“The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday” That is the motto of the United States Navy’s Sea, Air and Land Forces – commonly known as SEALs. Whether it is conducting clandestine missions behind enemy lines or tracking down Osama bin Laden, the history of this elite fighting force is one of legendary achievements.
To become a Navy SEAL in the Naval Special Warfare/Naval Special Operations (NSW/NSO) community, the recruit must first go through what is widely considered to be the most physically and mentally demanding military training in existence.
For years, the dropout rate of cadets was nearly seventy five percent. As commanders studied the results of their training, they were puzzled by which candidates could succeed and which ones could not. It wasn’t always the strongest who survived. Researchers soon found that in addition to physical strength, mental toughness was also required. Specifically, the ability to control fear was essential to successful completion of SEAL training.
Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat or danger. Fear is a basic survival mechanism in human beings.
One of the most powerful fears is the fear of not being able to breathe. The body needs oxygen to survive. When the brain senses the body’s inability to breathe, it sets off mental alarms to the body to immediately react and get some air. If the brain doesn’t sense an immediate response, those alarms of fear quickly turn into panic. When panic sets in, the person loses control and reacts wildly, often making their situation worse, even fatal.
Overcoming the fear of not being able to breathe is essential for the SEAL because so many of their tactics occur underwater. The first phase of Navy SEAL training is BUD training, Basic Underwater Demolition. In order to become a Navy SEAL, the recruits must prove they can overcome their fear of drowning. They have to prove they can master the fear of drowning by staying underwater in a swimming pool for twenty minutes. The recruits are equipped with fins, mask and an oxygen tank.
But throughout the twenty minutes, the recruits are constantly attacked by their instructors who rip off their masks, pull the breathing apparatus from their mouths, tie their hoses in knots and otherwise try to confuse and disorient the recruit.
The recruit must rely on his training to overcome his fear and resolve the problems and remain under water. They must not panic. They must remain calm and stay under water for the full twenty minutes if they want to become a Navy SEAL.
The Navy identified four specific skill sets that can help the soldier overcome their fears; Goal Setting, Mental Rehearsal, Self Talk and Arousal Control.
What? Goal Setting, Mental Rehearsal, Self Talk and Arousal Control, that sounds like the agenda at a Zig Ziglar training conference! The Navy started teaching the very same skills the psychologists, coaches and top performers have been teaching and using for years. But for the Navy SEAL, their life; their very survival depends on mastering these skills. If they don’t overcome their fears, they will most likely die.
Don’t confuse fear with anxiety. Most of what you feel in the business world is not fear. It is anxiety. You may feel as if your anxiety is so powerful that it rises to the level of fear but it doesn’t. And here is proof. You’ll still be breathing after you get turned down. You’ll still be breathing when the prospect hangs up on you. Fear is the human response to immediate danger. Anxiety is the apprehension of what might happen in the future. Always remember, you’ll still be breathing regardless of what happens.
But just imagine how much your business performance would improve if you set goals as if your life depended on it.
Henry Ford is quoted as saying “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal”.
They Navy train the SEALs to set short term goals, on-the-fly as battlefield conditions change. The SEALs train to set their sights on a singular immediate reachable goal, run one more mile, climb on more hill, take step after step until they achieve that goal, then set a new goal.
Imagine how your business performance would improve if you set a goal to call that tough prospect, make that extra call, write one more proposal as if your life depended on it.
Mental Rehearsal teaches the Navy SEAL to visualize their specific actions they are about to take to reach that goal. They go through the motions over and over in their mind until they can clearly visualize themselves taking action and achieving their goal. The top athletes in sport all claim to practice mental rehearsal as a key to their success.
Imagine how your business performance would improve if you devoted your time to mental rehearsal, role playing and practicing your sales skills as if your life depended on it.
Scientists tell us the brain processes all sensory input, visual and audio into sound on the way to short and long term memory. The brain generates a lot of self talk, messages to our selves. Researchers estimate the brain generates 300 to 1,000 words a minute. With all of this talk going on in the brain every minute, there is no doubt top performers train to ensure all of that self talk is positive self talk.
Positive self talk helps the Navy SEAL control the natural fear response generated by the brain long enough to allow the frontal lobe time to help influence the brain’s fear response.
The great motivational speaker Earl Nightingale spent a life time trying to uncover the secret why some people were wildly successful and other people struggle just to get by. In his book, The Strangest Secret, Nightingale revealed that people become what they think about. People who devoted their mental self talk to positive ideas and images have positive and successful lives.
Imagine how your business performance would improve if you made the commitment to focusing your positive self as if your life depended on it.
When the brain senses fear, the brain sends adrenalin and hormones throughout the body. The heart starts to beat faster and breathing becomes heavier. Some people may even begin to sweat and shake. These are natural physical reactions to fear. The Navy SEAL must be able to control his body in the face of fear often times to avoid detection by the enemy. Arousal control is the ability to mentally control these physical reactions in the face of danger, exactly the opposite of the natural reaction to fear. The SEALs are trained to control their breathing. They train to control their body movements. In many circumstances their survival depends on staying absolutely still when the brain’s fear mechanism is saying “Run! Run!”
In the business world, similar techniques can be used to maintain arousal control. Deep breathing, stretching and closing your eyes can all help you alleviate the stress of a business situation and regain control of the situation.
Imagine how your business performance would improve if the next time you were stressed out or worried you practiced some simple arousal control techniques as if your life depended on it.
Let us be thankful for the brave soldiers who volunteer to become Navy SEALs. They are extraordinary people. They use the same kinds of mental exercises that are available to us. The pass rate of recruits improved more than 32% when the Navy SEALs learned to master these four techniques. The Navy SEALs train and use these skills every day because their lives depend on it.
Come to think about it, perhaps our lives or at least our livelihood do too.