Special Forces Training Too Hard? Keep These Tips in Mind

SEAL candidates participate in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.
U.S. Navy SEAL candidates participate in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training. (Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt/U.S. Navy photo)

All of us make a choice each day: Keep moving or stop. You might make the choice when you hit the snooze button instead of just getting up to start your day. Or the choice may be in something more life-changing as you face the physical challenges of Special Forces training and decide whether to keep going or quit.

Course corrections are part of life. They cannot be looked upon as failures, but instead should be seen as learning experiences. According to Elbert Hubbard, author of "A Message to Garcia," the classic story of taking initiative, overcoming great obstacles and never quitting to get the job done, "a failure is a man who has blundered, but is not able to cash in the experience."

Reconsidering your Special Forces direction? Here are some things to keep in mind.

Just get started. Depending on the moment, it can be as simple as moving and just starting the process of whatever task you were procrastinating about. But there are moments for which you spent many long hours, days, nights, weeks, months and years preparing, and you never should forget how much you sacrificed and worked to get there. In the world of special-ops preparation, those moments tend to be in the first phase of Navy SEAL training, during Special Forces Assessment & Selection, and other selection programs throughout the tactical professions. These are tough events that are often gut checks, where everyone is broken down physically to a point that moving is purely mental. As they say, "The moment you're about to quit is the moment right before the miracle happens. Don't give up."

Remember why you're there. That moment of decision to quit (or not) usually is coupled with a complete sensory overload. The pain, tiredness, being wet, cold (or hot), dirty and generally uncomfortable can be compounded by thoughts of troubles at home and with family, missing your significant other or thinking of easier jobs to do in the military. You have to be clear about what you want and why you want it before going down the road of military special-ops selection, where attrition rates are typically more than 70%.

In my experience, if you go there physically and mentally ready to compete with yourself and whatever the instructors have for you and your class to do every day, you likely never will think about quitting. That requires taking time to focus on your weaknesses, as we all have them when becoming a spec ops-level tactical athlete.

Remember how hard you worked. Your preparation is going to make the difference between your ability to endure challenging days or not. Your preparation can go back in time to years of playing sports, doing two-a-day practices, taping joints and playing with pain, being hot and sweaty in summer training or freezing in the winter. That is where your preparation can start. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and don't forget your journey to get to where you are now -- at this moment.

Gratitude: Be thankful to be where you are. An attitude of gratitude goes a long way during the moment of decision. Not many people even get to try out for selection programs because of medical problems or other non-waiverable issues. Be grateful you are there and get to test your limits.

During my time at the U.S. Naval Academy and going through BUD/S, I started off each day knowing it was going to be long and potentially painful in some way, but I was thankful to be there. Take a moment and look around your world when it gets very small, and you are alone with your thoughts of whether to stay or go. Be thankful to be there and keep moving.

Prove others wrong. I cannot tell you how many people said I would not make it through many of the challenges I wanted in life. Whether it is friends, coaches, teachers or even your family, proving others wrong goes a long way. Get pissed at yourself for even considering quitting. I must be honest: I never once thought about quitting. I was focused constantly on proving people wrong, even when my days turned into nights and I was tired. If you do not have this negativity in your life, good. But you also can use the statistics as your challenging mark. Statistics say 70%-80% of the people who start SEAL training will quit. Prove statistics wrong.

Don't want to be a _____. It is not what I expected. How do you know? You have not even started the job yet. Many people have used this as a reason to change course, but here is the deal: Of course, BUD/S or SFAS or indoctrination is not what you expected of a career in special ops. This is BUD/S, the gateway to your future profession. It is not the profession. But the profession is full of people who were challenged and never quit. Working with those types of people will be one of the greatest things you recall of your military service.

Finally, you have to start training to compete now. When you start your selection, you should think about winning something that day; you can define winning as being in the top 10% of the class in graded events. I promise, if you think about winning, you never even think about quitting. You won't even need the aforementioned tips and strategies to keep moving when lost in the moment of quit or don't quit.

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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