The Navy SEAL unit serves as one of the most elite special forces in the military. As such, they undergo extensive training, participate in often-dangerous missions, and do things many Americans could never dream of doing. Along the way, many of them also pick up some life lessons the rest of us could stand to learn. Here are a few pieces of advice from Navy SEALs that will start your New Year off on the right foot.
1. Set micro-goals for yourself
Navy Seal Training Guide: Mental Toughness author Lars Draeger said his training taught him to focus on one thing at a time, avoiding all distractions. SEALs do that by first determining the overall objective, breaking it down into more doable pieces, and repeating as needed until the task gets done. That strategy helps SEALs complete high-level missions, but it can also help you tackle, say, home improvements.
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2. Find three mentors to emulate
Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week interviewed General Stanley McChrystal and former Navy SEAL officer Chris Fussell, who offered him some key advice. Always look up to three people as “mentors” in your organization. Those should be someone senior you want to emulate, a peer who does a better job than you do, and a subordinate who does your prior job better than you did.
“If you just have those three individuals that you’re constantly measuring yourself off of and who you’re constantly learning from,” Fussell said, “you’re gonna be exponentially better than you are.”
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3. Do small things right
Admiral William McRaven, a Navy SEAL commander who was in charge of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, gave some advice during a speech in Texas. His first commandment? Always make your bed in the morning. “It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another,” he explained. “By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.”
Next: You can think of this next time you feel discouraged.
4. Don’t ring the bell
McRaven also said not giving up ranks as one of the most important lessons he can impart. In SEAL training, a brass bell sits in the middle of the training compound. To give up, recruits just walk up, ring the bell, and leave. McRaven said the vast majority of trainees ring the bell, but those who don’t become Navy SEALs.
“If you want to change the world,” McRaven says, “don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”
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5. Challenge your team — and yourself
McRaven told cadets at West Point that leaders need to push their team, and themselves. “Taking care of soldiers is not about coddling them,” McRaven told the cadets. “It is about challenging them — establishing a standard of excellence and holding them accountable for reaching it.” He added that a good leader also sets a good example, so hold yourself to those same high standards. “You had better be up to the task, because I have learned that they expect you to be good. [They] expect you to hold them to high standards.”
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6. Learn from your mistakes
The SEAL also explained that everyone messes up, falls short, and wants to throw in the towel. The best and most successful people do not let that stop them. He said that many times during his 36-year career, he felt like giving up. Not doing so set him apart.
“Nothing so steels you for battle like failure,” McRaven told the cadets. “No officer I watched got it right every time. But the great ones know that when they fail, they must pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes and move on…. If you can’t stomach failure, then you will never be a great leader.”
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7. Be a good follower
Good leaders also make great followers, McRaven points out. He explained that having the humility to follow directions, even if they contrast with what you wanted to do, makes a great leadership quality.
“Great officers are equally good at following as they are at leading,” McRaven said. “Following is one of the most underrated aspects of leadership. … I have seen many a good [military unit] underachieve, because someone thought the commander was incompetent, and quietly worked to undermine his authority.”
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8. Don’t let bad days get you down
McRaven also told a story about a training exercise the SEALs call “sugar cookie.” The student runs, fully clothed, into the water. Once they get soaking wet, they roll around on the beach until every part of their body becomes covered in sand. They then spend the rest of the day cold, wet, and sandy. That training exercise teaches one of the most elite forces how to suck it up when things get tough, and we can all learn something from that lesson.
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9. Practice humility
Jocki Wilink, co-athor of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win emphasized the importance of recognizing you do not always have the answer. “The person [who] is not humble enough to accept responsibility when things go wrong, accept that there might be better ways to do things, [demonstrates] a closed mind,” he wrote. “They can’t change, and that’s what makes a person fail as a leader.”
Co-author Leif Babin added, “No leader has it all figured out. You can’t rely on yourself. You’ve got to rely on other people, so you’ve got to ask for help, you’ve got to empower the team, and you’ve got to accept constructive criticism.” This tip works equally well at work, school, and everyday life. Just imagine if everyone in traffic exercised humility.
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10. Stay aware of your surroundings
This piece of advice works equally well for combat as daily life. “Get your head out of your phone. Just look up,” former Navy SEAL Dom Raso told TheBlaze. “It’s just a very, very simple thing to do and no one does it anymore, and it’s really scary.” Take a look at those around you when commuting, sometime. How many stick their noses in their phones when getting on and off a train, riding the bus, even walking down the sidewalk or driving a car? Stay aware and stay alert. At the very least, it will keep you from tripping as often, and you may see things that surprise you.
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11. Take on the tough challenges
In Navy SEAL training, they develop a healthy respect for sharks. They also learn to stand their ground before the predators. McRaven explained that trainees swim in the shark-infested waters off San Clemente, California to confront the creatures. They learn to stand their ground if a shark comes toward them. If it darts toward you, pull back and punch him in the nose. He will realize you don’t make a good snack and leave. While we do not recommend trying this at home, we could all use a reminder to stand up for ourselves.
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12. Embrace risks
Rhodes Scholar and former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens recommends embracing risks and new experiences. As a parent and a leader, he emphasized the importance of never fearing failure. “To be something we never were, we have to do something we’ve never done,” says Greitens. Whether in modeling fearlessness for your children, your peers, or yourself, try to step outside your comfort zone. What you find there might surprise you.
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13. Work toward the greater good
Even when paying attention to small tasks, embracing risks, and all of the rest, McRaven explained that keeping the greater good in mind ranks above all else. Even when you fall down, keeping going toward the goal is much more important than the fall itself. “The great leaders in the Army never accept indifference or injustice, and they only judge their soldiers based on the merit of their work,” the SEAL said. “Nothing else is important.”
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14. Don’t judge others until you know them
McRaven said that, while in training, many SEALs made fun of a group of guys who looked small in stature often beat the bigger ones in swimming faster and performance, in general. “SEAL training was a great equalizer,” he said. It can seem too easy to judge others by their looks, their achievements, or their Instagram profile. Take the time to get to know them before you do, and you may learn something.
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15. Don’t let stress get to you
We all experience stress in our lives, but perhaps no more than Navy SEALs. Robert O’Neill, a former Navy SEAL and author of The Operator has a good strategy for helping it roll off. “Stress is the bag of bricks you can pick up in the morning and let it weigh you down or you can just not pick it up. A lot of it’s in your mind,” he said. “Stress is actually a choice that you make. You can be stressed out or you can not be stressed out. It’s important to try to divorce emotion from what you’re doing. Your initial reaction is the wrong reaction. You need to separate it to just by taking a second letting it develop.”
In other words, if you take a breath and think about the situation at hand, you can see it more clearly. Rather than getting stressed out right away and letting emotion take over, look at your challenges with more objective eyes. It helps the Navy SEALs complete incredibly challenging missions, and it can help the rest of us get through each day.
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