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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 March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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