Many of us are drowning from stress and overwhelm. If we live this thinkable life, it is time to dive into this conversation with Dr. Diane Hamilton and her guest today. In this episode, Marcel Kuhn, the Founder of Unthinkable Mastermind, takes us inside his book, Unthinkable: Life Teachings from a Soul Surfer. Marcel emphasizes how humans are designed to flow with the natural current of life and stay afloat from being stuck, uncertain, and unfulfilled. He also shares his practice to tap into an unthinkable life, so we feel lifted, inspired, and limitless in our potential. Surf with Marcel today and flow with the current of life.
I’m so glad you joined me because my guest is Marcel Kuhn. He is a speaker, coach, Founder of the Unthinkable Mastermind, and also the author of Unthinkable: Life Teachings from a Soul Surfer. It’s so nice to have you here, Marcel.
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A Soul Surfer’s Guide To Living An Unthinkable Life With Marcel Kuhn
Thank you so much for having me. I have waited for this moment for years.
I’ve known you for years. I know you’ve been working on a book for a long time. I was so honored that you asked me to look at it and make comments because I know you put your heart and soul into this. I’m very excited to get into that. I want to get a little backstory on you first. A lot of people want to know what led you to this level of success. Can you tell me your backstory?
I come from Switzerland, so a landlocked country. I was brought up in a family of entrepreneurs. My great-uncle invented the pressure cooker in 1949, which was a huge innovation. This family business is the fifth generation. In the 1960s, my grandfather and great-uncle, because they had such success in the company, they helped the Tibetan refugees in Switzerland to get jobs and housing. Philanthropy is a part of the family’s DNA. They helped those refugees to come to Switzerland.
They then realized that they needed to have a foundation and a home to practice their religion. I don’t know if it’s the correct word, but they wanted to create a space where they feel at home. Together with His Holiness, Dalai Lama, they created the monastery in Switzerland. It’s the biggest Tibetan literature library in all of Europe. Many famous Buddhists like Tina Turner who lives in Switzerland and Richard Gere who is also a well-known Buddhist come there and visit. They created this monastery and they have twelve monks. In my book, I also had the chance to interview the Abbot of the monastery.
That’s my understanding of success. First, you are successful, and when you’re successful, you do something that creates an impact. You do philanthropy. That was the model of reference for me. This put a lot of pressure on me. No one in my family ever told me to be successful, but that’s what they expected from me. This put a lot of stress on me because I stress myself to do something like that to have a legacy and impact on a worldwide scale. That’s what I thought. It was success and fulfillment.
That’s a lot of pressure for somebody. I wrote about it in terms of curiosity about how our environment will have a big impact on which way we go and what we look into. You’re very curious, and I love that. You probably got a lot of that from your environment of all that background. What inspired you to write this book, Unthinkable? I know you had some different ideas as we’ve talked through the years about what you wanted to write about. What made you land on this?
I feel the topic of the book was my search. I was chasing success. I was searching for it all my life. I always felt a lack and not good enough. I was always looking at people, “Why are they successful? Why is my brother successful?” I have two brothers. I’m the middle one. I was always asking myself, “Why are those people successful?” I always looked for completion from the outside.
I had moderate success. I was a lean manager’s lean consultant in corporations. I was working at Nestle in 2015. A member of the family passed away in a tragic accident. That disrupted my life because when you are young in the 20s and 30s, you believe you will be 100. As a 20-year-old or a 30-year-old, you think you have an eternity left. It doesn’t matter how you use the time. The youth or the young people use all their energy to be successful. They don’t realize that they have to enjoy their 20s and 30s now because it will not come back.
The family tragedy caused me to take a deep look at myself. At the funeral, I asked myself, “Who would come to my funeral? What is my legacy? What would people say about me? What would my three sons say about me?” Out of this question, I asked myself, “Why are some people successful and fulfilled and other people not?” I had this idea to write a book where I would ask 1,000 people about success and fulfillment. Within 5 or 10 minutes, I had a title. It was called Achievers: A Thousand Ways to Success and Fulfillment, and I had ten questions.
You have interviewed the top people in leadership worldwide. I had no idea how to do an interview. I went out there and had these ten questions. I didn’t even have a recording device. The second guest was John Mattone who used to be the leadership coach of Steve Jobs one year before he passed. I was surprised that people would come back to me. That’s how the book started with this kind of setting.
It’s very interesting because it’s close to how I felt. I wanted to find out why people were curious, and I wanted to interview all these amazing people. That led to my interest in the curiosity work I’ve done. You mentioned an example of somebody who you think was interesting, but you had a lot of people who you interviewed. I’m curious if there’s an inspiring story that stood out to you or stands out to you or examples of insights that blew you away.
One of the people I found exciting and inspiring was Mostafa Salameh who was born as a Palestinian refugee. He was born in a refugee camp with nine siblings. His father wasn’t able to get enough money to feed his children. Because he was the oldest, he helped his father to feed the family. He had this big dream of becoming a hotel food and beverage manager. At that time, he was living in Jordan. He ended up making it. He was working in a restaurant. He met someone who gave him a job, which was the Ambassador of Jordan in England. From there, he went on and studied hotel management. He became the food and beverage manager at Sheraton. He was reaching his dream. He was successful at what he thought was successful.
One night, he wakes up from a vivid dream at 3:00 AM. He had a dream of praying on the top of Everest. He had this mission to go up there to Mount Everest, and he did it. He got the endorsement from the King of Jordan. From not having hiked, the only sport he was doing was lifting beer, smoking, and partying. Three months later, he already climbed. As a refugee, as how he started, he was able to reach the seven summits of the seven peaks or the highest peaks of each continent. For a guy from Jordan, he skied to the North and South Poles. He learned how to ski at 39. This is inspiring because growing up, being spoiled, and having all the education, this guy creates this massive impact.
An eleven-year-old cancer patient challenged him. He was a keynote speaker and this girl said, “He climbed mountains. So what?” This cancer patient challenged him to climb for something more meaningful than for the sake of climbing. Since then, he collected $6 million for cancer patients. This eleven-year-old girl challenged this guy who was super successful and he has done so much. He has taken six women from Jordan to Mount Everest. It was the first time there were Jordanian women on Mount Everest. All of them had a mission of impact. He inspired me that we are capable of so much more than we think.
You brought up so many people I’ve had on the show from people who’ve climbed all the summits blind to Scott Harrison who created charity: water. He admits that he was a partying guy and one day decided to change his life. He has this unbelievable charity. The people who are able to do these things always inspire me. I’m curious. As I listen to what you’re talking about and what we’ve discussed about your book, what have you changed? What have you incorporated from these stories? Is there some major insight that changed what you do on a daily basis?
When I started out, I was putting those people on pedestals. I realized that they have the same challenges. They have experienced divorces, an illness, and all that. All of them are humans. I realized that I am as successful and extraordinary as everyone is. What I realized is that we are all extraordinary. What sets them apart from normal people or ordinary people is that they do the unthinkable. Unthinkable was the common denominator. That’s why the book is called Unthinkable. What I do daily is do something unthinkable and ask myself the question, “What did you disrupt today?”
Habits are structures, and every habit and structure has a limit. If you do the same habits, even if it’s a 10K run, at some point, you will reach the limitation of this habit. You have to create habits and disrupt them. What I realize about the unthinkable is every person has the unthinkable inside. It’s a decision. You probably would call it curiosity. Everyone has the immense power to achieve unthinkable things. You don’t have to climb Everest to do the unthinkable. It can be that you have an accident and you lost the ability to walk. Some people make it back to be able to walk. That’s unthinkable for that person.
Unthinkable isn’t the grand things. It’s personal and connected to you. It’s connected to your purpose and it has to be connected with catching your dreams. Doing the unthinkable for the sake of doing the unthinkable, there is no purpose in that. If you catch your dreams, you become the best version of yourself. As the best version of yourself, you are the best version for all the people around you. You have the most impact on your life.
It ties so much into my research with curiosity but also perception. What’s interesting to me, having taught thousands of business courses, is what seems very simple to one person can seem overwhelming to another. It’s the same exact thing. There is a mindset involved in how we look at it. With curiosity, I look at it as getting out of status quo thinking. That’s what you’re saying, too. You’re also saying we need to have these habits and practices to get out of our status quo. How can you have habits and practices and still do something that gets you out of doing habits and practices? It seems like there’s a little bit of a conflict in some ways if you think about it initially.
What I learned while researching this book is that whatever I was taught is untrue to me. It’s all paradox. What you are getting at is the balance act. I talk a lot about flow. To live in flow, you need a structure. If you look at the river, a river only flows if the river has a river bed. That’s the same for rituals. The rituals give you structure, but to be in flow and to be your best, you have to create space to explore and to be curious. Curiosity is about going outside of your comfort zone. The unthinkable is always outside of the comfort zone. Sitting on the sofa and being there doesn’t have a big impact. I don’t know if that answers the question, but it’s only a matter of balance.
You can’t be completely structured, but you have to have some structure to get to where you’re going. It’s an interesting concept individually. You also talk about this with teams. How do you work the unthinkable mindset when you’re dealing with a team?
That’s difficult. I was a lean manager in corporations. I tried to take these principles into the corporate environment. It’s a paradigm shift. Most people are not comfortable getting outside of their structures. Having the control is an illusion, so it’s difficult. People are comfortable being in the linear because it’s so predictable even though we don’t know if it’s going to happen. I cannot give you a good answer on how to do it because it has to be done individually.
What I learned is that people who are not passionate about it, if I tell them, “You get 2% more efficient,” that doesn’t move the people. That’s something that the managers or the leaders say. If you want to move people, you have to give them a reason that is connected to the fulfillment. It is like I tell someone, “If we do this, we work better as a team. We will be more fulfilled. We will have more space. We will maybe do fewer meetings, but we will have more time to do massive impact work.”If you want to move people, you should give them a reason that connects to the fulfillment. Click To Tweet
I don’t know if this answers your question really well, but I realized that I had to give tools for the person to impact themselves on a personal level, and then they come to the place of work in a much better state. That’s what I was doing. I’m a little bit awkward because I have a different point of view. My perception is different. Sometimes, I had to deal with, “He’s a surfer guy. He’s not so serious.”
What you’re talking about is something I talked about. I was interviewed by the CEO of Coaching.com. Alex interviewed me. These coaches have a lot of stress to help these organizations. You coach so you know what I’m talking about. There’s a lot to deal with when you’ve got all these different personalities. When you’re trying to work with all this, it becomes a cultural change.
I teach a lot of courses. I didn’t write this question, but it was written for me in one of the courses I teach. Is it easier to change an individual or the overall corporate culture? That is one of the questions that they ask them in this class. There’s no right answer because everybody has a different perception of this. How hard is it to change the culture to get this unthinkable mindset?
My perception is that you cannot change the organization if you don’t change the individual. In my experience, I have been in this for many years in continuous improvement management. I realized that if the person doesn’t change from within or they don’t change on a personal level, they cannot change our organization. It goes from me to the team to the organization. That’s how I see it.You cannot change the organization if you don't change the individual. Click To Tweet
I was so frustrated in the corporate. That’s why I wanted to step out. I felt like the people weren’t open to disrupting themselves. That was too far outside of their comfort zones. I failed in that, but I feel that as a dad, I have the chance of creating this culture in my family. The same principles of a company culture apply to family culture. It’s just a smaller scope. That’s what I do in my family with my kids. I create structure and disruption. I create space for being and possibilities for action. I do that in my family.
It’s so important. When you’re talking about disruption, it reminds me of having Jay Samit on my show. He wrote Disrupt You!. He was talking about how every day, you should write down things that you wish would be changed, that drive you crazy, or whatever. Eventually, you’ll come up with an idea for a company or a product, or something that you could change the world. I like that idea. It’s a good book. Sometimes, it is simple things that we need to do to tweak what we do already. What I found interesting about you is that you use your surfing and water. You use it as a metaphor for living, your unthinkable life of limitless potential. What’s the deal with the water and the surfing? Give me a little backstory on that.
When I was 17 and 18, I had the opportunity to go to California and be a foreign exchange student. I had this big dream to learn how to surf. At eighteen, I felt I was in my element in the water. All my life, I felt I was in my element in the water, so it was natural to go surfing. I realized so many times that the ocean and the waves are good teachers to learn about flow. In life, we have opportunities and challenges. It happens like waves. As in the ocean, sometimes, you are doing your life and suddenly, you have three wipe-outs. Separation happens or you lose someone. You know when it comes together.
I thought about how to stay in flow when something like that happens. I realize that the same as I do in surfing, I can apply it to life. Every wave is different. Every challenge is different. I know that there are many business courses that teach you how to create an organization like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. I studied the Amazon Business case. This wave will never happen again. If you learn from this, it will never be the same.
Every wave is different, so you have to adapt yourself. You have to be present. It’s good to study the history, but it’s good to be in the present. When we are in the present, that’s when the exponential happens. When we detach from past experiences and detach from thinking about the future, then we are not in a scarcity mindset. Peter Diamandis, and I know you’ve talked to him, talks about abundance. If you are scared of the future and regret the past, you cannot embrace the present. Surfing taught me patience and how to deal with wipe-outs. It’s an amazing metaphor.
It’s interesting. I was a swimmer, so I get the water. I liked your analogy earlier about the river needs to flow and needs a path and all that. I want to come back to that with how do we make this path? What are the steps? How do we get this mindset? It sounds good. I know we want to get out of the status quo. I agree with you that the Amazon thing won’t happen again exactly as it did. The people that ran Kodak or Blockbuster, some of these were hoping that they could keep doing this over and over again, but it goes away. You got to learn a new way. How do we learn this new way?
I use one ritual that I have. That’s what I mentioned before with the daily questions. You can ask yourself bigger questions, and then you get bigger answers. In my case, I ask myself, “How do I disrupt today?” This is a ritual, so I do this every day. I think bout ways how to disrupt myself. That can be as simple as when I go to the store because I buy different things. When you do grocery shopping, it is a disruption. If you buy different vegetables and different foods, you disrupt yourself. You could take another path to your job.
Creating different experiences will get you different results. That’s how I acquire a mindset like that. It sounds so simple, but it works. I do something unthinkable each day. I was in Lake Zurich, which is 54 Fahrenheit. I stayed maybe ten minutes in there. I led a group of a few people to do that. That’s a disruption. You can continue disrupting yourself each day. That’s a simple practice you can do. It’s connected to your curiosity, right?
I think so. You don’t know what you don’t know. My husband makes fun of me when I say that. He goes, “What does that mean exactly?” I go, “There are so many things you’ve never tried. You’re making your decisions based on limited knowledge. You’re assuming you’re not going to like something, but maybe you’ve only had a tiny bit of the experience. You don’t even know what else is out there.”
I’d love to realize that. That probably was a lot of what Dr. Maja Zelihic and I found when we wrote our book on perception. You’re sitting in the one spot that no one else is sitting in this spot. It’s like no one else is sitting in that Amazon spot and never will be again. Everything is constantly changing. You have to open up your mind to what everybody else is seeing with what their reality is and their perceptions. A lot of us can be control freaks sometimes. We like things to be a certain way. I’m as guilty as anyone else on that one. How do we let go?
That was the biggest learning I had in the last few years. That’s not something I say that I do well yet. I practice daily to let go of emotions. When you go through a divorce, you have to let go. When my kids walk out of the door, I only see them a week later. You have to let go. It seems so simple. Letting go is a passive act. Letting go is not active. It’s letting it be, and that’s so difficult.
In my book, I talk so much about surrender. For me, in surfing, in the cold water, in situations, or in relationships, the unthinkable is not about being tough. It’s about surrendering to the element, the water, a difficult situation, or cold water. You don’t fight the cold water because you always lose. When you have done an open water swim, if you fight the current, you will lose. If you fight the waves, you lose. Surrendering, for me, is not giving up. It’s giving in. It’s being relaxed and not fighting. That’s what I practice daily.Surrender is not giving up; it's giving in. Click To Tweet
When I’m in a state of absolute panic, that even happens when I was surfing. I was in my element of surfing and then suddenly, I have this thought, “I don’t know how I have enough coaching clients to sustain myself financially.” It was going from a moment of pure bliss to suddenly a moment where the ego comes in. I’m like, “That’s all good. You live in flow. How do I take care of my kids?” At that moment, what I practice is gratitude. That grounds me to say, “That’s letting go and being grateful.” It sounds too simple, but it’s powerful.
As you’re talking about this, it reminds me of that Chris Hemsworth show that’s out. Have you watched it on Disney? It’s in Disney+ or whatever it was.
It’s called Limitless.
That was great. I enjoyed watching that. He has to do these horrible things. Talk about the unthinkable and walking across some of that stuff, like the cold water. I’m sure you could relate to some of the cold water stuff and some of the stuff you do. It was an impactful show. I hope people watch that because I loved that. You do your own thing. You do this mastermind. I want to know what you do in these masterminds. Tell me a little more about that.
Sometimes, it is speeches from different people. They’re coming in. Storytelling disrupts us. A concrete example is cold water. I took a group of people to the cold water. That’s what I do weekly. On Tuesday mornings, I take people to the cold water. That’s all winter long in Switzerland. That means it’s really cold. It’s not like when you are in Texas and you have an ice bath. The outside is warm but the outside is cold, too so it’s disruptive. For me, the cold water is a good example of how much you are capable of. People, before they start, feel they are not capable of that. Everyone I’ve taken was capable of doing that. They call it Wim Hof, but I’ve done that all my life. I’ve always been drawn to cold water as a child, and I didn’t realize it.
What did you say they call it?
The guy that popularized it is a Dutch guy called Wim Hof. He’s famous. He’s on all the podcasts. He has been in Joe Rogan, Tim Ferris, and all those podcasts. He created a whole method around it. It has elements like yoga and breathing in cold water. I’ve adapted to that, but I’ve done that already in my childhood. I was always drawn to the cold water.
I got drawn to the cold water accidentally. I was in California. I went to Big Bear. I was going to get on my kayak in the 38-degree cold water. Getting in the kayak, it hit a wave. I planted face-first into the water. That wakes you up. I didn’t stay in long. I haven’t experimented with the cold water things. I remember going to a couple of these events with Tony Robbins and Joey Mantia. There were a couple of different people there who were talking about doing it. I see a lot of people do that. I haven’t quite embraced that yet, but it’s on my bucket list to try. I love the water, but for the cold part, I’m a Phoenix girl. I’m from Arizona. I’m cold when it’s 70. I got to give you credit for doing that.
All these things that you said were important for people. I enjoyed reading your book. I learned a lot of things. I loved how much it tied into what I researched and what I’m trying to get out there as well. It’s getting out of doing things the same old way. If you want to grow, you have to let go a little bit. You have to think of things that you never would’ve thought of and push yourself.
I see too many people exist instead of live. They are ants on their trail. It’s the Groundhog Day movie where you get up and you do the same. It’s so boring to me. To some other people, they don’t find it boring. They think that that’s okay. What do you say to those people who say, “I’m fine?” Do we need to make them more limitless and do unthinkable things? Would they be happier or should you let them be them?
I would let them be and first work with the people who want to change and who want to do something exciting. It’s not a hierarchy. It’s not that the CEOs are doing more of the unthinkable. They can be stuck in their ways. A homeless person can be ready to disrupt their limitations. For a homeless person to go to a job is challenging because it’s not easy for them to clean up, be ready, and be responsible. They don’t have the bank stuff so it’s hard for them to get a job. For me, the unthinkable is not for a certain group of people. It’s for the ones that are ready to go to the next step.
The tipping point is the same for curiosity. If you can shift 1% of the world population, you will have a tipping point where you have a paradigm shift. You don’t have to think about 8 billion people. You can shift the 1% and you will reach a tipping point. Before, you talked about the walking dad, the people that seem like they have checked out. The people that say they are mature, I find it sad. What happens to nature when it’s mature? The fruit falls. It’s dead. I don’t like to be in maturity. I like to be exploring and living. In the book of Michelle Obama, she talks about becoming. I don’t want people to be a noun. I want people to be a verb who move actively.
I’m going to have an album that shares the message of my book in vibration or in music. It’s not touching the mind but touching the body. The music touches the body much more than the mind. My friend Ollie Gabriel is a musician. He’s amazing. He’s so talented. He has a cool song that I would recommend you to listen to, which covers exactly that. It’s called Livin Alive. Are you living or are you alive? That’s exactly the question. This is challenging the status quo. Are you living or are you existing?
That’s such an important distinction. I don’t think a lot of people recognize when they’ve gotten into a rut and they’re doing the same old thing. I meet a lot of friends who all take hiking or do something they’ve never done. They go, “I had no idea that this life was even out here.” I was in New York. There’s cement. There were no mountains. Surrounding yourself with people who are the same, unthinkable people can be helpful.
A lot of what I teach in a lot of the courses is the importance of mentorship, coaching, and all the things you do. What would you say you want people to take away the most from your work with Unthinkable? Did we touch on everything? If you get the last word here, what would you like everybody to know?
What is important is that everyone has the chance to do the unthinkable. Everyone is extraordinary. It’s a decision. With curiosity, embrace it and speed. It’s a decision. Doing the unthinkable is about being your best self and your authentic self. That’s so important that you are yourself and that you live your best self. If you live your best self, you are not a copy.Everyone has the chance to do the Unthinkable. Click To Tweet
As a lean manager, I was replaced within a few hours. When I quit my job, a few hours later, they can find someone else. If I talk about surfing and talk about my stories, I’m not replaceable because I’m unique. I’m the only one. Do unthinkable. Be extraordinary. Everyone is. Find something that the heart calls you to. It’s connected to your dreams and to your purpose. Going after what excites you is never random. At seventeen, I started surfing. It has become a part of my career. It’s never random when you follow your excitement.
That is so important. I enjoyed reading your book. I am so excited for it to be out. I was appreciative that you wanted to be on the show. I wanted to make sure people could find your book and find you. Is there a website or something you’d like to share?
My main website is UnthinkableLiving.com. The book can be found on Amazon. It’s in Kindle and paperback on Amazon. You find it under my name. There are many books or movies that are called Unthinkable, but if you look for my name or Unthinkable: Life Teachings from a Soul Surf by Marcel Kuhn, you’ll find it. It will be out as an audiobook as well. Stay tuned and follow me because my friend, Ollie Gabriel, will produce the music. In the next months or however long it’ll take, the music will be out. I’m so excited about that because I don’t know any book that has an album that is connected to it.
That’s awesome. I didn’t know that about it. Thanks for letting me know that. I’m looking forward to that part. This was so much fun. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Thank you so much.
- Unthinkable: Life Teachings from a Soul Surfer
- Unthinkable Mastermind
- John Mattone
- Mostafa Salameh
- Jay Samit – Past Episode
- Disrupt You!
About Marcel Kuhn
Marcel Kuhn is a speaker, coach, Founder of Unthinkable Mastermind, and author of Unthinkable: Life Teachings from a Soul Surfer. He has hands-on experience in embedding continuous improvement culture and boosting growth, effectiveness, and engagement across various industries by facilitating workshops, leading improvement projects, leadership, and coaching.
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