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Five Navy Seal Mind-Tricks That Will Make You Mentally Tough

mental toughness

Those who succeed in life are mentally tough.

The Navy Seals, for those who have never heard of them, are the U.S. Navy’s principal special operations force. Their job is physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. Most of the people who try out for the Seals don’t make it. What separates the successful candidates from those who are sent home is mental toughness.

As it turns out, mental toughness isn’t just important for success if you’re interested in becoming a Navy Seal. Instead, it’s important for everyone. Whatever goal it is that you want to achieve, it will take mental toughness to do all of the following:

  • Take action on a regular basis;
  • Overcome failure, obstacles, and setbacks;
  • Ignore your critics; and
  • Stay motivated, even when things get tough.

The question then becomes, how can you develop mental toughness? And the answer is, by learning from the Navy Seals. Below you’ll find five Navy Seal mind-tricks that will make you mentally tough, so that you can get to work on your goals and keep going until you achieve them.

1. Up the Ante. Navy Seal Chad Williams explains that when you’re striving to achieve a goal, you should up the ante in order to make sure that you persist until you succeed. That is, ask yourself the following:

“What’s at stake?”

The more that’s at stake, the more likely you are to persevere. That is, the higher the ante, the more mental toughness you’ll be able to conjure up.

For example, let’s say that your goal is to run a 10K. Now suppose that you gave your sister $50 and told her not to give it back to you unless you completed a 10K. It’s very likely that you’ll quit before achieving your goal.

Why? Because training to run a 10K takes a lot of hard work, and $50 is a small stake. But what if you tell yourself that what’s at stake is the following:

  • By training to run a 10K, I’ll lose 25 pounds. I’ll be healthier, it will be easier to move around, and I’ll look better.
  • If I succeed in running a 10K, I’ll be setting a great example for my kids.
  • Developing the self-discipline necessary to run a 10K will help me to achieve my other goals.

Now that’s there’s more at stake, it’s a lot more likely that you’ll persevere, right? In fact, what Williams does is trick himself into believing that everything is on the line. He tells himself that if he doesn’t succeed in achieving his goal, his family will be executed.

Of course, most people won’t want to go that far. However, you could tell yourself things like the following:

  • If I don’t run the 10K, I’ll be overweight and unhealthy for the rest of my life.
  • If I don’t run the 10K, my kids will never respect me again.
  • If I don’t run the 10K , I’ll never have the discipline to achieve any of my other life goals.

It may seem a bit drastic, but by tricking your mind into believing that there’s a lot at stake you’re more likely to persevere until you achieve your goal.

2. Bounce Back Quickly From the Unexpected. Several Navy Seals have written books about their training and how they learned to be mentally tough so that they could survive the life threatening situations that they’re thrown into on a regular basis.

A while back I was perusing one of these books and I came across several useful nuggets. One of the things the book stated was that a vital component of mental toughness is bouncing back quickly from the unexpected.

When Navy Seals are preparing to go on a mission, they’re briefed on the situation that they’ll be going into. That is, they’re told what they’ll be facing and what to expect. For example, if they have to rescue someone from a ship they’ll be given information such as the following:

  • They’ll be given the ship’s layout;
  • They’ll be told how many people are on board:
  • They’ll be briefed on the weapons those on board might be carrying;
  • They’ll be shown how to move around the ship without being detected;
  • They’ll be told where their target is located: and so on.

However, almost 100% of the time, things won’t go as planned. For example, once aboard the ship the Navy Seals may come across a wall where there isn’t supposed to be one. What does a Navy Seal do at this point? Well, they certainly don’t do the following:

  • Stop to analyze who’s to blame for not knowing that there was going to be a wall there.
  • Stop to complain: “Oh, that’s typical. They miss a wall!” or “How are we supposed to get this done now?”
  • Give up and go back.

If the Navy Seals were to do any of these things, they would almost certainly be killed. Therefore, what they do instead is to automatically include the wall in their calculations. More specifically, they do the following:

  • Immediately acknowledge and accept that there’s a wall there.
  • Adapt with composure.
  • Keep going.

If you want to be mentally tough, you have to learn how to bounce back quickly from the unexpected. Trick your mind into overriding it’s tendency to argue with what’s happening by telling yourself the following: “Acknowledge; Accept; Adapt; Act.”

3. Train For Mental Toughness by Visualizing. One of the things that the Navy Seals are taught during their training is to visualize themselves successfully completing any task that they’re assigned over and over again. By using visualization they’re training their mind for what is to come. They’re winning in their mind in order to win in the battlefield.

Whatever goal you’re trying to achieve, visualize yourself persevering, getting over obstacles, shutting out your inner critic, and ignoring naysayers.

If you “see” yourself overcoming these hurdles beforehand, when you actually come across them in real life your mind won’t have to decide at that moment what to do. It will already know to keep going, regardless of circumstances, because that’s what it’s been trained to do.

To increase your mental toughness once you’re working to achieve your goal, train your mind beforehand by visualizing.

4. Recite a Mantra. A while back I read a book  called Unleash the Warrior Within by former Navy Seal Richard Machowicz (Mack). When Mack was training to become a Navy Seal he was sent a photograph of a friend’s brother who was a Navy Seal. In the photograph, the friend’s brother and several other Navy Seals were getting ready to skydive out of a plane.

On the back of the photograph it said the following: “A man can only be beaten in two ways: if he gives up or he dies.” Mack turned that quote into the following mantra: “Not dead, can’t quit.”

He recited this mantra continuously during what remained of his training, and he credits it with helping him to succeed in becoming a Navy Seal. After all, it’s much easier to be mentally tough when your mind chatter is conducive to mental toughness.

Adopt the mental chatter of the mentally tough by constantly repeating Mack’s mantra or coming up with your own. Here are some ideas for mental toughness mantras:

  • I’ll do this or die trying.
  • Only I can get me to quit, and I won’t let me.
  • Quitting is not an option.

When someone tries to get you to quit, or the voice in your head turns negative, recite your mantra. Trick your brain into thinking that the only option is to keep going by reciting your mental toughness mantra, over and over again.

5. Focus On What’s Right In Front of You. Most of us have very large goals. This may include goals such as the following:

  • Starting a successful business;
  • Traveling around the world;
  • Completing an Iron Man; and so on.

When a goal is very large, it’s often difficult to stay motivated and mentally tough from the time in which you take the first step to achieve the goal, until you cross the finish line.

As Navy Seal combat veteran Brent Gleeson explains, the way you trick your mind to keep going when the finish line is far off in the distance is to divide your goal into tiny tasks. Then, just focus on the task that’s right in front of you.

For a Navy Seal this could mean just focusing on running until they cross the bridge a couple of miles away; then running until they get to the top of the hill; then running until they cross the river; and so on.

For you it could mean the following:

  • Writing the next post that you’re going to publish on your blog;
  • Creating one five-minute video for your online course;
  • Making five cold calls to sale prospects; or
  • Completing a 10K bike ride.

Trick your mind into staying mentally tough by breaking your big goals into tiny tasks, and then focusing on the task that’s right in front of you. After all, it’s hard to get your mind to accept that it has to stay mentally tough for a year, but you can trick it into thinking that it only has to stay mentally tough for the next hour.


One of the key ingredients to getting what you want from life is mental toughness. Apply the five mind-tricks above and you’ll develop the mental toughness that you’ll need to achieve your goals. Live your best life by making yourself mentally tough.

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