It was as violently drastic of a change as it sounds.
One week, I was dressing smartly each day in a suit and tie, swinging a briefcase in my hand as I hustled through the streets of mid-town Manhattan in the Formula One level of the business world’s rat race, an up-and-coming 20-something already collecting the equivalent of a six-figure salary. The opportunities for a big city lifestyle of luxury were glittering in front of me like Times Square itself.
The very next week, I was boarding a bus for the U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School. In place of the briefcase I was swinging a sea bag. In my other hand I gripped my bō staff, a weapon historically rooted in feudal Japan and symbolic of my karate training. As you’ll recall from my earlier posts, my training in martial arts and Zen meditation ultimately opened up a new world of self-awareness that launched me on a dramatically new path. As you can imagine, the bō was an incredibly valuable reminder of my journey and had great importance for me.
As I disembarked from the bus, it didn’t take long to assess that the gunny sergeant who greeted me didn’t share my enthusiasm for the bō.
“What are ya going to do with that son?” he smirked, then answered the question for me with some graphic imagery that I won’t relay here. Things swiftly began to sink in: I was a greenhorn Navy Officer candidate who would soon be issued a blue polyester uniform replete with anchors on the shoulders. Along with the comforts I had enjoyed as an up-and-coming CPA in New York City, my six-figure salary had vanished. In its stead would be a monthly check for $500. To rub a little battery acid into the fresh set of wounds, I was required to salute every Tom, Dick and Harry I came across.
Self-incriminating doubts boiled to the surface. Grrrr. What have you done to my comfortable lifestyle? Are you nuts? You’ve thrown it all away!
My fear wolf, in other words, was snarling at me.
Well, I was there. It was really happening. If I didn’t want to be devoured by my fear wolf, I knew I had to lean on my mentor’s voice and to move from my initial commitment to a feeling of total confidence. Fast. This meant starving the encroaching, all-devouring fear by feeding my courage wolf.
As a nail will push out another nail when hammered from above, fear is also pushed aside when you stoke and feed courage.
Courage, however, can only be accessed after the commitment is made. Then it must be fed a constant barrage of positive self-talk and emotional stimulation that will literally drown out fear and convert the energy into a power source for determination. This process requires constant, habitual reframing of every challenging situation into the most positive light possible. This is critical in the middle of work, when the situations are particularly shitty. My bō enabled me a colorful opportunity to put this process to the test sooner rather than later.
As the gunny dropped me down and finished his salty verbal barrage, the push-ups and mind games ramped upward. I had plenty of training from Nakamura in controlling my mind and emotions, so I just made a game out of it. Hey, if the gunny is going to have fun with me, then sure as shit I can have fun with him too, I told myself. So I put a smile on my face and chose to make this moment, and the whole of OCS and later on the enormity of BUDS training, Hell Week and all, one three-letter word: FUN.
As I was getting hammered by the gunny, I framed things this way: Why not be positive about the situation? After all, the following could have been true:
- I could be dead. That would suck.
- I could be back on Wall Street, pecking numbers into a calculator. That would suck.
- I could be unfortunate enough to lack the intelligence or physical aptitude to even get a shot at the SEALs. That would suck.
- I could be in Somalia groveling for food. That would suck.
So, all things considered, I had it pretty good! I told myself to stop feeling sorry, put a smile on, and charge ahead.
Over time, this reframing process became an attitude and a habit, and I have ingrained a four-step process to starve out the fear when things get tough.
How to Channel Your Courage in the Toughest of Situations
- Check in and remind yourself why you are there
- Remind yourself that things CAN ALWAYS BE WORSE
- Reframe the situation to find the silver lining
- Feed the courage wolf by talking to yourself to evoke feelings of optimism about your chances of success, survival, or winning the mission
This type of mental management is incredibly powerful. It will get you through a challenging moment and counter the shittiest of situations with fresh energy and spirit.