Episode 399 – Ice Cold Leader with Errol Doebler

Errol Doebler“You have to get in front of what you’re writing. You have to look at it and you have to type a key. If you don’t, it’s just not going to happen.”

Errol Doebler knows a thing or two about discipline. He’s been a Naval Surface Warfare officer, Navy SEAL officer, FBI special agent and SWAT operator before founding his leadership consulting firm Ice Cold Leader, which is also the name of his new book. 

Why ice-cold? Because ice baths form a key part of his own self-regulation regime, and because managing emotional responses is so foundational to effective leadership. Errol had to develop a conscious process for emotional regulation after a traumatic injury robbed him of that area of his brain; that process turns out to be valuable for anyone facing the stress and emotional discomfort that accompany leadership. 

Prepare to be challenged and inspired in roughly equal measure.  



Ice Cold Leader website: https://icecoldleader.com/

Errol on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/errol-doebler/

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Write with me! https://alisonjones.com/writing/

Alison Jones: I’m here today with Errol Doebler, who’s one of the few people in the world… You’re going to start wondering what you’ve done with your life in a minute… Errol has served as a Naval Surface Warfare officer, Navy SEAL officer, FBI special agent and SWAT operator. Combat veteran, he’s also a business founder, of course he is.

His consulting firm, Ice Cold Leader has taught leaders at every level how to find peace within so that they can find the edge that they’ve been searching for. And he’s the author of Ice Cold Leader: Leading from the inside out.

So, it is quite a CV Errol, isn’t it?

Errol Doebler: It is. It is indeed, I suppose, but it’s what I’ve done. So, yes.

Alison Jones: I get it, but what’s really interesting as well is that, I mean, there’s so much professional stuff there. So we know a lot about leadership comes from the military, strategy is a military term after all, but your personal story goes well beyond what you would expect in most books about leadership from the military.

So can we start there? Just tell us a little bit about…

Errol Doebler: Please, I mean, it’s a, you know, the crux of the book comes from essentially, how to solve problems, right? That’s all it is. That’s what leadership is. How do you solve problems? And it doesn’t matter what those problems are. And no matter what, anybody I ever work with always brings it back to their personal life.

So yes, I’m a leadership consultant, but ultimately that’s what it comes down to. And, initially when I had written this book, it was about the actual process that we follow to solve problems, right? And I’m able to give it clarity and context based on my experiences in combat, the FBI, SEAL teams, whatever it is, and it’s all accurate, right? But then I was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury after suffering with it for over 20 years, right? It occurred when I was in the SEAL teams back in the late nineties and I was medically discharged for some injuries that I had, several injuries while I was deployed and training.

And at the time, nobody was ever talking about traumatic brain injury. I don’t even think it was a term back then. It was literally, Oh, you hit your head, come back when you’re okay. And that’s fine. And it just for better, for worse, that’s the way it was. And I began to realize after I was medically discharged from the Navy, I was really struggling with emotions and I was just really finding that I was just acting on it and it didn’t matter whatever the trigger was, whatever the emotion was, I would just act. And then as time went on, the reactions to the emotions I was feeling, they just became very extreme. And it didn’t mean just anger or frustration, right. Those were clear, right.

 I stubbed my toe and I might go on this vicious tirade, no matter who was there or whatever it was just, you know, cursing and then it would subside, but the damage was done, right. You know, if somebody was in the room, like, Whoa.

Even, sadness. I might be watching a movie that’s got a touching ending, right? And I’d be down for hours crying, just, it was overblown, even happiness, meeting somebody for the first time, just an over exuberant, great to meet you, big hugs, whatever it might be, you know, sometimes the spirit is good. That’s not the appropriate response.

So I began to notice you know, when I really thought about my emotions and what was happening and then, okay, what’s my intuitive action based on this emotion and how do I need to behave and what’s my plan to get through this?

I started to do okay, right. And so that’s what I did all day, every day.

And when I started my business after I left the FBI, I said, all right, well, I’ve got to be able to identify what my process is. And I just kind of went back, but mostly to the very dangerous situations I was in saying, okay, we always began with an emotional awareness and everything I just described.

 And that allowed me to be calm in the chaos of what was happening. I never gave thought to my emotional struggles that I was doing personally, right?

So I met a doctor who’s specializing in traumatic brain injury and non pharmaceutical treatments. And I told him, you know, he wanted to help veterans and athletes. And I just shared with him my injuries, the stories of my injuries. And he said, well, what happened? And I said, well, I just told you what happened, right? And you know, those stories we get into them, they’re exciting. They’re in the book. But he said, no, what happened after? And I said, well, you know, I said it was a long time ago. And when I was medically discharged, I was treated very badly, in that what they were saying to me at the board was, well, you know, the discharge board, you look fine. And I was like, well, I didn’t ask to come here. You asked me here, you know, and it hurt. And they just kept saying, you know, it’s hard, we don’t know what to do with you. You look fine. You look healthy. And I was just like, okay, but these headaches won’t stop. And you know, and they just dismissed me.

So I just decided I would never talk about what was happening because it all had started very early, these emotional flare ups.

So the long and short of it is, I explained to the doc, I said, well, I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in over 20 years and I struggle with my emotions. And you know, I just feel like there’s this constant angst inside of me, but it’s my life. And he asked me to come in for a brain scan, which was called a WAVI scan. W A V I. And it measures the energy in your brain. And what he showed me was, he said, look, this part of your brain, he showed me two sine-waves in perfect sync. He said, that’s your heart and your brain wave in perfect sync. And we see that with people who are very thoughtful and meditative. So I explained some of, you know, what I do for myself.

And then he said, this is your, this red part in the brain indicates your brain is in the perfect alpha state. He goes, that means you’re relaxed, but alert and aware and ready to act. I was like, okay, great. He said, yes, he goes, but this blue, do you see the blue?

Alison Jones: You just know there’s a but coming there,

Errol Doebler: Yes

Alison Jones: just know.

Errol Doebler: And I said, well, yes I see the blue cause it’s mostly blue.

He goes, yes he goes, the blue indicates that part of your brain is dormant. It’s not working. Look at the energy, right? There’s one volt, two volts, zero volts. And he goes, that’s the part of your brain that is responsible for emotional regulation. And I went, Oh,

Alison Jones: You almost had to create a process consciously to do what your brain wasn’t able to do for itself.

Errol Doebler: Exactly right. And what he said to me was, he said, you know, Errol, at best you should be destitute, right? Your inability to properly process emotions for over 20 years. He goes, you certainly shouldn’t be… have a successful business, have a marriage and kids and be happily married and have a family.

He goes, really, and more realistically, you should be one of those 22 veterans a day who commit suicide. That’s how bad this is. And he said, walk me through this process that you do. Walk me through, and you know, and then walk me through this cold exposure and breathing. And I just explained it all to him and how I use every one of those methods, the process I just described, right, recognize the emotion. What’s the intuitive action? How do I want to behave? What’s my plan? He goes, well, how often would you do that? I said every time I walked into a room. He goes, well, it sounds exhausting. I said it was exhausting. That’s why I needed to take a two hour nap every afternoon for the last 20 years.

And I said, but if I don’t do it you know, my results for any interaction are random. If I do do it, I’ve got a good chance. And then we talked about the cold exposure, which I’m sure we’ll get into.

Alison Jones: Yes, I’m sure we’ll go into that.

Errol Doebler: Yes and it was multifaceted. I said, first of all, we know from science, the cold exposure resets your nervous system, right?

So I’m constantly dealing with the stress of these emotions. And if I can reset my nervous system every day, my brain is clear. I’m not full of the inflammation caused by stress, and I can think clearly and I can focus on the process. And additionally, it helps me to learn to recognize stress.

And this is for everybody because it’s so constant in our lives. Sometimes we don’t even recognize when it’s hitting us. So you get into that ice bath, right? That’s a… that’s an induced panic attack. I recognize it and I learn to breathe and focus through it. So then when these emotions come and overwhelm me, I have a tool…

Alison Jones: Yes.

Errol Doebler: …and then think about the process. So that’s probably, that’s a really long, you know, thumbnail.

But that’s the backstory. And so, I still had my leadership process, but when this happened, this was only a couple of years ago, I was able to kind of really validate and put a more human spin on what I was going through, because it was the same. Then I realized this is just the same process I’m teaching people, how to get through a challenging situation how to solve a problem.

So yes, that was its genesis. And on a side note, I got the treatment, which was intranasal insulin, literally tilting your head back, putting insulin into your nose and when it does that, it drips into your brain. It passes the blood brain barrier, so there’s no negative effects of the insulin and it creates energy. So the next scan I got a month later, you know, those areas of my brain that were 1V, 2V, 0V. We’re up to 30 volts, 35 volts, completely healed and I’ve never gone back. So that’s…

Alison Jones: Phenomenal.

Errol Doebler: That’s just a personal story.

And right now I’m very active in, because it’s not an FDA approved treatment. And so there are researchers, and again, that’s a whole nother story, that they found me and they’re like, we created this thing but it’s not FDA approved, you know, so I’m helping them raise money. And they’re in phase two of the clinical studies.

And the goal is anytime a housewife gets into a car accident, right? The first thing that should be happening is she should be given intranasal insulin to mitigate any effects of brain injury, right? This should be the treatment across the board. Forget, you know, not forget about, but obviously athletes and veterans, you know, who need it, just the everyday person. Like there’s so many of us walking around who fell when we were kids or whatever it is, hit our head.

Alison Jones: You look fine.

Errol Doebler: You look fine and then some people get CT scans and MRIs. Well, they don’t show brain injury. So imagine, right, you get into that car accident where you have some accident, you get a scan and the doctor says, you’re fine.

And all of a sudden you’re bubbling up with all this angst and emotion. And now you think you’re crazy.

Alison Jones: Amazing. So I bet you, I can just imagine, you know, years from now there’ll be medical research papers and you’ll be patient A, that will be you.

Errol Doebler: Well, you know, it’s so funny you say that because there’s, I don’t know if this is going to go anywhere, but some folks reached out and they wanted to do a documentary on my story and that’s exactly what they wanted to call it. They wanted to call it Patient One. Yes, Okay, we’ll see if it happens, but it’s kind of that way.

Other people have gotten this treatment. I’m the first one that is now the medical community knows about it. And they can say, what happened? How did you feel? Because everything is in animals right now. So….

Alison Jones: What’s really fascinating as well is that having sort of developed that almost as a workaround for yourself, you were then able to teach it to other people to apply it. So just tell me about that bridge because the people that you’re working with have not had traumatic brain injury. These are people who are perfectly capable from a normal neurological, perspective of managing their emotions.

And yet there’s something in there that makes them better leaders. Tell us a bit more about that.

Errol Doebler: And it’s a good point. So even just as we were talking before we started, I’m a little stressed and things like that. And that, and that’s the point, right? Stress and challenges are not a, it’s not a competition. It doesn’t have to be, I was getting shot at in Afghanistan, or I was in a foreign land chasing terrorists and then got held by the local government. It doesn’t have to be that because the process of dealing with it is the same.

I use those examples as extreme examples to let people know how effective it can be. And what I tell people when I start working with them is I tell them this story and I let them know, again, it’s not a competition.

You have challenges, personal, professional, and otherwise. And I’m going to show you the process to move through them. Okay. Solve the problem and not let stress overwhelm you and overcome you physiologically, if nothing else. And they are, you know, they’re always a little skeptical and it’s out of a respectful way.

Like, Oh no, we’re not you, Errol. And I said, no, I’m making this…. I’m making this so it can be, so everybody can relate to it. I’m making it relatable. So anyway, so I have a very disciplined process that we go through. We spend the first week just talking and dealing with emotions because that’s the bedrock.

And then people say, wow, I didn’t realize how… I didn’t realize how angry I was all the time or frustrated. And I didn’t realize when I feel this way, this is how I act, right? So now what we’re doing is all I’m doing is bringing them through a process and they start to discover on their own, those little warts that either they were not looking, they didn’t want to see, or they didn’t even realize, right?

And so we say, great. Now, I don’t say to you, look, excellence means you do these three things or great leaders do these three things. I’ll probably say something that’s accurate, but you know, Alison, what happens if you already do those things? And you’re still struggling. Then where does that leave you?

Whereas, when I bring people through this process, okay, they realize themselves, Oh, this is what I’m doing. This is kind of part of my culture and personality. Now these are targeted changes. If I made these changes, Wow. I could really get to the next level of parenting, being a great spouse, whatever it is, or business leader or individual contributor.

It doesn’t even matter. And that’s the power in it. They find the challenges themselves because everybody just responds differently.

Alison Jones: And that in itself, when you’re writing a book, is quite challenging, isn’t it? Because when you’re in the room with people, you can work together. You can find out what they, they can respond to you, you can follow where they’re leading. You can, you know, tailor the experience for them. In a book. You’re not in the room with them.

So how did you find that?

Errol Doebler: So I just felt, you know, it was funny because the book that’s out is kind of a rewrite. The original book I wrote was just the process. It was before I knew that I had this stuff. And I just wanted, I almost wanted it to be a manual, right? Here’s the steps you take. But then I realized I had to put some stories in there to validate it. And here’s the example. And the book went out.

 It was fine. I self published it and I didn’t give it much concern. And then when I realized what had happened to me and the context behind really where this thing came from and it just so happened to be the same process I used in all these dangerous situations.

You know, I said, okay, I need to get this story out. I need to give people context to this thing and they need to be able to understand that stress and challenges are just something that happens. They’re not a big deal. They can, you know, the consequences of them can be very damaging and hurtful, but it’s still just a thing to get through.

So that’s why we wrote the second edition. So it’s part one and part two, and part one is the stories I just told you right now, I made it a little more dynamic. I’ve been in this game a little bit longer. I understand what people want to read. It’s not a manual, so I tell the stories of how I got injured, right? And I tell what happened to me along the way. So I want people to relate. So that was the first part.

Writing it was allowing people to relate to stress. Not even distress. Well, to stress and just bad things that happened to them. And really accentuating the fact that, again, it’s not a competition. Because the big thing that really gets me down might not bother you at all, right? But you won’t judge me for it.

And maybe something really small in my world sends you in a tizzy. That’s just the way it is. But the process we do is the same. So, I went about writing the process, I think in a very clear and relatable manner and to let people go, okay, I can even read this and get through it and understand and apply it immediately.

Working with me directly, obviously allows for those nuances of, okay, well this happened, what do you think? But I think the book… I worked very hard to make it simple and clear and something that people go, holy cow, I could do this right now. I could just do one of these things, just this emotional awareness thing, because if I do that, I’ll start to naturally change behaviors that I don’t like now that I’m more clearly seeing.

Alison Jones: And what’s powerful about that approach that you have, I think, probably almost instinctively put together really is that it has the two things we really want from an author. It has a personal story that we can connect with and engage with and feels human, feels relatable. And it has a plan. It has a methodology that we can follow that’s not just, it’s not just all about you, but your story gives us a sense of how this came about and it draws us in and then we can sort of take those learnings.

And I think that’s a really powerful way to construct a book like this.

Errol Doebler: Well, I appreciate it. And you hit the nail on the head, Alison because it is instinctual, but here’s the difference, right? We can’t… instinct alone is good, but it’s not good enough. It’s not good enough when we’re trying to make good positive changes. And the reason is if you don’t know what the steps of the instinct are, you can’t go back and say, wow, this outcome was bad. Where in my instinct process did I go wrong?

And then you can’t likewise repeat these instincts. Well, that went great. What did I do to make that great? So again, the process that I, you know, The Ice Cold Leader methodology is really just truly how the brain works. And if you’re aware of the emotion you’re feeling, if you are aware of the intuitive action based on that emotion, if you are aware of the fact that you need to make a decision on how you want to behave, and then if you are aware of a good planning process that will get you through anything. Right?

I just used the old Navy SEAL planning process and modified it a little bit. Now use it for how you’re going to deal with your kid. If you were aware, that is an instinctual process by definition, but if you’re aware of the elements, you go back and you say, okay, I did this thing and this outcome was terrible.

Let me go back to my process right from the beginning. What did I miss? Because I promise you, if you have a bad outcome, you will have missed something. It might be right out of the gate. I was angry and I decided to act on that anger. And now everything, I may have done everything right after that but my outcome is going to be bad because it was based in anger.

So something’s not going to go right. Darn. Next time I’ve got to, I can’t trust that emotion, right? It might be moving through and saying, you know what I was good with… I knew how I was feeling. I recognized it. I behaved in this way. I never made my plan. I never made a plan. I just started doing stuff randomly. Darn it. Next time I’ll fix that.

So yes, relatable is so big because again, you know, I still am confused when people are like, Oh my God, your resume is unbelievable. I’m like, it’s not, it’s just what I did. But I’m beginning to feel, I understand now, I understand that people would be like, well, I can never do what he did and what I want to make people understand is, I tell my stories to tell you how this works in true, literal life or death, like if I do this wrong, I will die. If I do this wrong, somebody else will die. Good. You get it, right? That’s my point. I want this to be right in your face.

Then I tell the stories of my struggle around emotion, so you can be, so I’m a human being, I’m relatable, and now this is the process.

So it’s a bridge. But I appreciate you recognizing the structure of the process, and the instinctual nature of it.

But yes, if you hadn’t noticed, I love to go on about it all.

Alison Jones: Which of course is, I mean, if you weren’t passionate about this, frankly, if you’re not passionate about your own subject, who could be, but I want to also get something for the listener who’s going well, I’ve never been a Navy SEAL or an FBI officer. I don’t have those stories.

I guess abstracting what you’ve learned in the process of writing this book, what would be your top tip for somebody who wants to write a book that has that power for the reader?

Errol Doebler: Yes Look, and this is for, I do a lot of writing now, and it’s still a challenge, and the top tip is just write. And it has to be, it has to be consistent. It has to be every day because it’s hard. We’re playing with some fiction stories, based on a lot of the stories we have. And when I say we, me and my wife, we work together.

And I still struggle with, no, every day, 15 minutes. It doesn’t matter. You have to get in front of what you’re writing. You have to look at it and you have to type a key. If you don’t, it’s just not going to happen. So that is the top, that would be my number one recommendation because look, I can’t tell you, I can tell you about, well, you’ve got to validate what you’re writing.

 You know, you’ve got to be passionate about, yes maybe yes, maybe no. You know, I may not be passionate about something, but I just might have so much knowledge that people need to hear. Right. But none of it’s going to matter if you don’t get into the rhythm of actually writing and that is the hardest part.

Your content will come, but it won’t come if you’re not sitting in front of your computer every single day. So that’s my top tip.

Alison Jones: That is brilliant because I think often people think, well, when I have something to write about, I’ll sit down and write, but no, you sit down and write and it comes. Yes, it’s that

Errol Doebler: You’re lucky when it comes, be ready for three days of nothing coming. But you’re there and you write and you’re like, that’s terrible. Okay. I’ll come back tomorrow. I’ll reread it. And then one day you’re going to be like, ah, yes. Now you take advantage of those days. Right.

Alison Jones: It’s the showing up.

Errol Doebler: It’s the showing up, just like life, right?

Alison Jones: Yes absolutely. Love it.

And I always ask people to recommend a book as well. You’re not allowed to recommend Ice Cold Leader, sorry. But what book would you recommend if people haven’t read that would be good?

Errol Doebler: You know, so there’s so many good books out there, right? So, when I was a kid, I just read leadership books all the time. And I started to, you know, some of them are terrible, but very rarely did I not take one thing out of it. And even if that one thing was, I don’t agree with that, I’ll never do it. That’s a win, right?

So business books per se, I read them and, you know, I try to see what’s applicable, but those are widget based books, I call it. Those are techniques. Okay. You can’t implement any of the techniques in a business book if you are not getting yourself right. So this gives me to my recommendation.

So I enjoy the stoics, I enjoy that philosophy. And you know, I was introduced to it by a book called Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Alison Jones: Ryan Holiday. Yes.

Errol Doebler: Yes and it’s an easy read and he’s got a series of them and he just dives deep on that stuff. And so for me, if you can behave in those ways, you can be very discerning about what strategies you need for business, what techniques are going to work for you.

I don’t think any of that will work if you don’t have your mind, body, soul, and spirit right. So that would be my quick recommendation. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. I enjoy him and I think it’s a bridge to anything you want to do with business or otherwise.

Alison Jones: Yes, it’s a great recommendation. And actually another one of his is Discipline is Destiny. Given that we were just talking about the writing habit. Yes, very

Errol Doebler: Yup.

Alison Jones: Fantastic.

Errol Doebler: The Obstacle is the Way,

Alison Jones: Yes

Errol Doebler: and, they all build on each other and they’re all good

Alison Jones: They do, and it’s a family of titles, actually, just thinking about it from a publisher’s perspective at the moment, which is worth considering if you know there’s more than one book in you.

Errol Doebler: Yes for sure, for sure.

Alison Jones: Love it. It has been absolutely amazing talking to you, Errol. Thank you for talking about your story and your practice and your process.

I’ve really, really enjoyed it.

Errol Doebler: I appreciate it. And I appreciate the opportunity to share it with everybody.

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