What enables a person to swim seven miles in frigid, white-capped ocean waters at the start of a mission?
To carry a 250lb man up three flights of stairs while taking enemy fire, or exhaust six sleepless days and nights running around with a fractured right leg? What allows a person to bust through a door knowing full well there is someone with an assault rifle on the other side trying to harm him?
How is it possible to endure continuous physical abuse and confinement in a three-by-three-foot concrete box without food for more than a week and finish with a smile?
Or not only survive exhausting days and nights of sub-zero temperatures during a blinding blizzard, but thrive, coming out harder and stronger? What makes one voluntarily return time and time again to a war zone?
Essentially, what makes a Navy SEAL?
I have been asked numerous times what part of SEAL training is physical and what part is mental, and my answer is always the same. It’s 100% physical and 100% mental.
Those of us who have served in the teams are hesitant to list our trials. I cite the above examples to validate that what I have to offer comes from very real and current experiences.
It comes from someone who has been there, done that, and truly survived. Only 1 out of 1,000 who want to become a SEAL get the shot to attend BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training), and of those less than 20 percent will make it to graduation. The guys who thought it would be cool to be a SEAL because they saw them in the movies or wanted to use it to pick up chicks last about two days.
The ones that make it endure the toughest military training in the world and possess these common traits: persistence, dedication, and tenacity. Quite simply, these people are hard.
But, it’s much more than that. The real successes and achievements attributed to SEALs are because of how we’ve trained and conditioned our bodies and minds. It’s the ability to see the real world and react to any situation without hesitation, and make split second decisions that could have big ramifications.
As a Navy SEAL, achieving and maintaining maximum physical fitness is a basic job requirement. I’ve consumed the better part of my life working hard to stay at peak physical levels for mission success. Though I will also confess that SEAL team is perhaps a young man’s game.
In the last year and a half, I’ve endured 3 major surgeries: left knee replacement, and surgeries on both shoulders. So keeping up with my physical training has been more than a challenge.
Many indulge in lifestyles without discipline, preferring the path of least resistance. The overall attitude of the population is geared toward seeking self-centered comfort and convenience.
Obesity is at an all-time high, and the influx of trivial distractions that surround us, from social media and video games to our infatuation with trash TV, seem to have made us weaker as a nation, and incidentally unprepared.
No matter your age or the physical condition you might be in right now, this is the time to begin a new regimen and develop a mindset that will turn you into a survivor. Someone who can live with confidence and freedom in this changing world. So, if you’re looking for a place to start let’s start with your physical fitness.
Here are two phrases SEALs often use that pretty much sum us up:
“The only easy day – is yesterday.” (Because yesterday is over.)
And: “It’s hard to stay hard – dying is easy.”
This will take some effort, but everything worthwhile does. Staying alive, and not dying, I’ll assume, is a goal we all share!
Expand Your Comfort Zone You know your current comfort zone. Your daily routine, the things that make you feel secure, content, or in control. However, most of our daily comfort zone rituals will leave us unprepared to deal with even the smallest discomfort, and certainly render us incapable of meeting an emergency or life-threatening challenge.
Challenge your limits and daily routines. To grow stronger, mentally and physically, you need to push the boundaries of your comfort zone at least once a day. There are so many ways to do this without attempting all at once to become an ultra-marathon runner. Although this is a certainly a great goal. Keep track, make a list, and mark off all the things you do each day to challenge yourself. Ultimately, by expanding your comfort zone you will increase both your physical and mental toughness, the keys to survival. Start by doing simple things such as using the stairs instead of the elevator to take you up only a few floors. Climb at a reasonable pace and know that when you reach the top, you have just expanded your comfort zone.
When in your car, don’t fight to get the space closest to the store, but purposefully look for one that will make you walk. If you already exercise or jog, for example, increase your distance or speed. Run that extra mile, or run it a minute faster. Do that one additional push-up. Every additional one takes you closer to a new, wider comfort zone! When in the shower, after scrubbing down with the warm water you usually prefer, finish the last thirty seconds with a blast of cold water. By pushing your physical limits, you are also forcing your brain to expand its own comfort boundaries. Over time, you’re becoming physically and mentally tougher.
Daily Comfort Zone Checklist – all answers need to be yes.
- Did I challenge myself today?
- Did I do something positive that my mind didn’t want to do?
- Did I do something positive that my body didn’t want to do?
- Can I do more?
Everyone’s comfort zone is different, even if, for some of us it means starting with drinking one less beer, or forgoing dessert. Yet, all of these little daily victories will bring us confidence later, especially when our life depends on it. It’s so much easier to do nothing, and it seems natural not to bother.
But I tell you: these first exercises are essential in changing your mindset, and, eventually, can be the very things that will separate the survivors from the victims. Here is a visualization I use: I like to imagine that pushing my comfort zone daily is similar to rolling a boulder up a hill. If I let it, the rock will always want to tumble back down and I’ll have to start from the bottom again.
Expanding your comfort zone on a daily basis will actually be easier and more effective in getting that boulder closer to the summit—and to our success or ultimate survival.
Although only a few complete BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL), the grueling seven-month training to become a SEAL, I was determined not to quit. I convinced myself there was no backup plan. I would graduate or die trying, even if it took me nine months longer than usual to get through it, since I had broken my leg three times and suffered a fractured skull.
I experienced the entire six days of ‘Hell Week’ running on a partially fractured right leg. To say my comfort zone was pushed with every step I took is an understatement. I did finally graduate as a Lieutenant, and everything I learned and endured during training has served me well and kept me alive.
Physical Toughness I‘m telling you to get in shape, but here’s a different motivation that might make you finally do it. Ask yourself, “Is my body at a state of readiness that will get me through whatever might come my way?” Don’t like to exercise?
You tell yourself there’s no time, or some other excuse, and ultimately never begin. But imagine a time may come when those who you love depend on you. How would you feel if you were unable to drag your child, sister, or father from a burning building because you were out of shape? Imagine that you were unable to outrun a mugger because you were too winded?
Achieve a better state of physical fitness. No matter what level of physical condition you are in now, it can be improved. Start slowly and follow your doctor’s advice, but do it. Improve your physical endurance and it will provide you the confidence that you can and will survive anything, under any circumstance. Expand your physical comfort zone and you will become physically tough.
When I was training to go to BUD/S I put a pull-up bar in my bedroom door. Every time I entered or exited the bedroom – 10 pull-ups. Every time I went into the bathroom – 25 push-ups. Simple, a little sadistic, and very effective.
Physical Toughness Test – Go through this checklist. All answers need to be yes.
- Did I physically challenge my body today?
- Did I elevate my heart rate and breathing today?
- Did I exercise longer or faster today than yesterday?
- Will I exercise longer or faster tomorrow than I did today?
The average person will never need to run with 100 lbs. of equipment through the desert for several days. Or jump out of a plane only to have to swim three miles in the freezing ocean before making it to the designated target.
Then again, maybe you will. The sailors of the ill-fated USS Indianapolis never thought they would have to tread shark-infested waters for several days. Nor did the Uruguayan rugby team that survived a plane crash ever imagine that they would have to make a 100-mile trek over snow-covered mountains to get out alive.
In both cases, these brave people were able to survive not only because of their incredible mental toughness, or mindset, but also because they possessed the physical ability do so.
Be a survivor, not a statistic,
Former Navy SEAL / 4Patriots Contributor