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10 Navy SEAL Life Lessons You Can Use Every Day

10 Navy SEAL Life Lessons You Can Use Every Day

In his 2014 commencement speech, former Navy SEAL Admiral William H. McRaven offered 10 lessons to the University of Texas at Austin graduating class. He outlined the lessons of the bed, paddle, heart, cookie, circus, obstacle, shark, dark moment, song, and bell. Each one was a metaphor for an important life area.

The Admiral offered this wisdom to encourage the class of 2014 to change a world of eight billion people — 10 people at a time. He reasoned that after five generations of change, 800 million people’s lives would have been changed by the 8,000 people sitting in that room. However, the video of his speech has already been viewed by over 2.2 million viewers!

But let’s start with one person: you! Use your imagination and look in the mirror. Who do you see? Are you there yet? Is the world defining you or is it the other way around? What is your bed, paddle, heart, cookie, circus, obstacle, shark, dark moment, song, and bell?

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So are you ready to learn these lessons from the Navy SEALs? Here is how we can apply each lesson to our daily lives.

1. The lesson of the bed.

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” Making our bed seems simple, but if we don’t do the simple things right … well … you know how that goes! Bed making is strictly enforced in the military for this reason. After we all get up in the morning, we look at ourselves in the mirror and decide how to “make our lives.” So if we can get the bed part of our day right every morning, maybe we can get our lives right too!

2. The lesson of the group.

“If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.” Are we changing “my” world or “our” world? Humans tend to do stuff together. Getting along with each other takes time and patience and perseverance but in the long run, it’s worth it. So paddle away and ask for some companionship. Get some more Navy SEALs! The more paddles the better!

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3. The lesson of the heart.

“If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.” I have a theory about height and size. Seems like the shorter folks I know tend to put more effort into everything they do. They have a bigger heart inside their smaller body. I never ever want to cross a person who is shorter than I am. And two-year-olds can eat my lunch if I am not careful. Motivation seems to trump intelligence and if we work at strengthening both, we can change the world.

4. The lesson of having a bad day.

“If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.” Some days no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, things will not turn out as planned. Failure will be experienced, and because we are not perfect as human beings, we need to prepare for that situation. The “sugar cookie” exercise in Navy SEAL training is designed to put the trainee into this environment to learn how to push through to the end of the day and survive the ordeal. So when we have a bad day, push through it and look forward to having a better day tomorrow.

5. The lesson of doing the extra work.

“But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.” When you fail a daily physical training event, the Navy SEALs’ “circus” is having to do two hours more of additional calisthenics — designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit. But that extra training actually can help build strength and stamina if you don’t quit. We all live though our own “circuses” in life and they can be exhausting, confusing and sometimes downright depressing. Many times, we can glimpse insight and perspective during those trials, if we are looking for them. When you do the extra work, you become stronger, more experienced, and more confident. Doing the minimum is sometimes not enough, so practice the maximum! Go the extra mile. That pivot to a more committed and prepared approach can sometimes be life changing!

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6. The lesson of overcoming your fear.

“If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.” Twice a week an obstacle course was required for McRaven’s SEAL training. One of the most feared obstacle course challenges was the “slide for life.” It was dangerous and it put the SEALs at risk. In the movie “Dune,” the character Paul says to himself, “Fear is the mind killer.” It’s true, because while it’s good to be wary, if fear paralyzes our intellect and our motivation, then we are truly lost. Sometimes we have to take that chance and “risk” it. But it needs to be with purpose, resolve, and awareness.

7. The lesson of confronting “your daily shark.”

“So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.” Like it or not, we will be living our lives “swimming with the sharks.” McRaven’s lesson #6, above, reminds us that fear can diminish our capacity. But if we prepare for the “shark” encounter, our response may surprise us. Top survivalists know something about the predator’s mindset. Attackers prefer to attack the weak not the strong: “Don’t ever behave like prey and run unless that is your last resort.” Your shark could be a physical attacker, so self-defense classes (personally I prefer Aikido) can give you some confidence so you can avoid being easy prey. But your more common “shark” attack is likely to be verbal. Now here is where you can adequately prepare your response. Lock in on your values and ethics. The “Win-Win” response is a good place to start, particularly if you are in a group setting. Getting ahead at the expense of someone else needs to be examined, so take a stand for yourself and others may follow suit.

8. The lesson of being your best while experiencing your worst.

“If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.” Some of the Navy SEAL training missions require them to perform dangerous underwater operations in complete darkness. All of their training needs to carry them through that moment. No one knows when we will take our last breath. We may not have SEAL training but we do have our values, our spirituality, and our relationships to pull us through these darkest moments. It’s not how you start but how you finish that counts!

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9. The lesson of raising your voice.

“So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.” The ninth week of McRaven’s SEAL training (a.k.a. Hell Week) consisted of six days without sleep, continual physical and mental harassment, and a hellish day at the Mud Flats between San Diego and Tijuana. This was one of the most difficult Navy SEAL exercises of their training. Often, many SEALs quit right here, but some find a way to get through it.

While McRaven’s group were up to their necks in mud, one such SEAL started singing through the ordeal and others joined him in chorus. It was something that gave them hope. It was an affirmation of what can be not what is. So you can use your voice in music (no matter how bad it is) to transform a dark moment into hope so long as you seize it. So shout it now: Carpe diem!

10. The lesson of ringing your bell.

“If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.” Any time a Navy SEAL wants to quit their training and leave, all they have to do is go up to the bell and ring it. The question is, “What is our bell?” Let it be our last breath and let each of us have a life worth living … again!

Featured photo credit: Navy Seals via ts1.mm.bing.net

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Last Updated on February 11, 2020

Why Work Life Balance Doesn’t Exist (And How to Stay Sane)

Why Work Life Balance Doesn’t Exist (And How to Stay Sane)

If you’ve ever felt like work-life balance isn’t really possible, you may be right.

Actually, I think work-life balance doesn’t exist. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a rising star in the corporate world, work is always going to overflow from your 9 to 5 into your personal life. And if you have ambitions of becoming successful in just about any capacity, you’re going to have to make sacrifices.

Which is why, instead of striving for the unrealistic goal of “work-life balance,” I use a combination of rituals, tools, and coping mechanisms that allows me to thrive on a day-to-day basis.

Of course, moments still arise when I may feel overloaded with work and a bit out of balance, but with these daily rituals in place, I am able to feel grounded instead of feeling like I’m losing my mind.

Here are five daily practices I use to stay focused and balanced despite a jam-packed work schedule:

1. Pause (Frequently!) to Remember That You Chose This Path

Regardless of which path you take in life, it’s important to remind yourself that you are the one who chose the path you’re on.

For example, one of the joys of being an entrepreneur is that you experience a significant amount of freedom. Unfortunately, in moments of stress, it’s easy to forget that choice goes both ways: you chose to go your own way, and you chose the obstacles that come with that journey.

Remember: tomorrow, you could choose to leave your job, shut down your company, and go move to a farm in the middle of nowhere. The choice is yours.

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Whenever I catch myself thinking, “Why am I doing this?” I simply remember, “Oh, wait. I chose this.” And if I want to, I can choose another option. But at this moment, I own it because I chose it.

That simple mental shift can help me move from feeling out of control to in control. It’s empowering.

2. Use ‘Rocks’ to Prioritize Your Tasks

Sometimes having a to-do list is more overwhelming than it is helpful.

The daily tasks of anyone in a high-stakes, high-responsibility role are never-ending. Literally. No matter how many items you check off your list, each day adds just as many new ones, and even after a full day it can often feel like you haven’t accomplished anything.

So instead, I use “rocks”—a strategy I learned from performance coach Bill Nelson.

Say you have a glass container and a variety of rocks, divided into groups of large, mid-sized, and small rocks, and then some sand. If you put the small rocks in first, you’re not going to be able to fit everything in your container. But if you put the big rocks in first, then the mid-sized, and, finally, the small, they’ll all fit. And at the end, the sand fills the extra space.

The point of this strategy is to designate a handful of your biggest priorities for the week—let’s say five tasks—as the things you absolutely have to get done that week. Write them down somewhere.

Then, even if you accomplish nothing else but those five things, you’re going to feel better, since you completed the important tasks. You’ve made progress!

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Identifying your “rocks” is a better way of tracking progress and ensuring that you focus on the most critical things. You can create rocks on a weekly or even daily basis.

Some days, when I’m feeling the most frenzied, I say to myself, “You know what? Let’s boil it down. If I accomplish nothing else today and I just do these three things, it will be a good day.”

3. The PEW12 Method

Of all the daily practices I follow, Purge Emotional Writing (PEW12), which I learned from Dr. Habib Sadeghi, is my favorite.[1]

Here’s how it works:

Pick a topic, set a timer for 12 minutes, and just write.

You may be dealing with a specific issue you need to vent about, or you may be free-writing as emotions surface. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing or what your handwriting looks like, because you’re never going to re-read it.

At the end, burn the pages.

As the paper burns, you will feel all of those emotions you’ve just poured out either being reduced or dissipating completely. Both the writing process—which is literally unloading all of your unnecessary stuff—and the burning of the pages feel incredibly cathartic.

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And you can do PEW12 as frequently or infrequently as you feel you need it—once, twice, or multiple times a day.  

The reason I find this exercise so helpful is because, sometimes, I get in my head about a difficult issue or troubling interaction with someone, even when I know there is nothing to be done about it.

But as soon as I do my PEW12, I feel a sense of relief. I have more clarity. And I stop circling and circling the issue in my head. It makes things feel resolved. Just try it.

4. Set Sacred Time (Like a 20-Minute Walk or Evening Bath)

Outside of work, you have to try to protect some time for restoration and quiet. I call this sacred time.

For example, every single night I take a bath. This is a chance to literally wash off the day and any of the energy from the people, interactions, or experiences that I don’t want to take to bed with me.

I actually remodeled a bathroom in my house solely for this purpose. The bath ritual—which includes Himalayan bath salts, essential oils, and a five-minute meditation—is the ultimate “me time” and allows me to go to bed feeling peaceful and relaxed.

And while sacred time to end the day is crucial, I like to start the day with these types of practices, too.

In the mornings, I take my dog Bernard for a walk—and I use those 20 minutes to set my intention for the day. I don’t take my phone with me. I don’t think about the endless to-do list. I just enjoy listening to the birds and breathing in the sunshine, while Bernard stops to say hi to the neighbors and their dogs.

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These might seem like ordinary daily activities, but it’s the commitment to doing them day after day that makes all the difference.

5. Forgive Yourself When You Fail to Use the Tools

Sometimes our intention to follow “daily” practices falls flat. When this happens to me, I try not to beat myself up about it. After all, these things are tools to make me feel good. If they just become another chore, what is the point?

At the end of the day, my daily practices don’t belong in my jar of rocks or on my to-do list or in my daily planner. They are there to serve me.

If, for some reason, life happens and I can’t do my practices, I won’t feel as good. It’s possible I won’t sleep as well that night, or I’ll feel a little guilty that I didn’t walk Bernard.

But that’s okay. It’s also a good practice to acknowledge my limits and let go of the need to do everything all the time.

The Bottom Line

For most people, accepting that work-life balance simply isn’t possible is the first step to feeling more grounded and in control of your life.

Don’t waste your energy trying to achieve something that doesn’t exist. Instead, focus on how you’re feeling when things are out of balance and find a way to address those feelings.

You’ll have a toolkit for feeling better when life feels crazy, and, on the off chance things feel calm and happy, your rituals will make you feel absolutely amazing!

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Featured photo credit: Dries De Schepper via unsplash.com

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