Life Lesson–It’s your mental toughness that counts

(From The Open Circle newsletter)

More years ago than I care to remember, I was undergoing remedial PT at Ft. Knox, KY. I had flunked the PT test that was needed to graduate from training, because I couldn’t run for squat. I wasn’t the only one, but our small and select group was of course singled out for some of that special drill sergeant love, because WE ARE GOING TO PASS OUR FUCKING PT TEST AREN’T WE LADIES?


So we ran. A lot. And we saw a side of our drill sergeants we had not seen before. I’m not going to say they got all warm and fuzzy, but let’s say there was a lot less shouting and punishment and considerably more coaching, even it the volume was sometimes high. For the first time it became obvious, at least to me, that they really did want us to succeed, not only in getting through training, but as soldiers and as individuals. That was a bit of a shock after weeks of seeing them as a cross between Attila the Hun, the troll under a bridge and an ogre who simply wanted to eat you alive. There were human beings under those campaign hats.

I will never forget when one day, during a run, my drill sergeant not only identified why I couldn’t run well (breath control–you’d be amazed how many things in life come down to breath control) and passed on a lesson that has lived with me to this day, and that I have passed on to my children and as many other people as I have been able to.

“Your mind will quit before your body will.”

That one insightful sentence has been incredibly important to me for over 30 years. It has seen me through the times when I desperately wanted to just give up and quit. I hear that voice in my head saying “Your mind will quit before your body will.” And I’ll mutter or think “Yes Drill Sergeant!” and I’ll push on.

That moment popped into my head when I read “Bulletproof Mind: 6 Secrets of Mental Toughness From the Navy SEALs” by Charles Chu.  That article talks about the six techniques of mental toughness Chu was able to take away from former SEAL Brandon Webb’s book, The Red Circle: My Life in the Navy SEAL Sniper Corps and How I Trained America’s Deadliest Marksmen. While SEAL training is physically demanding, it’s mental toughness that will see a candidate through.

While you should read the article (heck, you can get the book in hardback for a penny plus shipping–read the book), the six techniques Chu singles out are:

  • Eat the Elephant
  • Visualize Success
  • Emotional Control
  • Nonreactivity
  • Small Victories
  • Find Your Tribe (and Necessity)

You may have ran into some or all of these techniques elsewhere. I’ve ran into “Eat the Elephant” in project management training and visualizing success and emotional control in sports training. “Small Victories” is at the heart of a now-current Internet meme that has you write down 3 things you’re grateful for each day. I have not, however, seen the others nor seen all of these integrated into a whole.

Just a little something else for your arsenal of resilience when Trouble comes knocking at your door.

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