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25 Lessons From Former Navy SEALs

We did some research on what Navy SEALs are saying about getting after it in real life. Let’s just dig right in.

  1. Common sense won’t work anymore

“Our fathers before us lived in a much less dynamic and competitive time than we do,” writes Former U.S. Navy SEAL Eric Davis for The Epoch Times. “In today’s world, using the simplistic and common sense strategies that were handed down to us is like trying to bring a sword and shield to the modern battlefield. It just isn’t going to work anymore.

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2. Don’t sacrifice, live

Davis, a premier sniper instructor in the U.S. military, believes guys today are miserable because they only focus on work and “sacrifice” to make money and provide for their families.

“Their health, fun, friends, fitness, and more have been burned at the altar in the name of their children,” writes the “Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned From Their Training and Taught to Their Sons” author. “They tell themselves that sacrifice is a noble pursuit when, in reality, they are no longer living, or never have lived, a life worth following.”

3. Don’t give up on your dreams

By the time Mr. Davis had a job in the insurance agency, bouncing from one agency to another, he too was living a life of sacrifice and not intent. But, he had an epiphany.

“Man, one of the first things I’m showing my children how to do is to give up on their dreams,” he realized. “Right then, I determined that was an unacceptable example, so I re-joined the Navy, reapplied for SEAL training, graduated, and served as a Navy SEAL for 10 years.”

4. Lead your family

Davis educates men on how fatherhood does not mean being overworked simply to provide for their family. Getting money is just half the job in today’s world, he argues. “They also need us to get out in front and figure out how to live a good life in this new dynamic and competitive world so that we can show them how to do the same.”

5. Strive for more than retirement

He calls “retirement” as a goal “the weakest mission possible.”

As he puts it, “The purpose of their work is to not have to work. Your son is watching you work for the sole purpose of not working.”

6. Have fun. Be adventurous

Davis also underscores the importance of play. ”Fun and adventure have a very pragmatic purpose.” Play allows our brains to reset and more, he says.

“…[I]t puts us in a state of creativity that allows us to better formulate the thinking, strategies, and tactics that we need to design and execute to complete our missions,” he says. “Without it, we fail to compete, and if we fail to compete, we lose.

7Wake up early

Former U.S. Navy SEAL Jocko Willink discusses something that is very hard for many people: waking up.

Rather, “What you need to do is, when the alarm goes off, you get up and you go get some,” he tells CNBC Make It.“That’s what you do. Impose discipline on your life. That’s the way it works.”

Willink’s alarm goes off at 4:30am. Anyone can be a morning person, he said. Other SEALs believe that visualizing your wake up and enjoying a quiet morning can improve your chances of ditching the snooze alarm.

“You just decide that’s what you’re going to do. … You choose to live your life that way,” he says. “you can decide that you’re not going to be that way. You can decide that you’re going to stay in bed. You can decide that you’re not going to attack the day when the day is attacking you. You can make those decisions, but I’ll tell you, it is much, much better to go through life attacking days than it is to go through life getting attacked by days. Don’t let that happen. Go on the offense.”

The next time you find yourself tempted to hit snooze, take a note from Willink. “If I’m laying in bed and the day has got me all intimidated and it’s got me scared and it’s got me wanting to pull my covers up around my neck and stay warm, that offends me and I’m not going to accept it.

“What I’m going to do is I’m going to rip those covers off, I’m going to get out of bed and I’m going to go handle what I’m supposed to handle. I’m gonna get it done. Don’t let those days beat you. Beat those days.

As David Goggins, the only member of the U.S. armed forces to complete Seal training, U.S. Army Ranger school, and the Air Force tactical training, puts it: “When you’re driven, whatever is in front of you will get destroyed.”

Maybe even your alarm clock.

8. Conquer Fear

But, then again, what if waking up early is your biggest fear? Willink has advice for that, too.

The 20 year SEAL told CNBC how we can all deal with fear. “The first thing you’ve got to realize is that most of the fear that you have isn’t reality,” says the former SEAL, who is now an author and leadership coach. “It’s just built up in your head.” Instead, be confident.

“Go and look at it. Go on the attack. Move towards it.”

Don’t hide. “The more you hide from it, the bigger it gets. The scarier it gets. Don’t allow that to happen — instead, confront it, face it and get after it.”

For instance, he speaks of jumping out of an airplane for the first time in seal training. “The first time you ever jump out of an airplane, it’s a very unnatural thing to do, and if you have any sense of self-preservation, you’re going to look at the open door of a moving aircraft that’s at 1,200 feet above the ground and you’re going to think to yourself, ‘This doesn’t seem like a good idea.’”

if you sit there and think about all the things that could go wrong, that fear is going to grow and grow and grow, he said. “When you start to feel yourself lock up, recognize that you’re being paralyzed, and take that first step forward, That first step is the hardest part. Once you take that step towards what you’re afraid of, you’re going to move forward and things are going to be OK.”

As Willink advises: “Don’t hesitate. Go.”

9. Visualize Success

Navy Seal Eric Greitens – a veteran of the Iraq War, Purple Heart recipient – and founder of the charity The Mission Continues, which helps veterans find meaning and thrive in their post-service, shared advice with Men’s Journal.

He suggests putting your goals to paper, and even creating a movie poster of your life.
“Visualize the moment of achievement,” he says. “Show me what the movie poster looks like.”

Greitens unveils how this once helped a veteran struggling to transition to the civilian world by having him create a mental snapshot.

“He said, ‘I’ve just walked across the stage, I’ve just gotten my degree, I turn and see my family smiling at me, and I’ve got a job lined up,’” he says.

That picture in your head ensures “you’re not just ‘working towards these goals,” according to Greitens. “The picture gives you something to actually ‘live toward.’”

As Greitens made clear, Draeger says visualizing success is paramount. As the folks at Examined Existence wrote:

“Navy psychologists discovered that those who did well and passed the exercise the first time used mental imagery to prepare them for the exercise. They imagine themselves going through the various corrective actions and they imagine doing it while being attacked. … [O]nce the exercise (and the attack) happens, the mind is ready and the [SEAL] is in full control of their physical and mental faculties.”

10. Prepare for failure

In order to persevere during SEAL training, Greitens borrowed methods from the Greek Stoics. The Stoics mentally rehearsed how they would respond in the event something went wrong, naming the practice “Premeditation of Evils.”

During training, aspiring SEALs must plunge into water, do a front flip underwater, then swim the length of the pool and back without emerging for air. Greitens practiced for the moment when he runs out of breath and can’t see the finish line.

“If the first time you do it is during the test, you’re going to bolt for the surface,” he said. “If you’ve thought about it over and over again, when that moment comes, you’ll know how to react.”

11. Serve a purpose

Among Greitens hardest moments at SEAL training was during breaks that lasted a few hours. He couldn’t fall asleep. “I started to feel all this self-pity and fear. That was my hardest moment,” he says. But he snapped out of it.

“I said to myself, ‘It’s not about me. This test is about my ability to be of service to the people who are asleep in this tent right now,’” he explained. “The more I thought about myself, the weaker I got. The more I recognized that I was serving a purpose larger than myself, the stronger I got.”

Repeat back the action items and goal

Greitens also discusses a SEAL practice called “commander intent” that might be useful in our professional lives. When a superior gives a lower-ranking officer a command, the latter repeats it.

“You told me to do X because we want to achieve A, B, and C,” Greitens says. “Not just what he’s asked you to do, but his larger goals, for the week, the month, the year. What are the larger goals the company is pursuing?”

12. Be clear

Having trouble understanding what your boss wants of you? Greitens advises you to make that clear. Tell your boss, “I really want to make sure I’m doing this job in a way that’s going to exceed your expectations,” Greitens says. “I’d be grateful if you’d help me understand this in a way that I can achieve excellence.”

13. Focus on one thing at a time

Lars Draeger, in his book Navy Seal Training Guide: Mental Toughness, outlines four pillars to being mentally tough: goal-setting, mental visualization, positive self-talk, and arousal control. Let’s take a deeper dive and see how other SEALs are applying these lessons.

Draeger says SEALs focus on one thing at a time. They are clear on the overall objective, and even break it up into smaller pieces, sometimes all the way down to minute-by-minute pieces.

14. Be positive

Positive self-talk is important to SEALs. Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) school, a basic parachutist course and then the 26-week SEAL Qualification Training program.

As Examined Existence wrote:

“Those who graduate from BUDS block all negative self-talk … and … constantly motivate themselves to keep going. … They remind themselves that should be able to pass no problem because they are more physically fit than their predecessors. They remind themselves to go on and not quit, no matter what.“

15. Control your arousal

When it comes to controlling your arousal, this advice in a way is similar to focusing on the exact task at hand. As Examined Existence writes:

“When our bodies feel overwhelmed or in danger, [we] release … cortisol and endorphins. These chemicals … cause our palms to sweat, our minds to race, our hearts to pound, and our bodily functions to malfunction. This is the body’s natural response to stress, developed over millions of years of human evolution. But SEALs learn to control this natural response to arousal so that they are poised even under the most stressful of circumstances.”

16. Be aware

Something SEALs think most the rest of us lack is awareness. “Get your head out of your phone. … Just look up,” former Navy SEAL Dom Raso told TheBlaze . “It’s just a very, very simple thing to do and no one does it anymore, and it’s really scary.”

Alongside being aware, avoiding bad stuff is extremely important.

Avoid trouble

“Avoid, avoid, avoid,” said Raso. “I want to avoid any [bad] situation before it happens.”

17. Be humble

Humility is another key for SEALs. “What it has to do with is the fact that the person is not humble enough to accept responsibility when things go wrong, accept that there might be better ways to do things, and they just have a closed mind,” says Jocko Willink, coauthor of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. “They can’t change, and that’s what makes a person fail as a leader.”

His coauthor Leif Babin added: “No leader has it all figured out. You can’t rely on yourself. You’ve got to rely on other people, so you’ve got to ask for help, you’ve got to empower the team, and you’ve got to accept constructive criticism.”

18. Find and learn from your mentors

Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, interviewed former Navy SEAL officer Chris Fussell, who said that you should pay attention to three people in your organization who could function as mentors: A senior individual you’d like to emulate; A peer who you think is better at your job than you; and a subordinate who is doing your previous job better than you did.

“If you just have those three individuals that you’re constantly measuring yourself off of and who you’re constantly learning from, you’re gonna be exponentially better than you are,” Fussell said.

19. Make your bed

Admiral William McRaven, Navy SEAL commander was in charge of the raid that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden. His first advice is simple. He recommends making your bed.

If you do, “it will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that [the] little things in life matter.”

20. Don’t judge

McRaven talked about SEAL training and some small classmates, no taller than five-feet-five. “The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim,” he said. “But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the Nation and the world, always had the last laugh– swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us. SEAL training was a great equalizer.”

21. Live with being uncomfortable

McRaven discussed the “sugar cookie” exercise in SEAL training.

“The student had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand,” said McRaven. “You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day–cold, wet and sandy.”

The lesson is that being uncomfortable doesn’t need to be discouraging – suck it up.

Eric Davis also believes men are not supposed to live in such comfort. “We’re built to accomplish big missions, go on quests, maintain the hunt, and be in a constant state of challenge,” he said. “Challenge is both the purpose and source of life. Without it, we rot. Living means going after something that brings us out of our comfort zone.”

Similarly, David Goggins offers similar advice: Be uncomfortable every day of your life.

22. Be confident

Speaking of sugar. Goggins had some more sweet advice: “When life’s tough, I pull a memory out of my cookie jar to remind myself how badass I am.”

23. Punch the sharks

McRaven also talks about taking on sharks. SEALs must swim off the waters of San Clemente, California. They’re warned about the sharks. “But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position–stand your ground,” he says. “Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you–then summons up all your strength and punch him in the snout and he will turn and swim away.”

OK, so don’t apply that last part to business.

24. Persevere

SEALs persevere. During training, one can easily give up by ringing a bell in the middle of the compound. “All you have to do to quit–is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock,” says McRaven. “Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT–and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.”

Most ring the bell. The others become Navy Seals.

“If you want to change the world,” McRaven says, “don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

25. Value Truth

Goggins: “Go towards the truth.”