In May 2 of 2010, SEAL Team 6 undertook the covert Operation Neptune Spear and took out al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden. Since then, popular culture has seen numerous iterations of SEALs in action, with movies like Zero Dark Thirty, and American Sniper detailing the heroic, sometimes tragic, and always effective actions of the elite soldiers. Navy SEALs have a near-mythic mystique about them, like the Spartans of Ancient Greece, or the Samurai of Medieval Japan. But before a soldier can become a SEAL, he has to overcome an ordeal of equally mythic proportions, BUD/S’ dreaded Hell Week.
For 5 1/2 days, trainees slog through mud, sea, and sand, performing difficult physical exercises, carrying logs and rafts, all while running on less than 4 hours of sleep for the entire week. Instructors constantly berate and entice the trainees to quit. You know that inner voice that tempts you to give up during difficult tasks? It’s like that, except this time the voice is a SEAL instructor, and they have a bullhorn. If a trainee decides that they can no longer endure the torture, they can quit at any time. All they have to do is ring a bell.
Only 25% of all trainees make it through Hell Week, and for good reason, it’s hard as hell! But what’s interesting is when most trainees quit. You would think that the pain and discomfort of the physical training, or extreme difficulty of the training operations would cause most people to quit. In an episode of The School of Greatness podcast, Eric Greitans, a former SEAL, Rhode’s Scholar, and author, says that this isn’t the case:
“We went from over 220 people in our class and it went down to 21. In that time, I can count on one hand the number of people who I saw quit when they were actually doing something… They wouldn’t quit when they were running of course, they wouldn’t quit when they were under the log. They quit when they started to think about how painful something was going to be, how difficult, how complicated, how chaotic it was going to be.”
In other words, it was the fear of the impending pain and difficulty that caused most SEAL trainees to quit. Even the process of getting into BUD/S training is extremely strenuous, the trainees that try out to become SEALs are the best of the best. All are top athletes, the strongest swimmers, fastest runners. They all possess a lion’s share of physical fitness, but when faced with daunting ordeal of Hell Week, most of them are overwhelmed with the thought of future pain and quit.
In other words, SEALs quit when they think about the entirety of the challenge ahead. It’s not pain that makes them ring the bell, it’s overwhelm.
Most of us will never experience the level of physical and mental difficulty that SEALs go through during BUD/S, but all of us will eventually face trials in our lives. By inverting the thought process that will make a SEAL trainee quit during hell week, we can figure out the thought process that will help you stick out the rough patches in your life.
An otherwise manageable challenge will appear daunting when we extrapolate it into the future. Whenever we find ourselves in the midst of adversity, we must do precisely the opposite – taking things step by step, staying present in each moment until the obstacle is overcome.
The only task you can control is the one right in front of you. The only moment you really have to live is this one, the present moment. All of the subsequent tasks and future hardships are illusionary. They are just mental projections into the future, inaccessible to us.
Seen from this perspective, the present moment grows in importance. If the present moment is all that we can affect, it only makes sense to concentrate our efforts on it. By ensuring that we address each moment to the best of our abilities, we set ourselves up to have the best possible next moment. In doing so, we gain as much control over the future as we will ever get.
Till’ Next Time.