How To Build Uncommon Mental Toughness Like a Navy SEAL



“The only easy day was yesterday.”– U.S. Navy SEALS

Imagine if you could build your mental toughness like a Navy SEAL.

You can.

You can build your mental toughness like a Navy SEAL, if you learn the 4-step process the Navy SEALs use to improve their passing rate of trainees.

4-Step Process the Navy SEALs Use to Build Mental Toughness

The Navy Seals have an extremely low passing rate for Navy SEAL recruits.  On average, out of 140 Navy SEAL recruits, only 36 make it.  That is, until they taught Navy SEAL candidates a simple technique to build mental toughness.  Their passing rate went from 25% to 33% which is a big deal.

According to Bakari Akil, in his article on How The Navy SEALs Increased Passing Rates, the Navy SEAL 4-step process is:

Goal Setting – Mental Rehearsal – Self Talk – Arousal Control

Here’s how it works …

1. Set Goals to Chunk Things Down

Navy SEALs set micro-goals or mini-goals to make it through the day (or to chunk down whatever obstacle they are up against.)

Via How The Navy Seals Increased Passing Rates:

“With goal setting the recruits were taught to set goals in extremely short chunks. For instance, one former Navy SEAL discussed how he set goals such as making it to lunch, then dinner.”

2. Practice Mental Rehearsal

Navy SEALs mentally practice how they will succeed in the future situation.  They visualize what they will do and how they will respond to the challenges before them in a positive way.  This way, when the challenge comes along, they are ready for it.

Via How The Navy Seals Increased Passing Rates:

“With mental rehearsal they were taught to visualize themselves succeeding in their activities and going through the motions.”

3. Use Positive Self-Talk

Navy SEALs use more positive self-talk to talk their way through tough situations.  This helps reduce the fears from the more primitive part of the brain.

Note that this isn’t just hoping for the best.  What makes this work is practice and preparation.  By practicing mental rehearsal, you can now respond, instead of react.

Via How The Navy Seals Increased Passing Rates

“As far as self talk is concerned, the experts in The Brain documentary made the claim that we say 300 to 1000 words to ourselves a minute. By instructing the recruits to speak positively to themselves they could learn how to ‘override fears’ resulting from the amygdala, a primal part of the brain that helps us deal with anxiety.”

4. Use Breathing to Practice Arousal Control

Navy SEALs focus on breathing as a way to stay calm and focused.

Via How The Navy Seals Increased Passing Rates:

“And finally, with arousal control the recruits were taught how to breathe to help mitigate the crippling emotions and fears that some of their tasks encouraged.”

Knowledge won’t help you unless you apply it.

If you want to do better in your most stressful situations, remember to set micro-goals, rehearse successful actions in your mind, use positive self-talk and focus on your breathing.

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  1. All excellent tips … visualization is my favorite, as your body actually simulates it on a subconscious level, so that when you go to do it, it comes off better than expected.

    • If I can’t see myself doing something, I usually can’t do it. But if I can see myself doing something, then I usually can succeed at it.

      So when I really need to do something, I find a way to see myself successfully achieving it. And the beauty of visualization is that we can play out a variety of scenarios until we find the one that clicks.

    • I should probably step into the positive dialogue a bit deeper. The most important idea here is to avoid the 3 Ps: Permanent, Personal, and Pervasive.

      Learned Helplessness is when we turn a situation into something Permanent — we take an event and talk about it as if it will last forever, and things won’t ever get any better. It’s how hope dies a slow death. Personal is when we make things about us, such as “Why does this always happen to me?” Pervasive is when we take one area of our life and generalize it across everything we do, such as, “I’m no good at anything.”

      I find that some very simple future-focused questions help pull me forward, such as “Who do I need to become?” or, “What’s the one quality I need to enjoy this if this situation never were to change?”

    • Ironically, I was watching Fresh Off the Boat tonight and they used a phrase from the military: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Talk about positive self-dialogue 🙂

  2. Taking the positive out of every situation have been my biggest force for many years. It’s always easy to focus on the negative, but as soon as you start focusing on positives, the world around you somehow becomes a lot better place 😉

    • It’s true — the world sure feels better when you think it conspires with you, than if you think it conspires against you.

  3. Hi JD,

    Good to be over at your blog, long overdue I’d say 🙂

    You are right about the Navy SEALs and all that it takes to reach there, is certainly not easy.

    Setting goals is SO essential, in our daily lives, whether we are entrepreneurs, bloggers, or whatever be the work we do. Without an aim, it’s tough to move forward.

    Positive self-talk, affirmations always help to remove the fears and progress. Deep breathing too helps to stay calm and focused, as you mentioned – a part of meditation I’d say, but so essential.

    Thanks for sharing it all with us. Have a nice week ahead 🙂

    • Hey Harleena, thanks for stopping by.
      I find I use goals everyday, at least in some small way.
      Little mini-goals help me chop things down to size.
      Sometimes those mini-goals accrue to something bigger.
      Other times, they just help pull me forward, or find the strength I need for my next move (like in my morning workouts.)
      And I’m always amazed by how much breathing better, makes everything better.
      Have a great week.

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