Practical Advice From The Navy Seals Part 2

A heart-felt thanks to those selfless individuals that gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving in our armed forces. We honor you this past Memorial Day weekend, and the other 364 days of the year.

Back in November of 2015, I wrote a blog about life insights from The Navy Seals. According to statistical feedback – it has been one of my most read blogs. Somehow a connection was forged on how ordinary people like you and I could take on the habits of legendary warriors like the Navy Seals. There is so much information out there, I wanted to share more. In case you missed it, here were the three key points that were highlighted last time:

  • SEALs are incredibly punctual
  • SEALs push their bodies and minds to the extreme 
  • SEALs carefully select what words they use

Here are three more insights for our reflection:

  • SEALs use the basics of deep breathing to calm down and focus on their mission – Whether in training or on the battlefield, Navy Seals have to be at their sharpest mentally at all times. The majority of the time they are physically and emotionally exhausted. Mark Divine, author of The Way of the Seal discusses deep breathing during several portions of his book. When under stress, afraid, or surprised – we enter into fight or flight mode – and that includes not breathing properly. He states, “Before you can take control of you mind, you must first calm it down. The fastest way to calm your mind, along with your body, is through slow and controlled deep breathing . . . This settling practice helps reduce mental chatter, prevents your mind from wandering, and is generally a great boost to your self-control efforts. It will also rebalance your nervous system and reduce harmful physiological effects associated with fear and stress.” (pg. 34-35)
  • You and I – Try it now. Take in a deep breath with your nose and mouth, fill your lungs with air, and slowly exhale through your mouth for 5 seconds. Do it at least two more times and you should feel better. This is a great skill to quickly use before a tough conversation, an interview, a presentation, speaking up when we are normally silent, when we feel anger coming on, when we’re lost, stuck in traffic, late for an appointment, even helping our kids de-escalate from a tantrum – basically when we are anxious or stressed about anything. Calming our breathing down puts us in the right mental state to think clearly, pray for guidance, complete our task,  and look for solutions instead of dwelling on the problem. It is a quick fix to immediately feel better and reoriented.
  • SEALs break things down into the smallest increments  – They refer to it as “simplifying the battlefield.” It means eliminating distractions. Devine states: “When we eliminate distractions, we can better see the simple, elegant solutions and remain front-sight focused on the right way forward. Even elite teams can get distracted and veer toward the complex.” (pg.46-47) He talks about a training exercise potential recruits must pass to progress in his Seal Leadership Program. They take the normal push up position, and then have to maintain that position for 45 minutes. The majority fail the test the first time after about 5 minutes. Those that eventually pass the test have discovered the secret: you have to break the 45 minutes down into seconds – completely having your mind and body in that present moment, second by second, then minute by minute.and believing that you are far more capable of doing beyond what you envision your limitations are.
  •  You and I – Wow, distractions – where do I start? Just like the SEALs do, in small parts. Maybe developing the discipline of turning off our electronic devices for a set amount of time every day? Possibly moving into a different room to work on a project that requires concentration, or a school assignment. Setting a timer and giving laser-like focus to the task at hand until the set time is up. Perhaps being okay with unopened email. Increasing our face time with family and friends – and decreasing our virtual time with them. What about the 45 minute push-up example? What is overwhelming to us now that we need to break into small, manageable parts? Extreme example – I recently had the unpleasant adventure of flying from Dallas to Orlando while passing a kidney stone. I would not recommend you trying this at home. The first response was panic because I didn’t know what was wrong. Was a major organ giving out? Had I been bitten by a Brown Recluse Spider? Anyway, I started with short, deep breaths to try to calm my mind and body down. During those excruciating 3 hours – I also attempted to fill my mind with prayer, Bible passages, counting in my head from 1 – 100 while clearly visualizing each number, and positive mental images of puppies running joyfully through endless meadows. Though the pain remained, those practices helped provide a buffer until I could get medical attention.
  • SEALs put others needs above their own – The selflessness they display while defending our country. A job description that features the willingness to lay down their lives for a team member or someone in distress. How many disasters have they prevented that we don’t know about? Writer Jason King describes how he embraced this principle while attempting to pass the “surf torture challenge” portion of a SEAL Leadership Training. Imagine lying on the beach sand in sunny California listening to the waves gently crash into the shore. Sounds great doesn’t it? This exercise is slightly different. You still get to lay on the beach, but you are backwards – your head is closest to the water. You have locked both arms with the person next to you forming a giant human chain. And it isn’t a warm, sunny day – it is dreadfully cold water and air. You can hear the ocean rumbling and waves breaking but without seeing, you’re never sure when they will next wash over you or for how long.Here are snippets from King’s experience:

    From behind us, we could hear the 4-foot waves crashing in from the Pacific. The trouble was, we could never seem to get connected with the cadence of when they were going to next wash over our faces, filling our eyes, ears, throats and noses with sand, stones and seawater.

    The not knowing is part of how this “evolution” (Navy SEAL-speak for a really challenging exercise) gets the cheery name of “surf torture.” You don’t know when you’re next going to feel like you’re drowning. The task at hand is to manage your fear.

    So here’s what I learned and, actually, here’s how I learned it:

    While all of this is happening, something is washing over your mind as well: fear. Fear that you may be drowning. After all, our minds have a very ancient job to do, bestowed upon them by instinct: watch out for threats to our existence. It is natural then that during surf torture, your mind may start to wander and do its thing; running through various disaster scenarios, convinced that death could be rolling in with the next wave.

    Want to know the secret behind how to get through this evolution?

    Stop thinking about yourself and keep your eyes on the team.

    You see, if you get trapped in your own experience surf torture is absolutely just that: torture. It’s designed to be a psychological test even more than a physical one: You constantly feel like you could be drowning. With every wave, you feel like you’re going to get dragged out to sea. With every minute that ticks by, you get colder and have more trouble getting your breath and keeping your faculties. Your fight or flight instincts are pinging all over the inside of your brain, looking for an escape hatch.

    The secret to getting through it all is to get fierce about protecting the people around you. You use all your physical strength to anchor your teammates against the rip tide so that the team doesn’t wash out into deeper water. You hold them tighter so that they can be warmer. You try to make them laugh, get them to sing or just do anything to get everyone’s mind off the fact that they are experiencing a gnarly challenge and many of them are scared . . . “

    So, that’s how you survive surf torture . . . (Beyond Personal Development: What I Learned From The Navy Seal Surf Torture, Huffington Post Online, 12/2015)

  • You and I – This principle speaks for itself. Where do we need to start focusing on others instead of ourselves – home, work, church, the community? Will we be on the alert for that person who crosses our path needing a word of encouragement, a laugh, or help with something they are too embarrassed to ask about? Where is fear holding us back? The late Zig Ziglar was known for his great quote of: “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”

” . . . But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:26 NLT)

I hope this helps. There are plenty more principles out there – so look for part 3 sometime in the distant future 🙂


David Rische 🙂



About David Rische

Christian, husband, father, grandfather, principal, teacher, writer and encourager. David lives in Keller, Texas and has been in public education for over 19 years. He enjoys family time, biking, reading, NFL and MLB, magic, board games, movies and making people laugh.
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4 Responses to Practical Advice From The Navy Seals Part 2

  1. Heather Varon says:

    Another great write!!!


  2. Gail Rische says:

    Very interesting and thinking the Navy Seals are truly special people. Wonder if there are any women in the group? Thanks for the excellent article—-as usual.


    • David Rische says:

      Yes – they are very special. Did a Google search regarding women in the SEAL program – the most recent article said they should be joining units in 2017, and obtaining officer positions in 2018.


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