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, T.C. Cummings, a former Navy SEAL. His help was invaluable for me when I was training for the USA Memory Championship, and I have found this and other lessons he has taught me are just as important in many other aspects of my life, and I believe in yours too.

The first part of Navy SEAL training is BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs). The dive phase of BUDS, the pool competency, is like hell week consisting of five days, Sunday through Friday, of intense testing of your will, physical and mental stamina. Although you are in the pool for less than 30 minutes, it seems like an eternity. As T.C. says: “It has been said that water can make cowards of us all and this phase will easily break a phony façade of confidence. Water does not care of your athletic ability and is ignorant of rank.”

BUDS students are suited with 72 lbs. of gear, and as T.C. says: “You will find out what the ‘S’ in SEAL is all about.” The regulator on your tank is outdated, and a large hose is draped from one shoulder to another to the regulator. You begin by breathing normally and staying calm on the floor of the 8 ft. pool, focusing on survival as you anticipate what is about to happen next. Your instructors are monitoring you as you move with the water. You suddenly spy two sharks circling above (this is a chlorine pool, and they are not real sharks, but instructors will act like sharks for this exercise). Your heart starts to pump faster as shark #1 swoops down on you in a vicious attack geared to shake your concentration and instill panic. As this shark slams you to the floor the other shark swims in to rip off your facemask and fins. This tag-team attack is designed to see if you are following procedures under duress.

Instantly the waters go from calm to stormy, and just as you start to gain your equilibrium the first shark comes back to undo you weight belt and pull your regulator out of your mouth, causing it to flail around your head. You regain your composure and catch the hose to get some welcome air. Suddenly a shark comes back and hits you with a blow to the gut, throwing you to the ground and causing you to exhale your air. Just as the air leaves your lungs your tube is again ripped from your mouth – and this time tied behind your head.

This is not swimming at the YMCA, and no matter how well you thought you could hold your breath under water, this is entirely different! The instructors are preparing you for situations where you will be buffeted by waves and sea creatures, slammed to the ocean floor, dodging live ammunition, and even losing your equipment in order to fulfill your mission.

Now that you have expelled all your oxygen, you start searching for your regulator but can’t grab it since it’s behind your head. You will need to remove the pack from your shoulders, and quickly remove the knot from the tube to get your oxygen. As the survival instinct kicks in, some men have not been able to unknot the tube and have been known to rip the mouthpiece off and place it directly in their mouth. It is entirely possible for confusion to take hold and the man to become disoriented. Your success as a SEAL will depend on your being able to complete this task in under the time of 20 minutes. This exercise has ended many a dream of becoming a Navy SEAL.

You are going to question your ability to withstand extremely dangerous circumstances, be aware of potential problems, and learn how to keep your head to counteract them. “The only thought process that will benefit a SEAL in this circumstance is one that steadfastly evaluates the situation, questions the source of the malfunction and solves the challenge,” says T.C.  If you successfully complete the pool competency you will be confident in your ability to handle the surf zone because of the lessons learned here.

As a Navy SEAL you will find yourself in some unnatural circumstances, and one mistake can easily kill you. You have to learn to become be certain you are able to defeat any obstacles and that degree of certainty only comes from training experience. This Navy SEAL training and experience allows you to survive and succeed because you were able to maintain your composure and calmly locate your problem by following training survival steps.

We may find ourselves in a precarious situation at some time in our life – it could be a mugging, road rage, or a need to defend yourself or your family. If you throw your hands up in surrender, or react emotionally what happens then? If you have learned to keep your cool, and respond in an unemotional way (doing what seems natural may be the wrong way to go) you will be able to overcome the situation.

‘If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!’ ~ Rudyard Kipling

You will find the lesson in holding your composure under duress among many available on the training CDs “Mind of a Navy SEAL,” and in our training “Think Like A U.S. Navy SEAL” workshops.