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If You Want to Change the World, This is How You Do It

If You Want to Change the World, This is How You Do It

If I told you making your bed every morning was a good way to change the world, would you believe me?

Early summer always seems to produce an influx of inspirational content on the Internet. There are commencement speeches being given at universities all over the world, and the Internet always seems to find the best ones. This one in particular has garnered a lot of attention and for good reason:

Here are the 10 lessons McRaven learned from basic seal training that will help anyone who wants to change the world.

1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

Every morning the seals are required to make their bed to perfection. Why is this important? ”

“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and encourage you to do another task, and another, and another.

Though it’s a seemingly small task, it has big implications.

“If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right.”

Plus, if your day sucks, you still come home to a made bed.

2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

In basic seal training, students are broken down into boat crews of seven people. Every day they gather on the beach and are instructed to paddle through the surf zone and then several miles down the coast. Each paddle must be synchronized and exert equal effort or the boat will turn and be thrown back by the eight to ten foot waves of the surf. If you try to make it through life on your own, you’ll never make it. Be grateful for those who help and help others in turn.

3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not by the size of their flippers.

The best boat crew in McRaven’s class wasn’t the one with the biggest, tallest men. It was a group of diverse men who were no taller tan 5′ 5′. The crew was nicknamed the “Munchkin Crew”. The other students would often make fun of the “teeny tiny” flippers they would put on. However, they always out-paddled, out-ran and out-swam the other boat crews.

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“Nothing matters but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education, not your social status.”

4. If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

Uniform inspection happened often in seal training. Students would put excessive effort into starching their hat, pressing their uniform and shining their belt. However, no matter how much effort they put in, the instructors would find something wrong. If you failed inspection, you had to run fully clothed and submerge yourself in the surf zone. Then you had to run onto the beach and roll around in the sand until you were completely covered. The result was appropriately deemed a “sugar cookie”. You had to stay in that uniform the rest of the day. Many of the students couldn’t accept the fact that no matter how hard they tried, they would fail. They didn’t understand the purpose of the drill.

“You were never going to succeed; you were never going to have a perfect uniform – the instructors weren’t going to allow it. Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or preform, you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.”

5. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

There are certain time requirements students are expected to reach in their daily training. If you fail to reach a time requirement, you are invited to “the circus”. The circus was two extra hours of calisthenics designed to break you down and force you to quit. It meant you would be more tired and have less energy the next day to meet the time requirements – meaning another invite to the circus. However, over time, those students who were in the circus got stronger and stronger. The pain built inner strength and physical resiliency.

“Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.”

6. If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacles head first.

Twice a week trainees are required to run the obstacle course. The most challenging of the 25 obstacles was the “slide for life”. It was a 30 foot tower at one end and a 10 foot tower at the other. in between was a 200 foot rope. You had to climb the 30 foot tower, grab the rope, swing underneath and pull yourself hand over hand to the other end. The record for the course had stood for years and seemed unbeatable. One day a determined student decided to go down the slide for life head first. Instead of swinging underneath, he bravely mounted the top. It was a risky move. Failure could mean a fall to the ground below and injury. He didn’t let that possibility stop him from trying. Instead of several minutes, it only took half that time. He broke the course record that day.

7. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

One of the required swims the seals had to do was a night swim off the coast of San Clemente. The waters there are filled with all kinds of sharks. Though the students were told no student had been eaten by a shark – that they knew of – they were also taught that if a shark began to circle, to stand their ground. They were not to swim away. If the shark did swim toward them, they had to summon all their strength and punch the shark in the snout, and it would swim away.

8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moments.

Underwater attacks on enemy ships is practiced often in training. You are dropped outside an enemy harbor and required to swim over two miles, under water, using no more than a depth gauge and a compass. During the approaching swim, there is some visibility from light that shines through the water. However, as you approach the ship, all light becomes blocked by it. To be successful, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel. At that point, it becomes so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face and the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening.

“Under the keel, at that darkest moment of the mission, is a time when you need to be calm. When you must be calm. When you must be composed. When all your tactical skills, your physical power, and your inner strength must be brought to bear.”

9. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

Hell week is 6 days of no sleep. You are under constant physical and mental harassment. On Wednesday of hell week, they went to the mud flats, an area between San Diego and Tijuana. The mud flats was a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf your whole body. You have to paddle down and spend 15 hours surviving the freezing cold, howling wind and incessant pressure from instructors to quit.

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On this day, as the sun was setting, McRaven’s training class had committed some infraction of the rules and was ordered into the freezing mud up to their necks. They still had eight hours of until the sun came up. Instructors told them if only five men quit – just five – they could get out. It was obvious some students were about to quit. At that time, one of the students started singing with great enthusiasm. One voice turned to two and two into three until everyone was singing. That one voice of song brought hope to the group and a renewed strength to endure.

“If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person. A Washington, a Lincoln, King, Mandela, and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala. One person can change the world by giving people hope.”

10. If you want to change the world, don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

There is a brass bell hanging in the middle of the training compound for everyone to see. If you didn’t want to wake up at five every day, swim in the freezing cold, run for miles, complete the obstacle course or endure any of the hardships of training, all you had to do to quit was ring the bell. It was that easy.

Featured photo credit: Texas Exes YouTube via youtu.be

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Braden Thompson

Braden is an advocate for better living who finds fulfillment in helping others become better.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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