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My Experience in a Navy SEALs Leadership Academy

In 2017 I flew over to San Diego to spend 3 days in a Navy SEAL’s leadership academy. The academy had been setup by a former commander in the SEAL’s to help them increase the success rate of recruiting new people.

The Navy SEAL’s are widely considered the mentally and physically toughest group of people on the planet and their training process reflects that. As a result, the failure rate for getting through the training has always been remarkably high.

The academy was setup to help bridge the gap and prepare new recruits for the extremely intense training process they were about to embark on.

As a coach I am always intrigued and interested in understanding what the best of the best are doing to improve performance and there is no better example of pushing the body and mind than the Navy SEAL’s.

My introduction to the training was a shock to the system to say the least!

One of the first philosophies we were introduced to was 20X.

It is their belief that we are all 20 times more capable than we think we are. The limit is in our mind and we are limiting ourselves all the time, doubting our capability to handle all situations, especially ones that are new and unfamiliar to us.

We were marched outside into the 36-degree San Diego sunshine. Nobody knew what was coming but we knew something was and it was probably going to hurt!

After a brief warm up we were introduced to the plank. Holding your body in the press up position, arms locked out. We were told we were going to test our limits and put the 20X philosophy into practice.

When asked how long we THINK we could hold a plank for, most of the responses ranged from one to two minutes. You can imagine our faces when the timer was set to 23 minutes!

We were to hold this position for the whole time and our knees were not allowed to hit the floor or they would be all over us. The ground was red hot and after a few minutes my hands were burning with pain.

You can imagine the thoughts racing through my mind at this time. The inner doubt they were talking about was getting louder and louder, trying to convince me that there was no way I was able to complete this challenge.

The commander started shouting “it can always be worse, you can always do more”. I repeated his words. I tried to drown out the inner doubts and stay focused but it wasn’t easy – my arms were shaking, I was dripping in sweat and my hands were stinging with pain.

I focused on what I was doing. I listened to the Commander’s words. I tried to forget about how much time had passed or how much was remaining.

I told myself no matter what I was going to complete it. I would not quit. I would not listen to my negative inner voice. As physically difficult as it was, this was not a physical test - this was a mental test.

After about 10 minutes an amazing thing happened - my mind started to go quiet. Really quiet. Instead of getting harder, the challenge became easier.

The Commander and his team were now circling us and repeating positive mantras, reminding us that this is a mental game. They were shouting words of encouragement.

Eventually as the clock reached 23 minutes and I was about to collapse in agony and ecstasy, the Commander said we were going to keep going until 30 minutes.

30 minutes!

Once I got over the initial shock and disappointment, I was able to calm my negative inner voice down again to the point where it wasn’t crippling me.

When the clock hit 30 minutes, we all collapsed on the ground.

Along with a huge sense of relief I also felt a surge of confidence. I knew after breaking through such a mental barrier, that I would be able to handle whatever else was thrown my way during the three days.

How much more do you think you are capable of?

Do you get in your own way?

Do your own inner doubts sometimes prevent you from fulfilling your potential?

What are some of the lessons I took away from the experiences above?

1. Your situation can always be worse.

Many people make their situation much worse in their own mind than it really is. How often can we be our own worst enemy? We were told repeatedly during our time there (often during the hardest drills) “do not be your own worst enemy”. Any time we looked like struggling or giving in or complaining, we were told this statement – reminding us that in fact we were in control of our experience and we had the power to make it easier or harder.

2. You can always do more.

Realise that your limits are in your mind and you are MUCH more capable than you currently think you are. We all know this at some level. I know I did – after all I had been learning this and teaching it for ten years. But this experience took my understanding to a whole new level because I physically experienced it, smashing through those barriers myself. The lesson? You must get out of your comfort zone, out of your usual routine and environment every so often and do something that scares you, that stretches you and challenges you to rise to the occasion. Sometimes you’ve just got to leap before you feel ready.

3. There is incredible satisfaction when you challenge your limits.

The feeling of achievement and satisfaction after some of the drills was like nothing I have experienced before. This feeling of satisfaction also instils a confidence in you to take on new challenges – it reframes your beliefs about what is possible. When you stretch yourself in one area of your life, the benefits are universal.


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