Ep. 232: Jocko Willink – What I Learned About Being a Warrior

jocko willink

I was afraid before interviewing Jocko. I think it was instinctual. His body is seven times the size of mine. I pointed at the cover of his new book, "The Way of The Warrior Kid.

"See this kid," I said. "That's me right now."

I like to overlap somewhere with my guest. Like a story we both can share and laugh about.

With Jim Norton, for instance, we grew up together. With Garry Kasparov we were both chess players. And I also worked on Deep Blue for a while, the computer that would ultimately defeat him.

But with Jocko…what? I felt intimidated. He was like this superhero that had conquered the world and everyone respected him and I felt like the nerdy little boy I was in junior high school.

So I started talking. “I can’t do a pull up. And I’ve never been in the battlefield... obviously. Or I would look completely different. You were the commander of your SEAL unit and you had to make life and death decisions. But out of that, you cultivated all of these leadership lessons.”

He listened. That was nice. Then I asked why he joined the military. (And stayed for 20 years.) But he flipped the question back to me. (He has a podcast, too. So he knows how to drive an interview.)

"Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be in combat," he said.


"Well... what did you want to do when you were growing up?" he asked.

"I guess I wanted to write and interview people."

"Well, there you go."

I don't think my brain fully realizes that I'm doing what I dreamt of doing as a kid. Jocko made it sound so simple.

"Well, there you go."

We’re not all lucky with everything we do. Jocko is lucky. I am lucky. But some of his friends didn’t make it back from war.

Doing is the step forward. But sometimes it worthwhile to just pause... long enough to hear the words.

"Well, there you go."

We began the interview...


Jocko has two main disciplines.

And I'll tell you what they are in a minute. But first, I wanted to define the importance of discipline.

Discipline eliminates complexity. Everyday, you make micro and macro decisions.

If you reduce the number of decisions you need to make daily, you have more freedom.

That's part of the training Jocko went through as a SEAL. It's part of his code.

Which helps. Because picking out disciplines can be hard.

That's why Jocko started the 4:45 club. Everyday, they wake up at 4:30 AM and get going by 4:45 AM.

That's one of Jocko’s disciplines. And he has a tribe to hold him accountable and committed.

The second discipline is exercise. He works out everyday.

Jocko said, "The hardest part is showing up (showing up to write, showing up to the gym, but once you get there what are you going to do? Lay down? No. You're going to work out."

The same is true for writing, art, creating, inventing. The hardest part is showing up.

The one mantra if you want to get good at something is not: Learn. Or read. Or study. Or dream.

It’s do. Every day.


After 20 years in the military, Jocko retired. And immediately started his own business.

"What year did you leave the military?" I said


"And what year did you start your company?"


It sounds like it happened overnight. It didn't.

"I don't promote quit your job tomorrow," he said. "You can move in that direction, but what I recommend is come up with a legitimate exit plan."

  • "I'm going to need this much money in the bank."
  • "I'm going to lower my overhead by X on a weekly or monthly basis."

"And I'll tell you one more thing," he said, "if all you're doing is grinding for the man, it's going to burden you. Once you say, 'Hey, I'm grinding for the man but I'm putting money away, and this is part of my exit strategy, you're working for you."

I get this email all the time. "I've been at my job for 30 years. I want to do something else. I feel stuck. What should I do?"

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Jocko gets this too. Maybe we need to band together and create the ultimate guide for leaving your job. Because we all have different opinions and experiences here. I'll quit as soon as I get the energy to run.

That's me. One of the best days of my life was the day I took the elevator down to freedom. It was the middle of the day. I walked out. No boxes. No handshakes. I left and played chess in Union Square. The same place I got my first client after starting my own company.

Own what you do. I don’t mean legally or financially (although that could be fine if you get it). But own your decisions. Make your choices. Once you have to ask for permission, someone else has the keys to your freedom.


When Jocko's daughter didn't know her times tables, they made a plan.

Jocko said, "Let's get you there."

And they did.

In "Way of The Warrior Kid," all the kids get help from Uncle Jake. If they want to learn how to swim or tie their shoes or do anything new at all, Uncle Jake helps them make a plan.

Jocko is pretty much an Uncle Jake. He helps people get from A to B.

But first, the kids needed to ask for help... and it's true as an adults too.

Everything I ever do, I find my PLUS, MINUS, EQUAL.

PLUS is finding someone to ask for help. Or someone to model myself after.

EQUAL is finding people who will challenge me to be my best.

MINUS is finding someone to help. This solidifies my own learning and helps me to pay it forward.

Asking for help is difficult. It involves being vulnerable. But learning is not about things being easy. It’s about conquering every discomfort.


The US military made plans for everything. “We would make briefings for our operations that would be 100 or 150 powerpoint slides deep,” Jocko said. They wanted to control the battlefield. So they came up with contingency plans.

If x happens, do y.

“At the end of the whole briefing, we’d have a little line at the end that said COMMANDER’S INTENT,” which stated your end-goal.

“One critic said, ‘The commander’s intent shouldn’t be one line on the end of a 50 page briefing... It should replace the whole briefing.”

I’m the commander in my life. I can try to out plan the unpredictable and lose. Or I set my intention and move from there.


The key to success is not to think positive all the time. Not to be optimistic about everything.

Being optimistic means you’ve also taken the time to look at every possible worst case scenario and come up with your solution.

Then, permission granted, you can be optimistic.


"Being a kid's not easy. You're transforming and becoming a human being," he said. "At some point you have everyone taking care of you, and then, all of a sudden, you're out in the world."

I think this is true in my adult life, too. I've spent the last 40 years trying to move forward, grow up, clear my acne, get kissed, date, marry, make money, make more money, get off the ground, write and start over. Reinvent.

Reinvention is a learning process that never ends. It starts when you're young.

Jocko told me about his daughter. He based a character in his book off her.

"She was frustrated," he said. "She didn't know her times tables. And all of sudden, she felt stupid.

Jocko asked what she was doing to study. But she didn't know what he meant.

"Well," he said, "you need to study to learn. You can't just know things."

I didn't I know nothing until I know something.

After the podcast we were laughing. It turns out we had more in common than we thought.

Two people can meet from completely different backgrounds, different histories, different everything.

But integrity is a dream we can all aspire to. And it’s a nice intersection to share with someone.

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  • NoMoreFed

    I don’t really understand this mentality of wanting to grow up and go into combat to kill people. The so-called “bad guys” that he was killing in Iraq probably thought they were just defending their homeland. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people died in Iraq and millions of lives were ruined because the U.S. government started the war. It is indefensible from a moral standpoint.

    • Still Watchin

      These guys are defending their country, the pathological people are the ones who send them into battles that are really wars of conquest. Don’t blame the warrior, blame the leader.

  • Fabian

    Two things;
    I kind of mind this new trend in your podcast to promote these lackeys of the military industrial complex. It looks like you feel inferior to them. Don’t. They simply invade countries and kill for money because they can. Furthermore, you don’t have the body for that anyway.
    Second; the principles that this guy promotes are sound. Follow them. At least take this back from your hard earned tax dollars.
    Full disclosure: I was an infantry lieutenant in a foreign army (drafted).

    • Still Watchin

      I bet more people die because of the wall street stock-broker lackeys of the banksters who crush the economies of less competitive countries and starve the populations. Read “Diary of an Economic Hit Man”.

  • Ted Scarborough

    You two listened to what I just did? Can’t be.

  • “Discipline eliminates complexity.” I agree. Discipline also gets things done. After the honeymoon phase of motivational jumping jacks wears off what next? It’s discipline that keeps our improvement going. Motivation is an empty bag if there’s no discipline: https://goo.gl/GVn86P I’m learning that one more thing discipline does is help us embrace “effectiveness” over wasteful “productivity”: https://goo.gl/NEpC1n Thanks for the article and interesting interview.

  • Kayvee

    Is it me, or is there a lot of these military guys coming on as guests lately. No doubt their training makes them reach physical and mental peaks. No doubt we can learn some things from these military guests. But Still….it just doesn’t sit right with me to listen to someone who I know has 100% killed innocent people. I mean millions have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who has been killing them? The same soldiers that we keep telling “Thank you for your service”. Lets stop telling them that…they are murderers after all. Lets not glorify killers.

    And he said, “We went into Iraq because we wanted to help them”. Really?

    I thought we went in there because we “thought” they had weapons of mass destruction?

    And what kind of a child grows up with this mentality of wanting to go to war and kill “bad guys”.

    Maybe those GI Joe cartoons were to blame in his case….maybe this is how these soldiers were “radicalized”.

    When we paint the world as black and white….as good vs evil…we end with people who justify killing innocent people in the name of “protecting our country”

    What is the difference between a murderer and someone from the US military? Just the uniform.

    James….stop this….you are better than this. No more military guests. Your heart is not in it when you interview them.

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    • Ted Scarborough

      No, it’s you.

    • Stimpy

      Turn the other cheek, dear. Are all liberals as naive as you? Never mind, you’re task is to occupy the moral high ground. I get it. You are such a superior being. I wish I could be as wonderful as you.

      • SarcasmTherapyisReal

        Stop the ‘liberal’ bashing. This is one person’s opinion, and they are entitled to it. I served in the military to help protect freedoms like the right to express an opinion. Fact is we need pacifists as well as warriors willing to kill.

        • Stimpy

          What’s wrong with calling out a “holier than thou” liberal who wants to paint all military, including you, as an immoral killer? He gets to say what he wants and I get to respond.

          • SarcasmTherapyisReal

            Yes, you do get to respond. And I stand by my assertion that flinging labels around ‘liberal’ is essentially un-American, as well as immature, unnecessary and inaccurate: I’m a liberal and I don’t share this opinion.

      • Kayvee

        I am not a liberal. The world is not black and white my dear.