This is Ron White,  two-time USA Memory Champion. I would like to relay some information I learned working with my friend, T.C. Cummings, a former Navy SEAL.

T.C. Cummings was visiting my hometown of Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. I picked him up from his hotel and we had been driving for a while when he asked me if the lake was in the direction he was pointing. I said, “Yeah, there is a lake over there, but how did you know?” There was no way he could see the lake, and I knew he wasn’t familiar with the area, so I was dumbfounded.

He automatically replied, “Tuning!” I had heard of a tuning fork, or tuning an instrument, but never had heard about the use of ‘tuning’ to find a lake.

His explanation was fascinating. He said, “Tuning is what a SEAL will do when he enters a new environment. The SEAL will take a mental inventory of his surroundings. When I was in the air before we landed – I was tuning. I was making a mental note the direction of the lake in correlation to the city, where the major roads, buildings and points of interest were.”

In warfare, tuning is one area that sets a SEAL apart from other soldiers. After exiting a helicopter in unfamiliar territory, a SEAL gets away from the noise of the blades as quickly as he can and sets up a perimeter to be able to tune in to the surrounding area. He checks out the dirt, smells the ground, and sniffs the air in order to understand what kind of environment he is in. In this way, he will be able to detect any changes he may encounter that would deviate from the normal.

The SEAL continues to get the lay of the land, the height of the trees, any jagged rocks, wild animals inhabiting the area, and so on. How would he know if things were changing if he didn’t know what was normal? This is all a result of tuning in to his environment. All his senses are working together – touch, smell, sight, hearing. He is making a diagnosis that could very well save his life, and that of his men.

There are stories from men who served in Vietnam that say SEALs would become so intoned to their environment they could smell the bubble gum of the enemy as they were getting closer.

As T.C. was telling me about tuning I was going over in my mind a story I had heard from some sailor friends as we sat around a table exchanging stories. This one as about a group of Navy SEALs stationed at a nearby base. My friend, who had witnessed the incident, was not aware of the term ‘tuning’ as he relayed what he saw. He said there was a group of SEALs at a bar when a bunch of drunken military men started to goad them. The drunks thought they could get the SEALs off-guard and they could proudly boast later on that they had taken on some SEALs, and won.

The drunks didn’t take into consideration that SEALs are never caught off-guard! They knew the SEALs are the best-of-the-best, but obviously were not so aware of the fact that SEALs are SEALs 24/7. Even relaxing, a SEAL is constantly tuning, so although they may look relaxed and immersed in conversation their antennae are still on full alert. They are aware of the people around them, the lay of the land, and the exits to make their escape.

Within seconds of the ambush by the drunks, the SEALs defeated the attack and exited out the back door. Due to their fine-tuned skills they saw the attack coming, took care of business, and were out the back door before the shore patrol came in the front.

Being aware of things around you, and things that don’t seem normal, are good ways for anyone to keep safe in any situation. Take for example if you were riding on a commuter train, wouldn’t it be beneficial to know where the emergency exits are in case of a problem? Tuning can also help you get comfortable for a sales meeting or job interview. By arriving a little early and getting to know in your surroundings, and the perfect place to sit in order to have the best vantage point of everything around you make you more at ease when you have to make your presentation, or speak to a prospective employer.  Students trying to find the perfect place to concentrate in order to improve their memory will find tuning the perfect way to find a seat away from other distractions.

This lesson on tuning is just one of many taught by T.C. Cummings and myself through our “Think Like A U.S. Navy SEAL” workshops, or through the “Mind of a U.S. SEAL” CD package.