How to become invincible?

Captivity, being shot at behind enemy lines, or defusing a bomb – there is virtually no extreme situation that Navy SEALs cannot handle. Where do they get the mental strength to do it? We show what each of us can learn from the commandos.

It’s a huge challenge to the recruits’ psyches and endurance. Get only four hours of sleep in five and a half days and yet remain focused. After more than 320 kilometers of marching accompanied by cold and pain, to get up to keep running. Despite the constant tension and fear, to form a team and help the weak.

The so-called Hell Week is the toughest, most brutal part of Navy SEAL commando training – one of the most famous special units in the world. During those five days, 75 percent of candidates drop out. Resignation – this is the secret formula of all those who managed to get into this elite unit. It is the ability to turn a negative experience into something positive. Dr. Eric Greitens, a political scientist and current governor of the state of Missouri, served for many years as a Navy SEAL unit commander.

– People always ask me what type of person is capable of going through a hellish week. I can’t answer that. What I do know is who fails: all the super-athletes, the strong-mouths, and the malcontents. Instead, some of the seemingly hopeless types succeed: those who have trouble pulling themselves up on a bar, vomit while running, or start gritting their teeth at the mere sight of an icy ocean.

In fact, those who score less than 800 points at the beginning of the physical fitness test are statistically three times more likely to pass Hell Week. This extreme test is only
ten percent focused on physical endurance and 90 percent on mental endurance.

Or, as one instructor concludes: “It’s not the body that gives up, but always the head.” In training, Navy SEALs learn methods for dealing with extreme mental stress and how not to lose control even in seemingly hopeless situations. – Suffering can destroy or strengthen us. Fear can incapacitate or excite. The hardest battles we fight are to get control of ourselves, Greitens says. But Navy SEALs’ mental tricks can be used by civilians, too – the following pages highlight some of the most effective strategies.

Your friend pain

How to get by without a doctor

– I don’t want to hear wails about hunger, fatigue, and cold – that’s how instructors greet their recruits. Why? Commandos should simply ignore pain. Hormones produced by the body help with this. – Adrenaline is a great gift, Greitens explains.

– It narrows our focus so that we literally do not notice the things that ail us. Navy SEALs, however, go even further: as a result of the constant strain, they develop an almost confidential relationship with pain: they notice it, but it is no longer something foreign. It is simply part and parcel of being a commando, and is even enjoyed because it symbolizes steadfastness and success.

– There is often no cure for pain. But we can prevent it from turning into suffering, Greitens explains. The simplest way is to ask about the type and effects of pain. Because to describe it, you have to “get out of it.” Focusing on one particular wound changes the relationship to it. While the pain may still be penetrating, you regain control over it.

24 hours without sleep

How do you stay focused?

Masked Navy SEALs lie hidden for days – and yet they are 100 percent alert at the crucial moment. – But before it arrives, they perform a series of unspectacular actions on which everything then depends, Greitens explains.

The constant focus on a wide range of possible scenarios makes the difference between life and death. – The most important thing is to keep your mind occupied,” says former Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill, who on some nights waited for hours for the right moment. – For example, I counted to a thousand and back – but in a constantly changing rhythm.

The main motivation killer is sleep mode. You can turn it off by confronting yourself with more and more tasks and experiences. Doing so creates more neural connections, supporting the brain’s flexibility. Thus, for example, many American soldiers serving in Vietnam invented arcade games to break out of their routine. Often, however, a bright light, a brief pain or odor stimulus, or a bite of bitter or spicy food is enough to wake the body.

Panic and fear

How to control negative emotions?

Swimming 50 meters underwater is one of the most feared Navy SEAL exams. To pass it, physical training is not enough. Recruits must be able to control their body functions. – When oxygen starts to run out and you can’t even see your target, most people panic,” says Greitens.

That’s why, more often than not, the recruits immerse themselves mentally in the situation beforehand. They learn how to slow down their breathing to lower their pulse rate, and how to keep every unnecessary muscle relaxed underwater. They simulate the entire dive hundreds of times – until there is no more room in the brain for a panic attack.

– People worry, no matter how often they deny it, Greitens explains. – By doing so, they unknowingly support the formation of panic because fear thrives best in hiding. Instead of allowing yourself to be overcome by worry, you should handle it productively and prepare thoroughly. What bad things can happen? What is the worst case scenario? And what would be an appropriate response then?

Four hours of sleep per week

How do you transcend the limitations of your own body?

– Say good night to the sun” – thunders the instructor to the soaked recruits. It is evening on the first day of a hellish week. The commando candidates have been on their feet for 20 hours and have another 112 hours ahead of them, only four of which will be spent sleeping, the rest carrying heavy logs, running with a 20 kg backpack, swimming in icy water or crawling under fire.

– Anyone who survives this has accomplished ten times more than they previously thought possible, explains Navy SEALs instructor Mark Divine. Interestingly, most recruits give up when the sun goes down – so not during training. – They give up just thinking about what’s ahead,” Greitens explains. – But those who are focused on the immediate moment will endure.

Navy SEALs break down big tasks into small steps and only think about the next one – breakfast, a run to the range, or the next ten sit-ups. A positive side effect: each of these steps provokes an avalanche of feelings of success, for which strong recruits give themselves mental praise such as: – Good job, you did it. Now again. Focus on your shoulders. Breathe.

In the hands of the enemy

How to overcome helplessness

James Stockdale spent more than 7½ years in Vietcong captivity. The fighter regiment commander endured isolation, sleep deprivation, and torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp called the “Hanoi Hilton.” – Optimists who thought, e.g. By Christmas they will be out, dead of despair,” explains Stock dale. – The most important thing is not to lie to yourself in such a situation, understand the brutal facts – and still not lose hope.

Conclusion

– Life is unfair. We usually can’t do anything about the misfortunes that befall us – but we can influence how we react to them,” explains Greitens. – Never look for blame. That suggests someone else has taken control. Even in the worst situation, you have power over your own behavior and intentions. Find ways to take responsibility yourself – no matter how humble the beginnings (regular mind games, tasks). It’s about accepting what you can’t control and getting down to what you can control.

Eye to eye with danger

How do you turn despair into courage?

It’s a moment that can inspire despair. On one side, the recruits; on the other, the instructors. Between them, a mile of torture made up of obstacles, sandy slopes, and mud-filled pits. One of the instructors raises his arm and two hundred completely exhausted Navy SEALs candidates start running – out of fear. They know that this raised arm is like a guillotine. They must pass it before it falls down. For those who fail, the Goon Squad, or punitive commando, awaits. Such a prospect not only mobilizes new strength, but also keeps you focused on your goal.

Conclusion

– Fear, like almost every other emotion, is only destructive when it clouds our senses, Greitens says. Instead of letting it paralyze him, the Navy SEALs commando considers it an ally that, due to the adrenaline rush, improves his alertness, focus, and motivation. – Theoretically, this feeling could be eliminated with drugs,” Greitens says. – But fear helps, it can even make us braver. Take advantage of a moment when you feel apprehensive, such as making a long-postponed decision or getting down to a difficult project.

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