The Navy Seals, for those who have never heard of them, are the U.S. Navy’s principal special operations force. Their job is physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. Most of the people who try out for the Seals don’t make it. What separates the successful candidates from those who are sent home is mental toughness.
Those who succeed in life are mentally tough. SEALs are some of the toughest human beings on the planet. And they have something to teach us.
One of former Navy SEALs, who spent 20-years as a Navy SEAL, 30 years of martial arts training and more than 15 years of yoga practice and teaching to warriors. If there is anything he may teach you, it’s how important your mental strength is, over any physical ability you may possess. The mantra of mind over body is true — you can do anything if you set your mind to it. As it turns out, mental toughness isn’t just important for success if you’re interested in becoming a Navy Seal. Instead, it’s important for everyone. Whatever goal it is that you want to achieve, it will take mental toughness to do all things necessary. Here are a few tips to help you build mental toughness, the body strength comes later:
1. Focus on yourself first
Self-awareness is a place to start building what I call your “unbeatable mind.” Greater self-awareness will help us avoid making the same mistakes over and over, and allow us to get aligned for serious forward momentum.
When I was younger, I was a daydreamer. If you asked me to describe what my future looked like, I would have given you a blank stare. This is not uncommon.
A journal is a good place to establish self-awareness. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, find a quiet place where you can avoid disruptions. Do some deep breathing to center yourself and then spend some time candidly reflecting on who you are and where you are in your life. Do this every day and build it into a reliable habit, like brushing your teeth.
2. Bounce back quickly from the unexpected
Several Navy Seals have written books about their training and how they learned to be mentally tough so that they could survive the life threatening situations that they’re thrown into on a regular basis. A while back I was perusing one of these books and I came across several useful nuggets. One of the things the book stated was that a vital component of mental toughness is bouncing back quickly from the unexpected.
When Navy Seals are preparing to go on a mission, they’re briefed on the situation that they’ll be going into. That is, they’re told what they’ll be facing and what to expect. For example, if they have to rescue someone from a ship they’ll be given information such as the following:
- They’ll be given the ship’s layout;
- They’ll be told how many people are on board:
- They’ll be briefed on the weapons those on board might be carrying;
- They’ll be shown how to move around the ship without being detected;
- They’ll be told where their target is located: and so on.
However, almost 100% of the time, things won’t go as planned. For example, once aboard the ship the Navy Seals may come across a wall where there isn’t supposed to be one. What does a Navy Seal do at this point? Well, they certainly don’t do the following:
Stop to analyze who’s to blame for not knowing that there was going to be a wall there. Stop to complain: “Oh, that’s typical. They miss a wall!” or “How are we supposed to get this done now?” Give up and go back. If the Navy Seals were to do any of these things, they would almost certainly be killed. Therefore, what they do instead is to automatically include the wall in their calculations. More specifically, they do the following:
- Immediately acknowledge and accept that there’s a wall there.
- Adapt with composure.
- Keep going.
If you want to be mentally tough, you have to learn how to bounce back quickly from the unexpected. Trick your mind into overriding it’s tendency to argue with what’s happening by telling yourself the following: “Acknowledge; Accept; Adapt; Act.”
3. Figure out your purpose
My investigation into integrated training and optimal performance propelled journeys into CrossFit, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, Pranayama, remote viewing, visualization, mindfulness meditation, Apache Sacred Silence, Tibetan mantras, Ninjutsu, and San Soo / SCARS. All of these practices had a large impact on my worldview, the way my mind works, and my performance benefited because of it all. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help determine if you’re on the right or wrong path:
- What have you been conditioned to think you’re supposed to do with your life?
- What do you think you are really supposed to do with your life?
- What do you feel you are really supposed to do with your life?
- Is there a tiny voice of doubt deep within you suggesting you are on the wrong track?
- Is that same voice nudging you forward with the sensation that you are on the right track?
- What ONE thing do you think you are here for? What ONE thing would you focus on if you had nothing holding you back?
- What would you do differently if you knew you had one year to live?
So what do you do with the insights that follow? For me, it was a powerful self-realization that motivated me to leave a career path that was eating me alive. Asking myself these questions provided guidance and enabled my pursuit of what was my true dream: To become a Navy SEAL.
4. Determine your path
Developing skills like discipline, dedication and acquiring a capacity for high-performance first requires tuning in to your true self. A path with heart will be authentic to your true self. Not some muddled version of what others think is best for you, but the real you.
This was my situation years ago, my lack of clarity and self-awareness had me chasing goals imposed on me by others, like a life of corporate success on Wall Street. I felt like I was on the wrong path and the only way I got back on track was by becoming more self aware. Start off with the questions listed above and see where they lead you.
5. Support your new purpose with a healthy lifestyle and the support of others
For many, if you’re life is on the wrong path, you don’t have the energy to make a fitness program part of your daily life, or to fuel yourself with a healthy, energizing diet. A consequence of poor self-awareness is that a life rut will claim your spiritual, mental and physical health.
A platform of self-awareness that leads to a renewed purpose in life will ultimately require you to take care of your body in a complimentary way. The good news? You’ll be so fired up about being on your true path that energy will no longer be a problem. The key is to harness this energy and commit to a fitness lifestyle (both exercise and nutrition!).
If this is a problem area for you, don’t do it alone. Perhaps the most important attribution to the Navy SEALS is the prominence of the word “team.” Find a group of like-minded others to who will support you. This is how you not only get on the path, but stay on the path.