Better, Faster, Stronger: 5 Ways To Use Navy SEAL Training In Your Life

by Nicole Crowley

Seth Godin famously said, “Very good is bad.”

Very good is totally fine, and it’s a safe haven in which to operate.

You’ll please the masses and cruise the comfort zone with your feathers intact. No one bothers the very good worker.

But, the "very good zone" is not the birthplace of creativity and change; it’s not home to the remarkable and it’s certainly not the breeding ground for disruptive innovation.

And, with the influx of non-traditional startups, advances in digital landscapes and the aggressive ambition of your Gen-Y BFFs, you almost need a fetish to become twice as good, or to be great.

So, what does it take? Why is it that women hold less than 15 percent of the top C-level roles?

Success is not arbitrary, and there’s a reason why some people pull through and others don't: It's called grit and resilience.

No one knows grit more than a Navy SEAL.

The Navy's best guys tackle the SEALs’ six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, which has an attrition rate of 75 to 80 percent, meaning only two to three of every 10 have the resilience and grit to see it through.

And, let’s be clear: These guys are not your average athletes.

These guys are already the Navy’s best swimmers; the guys with superior eyesight and unwavering physical strength.

These guys can already run 1.5 miles in 11 minutes and nail 42 push ups in two minutes, yet up to 94 percent “ring the bell” to call it quits.

In a generation drenched in go-getters and endless connectivity, the luxury to slow down and refocus scattered attention has never been more powerful.

So, in lieu of Naval prep school, let’s channel our inner SEAL and trade swimsuits for pinstriped suits, life boards for keyboards and launch five days of SEAL training for a kickass workweek:

Day 1: Identify your purpose.

Purpose is almost as buzzed-up as passion. We’re told it’s why we shaft the covers in the morning and lack the motivation to pull through the unpaid overtime. Without purpose, indifference breeds.

So, how do you find that beacon of meaning that prevents you from ringing the quit bell?

Ask yourself what's holding you back from quitting. If you were guaranteed a paycheck while cozied up in bed, what would get you out? If you could define “success” in your own terms, how could you be more fulfilled?

Purpose is the governing mother to your goals. Your daily work doesn't necessarily define it; rather, it is the collective picture your daily jigsaw pieces support.

As Arianna Huffington laments in her book, "Thrive":

"Why do we spend so much of our limited time on this earth focusing on all the things our eulogy will never cover?” Eulogies are not dripping with admiration of work trophies; no one celebrates, 'She ate lunch at her desk everyday and left no email unreturned.'"

Make sure your purpose plays to the bigger picture and is fuelled by the things important to you.

Just as BUD/S is designed to shave off those who are not serious, weed out the tasks that distract you from your greater mission.

Day 2: Join the team

Whether you manage a team or coordinate a team, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and dive in.

When SEALs wind down their training days, the clean-up progresses from team gear, to your gear and then to yourself, in that order.

Team players also know their productivity is raised, commitment is increased and loyalty is binding. SEAL platoons are structured into eight-man squads or four-man fire teams, and are never solo.

Why? The mentality of a team is tightly linked to loyalty. As one Navy SEAL veteran explained, “Guys who ultimately make it would never even think about doing that (ringing the bell) because, even if they were in such dire pain, they just would never do that to their teammate.”

On day two, pause and challenge yourself to define how you’ll add value to your team.

It could be as practical as asking your team if they need anything before you leave, or as simple as sharing a relevant article.

Equally important is deciding how you’ll manage the stress of conflicts in your team. Former Navy SEAL and Oxford scholar, Eric Greitens, says it’s a matter of clarifying priorities:

"The extent to which personal differences disrupt a team is inversely proportional to the importance people place on the mission… the more vital people consider a mission, the more they will learn to deal with people who rub them the wrong way. "The less the mission matters, the more people care about being around those they like."

Day 3: Get obsessively prepared

Ever hear of a SEAL who thought the mark was three nautical miles right of where he expected? Or a SEAL who left his radio in the dunes? Never.

Yet, the business world is prone to the concept of “winging it,” where we’re praised for presenting off-the-cuff and expect a Navy Trident for four hours of sleep.

SEALs labor over meticulous planning. Before the deployment of any mission, extensive training in high-stake, real-time situations is undertaken to prepare for a myriad of scenarios that may never happen. And that’s the crux of it: The antidote for chaos is preparation.

Day three is about obsessing over the details. Preparation is very different from planning and needs to account for the expected strain on resources and your team’s time.

Do you have a strategy in place for the top three worst-case scenarios? Could you implement a hindsight contingency plan to ensure all mistakes from the past are recorded, allowing you more room to learn from foresight? As General Patton said, "A good plan executed violently today is far better than a great plan tomorrow."

Day 4: Communicate like the elite

With so much as the wink of an eye or tip of the gun, a clear message is sent. There is no ambiguity or creative license when it comes to interpretation with SEALs; when a message is sent, a message is received.

Although this level of communication is forged through extensive tactical communications training, this doesn’t mean it’s on exclusive loan to the Navy.

On Thursday, take time out to observe how your team communicates. Brad is receptive to email instruction and Claire may be a kinesthetic learner.

Although your manager is seemingly able to make snap decisions based on limited information, other team members will need more guidance to develop that golden gut.

Operating at an elite level also means the ability to communicate feedback.

SEALs have a strong culture of self-improvement and can spend 90 percent of debrief time focusing on what could have been done better.

Knowing how to effectively start the tough conversations and analyze the past for effectiveness over criticism will see a team steered toward constant improvement.

Day 5: Move through it

Day five is about the final shift in attitude. There’s a famous SEAL saying: “The only easy day was yesterday,” and it’s a testament to the beauty of restoration and forward thinking.

Remember stress is relative. After 24 weeks of BUD/S training and the excruciatingly infamous “Hell Week” (five and a half days of 20 hour training sessions, 200 mile runs and sleep deprivation), a few lazy emails or stolen credit will seem like minor leagues.

While it’s essential to triage the daily tasks that add value to your work, moving through the office politics and navigating trivial battles will serve you well.

In a recent Time article, SEAL Platoon Commander James Waters summed up the importance of moving forward. He said:

"People don’t recognize that what they’re doing at BUD/S is assessing your ability to handle a difficult circumstance and keep going. It’s a game. "If you want to be a Navy SEAL, you’ve got to play that game. You’ve got to have fun with it and you’ve got to keep your eye on the bigger picture."

Or, as Captain America said, “You get killed? Walk it off.”

Of course, paramount to life in the elite lane is your physical wellbeing. Do you manage your energy and absorb stress healthily? Is the state of your diet and exercise regime offering you optimum energy? Do you get enough sleep?

Like the sand on your towel that you shake up, these things should spread and scatter evenly throughout your week with critical importance.

So while there’s a special place in heaven reserved for Navy SEALs, there is also an attrition rate of 75 to 80 percent.

So, with a free spot or two high above, shake off the temptation of very good-ness, and stamp on your Navy Trident.