Stressed out? Think like a SEAL

Katelyn Walley, Business Management Specialist and Team Leader
Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Program

April 17, 2020

By Timothy X. Terry,  Harvest NY

Everyone knows that the U.S. Navy SEALS are an elite fighting force, and recognized the world over for their exploits.  The training they undergo is rigorous and demanding.  In fact, only about 1 in 4 (25%) of trainees actually complete the training.  While this does make sure you get the best of the best, it may also mean that many otherwise good candidates were falling short.  The Navy was not satisfied with this figure, and after some review determined the problem was not one of physical strength but rather of mental stamina.  In response, the Navy introduced the "Big Four" (listed below) to develop the mental stamina to complete the training and succeed on the battlefield.  Following institution of this program the success rate rose to 1 in 3 (33%).

Given recent events I felt you might benefit from a little psychological boost.  So here are the Big Four so you, too, can think like a SEAL. 

1. Goal Setting - This is taking the SMART goals and breaking them down into smaller achievements.  SEAL trainees often use this technique to survive the intense training - first make it to lunch, next, make it through to dinner.

In practice it might look like this: take a big goal and break it down into manageable micro goals. Then use the achievement of each micro goal to launch yourself into the next one.

2. Mental Rehearsal - Some might also call this visualization.  You're mentally working at something over and over until it becomes a natural part of you and is ultimately easier to execute in dire situations.  All SEALs are trained to pass the Underwater Competency test where instructors "attack" trainees outfitted with SCUBA gear ripping off their masks, tying knots in their air hoses, shutting off their air tanks, rolling them along the bottom, etc. all so they can survive a terrifying, real-world, underwater situation in some far-flung corner of the world.  (You might argue that that sounds like a normal day at the office for you with intrusive government regulations, lost milk markets, ICE raids, personnel issues, COVID-19…)

3. Self-talk - You know, that inner voice that may go into panic mode whenever the sh** hits the fan.  Experts say this little voice can speak 300 - 1000 words per minute (#auctioneer) and there's no shutting him up.  The trick here is to change the narrative.

Over four hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) said: "My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened."  More specifically, recent research has shown that about 85% of what we worry about never happens, and 12% of the remaining 15% was not a bad as anticipated and/or we are able to grow or learn something from it.  In other words, 97% of what we worry about is just that small inner voice freaking out and bombarding us with exaggerations and misperceptions - sounds like Social Media, doesn't it?  Instead, replace these false alarms of panic and catastrophe with a focus on what needs to be done right now, and follow it up with whatever is the next right thing to do.  

4. Remain calm - Stay cool and focus on your breathing.  Granted, that second part might be a little difficult to do when you're twenty feet underwater, but for us land lubbers the combination of the two can be truly powerful.

A little apprehension is not necessarily a bad thing.  It makes you alert, ready for action, and kicks your spidey-senses into high gear.  However, excessive anxiety raises stress hormones which have been associated with hypertension, premature aging, cancer, depression, and shrinking brain mass leading to dementia and Alzheimer's Disease, just to name a few.   

It may sound a little hokey, but take just a minute or two to back away from the situation, take several deep breaths and then approach it with, or from, a different perspective.  

Yes, these may not be your default responses to difficulties, but with practice these are habits you can learn. 






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