Physical Preparation and Mindset Development Require Patience

SEAL candidates take part in log physical training.
First Phase Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL candidates participate in log physical training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy M. Black/U.S. Navy photo)

Just looking at a motivational poster can't get you ready to challenge yourself and achieve a goal -- especially if that goal requires a rigorous process of preparation, learning, developing and growing. Many young people are overconfident in their abilities and actually underprepared for the challenges ahead of them.

When it comes to military service, your patience and ability to give yourself time to progress will be what determines your success in enduring basic training or special ops selection.

Though this poster was on my wall for years, it took more than looking at it every day to prepare for that goal.
Though this poster was on my wall for years, it took more than looking at it every day to prepare for that goal.

You have to develop two things during your preparation phase: First, the physical abilities that will allow you to pass tests and give you the ability to do your job and, second, the mindset and mental toughness to push yourself when needed. These two things do not happen without patience and progress in your personal growth.

Here is what happens when one of the two requirements is underdeveloped:

You have a strong mindset but are physically underprepared

There are mentally strong and confident people who are just tough and will never quit, no matter what. Maybe they were born with that never-quit attitude, or maybe it was developed through a tough childhood or working manual labor jobs to help feed their family.

Life somehow made them tougher than the average person. There are many stories of these types of people going through training and never having a problem with the mental toughness challenges. They never once thought about quitting, but they physically broke or could not keep up with the physical standards as they failed tests or events.

Sometimes, these people make it through training by sheer grit and meet the standards, even as they endure aches, pains and injuries that would sideline the average person. This is pretty rare.

The more common example is the most mentally tough people who break themselves as they fail to meet standards physically or with tactical skills and wash out of training. In tough military special ops programs, there are many people who quit, but most fail to meet the standards or get medically dropped.

You are prepared physically but have a weak mindset

There are also people on the opposite side of the spectrum who are very well-prepared for training or special ops selection. Maybe their life was spent being a top-notch, multi-sport athlete, and they had a well-developed, progressive training program that helped them achieve above-average standards for the physical screening test and specific events of selection training. In other words, they prepared well physically to get both to and through training.

Even the best physical performers have issues. But when aches, pains or minor injuries occur, are they able to suck it up, play with pain and still meet the standards for training? Maybe they never failed anything in their life or never have received constant negative feedback from instructors.

This is a challenge to many high-performing athletes. Their overconfidence gets crushed quickly the moment their why gets tested. When they are cold, wet, sandy and sitting in dark, murky water after a long day of training, even the perfectly prepared will be tested here. Do you have a strong why you want to do this job? Do you have that mindset of, you would rather die than quit on your teammates? Because this is the type of desire and mindset that has to be in place when you are alone with your thoughts when your why is tested.

And then there is the physically underprepared person with a weak mindset: This one might not even make it to the training, and if they actually get accepted into the training, they quickly will fail in the mass exodus of students in the first two weeks. Most people who fail special ops selections are in this group and should have taken more time to prepare.

The importance of patience

Patience allows you to develop resilience (the ability to handle stress better), durability, work capacity and discipline; it even builds mental toughness. You build all of these over time, and patience gives you the time to allow them to develop. You build all of these through the logical progressions that patience allows.

You also build a better foundation for growth. Upping your game to new levels will be required of you along your journey of challenging goals. In the end, patience allows for you to build confidence in your abilities through these stress inoculations of preparation. It also will keep your confidence in check by humbling you on occasion, as there will be failures and plateaus you have to move through.

Patience gives you time

Time gives you the ability to progress. Progression with your training and education builds a smarter, tougher, more durable person who actually can have the tools to handle long stressful days and nights, whether it is rigorous academics or physical screening and selection programs in special ops units.

You cannot get good at the elements of tactical fitness without patience. Strengthening your weaknesses through constant assessment, maintaining your strengths and learning new skills is the basis of becoming a tactical athlete in any military, police or fire fighting professions, and this process takes time.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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