In April this year, I flew to San Diego to spend three days in a Navy Seal’s academy learning from some of the most physically and mentally accomplished people on the planet.
What made me do that you may wonder?
Well, I always believe it is important to challenge yourself and to keep growing in life. I think it is the people who stop challenging themselves, who resist change and try to avoid challenges are the ones who struggle the most. Plus, how can I authentically challenge my clients to grow and develop if I am not doing so myself?
I could not think of a better way to do so than learning first hand from the Navy Seal’s and so I made the decision quickly before I had time to think about it too much and back out. Apart from having to meet certain benchmarks in terms of physical and mental health, we were spared the exact details of what would be involved. Probably better I thought.
What I did know, was that we were going to learn about the 20X philosophy during our time there. This philosophy simply means that we are all capable of 20 times more than we think we are. I realise the incredible power of the mind but I was also thinking, ‘really’? 20 times more? 20? I guess even I had my doubts, although I was intrigued to find out more.
What I didn’t expect to find was that within two hours of being there, I would not only understand this philosophy but I would have embodied it within every fibre of my being. I knew it was going to be physical, this was a Navy Seal’s academy after all, but how do you prepare for something when you don’t know what is coming?
I had heard about the ‘extended plank’ exercise they put you through but I didn’t know how extended and thought some things are better experienced in the moment rather than fretting over in your mind beforehand. Within the first two hours we were marched out into the sweltering heat (with only the basic breathing technique to help us) and instructed to get into the press up position and hold. I knew we were in for our first test.
One minute goes by and the instructor asks the group for a number. Somebody says 10, somebody else says 15 and then somebody gets carried away and says 40. He settles on 23 and clicks the button on his watch. “You must now hold this position until the timer goes off. Whatever you do, do not let your knees touch the floor”.
The ground was red hot and my hands were already burning in pain. We were only a few minutes in. Your mind starts racing “I’ve got no chance” that little voice says, “I just want to collapse on the ground”.
My arms were shaking, I was pouring with sweat, my hands were stinging in pain and that little voice in my head was not so little any longer.
Even though the challenge seemed incredibly physical at this stage, the challenge had actually become all in the mind.
After about 10 minutes of this exercise the voice in my head, realising it wasn’t getting anywhere because I simply refused to quit, started to get quieter. The physical pain, although it should have got stronger, actually started to dissipate because my mind was now more determined on getting through this.
“Whatever it takes”, “No matter what”, “I will not quit”.
The instructor walked around us and started to talk to us. At this stage in the process when you are in such a vulnerable and challenging position, the simplest of words resonate much stronger than they would at any other time. “It can always be worse, you can always do more” said Mark, the leader. He repeated this over and over. We started to repeat the words ourselves.
When we finally reached the 23 minutes and we were all just about to collapse on the floor and experience that beautiful feeling of relief, he told us we can make it to 30. A 30 minute plank! Those final seven minutes? All in the mind once more.
Once I had gotten through that first experience, as much as the rest of the three days were challenging beyond belief, I knew I could do it. It felt as though I had broken through the biggest mental barrier right there. Was this part of their plan all along? I knew that the limit was not in my physical body, it was in my mind. And once I had blown my own expectations of what was possible out of the window, I knew I could do it again.
It turns out that it really can always be worse and you really can always do more! This isn’t to say that for the rest of the time there, your mind doesn’t try and play tricks on you. It never stops trying to talk you into giving in – the difference is you learn to start ignoring it.
My hands were swollen for several days afterwards from this very first exercise, but I didn’t even care. On the final morning, we knew we were in for a lunchtime finish and we expected more classroom based teaching on the power of the mind, techniques and tools for focus and concentration.
So when we met for breakfast at 6am and were marched straight down to the beach you can imagine our surprise. How had we not expected this (several of us had nice new trainers on), shouldn’t we have known better by now?! We started with a powerful meditation and visualisation exercise as the waves were crashing into the shore. This isn’t so bad I thought, it’s actually an amazing way to start the day.
But what came next wasn’t…
After a series of squats, burpees, press ups and martial arts combinations we then were given the instruction to carry out the Warrior Burpee. This consisted of a punch, kick and knee combination followed by a press up and a squat jump. We did ten of them and we were absolutely spent, at least I felt like I was. We then did ten more. Then ten more.
“How many of these are we going to do” – you start to think. “I really cannot do any more”.
“Please let this stop” your inner voice screams. Surely, we cannot be heading for 50 of these? And then you surpass 50. Not 100? No chance! And then you surpass 100. When we hit the 150 mark, my mind just started to accept that we are going to do as many of these as we are told to do. We could be here all day, so stop fighting it and get on with it.
We did 311.
If you had told us at the start of the day that we would complete 50 of these Warrior Burpees, we wouldn’t have believed you – never mind over 300 of them. But we did it. Once again the mind had defeated the body. We seemed to learn this same lesson over and over again, affirming the power of repetition and our need to be reminded of the things we think we already know.
There were many more lessons during my time in the academy (bearing in mind each day was about 15 hours long) but I will save some of them for another blog. What are some of the lessons I took away from the experiences above?
- Your situation can always be worse.
Many people make their situation much worse in their own mind than it really is. How often can we be our own worst enemy? We were told repeatedly during our time there (often during the hardest drills) “do not be your own worst enemy”. Any time we looked like struggling or giving in or complaining, we were told this statement – reminding us that in fact we were in control of our experience and we had the power to make it easier or harder.
- You can always do more.
Realise that your limits are in your mind and you are MUCH more capable than you currently think you are. We all know this at some level. I know I did – after all I had been learning this and teaching it for ten years. But this experience took my understanding to a whole new level because I physically experienced it, smashing through those barriers myself. The lesson? You must get out of your comfort zone, out of your usual routine and environment every so often and do something that scares you, that stretches you and challenges you to rise to the occasion. Sometimes you’ve just got to leap before you feel ready.
- There is incredible satisfaction when you challenge your limits.
The feeling of achievement and satisfaction after some of the drills was like nothing I have experienced before. This feeling of satisfaction also instils a confidence in you to take on new challenges – it reframes your beliefs about what is possible. When you stretch yourself in one area of your life, the benefits are universal.
One example of this is that when I returned I had a really hectic workload. I hadn’t even adjusted to the time difference whilst there and before I knew it I was flying home, arriving in the evening and up the following morning at 6am. Everybody asked me about the jet lag? I honestly didn’t even feel it, not one bit. I arrived home that evening and went straight out and beat the records I set in press ups, squats and burpees!
Then after a week of heavy client work I travelled up North to visit friends and complete the Krypton Factor challenge. Now I am not advising this for everyone and I certainly value balance in my life but it’s good to test yourself every so often and stop yourself getting complacent.
If you would like to learn even more about this experience and learn about some of the incredible mental models that the Navy Seals use to perform at the highest level, then please visit contact me to find out about the keynotes and workshops I offer.
Keep challenging yourself,