Lessons from SEALFIT Kokoro Camp – June 2014
“On your feet!”, “On your stomachs!”, “On your backs!”, “On your feet!”, the former Navy SEAL bellowed at me and 12 other exhausted SEALFIT Kokoro Camp participants. None of us had slept in over 50 hours and yet we doggedly repeated his commands in unison while we jumped from our feet to our stomachs, to our backs, etc. All around us on the roughly 30′ by 30′ slab of concrete – the “grinder” – at SEALFIT Headquarters in Encinitas, CA, six or seven other instructors – most active or former Navy SEALs – barked out contradictory commands, splashed us with ice cold water, held police sirens up to our faces all in a concerted effort to prevent us from following and complying with the commands of the lead instructor.
It was a gorgeous, Southern California summer Sunday morning and all 13 of us knew we were approaching the finish of this 50-plus hour experience of Navy SEAL Hell Week. During the preceding two days, we had all been put through innumerable physical and mental challenges – and we were not finished yet! Through our exhaustion, the soreness of our muscles and joints and numerous cuts and abrasions covering our forearms and lower legs, we had to continue to direct our awareness towards the lead instructor.
In between the segments of jumping up and down from stomachs to feet to backs, etc. we were also – in three teams of four or five – lifting, squatting and pressing overhead, three 200-plus pound logs. As mid-morning turned to early afternoon, our spirits rose with the sight of Coach Mark Divine appearing on the grinder. We were all well aware that Coach Divine – an imposing former Navy SEAL and the creator of SEALFIT – would be the one to issue the final command, “Kokoro 32 is secure!” signifying that the camp had ended and that the 13 of us that remained out of 16 initial participants had succeeded in our mission.
After another 20-25 minutes of working with our respective logs, with woefully inadequate precision, for which we were harshly reprimanded, we were instructed to run up to the nearby point overlooking the Pacific Ocean, collect ourselves, and then run back down to the grinder to get it right this time. Running back down to the compound, we took a moment to gather ourselves, line up in two even columns and remind ourselves to re-enter the grinder with chests high and a sense of pride. With this, the energy shifted and we felt as if we were approaching the end.
Entering the grinder we positioned ourselves with our teams next to our logs with a collective intention to focus, dig deep and work in unison. Hearing the next instruction, we squatted with aching quads, hoisted the logs to our shoulders, and with seven consecutive unified, overhead presses, we shouted the seven stanzas of the Navy SEAL Code in unison with ferocious gusto! At the end of the seventh stanza – “Earn your Trident every day!” – Coach Divine yelled, “Kokoro 32 is secure!”
Time stopped. We lowered our logs to the grinder and I screamed with joy, acting out a vivid image I had visualized hundreds of times in the months leading up to this moment. Dazed, elated and exhausted all at once, the 13 of us, some in tears, exchanged hugs, high fives and fist bumps, each thinking some variation of the same glowing thought – “I did it!”
That was Sunday, June 22, nearly five weeks ago. With the passage of time for reflection, I am moved to memorialize several of the lessons I have learned about goal achievement from this experience, each of which you can use to achieve your own audacious professional or personal goals. Several of these come directly from Coach Divine in his book “The Way of the SEAL.” Here are the five primary lessons:
1. Use of Micro Goals
For both the months of preparation leading up to the Kokoro Camp weekend and during the weekend itself, I broke up the primary goals of 1) successfully preparing physically, mentally and spiritually for SEALFIT, and 2) successfully completing the event itself, into smaller shorter-term, micro-goals. For example, in my training, I worked towards achieving mastery of each of the physical standards – one each for pull-ups, pushups, squats, a timed mile run, etc. – that I needed to demonstrate to qualify for SEALFIT. Mentally, the task seemed less daunting if broken down into bite-sized achievements. During the course of the weekend itself, getting through the entire weekend would have seemed near impossible if I had just focused on the primary goal of lasting through Sunday afternoon. Instead, I focused myself on just getting to the next meal, telling myself “I will keep going until lunch or dinner.” When exhaustion was setting in during the course of the 11-mile, 4,000 foot climb up Mt. Palomar on Saturday night/Sunday morning, I adjusted my thinking saying “I just need to make it the next quarter mile” or “I am going to keep hiking until the next switchback. Then, I will set another goal.” Had I been thinking “Just 17 or 18 more hours to go”, I would have completely lost my motivation, as the task would have seemed insurmountable. You can use this approach of breaking down any BHAG – big, hairy audacious goal – into manageable smaller goals.
During the months of physical training and preparation prior to the event, I took additional time to visualize success. During my daily meditations, I carved out a few moments to create a mental picture of the moment when Coach Divine would yell, “Kokoro 32 is secure!” When creating this image, I focused on adding as much rich detail to the mental image as possible. What was I wearing? What was the weather? How did my body feel? What were the thoughts and feelings going through my head and heart at the moment of completion? Not only did I visualize this mental picture in the months leading up to SEALFIT, but I also focused intently on this image of success during some of the most challenging moments during the weekend of SEALFIT itself. Much has been written about the suggestivity of our brains and the power of visualization to achieve goals and improve performance, particularly in sports. However, one can use visualization to succeed at ANY goal, professional or personal. I often advise my coaching clients to visualize their behavior and success prior to pivotal business meetings. So, when you began the pursuit of your next big, audacious goal create a richly detailed image of success and come back to it again and again.
3. Power Mantras
Developing a short, memorable phrase that one can repeat over and over again during demanding moments – the moments when circumstances are not unfolding as planned – is critical for the successful achievement of outlandish goals. Coach Divine recounted one of the his power mantras he created to make it through Navy SEAL Hell Week – “Looking good, feeling good, oughta be in Hollywood!” – on numerous occasions throughout our Kokoro Camp weekend. Repetition of one’s power mantra during trying moments, either spoken out loud to oneself or repeated in one’s mind, helps to crowd out negative thoughts and, in my experience, even hold physical pain at bay. During the Saturday evening/Sunday morning 22-mile march up and down Mt. Palomar, when exhaustion, aching shoulders and a blistered left foot were conspiring to fill my mind with negative thoughts and emotions, I repeated one of my longer power mantras – “Minute by minute, with steadfast grit and persistence, I dramatically increase my power to inspire my sons and everyone I touch” – over and over again, even reducing the words “minute by minute” to “step by step.” The more that I focused on the words in my head, the less I felt any physical pain in my foot or shoulders. In a professional context, experiment with power mantras prior to critical meetings or phone calls to hold negative thoughts and self-limiting beliefs at bay.
4. Establish a Strong “Why”
On Friday evening, eight hours into our 50-plus hour event, Coach Divine met with us as we were re-fueling with lasagna, pizza, salad and electrolytes. He asked us each to recount to the group each of our individual “whys.” As he had explained to us, a “why” statement is the answer to “Why are you here? Why are you undertaking SEALFIT?” As each participant spoke of their “why”, it became clear that we were hearing profoundly heartfelt and personal reasons, from voices filled with emotion and even tears. We were listening to a series of very strong “whys.” To complete an event as physically and mentally demanding as SEALFIT, each of us needed a strong, highly personal “why” to fall back on during our weakest moments. So, as you identify wildly audacious personal and/or professional goals for yourself, think hard and identify several highly resonant “whys” that answer the question “Why am I undertaking this goal?” The stronger and more resonant your responses, the higher the likelihood that you will achieve your goal.
5. Keep Serving Your Teammates
During your work towards achievement of any big, audacious goal, there will be times when you are bordering on despair, when the obstacles seem insurmountable and you just want to quit. Welcome to your personal pity party! We have all experienced these moments. During my mental preparation prior to SEALFIT, and during the event itself, I strove to condition myself to direct my attention on my teammates and their needs, particularly when I was really hurting and the most annoyed with my physical state. By focusing on the needs of others, we deflect our attention away from our pitiable state and move to positive action. For example, one of our teammates, an aspiring SEAL candidate named Monroe, was struggling mightily on Saturday afternoon, as he was working through a prescribed minimum standard CrossFit workout called “Murph” that required him to run a mile with full pack before and after completing a grueling series of pull-ups, pushups and squats. Several of us who had already finished the workout, including the second mile run, saw his struggle and volunteered to run along side him, and offer encouragement, as he ventured out on his second mile. For me, that one-mile was the easiest mile I ran during the entire experience. For those eight or ten minutes, my attention was completely on Monroe, not on my own aching body. After the mile, I felt re-energized and ready for the next training evolution, as I had momentarily forgotten about myself. Selflessness in service to our teammates will always produce this effect. So, in your darkest moment, when your pity party is in full swing, collect yourself and figure out how you can serve a teammate who needs your help.
Good luck with your next big, hairy audacious goal! I hope these lessons will serve you in successfully achieving it!
Peter Feer, MBA, CPCC, ACC