve come forward, you probably don’t have any room in your life for them.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, agreed. Agreed. This is really — especially after speaking and writing publicly about this, the number of people who have come forth to me publicly and in private, the types of people, the broad spectrum from private single mom all the way up to fortune 500 CEO leads me to believe that these are challenges which are the norm. And that there need not be any shame in it, and there are tools that can help. I think that hopefully there are others out there who are also having these conversations, but at the very least you being willing to come on and talk about this means a lot to me. Certainly I could have used hearing you at many points when I was struggling in college and other times, and so hopefully it will catch some folks and show them that not only is there a light at the end of the tunnel, but there are very practical steps you can take, tools you can use, that can aid you along the way.

Nick Norris: I’m here for you buddy, if you need me.

Tim Ferriss: All right, thanks brother, likewise. To everybody listening, I’ll mention again, the show notes will have links to everything that we discussed at You can just search Nick Norris and the episode, with all links, will pop up.

Until next time, thank you for listening. Be safe, stress inoculate, pay attention to sleep, and see you next time.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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One Reply to “The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Nick Norris — Navy SEAL and Athlete on Training, Post-Traumatic Growth, and Healing (#378)”

  1. Interesting discussion of TBI (traumatic brain injury). Any resources you would recommend on healing from TBI and healing the cranial nerves?