How to Get the Mental Strength of a Navy SEAL
Navy seals have to pass an intensive and grueling training regime in order to qualify, but no amount of physical strength will see you through without the necessary mental fortitude. So what can we learn from those that make it and how can we use what we learn to better ourselves? Read on to find out.
What is Involved in Navy Seal Training?
It takes over a year on average to get through the compulsory training, assuming you can last that long. Let’s break it down to give you a better idea of what is involved:
Preparatory School – 8 weeks
Before you can even attempt to become a SEAL, you would need to undergo 8 weeks of physical screening to assess and increase your ability to begin the official training. What is expected in this preparation? Well examples include:
- Running 1.5 miles in under 9 minutes, 4 miles in 31 minutes
- Swimming 1,000 metres with fins in 20 minutes
- Performing 80 press-ups in 2 minutes
- Performing 80 sit-ups in 2 minutes
Basic Underwater Demolition Training – 24 weeks
Aside from being one of the most masculine-sounding training courses we have heard of, these 24 weeks are designed to test mental and physical stamina, as well as leadership.
After a 3-week orientation, the training is broken down into phases of 7 weeks that focus on:
- Physical Conditioning
- Combat diving
- Land warfare
The physical training builds up in difficulty and the fourth week is notoriously referred to as “Hell Week”. When you consider what’s involved, the name sounds pretty justified:
- Over 5 days of continuous training
- Maximum sleep of 4 hours over the whole week
- More than 20 hours of physical training every day
- Running in excess of 200 miles
You may want to put this into perspective the next time you talk yourself out of visiting the gym due to fatigue or laziness.
Clearly an impressive amount of physical conditioning is needed to make it through training designed to push your body to its limits, but we re-iterate that the mental fortitude is equally as crucial (more on this later).
Parachute Jump School – 3 weeks
Can you really call yourself a man until you have learnt in 3 weeks to jump from at least 9,500 feet wearing combat gear? Not to worry, this part of the course enables you to check that off the bucket list.
SEAL Qualification training – 26 weeks
During this period the course moves on to more advanced tactical and strategic training. Skills are honed in:
- Unarmed combat
- Close quarter combat
- Advanced weapons training
- Cold weather training (involving a quick trip to Alaska)
- Medical skills
- SERE training (survival, evasion, resistance, escape)
And there you have it; once you have breezed through this year you will be granted one of the classifications of a Navy SEAL. Do you feel mentally prepared for something like this? I would take a leisurely gap year to give it a go, but unfortunately I’m not a US citizen or in the navy so I’m going to have to rule it out for now.
What Does It Take to Pass the SEAL Training?
Well if you consider that the estimated attrition rate for the enlisted SEAL qualification is 73-75%, you can appreciate even more just how difficult an accomplishment this is.
If the physical requirements don’t catch you out, the mental or medical will still be there to test your full capacity.
In his New York Times bestselling memoir ‘The Red Circle: My Life in the Navy SEAL Sniper Corps and How I Trained America’s Deadliest Marksmen’, Brandon Webb wrote that you don’t actually need to be a “super athlete” to make it through SEAL training. Webb claimed that “What SEAL training really tests is your mental mettle. It is designed to push you mentally to the brink, over and over again”.
So this is the ultimate test. You either come out hard enough to face any odds without fear, or you break. With this in mind, let’s look at techniques you can use to build your mental strength like a Navy SEAL.
How to Build Mental Toughness Like a Navy SEAL
Before we dive in, we should clarify that this post isn’t specifically aimed at people aspiring to become Navy SEALS or gain other forms elite, military-related qualifications. The goal is to learn from the techniques that Navy SEAL’s use as they are an amazing benchmark for mental capacity and strength as a whole.
Mental toughness is a great skill to have for all situations in life. Nobody makes it through life unaffected by challenges that push you to the edge. Whether they are personal, work-related, physical or caused by tragedy, we will all be tested regularly and need to be prepared to persevere as best we can.
We have taken the time to do thorough research; looking at an abundance of relevant information, resources and memoirs to be able to make recommendations for how to boost your mental strength. For reference, our research includes:
- Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine
- Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willnick and Leif Babin
- Navy Seal Mental Toughness by Chris Lambersten
- Endure by Alex Hutchinson
- Breaking BUD/S by D.H. Xavier
- Grit by Angela Duckworth
With our research gathered and analyzed, here is a condensed list of techniques to help you grow your mental toughness, inspired by the Navy SEAL’s.
1. Visualize Success
Visualization techniques have gained popularity in modern times. One of the most prominent references to this type of technique was published in The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. The Secret in this context is essentially the ‘law of attraction’. In other words, whatever it is that consumes your thoughts is where you will eventually end up.
The concept of visualization is simple; imagine that your goals and ambitions are already completed, and in turn you can accelerate your path there. It is important to understand that this is a technique to help increase your probability and speed of success, it will not lead to results without action or if you get complacent.
By visualizing where you want to get to on a repetitive basis, you can program your mind to start preparing and generating ideas to help get you there. If you believe in the law of attraction then you might be conscious of when the people, resources and the luck that you need start finding their way to you.
Another useful method within visualization is that of mental rehearsal. Popular among athletes and actors, this involves taking your brain vividly through the steps that you are going to need take, in preparation for actually taking them when it matters most. You can imagine how this would be useful to a Navy SEAL. For them, the stakes are be about as high as they get in a real combat situation.
When you are visualizing it is important to paint a picture in your mind of the outcome you want. Focus on it obsessively. As this article demonstrates, pictures are remembered more effectively by the brain. Create these visual representations for all of your individual goals on a daily basis. Repetition is important. Repetition is important (see what I did there)?
You can take things a step further with affirmations. These are short, positive sentences you say to yourself to help change your behaviors and habits to match your required objectives. Affirmations can motivate you, fill you with optimism and positivity. Don’t underestimate their effectiveness – try committing to some affirmations for a reasonable amount of time (at least 30 days) and with an open mind.
2. Simulate Your Success
This moves beyond visualization into and into action. Here you will start to practice doing what you need to master, but with the dedication and concentration as if it’s the real thing.
For a Navy SEAL this may involve simulated combat training, allowing them to engage in situations they may face for real in the future. Whilst the simulation won’t risk fatalities, they will be trained to approach it as if it would, otherwise it’s effectiveness would be mitigated.
In situations like this you only get one chance. For the everyday person you may not be risking life or death, but when the relevant circumstances present themselves you may only get one shot at taking advantage of the opportunity at hand.
Imagine an amateur actor getting an audition for a major movie, an Olympian about to run in the 100m finals, or a professional soccer player taking a penalty in a cup final. Whatever the opportunity might look like for you, simulate it relentlessly so you feel more confident and ready to take it on with success when the time comes.
3. Segment Your Challenges into Manageable Goals
The challenges in front of us can be daunting, sometimes to the point that they seem insurmountable. Success doesn’t come easy so you should expect to be put into these situations on a regular basis.
You may not be able to avoid or circumvent some of these challenges, so it’s good practice to learn to tackle them in way that is proven to be beneficial; break them down into smaller, manageable goals.
Climbing a mountain in a day might not be feasible, but you can get there step by step. The key is consistent progress. Smaller goals will reduce the risk of you becoming overwhelmed or freezing up and help give your motivation a welcome boost as you overcome them one by one.
You should also consider your ultimate objective from a long, medium and short-term perspective. It would be prudent to start long-term and then build down to medium and short-term as stepping-stones towards the big picture.
Depending on the circumstances of what you are trying to achieve, you may need to stay flexible and adaptable. Even the perfect plan can run into unforeseen road blocks and you must be able to adapt or risk failure.
4. Learn to Manage Your Emotions
This is easier said than done, particularly in highly stressful situations where your body may be pumping adrenaline or cortisol around your system at a greatly increased rate.
So what can you do to help train yourself to manage your emotions effectively? An interesting place to start is by familiarizing yourself with some of the philosophies of the Stoics. We discuss this in more detail in our post on Authentic vs Toxic Masculinity (see the section on what is Stoicism).
With Marcus Aurelius among the notable followers of this philosophy, the Stoics advocated the ability to see reason and logic before being overwhelmed by your emotions. There are exercises and quotes to help you in the 'Authentic Masculinity' blog post mentioned above.
Another useful approach that is often applied to emotional control, particularly in highly stressful situations, is effective breathing techniques. Before you dismiss this as something reserved for Yogi’s (we love and advocate Yoga by the way), consider that it is practiced by the Navy SEAL's.
Sometimes referred to as ‘4 by 4 for 4’, a Navy SEAL is trained to breathe in for 4 seconds, out for 4 seconds, and repeat for 4 minutes. So if you’re one of those people that think breathing techniques are flaky, take it up with a Navy SEAL.
Our final suggestion for better emotional control is regular meditation, something that we recommend in a number of our posts. The benefits are substantial and include heightened self-awareness, reduced blood pressure, better sleep, reduced stress and anxiety, and of course better emotional control.
For evidence-based examples of how meditation can help, take a look at point 4 in our post on The Best Morning Routine for Success
5. Learn Cognitive Re-framing
This is a technique that teaches you to look differently on a situation by changing its meaning or adapting your view on it. The idea is to reform negative views into more positive ones. Let’s consider some examples in different situations.
Example 1: on a recent night out, you took the phone number of a hot girl and sent her a message the next day suggesting you meet up. It’s been 24 hours and you haven’t heard anything back. Your brain may start thinking she isn’t interested, she regrets giving you her number or another similarly negative thought.
Time to re-frame. Look at the situation again, but now with the perspective that she is just busy, or perhaps she really likes you so she doesn’t want to seem to keen or wants to take time to write a great reply. Negative now turned into a positive.
Example 2: you go for an interview for a job that you are really keen on; it’s more money and more responsibility. Unfortunately, you are unsuccessful – you can imagine some of the thoughts and emotions that might taking over.
Re-frame. What positives can be taken from this situation? More responsibility would have likely meant less time; you have more time available to spend with your family, up-skill yourself or start a side hustle. Perhaps this job wasn’t meant to be, and a better opportunity is around the corner. This is not the end of the world.
Example 3: time to use a Navy SEAL memoir. In his book Breaking BUDS/S, D.H. Xavier shares the following example of how he re-framed a situation where he was being pushed to feel incapable of succeeding:
“My belief could have been that they truly didn’t want me there; the consequence of that belief would have been me quitting. Instead, my belief was that I didn’t care what they said. I believed I was capable of succeeding”
The technique of re-framing is not something that you are likely to master overnight. If you believe in the value of its concept, then you will need some patience and determination to see it through. It takes us 66 days on average to form a new habit so give it time.
Start by attempting to re-frame the next situation where it might be useful. Identify the problem, challenge your negative assumptions and re-frame the circumstances. Believe in your new perspective, back yourself. If you can learn to master this, it’s an amazing addition to your skill set.
6. Understand You Purpose in a Manageable Way
An innate requirement for most human beings is to feel a sense of purpose and belonging. It is important to understand that your life has meaning, even when events in the world make you feel the opposite.
Mark Manson takes an interesting perspective on this on his website. He suggests that “We exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. During that time we do things. Some of these things are important. Some are unimportant.”
Manson goes on to conclude that “So when people say…..what is my life purpose? what they are really asking is: What can I do with my time that is important?”
This approach takes away some of the flakiness out of understanding purpose and gives you a realistic chance of appeasing your need for meaning in a productive way. Let’s consider some question to ask yourself that might help:
- When have you experienced the greatest sense happiness? What were you doing?
- If you only had one year to live, what would you do?
- If you could go back in time 15 years, what advice would you give to the future you?
Having meaning can also be influenced by your connection to others and feeling part of something greater than you. A great resource that takes a modern view on this is the book Tribes by Seth Godin.
In his book Godin suggest that ‘Tribes’ are everywhere and defines them in essence as a group of people connected to each other, a leader and an idea. He then challenges the normal way of thinking “that without authority we can’t lead” and suggests “the secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal” and instead you should “Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.”
Are You Ready to Think Like a Navy SEAL?
As I wrap up this post I hope there are a couple of things you can take away from it that will provide benefit to you on your journey to wherever you have visualized you need to be. If that is the case, then it has done its job.
You don’t need to go through official Navy SEAL training in order to have the mental strength to survive life’s challenges and come out the other side stronger for it. It is something you can learn – the information you need is available. It’s down to you to take action.
As always, feedback on our content is welcomed and encouraged. I visualized this post as being beneficial and will re-frame any negative feedback as opportunities to better my content anyway, so feel free to share your opinions, comments and questions in the comments box below.