4 Surprising Tips from Navy Seal Training for Surviving Sacred Seclusion

Almost half the worlds population is under some form of ‘stay at home’ order. By definition, anytime we’re ‘forced’ to do something, it’s harder than if we’d chosen it. We do have a secret weapon though to defeat any obstacle in our path: the ability to learn.

Why not learn from the best then? Listening to an interview with retired Navy Seal Andy Stumpf recently, he shared some insights into Navy Seal training new to me. As trainee and trainer, he’s uniquely positioned to understand what it takes to make it through.

Navy Seal training or BUDs (Basic Underwater Demolition) is some of the most grueling in the world – it’s difficult to find definitive numbers but it looks like only 6% of men that enter this training complete it. Considering there’s only about a 3% difference in physical capabilities, there’s clearly something else that separates those that complete the training – from those that drop out.

I’m immediately drawn in by his humility as, while trying to make sense of the corona situation, he states:

‘I’m not an expert at all, uh – probably on anything in my life. But one thing I have experience in, is surviving and thriving in high risk situations with high stress… the most dangerous thing you can do, is lose control of your emotions or let your emotions take over your decision making cycle’

‘We need to start talking about we more than me’

That is the sentence that perked me up and primed me for the wisdom that followed.

Here are the 4 biggest lessons I took away from his chat

  1. Focus on what’s in your control

The training’s designed to teach recruits to let go of things outside of their control and to focus on what’s within their control.  

Things outside my control right now is the virus and government responses. Which is probably why you reading this at home. No real choice there; but we do have choice over how we decide to view staying at home.

‘I’m being forced to stay home’ versus ‘I can stay safe at home’ is a vastly different mindset.

Did you notice the title? I used ‘Sacred Seclusion’ instead of Lock down. Language is important and I loved that term I heard yesterday.

While at home we have the choice to consume 4000 extra calories or find innovative new ways to exercise at home. It’s easy to sit on the couch and watch movies all day, but it’s just as easy to choose to learn a new language, start researching how to build an online business – write that book you’ve always wanted to. It’s in your control.

I suggest using the time you’d normally commute to work as your time to build a new habit.

As Mandela lived – ‘use your time wisely, you have a limited time on earth’

PRO TIP: Break the ‘difficult’ goal into the simplest action it takes to start. The scary prospect of writing a whole book becomes easy when starting with ‘write a sentence’. Starting an exercise regime becomes ‘get dressed in active wear and do 1 sit up’.

2. Keep your world small

Photo Credit: Spec Ops Magazine

This resonated with me because it’s what I used to complete my challenge to climb Table Mountain in Cape Town every day for a year. I was forced to think of a way that didn’t overwhelm me. A whole year?? Yeah that can freak me out a bit. One day at a time – step by step? I can manage that.

Put yourself in the shoes of a student in BUDs. You’re in a constant world of pain with no idea of what’s coming next. I can only imagine how debilitating that must be when day one is hell – and there’s another 179 days ahead. You’re just trying to survive.

It was as an instructor that Andy saw the story arc of what was happening and why they did this – it’s a physical test for sure: but they’re using the body to test the mind.

When guys quit as a student they disappear. As an instructor he was able to question them.

‘Why? You said this was your lifelong goal it’s all you ever wanted to do. Why?’

‘I got overwhelmed’

They did the opposite of keeping their world small.

There’s two ways to look at BUDs: it’s 180 days; or a sunrise and a sunset – 180 times. Think about how quickly our world changed and how many weeks have passed already. At the time of writing this its April already. You can keep your mind strong by adopting this principle.

The ultimate test in BUD’s is ‘hell week’ and this is where that principle gets drilled down even further. Already four weeks into training, it starts on Sunday evening and ends Friday afternoon with only 2 hours sleep on Wednesday. Most guys who quit, do so before Tuesday.

‘Don’t look at it as five days. Just make it to your next meal – they have to feed you every six hours.’

Stacking six hours on another six hours and focusing on the next meal – no matter how much pain or cold you’re in – gets you to that next meal which is a reprieve and mental reset to continue.

Makes sacred seclusion look like Christmas every day!

Stressed, tired, hungry, hypothermia, exhaustion induced hallucinations – these extreme conditions allow the instructors to strip away all the layers of ego, revealing who has one important quality.

3. We over Me

Photo Credit: New York Post

This is tested immediately, everyone’s assigned a swim buddy you can’t be more than six feet away from at any time. Suddenly, you’re ordered ‘go swim!’ and forget about the buddy dashing off. That inevitably leads to being punished for leaving him behind and the buddy gets punished too.

They’re being taught there’s penalties for forgetting him and other people suffer consequences by the way you act.

Slowly but surely – two weeks builds ‘we’ and not me until it becomes ingrained. BUD’s is not about finding the fittest men alive; it’s about finding the ones that can work together as a team. You don’t want to be in the most high pressure stressed environment second guessing the person next to you.

Right now we’re in a ‘we instead of me’ training camp – only we’re separated in our homes.  We’re seeing how important our own actions can be, when collectively done together. Imagine what other social challenges we can collectively tackle when combining forces like this? Some people want to put out petitions to government to open up alcohol sales again while others are turning their homes or businesses into factories to make protective gear for health care workers.

Do they feed the Navy Seals alcohol? Here’s another important component about staying home we must learn from them:

The BEST Me, Empowers We

I agree that the training is set up to ingrain a ‘We’ mentality – but the truth is it’s done in conjunction with developing the best me. They’re not mutually exclusive.

This is the philosophy I follow – How do I develop the best Me to serve We?

No matter how we feel – we’re all in this uncertain time together. Some only allowed to leave home for groceries. Some at home but allowed to move freely, some are terrifies about where their next meals coming from not being able to work but essentially our home has become our world. We’ve all just entered our own BUD’s training, except it’s not voluntary.

So what if you flip it round to pretend this is voluntary?

Next, let’s be positive expecting the best but preparing for the worst. Say this ‘home time’ lasts until June 30 – that’s 77 days away at the time of writing – or sunrise and sunset; 77 times. The days wrack up just as quickly whether we do something – or nothing.

Great news though – all you have to think about is today.

Meditation, Exercise, Learning, Researching, whatever your new habit. All it takes is a decision to start and incorporate it into your daily life. Then suddenly you’ll find yourself 22 days into a habit of meditating five minutes every day; exercising three weeks in a row – and feeling better equipped to handle stress.

Resilience is your ability to get bent and come back better than before. What a wonderful opportunity this is to apply that resilience to your goal from a digestible perspective – and you’ll be well on your way to achieve an insane amount.

Can you ignore the big and focus on the small? And not get overwhelmed no matter what the news says? The best you is exactly what We need.

4. Make it a Priority

A habit you prioritize is kept through consistency. Even the fittest Navy Seals can go off the rails once their service ends.

It’s far easier to build smaller daily consistent actions than try a couple big sessions a week. Just think about the reverse – we pick up weight at a rate unnoticeable because we slowly but surely do less and less, and eat more and more.

Our lifestyles pre coronavirus have been put under a microscope. We have the time now to objectively evaluate what is working and what isn’t. Then the plan we put in place should be for a sustainable lifestyle, so if you’re training during your usual commute to the office – don’t give it up when you start again. You’ve built the habit, now keep making it a priority.

While many of us will experience the pain of losing a loved one and cannot be ignored – the rest of us are being given the gift of using our homes as a cocoon.

I hope you emerge a magnificent butterfly.

Perspectives on Lifelong Learning

Learning new City Renaissance Guy
From Cape Town to California

I’ve been procrastinating on my writing like you cannot believe since finishing my challenge – I think I’ve finally found a groove.

In many ways the past three months have shaped this first post of 2019, of which more will be coming your way as I ground my learning into tangible insights to share.

Coming to San Francisco is like becoming a child; I see and experience everything for the first time.

Fresh city smells as winter rains falls; sweeping views transformed as nights veil descends and the new sounds of their famous cable cars bustling down Washington Street. An overload for the five senses but more importantly: another opportunity to learn.

I forgot how many day to day decisions have become second nature that I take for granted:

Knowing where the grocery stores are, how long it takes to walk there. What food they have! How its laid out, what it costs, and even just what the difference in taste between 2 products is.

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The juxtaposition of city by morning and lit up with lights

Then there’s figuring out how the city fits together like a jigsaw; how different our words are for the same thing – traffic lights not robots. Cilantro not coriander. People not understanding my accent on the phone. Finding a barber to cut my hair decently (that serves beer believe it or not!)

Which gym to choose?? I think you get the idea

In primary school, a Greek boy arrived age 6 speaking no English. The teachers encouraged us to be patient and be teachers ourselves.

Thankfully, I have an amazingly supportive partner that’s helping me (together with her friends) to learn and settle in quicker than doing it alone. Now I’m the Greek boy

Learning from others

One thing I’ve been blessed with, is having the opportunity to sit with, speak to and learn from inspirational people.

Renaissance Guy Learning to See Blog

Today’s post is dedicated to Joyce – our blind neighbour.

A Japanese American, Joyce has lived in San Francisco since the age of 22 in 1972. As an artistic woman, she expressed herself through dance and painting.

Her sight was always poor requiring her to wear glasses. As a ballerina she was unable to wear them during shows. She was never worried though because in practice, she learned to understand spatial awareness – not needing to see the edge of the stage, but rather operated in a finite piece of space.

As a painter, she constantly pushed herself to look at every day items from another perspective. To learn to see things differently. She loved the challenge and enjoyed it.

When she speaks to you about that, you feel her joy about that.

Fast forward to 1992 and she meets the love of her life. Wayne. Three years later she moves in with him – and hasn’t moved since.

Tragically, he died in 2011 and she was devastated. This is when I heard something I perhaps wouldn’t believe if it wasn’t first hand.

I lost the rest of my sight soon after that, and thankfully too. Having to learn the city all over again from a new perspective kept me away from the debilitating grief.’

Learning to ‘see’ again saved her life.

Watching and talking as we walk to dinner, she shares her knowledge of ‘seeing’ this way. Her spatial awareness is incredible – hitting a knobbled patch of pavement asked ‘is there an alley?’

There certainly was. She was spot on.

Sitting at the feet of Teachers

Okay – we were at a restaurant so it wasn’t exactly her feet, but it felt like I should be. Hearing her talk about catching the bus, buying groceries, going to her favourite restaurant and how cooking takes four hours were bringing learning a ‘new’ city into perspective.

Imagine going blind aged 61?

I don’t want to use the word terrified, but just closing my eyes trying to feed myself is a scary thought.

Not Joyce though, to escape her pain she threw herself into learning how to ‘see’ the world with this new experience.

She’d taught herself from an early age to be excited to learn new ways of experiencing things – and this was just another opportunity.

We were celebrating the Japanese tradition always done on 3rd of March (3) – Hinamatsuri or Girls Day. It’s interesting to note that Japanese do not celebrate Mothers or Fathers Day; they choose to celebrate what will come (the children) versus what has come (the parents)

She shared her knowledge about the fact Japan only opened its borders in 1853 – not by choice – but because an American Commodore demanded they open ports by sailing into it.

See from Others Perspectives.

Its not always what we do that’s harmful – but how we do it.

I learned that the hard way in my twenties; when I saw how I spoke to friends and family. How I spoke bordered on abuse.

Seeing Joyce in the streets perhaps you’d feel compelled to help, no? First thinking from our own perspective that it’s impossible to get around without someone helping.

Joyce gives some advice we can all learn from.

  1. Ask – instead of assuming someone needs help ask first. In many cases its more difficult being led by someone you don’t know or trust compared to walking with your cane. If someone was really in trouble, they’d cry out for help.
  2. Listen – when someone accepts help listen to how they need it. She prefers someone walking behind with hands on her shoulders and NOT in the middle of the sidewalk. When she walks alone, bright vest and cane, the curb provides her a straight edge compared with the middle. Like walking with your hand along a cliff face. As she says ‘close your eyes and tell me where straight is’ – a frequent command given to her.
  3. Respect – one woman yelled at her to get off the streets because its dangerous. Some people tug at her to walk with them. As you can imagine this can be quite distressing and more importantly – breaks her concentration. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. If you are curious, set an intention to find out just what life is like for someone living with a disability (as most people call it) or their gift.
  4. Change behaviour – Its one thing to change our own behaviour, but we can all do more to teach others how to stop feeling awkward when we meet or see someone with a disability. Just with most things in life – when in doubt speak up and I’ve never heard of someone being upset with someone that respectfully and genuinely wants to learn about another person’s circumstances.

Fresh Eyes

Walking around San Francisco, I pay much more attention to sidewalk cracks, how fire hydrants, lamp posts, signage, trees and post boxes are Joyce’s daily obstacle course. I’m more aware of colours, textures – and the ease and speed with which my five-minute walk up a nine-storey hill takes to get to our neighbourhood grocery store – a store that makes their own honey on the roof I might add!

Joyce is one of those people that radiates; with her smile, her words – and her heart.

She reminded me why one of my daily things I express gratitude for – is my five senses, to experience this incredible planet we live on.

Renaissance Guy Quote
I think both are true