Be Hard, But Be Smart - Like A Navy SEAL

Ron White here,  two-time USA Memory Champion. I would like to let you in on a lesson I learned while working with my friend and former Navy SEAL, T.C. Cummings. I have found the lessons T.C. taught me while helping me train for the U.S.A. Memory Championship are invaluable to everyone, not just those training in combat.

A SEAL would feel complimented if you were to say he was hard. He has worked relentlessly to earn that title. For him being hard is being mentally fit, and not accepting anything less than the best. He is able to master a mental toughness that few grasp, and looks at anything less than perfect as a weakness. This type of mental stamina allows him to survive under extreme conditions, and able to withstand pain –even torture, with a focused mind. A SEAL may sustain broken bones during training, or be able to carry a comrade for miles while he is injured himself. Being hard is just part of the territory for a SEAL.

If a SEAL were to start gaining weight, or get physically soft, his fellow Navy SEALs will stay on him to regain his physical strength for the good of the team. SEALs stay hard by soaring with other eagles and not running with the turkeys. Staying hard is about both mental and physical superiority, for to lose ground in either way weakens the team and their ability to carry on and complete their assignments.

BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs) is Navy SEAL’s basic training. It is specifically designed to make men mentally hard. Instructors will yell out to the group as they are in bone chilling waters, “We have donuts, coffee and blankets here for anyone who wants them. Come on, you know you want to quit…” They are not trying to deflate you, they are trying to make you stronger by being able to withstand and overcome the mental abuse.

As a Navy SEAL you have to be hard all the time, so inspections that are so rigid you get demerits for a grain of sand in your gear, are simply part of the lessons you have to learn in order to make you fit for the jobs you will face. They expect the best, and you must be the best.

As much as being physically hard is important, being mentally hard is more so. As SEALs they know that the physical is 20%, but the mental is 80%. Sometimes one does not want to cooperate with the other.

My friend T.C. Cummings was a hospital corpsman during the eight years he was a Navy SEAL. A corpsman is the company medic, and it is his responsibility to keep the men in good health. Because a SEAL is trained to work through the pain, often he will continue on, even when injured. The corpsman has to be alert to changes in his men that would indicate they are hurt.

One day T.C. noticed one man was saying ‘huh’ a lot. He suspected the man was having trouble hearing, so he pulled him from his duty and asked him what was up. The SEAL replied, “I am fit as a fiddle” in his native southern drawl. “What’s wrong with your hearing?” T.C. asked. “Now, Doc…why would you ask that?” “I need to look in your ear,” T.C. insisted.

T.C. took a look in the SEAL’s ear and he found that the man had a hole in his eardrum big enough to drive a Mac truck through. Mimicking his southern accent TC commented, “You have a mighty big hole in yore ear!” Since he was found out he had to admit he was having ear problems. It seems that while he was cleaning his ear he and his wife got into an argument and she jostled his arm, causing a chain reaction that punctured the eardrum.

In his mind, enduring pain was expected and reporting his injury to the corpsman was a sign of weakness. Although Navy SEALs are expected to endure pain, this injury could jeopardize his men and himself on a mission. At the very least, flying and deep sea diving would have damaged the eardrum further, and both of these activities were scheduled in the next few days. In this case, his mental training to be hard would have been an obstacle to himself, his career, and any mission. There is a difference between being hard and being smart.

In the business world, a professional wants to be mentally hard so they can strive for success, but that doesn’t mean they are weak if they ask for help. Sometimes being smart takes precedence over being hard. “If the bolts on the wheels of your life have loosened, and there is about to be a destructive separation of wheel and axle on the highway of life….please, ask for help!”

For this and other valuable lessons on life check out the training CDs “Mind of a Navy SEAL,” and “Think Like A U.S. Navy SEAL” workshops.

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