Courage via SEALFIT

Courage via SEALFIT

the courage to compete..

I’m a big fan/follower of Mark Divine a former USN SEAL and owner/CEO of SEALFIT. Not only does he and his team stress the obvious importance of physical strength and conditioning but they look at ways to enhance mental fitness and strength. Analyzing and evaluating certain aspects to increase performance in order to push the body/mind past previous barriers. It was through SEALFIT that I was first introduced to the Courage vs. Fear Dog concept.

This past week they published a 3 part series relating to courage. I encourage you guys to check out to learn more about their methods and go check out their workout section for some studly workout ideas. I’ve copied and pasted the series below for you guys to check out and read..


In our Unbeatable Mind Academy lesson this month we are discussing Fear. What causes fear and our uncomfortable physiological reaction to it? Many think that fear is a natural human reaction to an external stressor. See a tiger, experience fear. Click into reaction mode – fight (not good idea with tiger), flight (best option) or Freeze (game over dude). It may come as a surprise, though, that fear and stress arise not just from the actual event itself, rather it comes mainly from what we think of the event. So, we are back to our monkey minds wreaking havoc over our perceptions of reality.

It is estimated that 90% of stress arises from mental anticipation of a perceived hazard or unknown situation. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could learn to think with courage instead of fear? Feeding the courage wolf when you are going negative is a start. But let’s get some insight from someone who is wise in this area.

Jeff Wise, in his book Extreme Fear, has some good insight on fear and courage. He is a writer for Popular Science and his blog is a great read

Jeff states:

“Courage is not just for heroes. Fear is an emotion we all deal with, and how we handle it is everything. How we grapple with our anxieties determines what kind of life we’ll lead — whether shackled by anxiety and dread, or empowered to conquer new challenges. Yet we spend most of our time trying to avoid fear, so we muddle along, rarely getting much better at the art of mastering it. That’s a shame, because with a little effort we can find the courage to push beyond our comfort zone and tackle new worlds“.

His findings mirror many of our teachings at SEALFIT / Unbeatable Mind. Let’s review 8 of his principles, not in any order:

Principle 1 – Get Fit

Ok this is a no-brainer for us at SEALFIT. We would add that functional fitness is a much better foundation for courage than the common definition or example of treadmill fitness. Functional fitness provides a sense of courage to act and move whilst avoiding injury, especially in a crisis or high risk situation. The training effect carries over to assist with stress management against fear and anxiety.

Studies have shown that exercise can ease depression and anxiety. And it can protect you from feeling stressed out in the future. According to Wise, Princeton researchers found that rats who exercise grow neurons in their brains that are less responsive to the stress hormone cortisol. So lest you feel like rat on a treadmill, get into the gym and start doing CrossFit or SEALFIT 3 to 5 times a week. While there, turn your training into a “practice” for courage. Couple your fitness training with breath control, positive mental control, visualizing courage rather getting eaten by the tiger. You will be rewarded with less stress and a nice peace of mind.

Principle 2 – Lean on Your Friends

In Kokoro Camp, combat, or any intense situation you share with a complete stranger, you form a bond that is unusually strong. Why is that? I have teammates from the SEALs who I don’t see for years, but when we re-connect I feel the bond is still there. Jeff Wise states that Oxytocin, the hormone that binds people in a trust relationship (ie: mothers and children and husbands and wives), has been shown to lessen the sensation of pain and fear. Those who have been through Kokoro camp know this from experience. Through teamwork involving sharing the pain of sacrifice, the shared risk of a common experience, and truly looking after your teammate, you will forge a bond that will last forever.

To be continued in part 2…

Speaking of Kokoro Camp, I received a great email from Patrick Barry, who was featured in LA Sports and Fitness, about his Kokoro experience. When asked how he remained focused on such a daunting goal, he responded with his “7 R’s” – provided verbatim here:

Release: put out a personal Press Release to friends and family about what you intend to accomplish (I did this by announcing my SEALFIT attendance on Facebook to hundreds of people. This drove me to not give up, lest I let them down).

Revisit: a hardship you’ve overcome in the past (my Golden Gloves training camps).

Repeat: view over and over what you intend to accomplish to gain an absolute familiarity (I viewed the Discovery Channel documentary of Navy Seal Class 234 over and over and over. I watched all six hour-long episodes twice or three times each!).

Recruit: a team of supporters. I asked for and got dozens of friends to be my virtual crew and send me positive thoughts all throughout Kokoro weekend…asking them send me a vibe of “just finish” each time they ate or drank during the weekend. I knew this during my suffering, and it either worked or acted as a placebo. One way or another, it helped me.

Relate: everything is relative, so find something harder than you’re setting out to do, then read about it or watch it or think about it. I watched two scenes of The Passion of the Christ over and over the night before Kokoro , which illustrated much more suffering than I’d go through. I actually thought of these scenes on Palomar, thinking as bad as I felt that at least I was not carrying a heavy cross with a thorn of crowns nailed into my head and had not been whipped and beaten for hours beforehand.

Record: something in your head that you and say over and over and over that resonates inspires and motivates you. I recited Invictus during surf torture in just this way, and it benefitted my classmates too.

Reason: find a profound and substantive reason for doing what you’re doing. Darren Kavinoky told me that one thing that kept him alive during endeavors like Kokoro was experiencing his daughter’s joy when he returned home with stories, medals, certificates of his adventures. Had he quit Kokoro, he would not have been able to have such moments

Courage – Part 2

Courage is not the absence of fear. Rather, courage is effective fear management combined with an attitude of “bring it on.” Research supports the notion that self-awareness and consequent self-management lead to a reduction of fear and higher levels of success in any particular activity. Displaying courage means that a highly functioning individual is able to bring him or herself back to homeostatic balance quickly (as compared to a “non-courageous” individual) and take appropriate action. Courage, then, is the application of a set of skills habituated until they become part of one’s arsenal of competent actions performed at a conscious and unconscious level.

It is sensible that if you have emotional control, situational and self-awareness then you will be able think clearly and process your emotional states efficiently. As a result you will deal more effectively in a high challenge situation than someone who does not possess these skills. This is the difference between good leaders and poor leaders, or those who survive and those who die in a survival situation.

Jeff Wise, in his book Extreme Fear, has some good insight on fear and courage. He is a writer for Popular Science and his blog is a great read

His findings mirror many of our teachings at SEALFIT / Unbeatable Mind. In Part 1 of this article we looked at his first principle, the importance of fitness to mental toughness. Additionally we discussed his second principle – that of surrounding yourself with a good team to lean on, in the context of the Kokoro camp experience. Now let’s review his next few principles:

Principle 3 – Expose Yourself to More

Jeff is preaching to the choir on this one also. Pushing the envelope of experience. Train harder than you expected. Fall down 7 times, and get up 8. Benchmark your life experiences by going farther, faster, harder…it builds confidence and provides a ladder of success for the next level. This is how the 20X factor is revealed through hard physical and mental training…one evolution at a time.

Jeff reminds us to “be sure to reward yourself when you’re successful. The goal is to train the emotional centers of your brain to anticipate a positive outcome when pushing boundaries.” Thank you Jeff – I need to remember that one more often!

Principle 4 – Think Positive

More than just thinking positive thoughts, and positive self-talk, we must maintain a positive state of energy and “show up” in the world with this energy. Jeff cites a research report from a guy named Mark Taylor. Olympic athletes were surveyed by Taylor about whether they practiced positive mental skills such as silently voicing affirming thoughts. Taylor found that those who did were significantly more likely to survive the intense pressure of elite competition and reach the medal stand. This principle cannot be stressed enough. As stated, I believe the impact of positive thinking goes well being the mental and into the spiritual realm. Have you ever seen a negative martial arts master? Or a negative Navy SEAL for that matter? No. In fact it can’t happen because negativity would attract failure and dis-ease, torpedoing any attempts at self-mastery and developing courage.

Principle 5 – Change the Frame

This is a good one. Mr. Wise asks us to re-frame by consider the larger context and the good things that might come along with the bad. When a crisis seems overwhelming “write out best case and worst case scenarios, and how likely they are to come about,” recommends Rick Harvey, Assistant Professor of Health Education and Holistic Health at San Francisco State University. “When you can say to yourself, ‘You know what, the worse-case scenario isn’t very likely,’ then you can stop worrying.”

At SEALFIT we propose the use of mental models to help us clarify and re-frame a situation. The Integral AQAL model is an excellent example. Learning integral “perspective taking” brings awareness to what is going on from a teammate’s point of view. This will help you change your frame, and in the process make decisions that are in your interests as well as those of the team.


General Douglas MacArthur said “If bravery is a quality which knows no fear, then I have never seen a brave man.”

Truer words are hard to find. We’d like to equate courage with fearlessness. Certainly those big tough Navy SEALs don’t experience fear in combat or on a night jump do they? Yes, they do.

But what separates the courageous from the cowering is a deep understanding of human nature, coupled with disciplined practice of skills that mitigates the fear response. When the fear response is mitigated, focus and composure can be maintained in the face of extreme stress. In essence, we can turn stress into success!

In our Unbeatable Mind and SEALFIT programs we seek to do just that. Through a disciplined practice of breath control, visualization, short term goal setting, positive self-talk, and training like we “fight”, the students cultivate what appears as courage to the observer. Inside it is simply fear management and performance under extreme stress.

In the first two parts of this BLOG series we took a look at author Jeff Wise and his book Extreme Fear. Jeff is a writer for Popular Science and his blog is Let’s finish our discussion of courage now…

Principle 6 – Think Small

One of our powerful mental toughness tools is to collapse our goals to the near term. I call these micro-goals. Focusing on getting to the next meal at BUD/s is a micro-goal. It works, trust me.

Jeff says to “think small” and take bite size chunks in crisis. This is great advice!

“If you’re bogged down in a massive project at work, then, don’t let yourself despair at the hugeness of the task. Break it down into pieces small enough that you can do each one in an hour or less, and focus all your attention exclusively on that”, says Mr. Wise.

When we set our sights on micro-goals, we achieve micro wins, which quickly stack up and develop a sense of momentum and “can-do” instead of “can’t – won’t.” Micro goals support the cultivation of courage. Macro goals can lead to fear and failure.

Principle 7 – Get Mad

Transmuting the emotion of fear into anger can be a powerful tool in a crisis situation. Anger can be very motivating and really get your psychic energy amped up. Then you direct it at the problem and voila – looks a lot like courage.

This principle certainly works but I caution you to use this sparingly. I think we can easily go too far with this one. Be careful to not let it get out of control and negatively influence your decision making.

However, I am certainly not recommending a passive response. A non-violent response to a serious injustice, such as a Buddhist monk may have, could lead to serious issues, even death. That is not the warrior’s path. I would prefer that we explore developing strong but positive emotional states that are even more powerful than anger.

In a pinch, anger is a powerful emotion that can trample fear.

Principle 8 – Enjoy the Ride

This is one of my favorite. Jeff hit the nail on the head here. I believe that regardless of the situation we are in, we can find beauty in the sublime nature of it. By letting go, collapsing our focus to the present and releasing the need to control the outcome, we can transcend into a flow state and enjoy the ride.

Jeff states that “fear isn’t all bad. Intense fear causes our brain to release chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana and amphetamines. Time seems to slow down and pain vanishes; we can run faster and lift heavier weights. There really have been cases of panicked people lifting cars with their bare hand.”

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