Whenever a group of people begin talking about military, and the countries with the best armed forces, it’s not long before someone mentions the term Navy SEALs.
SEALs are considered as one of the most well-trained forces in the world, and rightly so.
Those sons of guns are some of the toughest, strongest, and most courageous men you have ever seen. They can face it all- crisis, cold, and calmness, and they always emerge as winners.
In Vietnam they created spine-chilling terror in their enemies, and earned the title of “Men With Green Faces”. The terrorists were so scared of them that they often put bounties on their heads.
More recently, they took out the world’s most wanted terrorist- Osama Bin Laden.
But here’s the thing- SEALs are no extra-ordinary guys who are born with extra abilities.
As a matter of fact, if you were to meet one of the SEALs outside of the camp, and off-duty, you wouldn’t guess that he is the same person who was ambushing into the enemy land, and putting holes into their heads the previous night.
Becoming a SEAL is not about being physically built. Thinking so is a mistake.
Even though being fit is a requirement, it is not the be all end all of becoming a SEAL.
The extreme training that the candidates have to go through is not as much about their physical endurance, as it is about their mental fortitude.
A while back a research was conducted to study the traits and the mindset of the candidates who pass the excruciating training regimen of the BUD/S.
The research concluded that there are 4 characteristics that all the participants who graduated and became SEAL, possessed.
These are called the ‘Four Pillars Of Mental Toughness‘, and today, you are going to learn what these are.
The Rise Of The Bold Ones
Before I go through the pillars of mental toughness, let us have a little background information on SEALs and how they came into existence, to further our understanding of these men of steel.
The idea of a specialized military unit was born in the year 1962, when the then president of United States Of America, J F Kennedy recognized the need of special shock troops.
These troops of soldiers were trained for sophisticated missions, and to counter the rapidly increasing terrorist organisations around the world.
As a result, first two SEAL teams were formed in 1962.
The term SEAL stands for Sea, Air, Land, which conveys the professionalism of the commandos in all the three arenas of the battlefield.
The initial training of the SEALs is 6 months long and is conducted at Basic Underwater Demolition School, or BUD/S for short.
During the period, the commandos are stressed to such an extent that there is an 80 percent dropout rate!
The 3rd week in the First Phase of the BUD/S is the most defining period of the training, and is referred to as Hell Week.
Hell Week is a 5 and a half days of training where in the commandos are disciplined and tortured, and are allowed to sleep for fewer than four hours a week!
It is a no-holds-barred approach to weed out all the guys having low will-power, and little desire to become a commando.
The mantra of the trainers during the training is “We’re Not Going to Stop Until We Get at Least One Quitter.“
The commandos-in-training watch as their team mates ring the bell, and quit on their dream of becoming a SEAL.
It’s funny how most people quit on their life goals at the first sign of discomfort.
The guys who pass this phase, however, realize that they are capable of achieving 20x more than they thought they could ever do. This belief acts as a base on which several other important beliefs later build upon.
The Four Pillars Of Mental Toughness
So here we are.
Now is the time to reveal the four pillars of mental toughness taught to the SEALs, that you have been waiting for so long. Without further ado, I present them to you:
1) Goal Setting
2) Mental Visualization
3) Positive Self-Talk
4) Controlling Arousal
Let us go through each of the tactic in detail:
When SEALs are in their briefing room, the foremost thing that they are introduced to is their mission.
What exactly are they going to have to achieve once they are on ground zero?
Whether it is to infiltrate behind the enemy lines, grab a hostage, or to eliminate a target, the SEALS always have a clearly defined goal.
They understand that stepping into the battlefield without having a concrete aim is practical suicide..
The goal serves as a road map in the foreign land.
They know why they are there and they know how to get it. The goal keeps the commandos on track, and helps them to never lose sight of what their mission is.
Careful planning and preparation is done, and every move is calculated beforehand in terms of risk-reward.
But that’s not all there is to it.
After a mission is known, it is chunked into different objectives.
This means that rather than having the mission as a whole, it is split into smaller tasks that must be accomplished one at a time.
So if the mission is to eliminate a target, for instance, then that is divided into different short-term objectives, such as:
1) Land safely on the ground
2) Reach the enemy gates
3) Sneak into the target building
4) Eliminate the target
This process makes the entire mission less daunting, and a whole lot easier to execute.
Remember playing Call Of Duty?
Imagine how difficult it would have been to complete an entire level of the game with just a single mission: Save the POWs.
Instead the entire mission consists of a short-term objectives that you must complete in order to fulfill the larger event, just like in the real world of SEALS.
The SEALS learn about the power of setting short-term goals during their training in the BUDS.
The trainees are woke up at 6:00 am and have to face a ‘grinding’ session before they could have their breakfast.
Many of them give up, but some do not.
The few who do not submit during the session are the ones who set short term goals.
They don’t think in terms of accomplishing a bigger event like “I have to become a SEAL“.
Instead they create short term goals for themselves everyday, for every hour.
So the men who pass the test have their goal: “Do not give up until breakfast. “
And after the grinding session, and the breakfast, they set another goal- ” Do not give up until lunch“, and so forth.
Your Mission: Map out a clear goal for yourself, and slice it into several short-term objectives that you can work on- a bit at a time.
For example, when I am writing articles for the blog, it’s easy to get distracted and put off writing for later. Let’s face it, no matter how much I love writing, it’s still a lot of work to actually organize my thoughts and type them into my phone.
So how do I manage, you ask?
I set a short term goal for myself- Write for half an hour.
And that’s what I do. I write for half an hour giving all my concentration to it.
I look at the watch, it’s 2:30. I decide to write until 3:00. That’s it. And then I set another goal- to write for half an hour from 4:30 to 5:00. And I follow through.
This gets the work done.
When I have to complete a project that’s 200 pages long, I chunk it up.
I set a shorter objective of completing ‘just five pages’ today. And then I set six pages for the next day. And then it’s seven pages for the following day.
Got it? Good.
A group of SEALs-in-training stand tall, bulging their chest out, next to each other, looking straight ahead at the horizon.
Having scuba gears on, they pay close attention to their drill sergeant who had spent half of his life facing bullets in Vietnam.
The sergeant marches to and fro, looking directly into the eyes of the young trainees and shouting their next training objective in his grunted voice.
“You dive into the water, perform the emergency drill as quickly as you can and you get your ass hell outta there! Did you understand?“
“Sir, yes sir!” reply the candidates in unison.
“Okay, then. Take your positions, cry babies!” hauls the sergeant.
“On your mark…Set…GO!!“
At the command of their instructor, all the candidates jump into the chilling water, and dive in to carry out the drill.
No big deal…yet.
One of the credos that is repeated often during the training of the SEALs is -“The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.“
And SEALs take their credos very seriously.
So when the trainees, who are busy non chalantly performing the drill underwater, least expect something to get wrong, it happens- the trainers take off candidates’ goggles and cut their oxygen supplies.
This is done to simulate the conditions of drowning and instill fear into the minds of the candidates.
You can only imagine the horror of the poor trainee who thinks that he is going to be drowned and dead during the training.
At this point either of the two things happen; the trainee gets terrified of the situation and begins to work his way out of the water to save his life, or he remains there, in the water, and continues the drill.
The guys who got frightened and anxious, fail the test. Bye-bye to them. The ones who kept going, qualify the phase.
Now, the difference between the guys who got afraid, and the ones who remained calm in face of danger, lies in their thought processes.
Neurologists found out that the trainees who gave up during the session, had the wrong picture in their heads- them drowning and being dead.
On the contrary, the guys who passed the test were thinking about only one thing- completing the task.
“Today, our primary weapons systems are our people’s heads. You want to excel in all the physical areas, but the physical is just a prerequisite to be a SEAL. Mental weakness is what actually screens you out”.
-Lieutenant Commander Mike H, executive officer of Seal Team 10.
Sun Tzu, in his book ‘Art Of War’ states that ” Every Battle Is Won Or Lost Before It’s Fought“, and SEALs know the truth in those words.
That’s the reason they are instructed to mentally visualize themselves achieving their target religiously.
Whenever they are being deported to an area for a mission, they don’t babble around nonsense with each other.
Instead they use the time to visualize themselves perfectly executing, and completing their set of objectives,m eliminating their target and going back to their families.
If you have not figured it out yet, the point I am making is this- you have to win the game before it even begins.
Your Mission: Practice visualization.
I discussed about the benefits and the correct procedure for visualization in one of my previous posts. Read it. Practice it. And change your life.
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Not long ago, the SEAL officials observed something rather interesting during the training.
It was noted by the trainers that almost all the guys who came to become the SEAL had the same level of fitness and physical stature, yet only a few of them could survive the hardcore training sessions.
This got the officials curious.
If all the participants were almost physically similar, then what is the secret of the few who pass the tests, while their mates give up?
Things got even more interesting when the trainers observed that there were some guys who were more skinny than the others, and who they thought would not survive a day in the training, ended up graduating the SEAL.
The other guys who looked fit and tough gave up and dropped out.
Did those skinny guys knew something which their physically stronger counterparts didn’t?
This was the result of, as the researchers found out later, the things participants said to themselves in their heads.
The guys who were able to get through the training, continuously reminded themselves that they are tougher than the challenge they have been assigned. That they have got what it takes to be a SEAL.
Losers would give up because they kept repeating “This is so hard…The water is so cold…My hands are getting numb…I think Iam not going to complete the training.”
The distinction in how they had conversation with themselves produced different results.
When you are a Navy SEAL, you are not allowed to think ” I can’t do that…” or ” We are going to fail.“
You are only allowed to say:
“I will get around this obstacle” and
“Iam stronger than this situation.“
There is no place for negativity.
If a SEAL gets shot in his leg, he doesn’t think that he got a BULLET in his LEG. Instead he keeps reminding himself that it’s JUST a bullet in his leg.
It’s mind over matter; if you don’t mind then it doesn’t matter.
As a SEAL you have to look for positivity in every situation that you might get yourself into.
The commander shouts:
“Can you do that, soldier?“
And you better reply affirmative to him.
Your Mission: Practice positive self-talk.
A lot of people say negative things to themselves all day long.
An average person speaks about 10000 words per day, out of which 80% are in negative terms.
“Iam NOT a creative person…“
“Iam NO Einstein…“
“Iam NOT built for sports…“
The list is huge.
Your Mission is to start speaking more positively. Eliminate the negativity from your vocabulary.
Abraham Lincoln once said ” A man is only as happy as he wants to be.“
When you say bad things about yourself, you degrade the quality of your life. You decrease your happiness.
Look on the bright side of things. Remember the cliche of seeing the glass half full instead of half empty.
How hard could it be? If marines taking fire in the enemy territory could be positive, so can you in your everyday life.
The word Arousal here refers to two of the most common human responses to threat:
1) Fear, and
Those two emotions are knee-jerk reactions to a potentially dangerous situation, and trigger a fight or flight response in us.
It is always a bad idea to make decisions in the hyper state of mind, especially when life of your team mates is on the line.
When a SEAL is on the field with his team on an operation, he can’t afford to make a silly decision because he got afraid.
He is well trained to get over his fears, and face stress. He is taught to fight rather than flight. To move ahead into the setting rather than backing off from it.
And given that the reactions are deep wired into our mechanism, it’s quite hard to curb them.
One of the techniques taught to SEALs to control their emotional state is 4×4 focused breathing.
You begin by inhaling deeply for 4 seconds, then exhaling all the air completely for the next 4 seconds. It is done for at least 1 minute to calm down the mind.
Your Mission: Master your breath, master your life.
Most people breathe shallow which is the primary catalyst of their stress and anxieties.
It is estimated that 80% of your metabolic energy comes from breathing and only 20% from the food. It’s no wonder that improper and shallow breathing leads to various physiological and psychological disorders.
Long deep breaths supply more oxygen to your brain and stimulates your PNS ( Parasympathetic Nervous System), which has a relaxing effect.
The next time you feel stressed out or tensed, practice 4×4 focused breathing.
Done for a couple of minutes, it will decrease your blood pressure, reduce your metabolism, and slow down your thumping heart-beat.
Alright folks! You now have the secrets that make SEALs one of the most mentally tough and resilient men on the planet.
I have provided you with the knowledge and what to do with the knowledge, so you can apply all the information right away.
If you wish to learn more about the SEALs and the 4 pillars of their mental toughness, I highly encourage you to get your hands on the book Navy Seal Training Guide: Mental Toughness written by Lars Draeger (source of the article). The book contains comprehensive explanation of all the mental toughness pillars, and several interesting anecdotes that will take you into a journey into the mindset of SEALs.
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