Make positive choices during your weakest moments.
Do life’s events appear random and outside your control? Perhaps you think or say phrases like “I’m stressed,” “this job is killing me,” or “I need a drink.” Do you shrink into yourself, or even quit, when things go sideways? Maybe you get emotionally overwhelmed, and let fear, uncertainty, or frustration derail your mission.
As a retired Navy SEAL Commander with 30 years of martial arts training, and over 15 years of yoga practice, I teach special operations candidates and everyday people how to become mentally tougher and perform at elite levels. The principles are simple, but not easy. Emotional resiliency takes courage and patience.
Here are four ways to get started:
1. Deep breathing.
Mental, emotional, and physical stress can be controlled through deep, controlled, rhythmic breathing. I use the Pranayama Breathing app to “box breathe” for 10 minutes on a morning before Kokoro yoga or pre and post workout. This involves inhaling, holding, exhaling, and holding, for four seconds each.
Breathing is free medicine to control your fight-or-flight response, allowing your body to function rather than be overwhelmed by a stressor. It reduces mental chatter, giving you the clarity to make better decisions.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was quoted in a provocative newspaper article about SEALs. As a SEAL captain read me the riot act, I felt my anger rising.
Beneath the anger, I breathed, detached and recognized a fear of loss from the repercussions of my damaged reputation. I envisioned myself as a respected officer who was doing the right thing — and my superior was just doing his job. Ultimately my reputation was enhanced by the incident.
2. Positive self-talk.
Pay attention to your energy. At SEALFIT camps, we ask sleep deprived trainees — who may be facing a night of surf torture — “What dog are you feeding?” We all have the dog of fear or courage inside our mind fighting for attention. After years of negative programming — from the news, TV, family, friends, own self-talk — fear dog normally wins, eroding performance.
You can interrupt negative thoughts by standing tall and shouting power statements that we use in the Navy like, “Hooyah!” “Easy day,” “Piece of cake,” or “Could be worse.” Long workouts can become effortless with mantras like:
“Feeling good, looking good, ought to be in Hollywood!”
“Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
“Remember why you’re here.”
“Stay in the moment. Stay relaxed.”
“Feed your courage. You can do this. It’s easy.”
“Quit now and you’ll quit everything for the rest of your life.”
“I’m doing what I want and know what I’m doing.”
“Not dead, can’t quit.”
SEALs have a saying, “Suffer in silence.” So if a workout or project sucks, don’t complain. Your job is to strengthen your team. Find humor where others can’t. Clinical trials found that a smile can bring the same level of stimulation as eating chocolate!
It’s no secret that athletes use visualization in their training arsenal. Here are two ways to trick your brain into believing an event has happened for real:
- Rehearsal: Practice an event in your mind before attempting it. It could be a presentation, an awkward conversation, or gut-busting workout. At SEALFIT, as a standard operating procedure, we have a pre-workout visualization like this: Find a quiet place to prepare our mind. Dirt dive exceptional performance, dominating every evolution with a smile on our face as you help your teammates.
- Future Me: Mentally project yourself achieving a major life goal like securing Kokoro camp. Repeatedly doing so plants a seed in your subconscious mind to recruit the resources to nurture the event to fruition. Try this regularly with your eyes closed during a meditation: See yourself as a vibrant person, glowing from your efforts. You’re physically strong, mentally alert, energetic, grounded, and centered. The sun is shining. The sky is clear. You note the date and the time. You knew this day would come. You acknowledge all your massive action to transform this dream into reality by first creating it in your mind.
4. Micro goals.
At 3 a.m. on Monday of Navy SEAL Hell Week (six days of training with just four hours of sleep), “making it to Friday” would have been a terrible goal. Instead, I focused on making it until sunrise, then the next meal, then the next step. Otherwise, the magnitude of the experience would have become overwhelming. So if you have to write a book, focus on writing 1,000 words. If you’ve got a massive project, execute the most important task.
In summary: it’s a myth that stress is your problem. How you interpret and handle external stressors determines if you’ll overcome your woes. From now on, embrace your power to choose how you’ll interpret stressful events. With mental toughness training, you can dominate life’s challenges and be twenty times more capable than you think.