The concept of transforming your life might seem intimidating, but really, it’s just a matter of making small changes over time that add up to something big. And according to a retired Navy SEAL commander and popular podcast host, it’s much easier than you think. In fact, it all comes down to making five choices every day.
Who is Jocko Willink?
Jocko Willink is a former commander of Navy SEAL Team 3’s “Task Unit Bruiser,” the most highly decorated special-operations unit of the Iraq War. He has learned how to lead people in dangerous and complex situations, and it is his belief that with structure and a strict dedication to it, people can act with more efficiency and freedom.
Willink has a hit podcast called Jocko Podcast, and his new book, Discipline Equals Freedom, touches on the five key choices you can make every day to transform your life.
Next: Set your alarm for success.
1. Wake up early
Willink noticed as a new SEAL that the top performers he served with were always the ones who woke up the earliest. He sets his own alarm for 4:30 a.m. and encourages others to get up as early as possible, a habit with plenty of proven benefits. But this doesn’t mean he encourages running on a few hours of sleep — recognizing your own sleep needs and adjusting your bedtime accordingly is the key.
Next: Set yourself up for fitness success.
2. Prepare for your workout the night before
Willink works out at the home gym he built in his garage as soon as he wakes up. But even if you’d prefer to exercise at a different time of day, putting in the effort to make workouts happen is often the biggest obstacle for people. Prepare your workout gear at night so you can throw it on when you get out of bed or take your gym bag with you to work.
Next: Make your list.
3. Create a daily to-do list
Having a daily to-do list helps us stick to a schedule, and Willink recommends creating yours ahead of time. He claims that too much thinking in the morning is a mistake, and you should allow yourself time to wake up gradually — and having your list already in place will help.
Next: You’ll probably like this tip the most.
4. Learn the art of the proper power nap
Willink said he learned about short power naps from a high school teacher, which really came in handy during SEAL training and on patrol. Even napping for a few short minutes has some great health benefits, and if you wake up early and work hard all day, you may need the break to recharge.
Next: Beware of the “free food.”
5. Say no to free food at the office
If you work in an environment where your co-workers or bosses bring in free food to boost morale, beware — this can actually sabotage your health, says Willink. He recommends politely passing on the free donuts, bagels, or pizza, and either grabbing your own healthy snack or avoiding eating entirely until your next scheduled meal time.
Next: Making positive changes doesn’t have to be hard.
Keep it simple
You don’t have to have the discipline of a Navy SEAL to transform your life — in fact, the point of all of Willink’s suggestions seems to be the simplicity of them. Make a few small, positive health changes every day and you’ll notice a real difference in your life in no time.
Next: More simple advice from other Navy SEALs to help you succeed
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.”
Next: This take on “sweat the small stuff” will have you focusing on even tiny tasks.
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.
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.”
Next: It’s OK to make mistakes, just make sure to do this, too.
Learn from your mistakes
McRaven 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.”
Next: To do this next one will take some humbling.
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.”
Next: This next one reminds you not to let them rain on your parade.
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.
Additional reporting by Lizz Schumer.
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