A 5-Step Training Plan to Think like a Navy SEAL

Guest post from Mark Divine:

The world is more complex and faster than ever. As a retired Navy SEAL and founder of several multimillion-dollar companies, business seems increasingly like a “VUCA” battlefield in Afghanistan or Syria—it’s Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. 

Special Operators have thrived in these environments because of how they think. Fortunately for you, these skills can be trained. However, you need to know your starting point to customize your training. Here is a five-pronged plan for you:

1. Physical

Get fit. Being fit impacts everything else positively in your life: relationships, health, confidence, brain power, and more. So ask yourself: Do I follow a solid functional training regimen? Am I 100% conscious of what I eat and drink throughout the day? And am I free of injury and illness?

If you mainly answered “no” or “maybe” (meaning “I don’t know”), you’d greatly benefit from a good functional training program (using your whole body) for 30 minutes to one hour, three or four times a week: for example, SEALFIT, CrossFit, martial arts, or yoga. 

If time is a challenge (and it is for all of us), then I encourage you to take moments during your day to do up to three “spot drills” such as 50 squats as fast as possible, 100 burpees, or 10 sun salutations, These drills will burn calories, get the blood flowing and lead to functional fitness over time.

2. Mental 

Get mentally strong. It makes things easier, and you’ll be harder to defeat. So ask yourself: Do I regularly train my mental strength? Do I calmly respond to stressful situations? Can I make quick, good decisions? Do I routinely persevere when faced with a big challenge?
If you mainly answered “no” or “maybe to most of the questions, then I recommend you start practicing the “Big Four” skills for mental toughness.

Practice controlled breathing every morning when you wake up. Next, mentally rehearse a challenging event before attempting it. Calmly see yourself dominating every task, with a smile on your face. Third, as you go about your day, interrupt negative internal dialogue with “power statements” such as “Easy day, I’ve got this,” or “Well, it could always be worse.” SEALs learn to resist the urge to gripe when things are tough, or go wrong. This is a good skill to learn. The fourth skill is to chunk overwhelming tasks into micro goals. For instance, at the start of the infamous Navy SEAL Hell Week (six days of non-stop training with only four hours sleep), I chunked my focus to making it until sunrise each night, then as things got harder, just the next meal, then even the next step.

3. Emotional 
Get emotionally balanced. It brings you more energy and improves your relationships. So ask yourself: Am I aware of my emotions? Do I express them in healthy, productive ways? Can I recognize what triggers negative states? Do I have strategies to transmute negative emotions into positive energy?

If you answered “no” or “maybe” to most, then it’s time to develop emotionally. One powerful method I teach is a practice called authentic communication. With difficult conversations, maintain focused awareness on what your partner says and relaxed awareness on your own thoughts and feelings. This type of active mindfulness takes patience. As you engage in conversation, only speak if what you have to say is truthful, adds value to the conversation, and comes with respect for the other party.

4. Intuitional

If you’re solid on the first three, expand your leadership skills by tapping into the deep intelligence of your intuition. So ask yourself: Do you pay attention to your gut? Do you know things without knowing how or why? Can you sense danger or opportunities before they present themselves? Do you even acknowledge that intuitive insight is real?

If you answered “no” or “maybe,” then it’s time to start trusting your gut to lead in today’s VUCA world where intuition is a core skill. You can start to still your mind and body to hear the inner voice with my “Still Water Runs Deep” visualization: After a few minutes of deep, diaphragmatic breathing, imagine laying in a pristine, still pond. Allow yourself to sink to the bottom, where you feel protected from the chaos of the world. Empty your mind as you stay focused on the image of the clear water above you, sunlight filtering down warming your body. Do this for at least five minutes, and you will connect to a deep inner peace, tapping your natural intuition. 

5. Kokoro 

Kokoro means “merging heart and mind into your actions.” I believe this could be the single most important skill a leader needs to develop today. This ancient warrior concept asks us to develop a deep understanding of our purpose in life and to live it full out. So ask yourself: Do I know my purpose, and am I directing my energy toward it? Can I see the “big picture” of my life through all the chaos, distractions and challenges that arise? Do I feel present and peaceful? 

If you mainly answered “no” or “maybe,” it’s time to cultivate a meditation practice. In your morning routine, find a quiet space to sit and clear your mind. I like to start with box breathing, then say a mantra such as, “Day by day, I’m getting better and better,” and finally just drop into silence. Always have a journal handy to jot down arising insights or questions to clear your mind of them. Once you’re deeply centered, you can visualize completing a critical challenge, or conduct self-inquiry by asking compelling questions such as: Why am I here? Who am I really? What’s the one thing I need to do today to move me towards fulfilling my purpose better? 

In summary: Leading and succeeding at an elite level in today’s VUCA environment requires you to take total responsibility for your physical, mental, emotional, intuitive and “heart-mind” strength. The good news is that you can train all these aspects of yourself. But you have to do the work daily, or you won’t move the dial at all. If you feel can’t because you don’t have the time, then I say “embrace the suck.” Just go to bed earlier, take shorter showers, quit watching TV, remove unnecessary obligations or delegate anything not aligned with your unique offer and purpose. Soon these five domains will all improve, and you’ll become an admired leader with the focus to achieve your biggest dreams.

Mark Divine is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL Commander, founder of Unbeatable Mind and

SEALFIT, and NYT bestselling author of The Way of The SEAL, updated and expanded for a new look at leadership and personal excellence in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. Divine has taken his 20 years of experience as a Navy SEAL officer, flavored it with 25 years of martial arts and 15 years of yoga training, and pulled the lessons learned from founding six successful multimillion-dollar companies for unique, highly effective training that anyone can use to become an elite operator in business and life.