What Comes Next After Fitness Motivation and Discipline?

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

Fitness goals come in all shapes and sizes, but long-term success requires that your initial motivation evolves into disciplined habits. Once you have started a fitness program and begin to maintain a healthy lifestyle, there is more you must do if you pursue higher levels of physical and mental challenges.

The growth you experience from consistent disciplined training also needs to extend into other, less objective areas of human performance. This is especially true if you are seeking military jobs in the special-ops world.

There’s a reason why the selection process for these jobs has the highest attrition rates in military training programs. The jobs are hard and require a high level of mental and physical toughness. What occurs inside after you reach peak physical fitness performance and discipline is more important than PT test scores or how great an athlete you have been.

Somewhere in your journey, you must achieve other types of growth to ensure success on any challenging journey in your life, even if that journey is outside of your special-ops goals. These intangible abilities are necessarily acquired through hard physical training.

There are many ways in life to build the following skills:

Grit and Resilience

Grit and resilience are developed one day at a time from a disciplined life of experience. Some call it “mental toughness.” All three terms describe the intangible ability to accept failure, setbacks and obstacles as learning experiences.

Can you handle constant negative feedback from instructors? Once instructors see you are unfazed by the necessary physical standards, the games begin so that they can see just how bad you want it.

For the high-achieving scholar/athlete who rarely has failed at anything, constant negative feedback can crush some of the best athletes in the world. Ironically, people who worked hard just to meet the standards may have the ability to work through the negative comments better than the high achievers.

Seeing grit and resilience in action is an amazing spectacle for an observer, recruit or even an instructor. Grit and resilience can be the very thing that allows an unathletic kid who barely meets the standards to outlast the Division I athlete who wins every event when they’re both stuck in the surf on a cold, dark night.

Who is tough enough to endure the bone-chilling temperatures and the wet sand under the uniform, when there is no end in sight? The one who makes it shows uncommon grit.

Heart and Passion

Many people start their journey 100% sure that a special-ops career is for them. Most fail to maintain that passion and consider other options once they experience the hard work, high standards and long periods of discomfort required by this journey.

There is obviously an element of grit and resilience in this level of personal growth, but there is much more of a psychological aspect to it as well. Do you have a good answer for why you want to do this?

You may just feel it deep in your soul and you cannot stop thinking about your goals, but without adding grit and resilience to the mix, your heart and passion may not be enough. If you feel what you are training for is a calling, and not just a job or cool accomplishment, you may have the right stuff.

As a coach, I look specifically at a candidate’s actions, consistency and level of confidence. I try to find a glimmer in their eye that speaks volumes about how dedicated they are in pursuit of this goal.

How Bad Do You Want This?

Finally, there will be questions that enter your head when the day turns to night or when times are cold, dark, wet, sandy or dirty. When you are alone with your thoughts, the internal voice may simply ask, “Why are you doing this to yourself?”

This final question must have an answer standing by as you have to quickly get back to talking to yourself and not listening to yourself. The question you must finally answer is, “How bad do you really want this?”

In conclusion, success with difficult goals requires the following:

A foundation in fitness, academic, work experience or talent is essential if you want to succeed. Building this foundation is usually coupled with initial motivation to do something that resonates with you or interests you, but that motivation must evolve into discipline and good habits.

Grit and resilience are part training and part life experiences. Both are often tested during the physical development phase of this journey. Dealing with less-than-supportive people in your life can test a person’s drive to continue.

You likely won’t be able to build the needed grit and resilience if this path is not a calling to serve. Your heart and passion to serve must be so strong that pain, discomfort, hard work, failures, distractions and obstacles do not distract you from continuing.

And finally, it’s helpful if you’re just being too stubborn to quit and refuse to listen to the inner voice that wants to take the easy route, the path that requires less work and pain.

As a coach that helps people prepare for all tactical professions, the goal to serve in any capacity requires more than physical fitness preparation. All services require that fitness prep, but the drive to serve also must grow into what can be called an unstoppable force.

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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