Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Forging Mental Toughness 2-of-2

“Soft Sand Conditioning Run” is the term used by Naval Special Warfare for training Navy SEAL wannabees (Students) to develop greater mental strength.
How does running strengthen your mind? By voluntarily repeatedly facing the unknown during times of discomfort, enduring and persevering through to the conclusion.
In this run, a Class of Students is lead by an Instructor who nimbly snakes his way through the slippery foothold sands. Running in formation, the Students need merely to keep up as a Class… while singing. When individual Students fall behind, additional Instructors share (not-so-kind) words of encouragement. When a Student runs the same pace as his class, but 5-steps behind, it’s becomes obvious to the Instructor Staff that he has the ability to keep up but isn’t exercising his mental toughness. As incentive, the Instructor may have the student stop and execute a set of push-ups as his class runs away. This further exhausts the tired Student who must now exercise greater mental toughness and catch-up with his Class. When too many Students fall behind… well the Instructors have plans for them too! An impromptu remedial training dubbed the “Goon Squad” most likely because of how the Students look while enduring the bonus exercise session. Eventually the Goon Squad reunites with the Class and the whole cycle is repeated.

I remember one particular Soft Sand Conditioning Run. We had run in the soft sand for at least 8-miles by the time we returned to our starting point. At this point in our training, we had become “comfortable” with the idea that our starting point was also our finish line because of the frequent previous runs that started and stopped at this location. Motivated by the previous hour-and-a-half of surviving “Goon Squads,” struggling Students reached deep inside themselves to stay together with the Class for the final ½-mile. In soft sand, 1-mile may take 10-minutes to run. The experience for these exhausted men, telling themselves they were giving it their all, was an extremely challenging few, final minutes!
But the Instructors have the Students’ long-term best interest at heart –not their immediate desire for comfort! There was more to come!
When we crossed the point we saw as the finish line… the lead Instructor continued running his demanding pace.
At first we Students were in disbelief. We questioned if maybe he made an error and didn’t notice that we’d made it “home”? Then the horrific painful reality set in: he had no intention of stopping.
With that awareness, numerous Students abruptly slowed down and fell behind. Each man was greeted by an attentive Instructor, eager to “forge mental toughness” within the student –or to inspire him to choose another profession!
I had personally fallen behind earlier in the run, but had recovered and learned my lesson in the Goon Squad. I do not know how I stayed with my Class during the additional 2-miles after we thought the run was over. I think I was blinded by the pain and simply kept going. What I do know is that as difficult as it was, the additional attention from the eager Instructors was many times worse –Students running in to the ocean so that clothes & boots would become weighted down with water, adding to their challenge. Running drills with short deadlines, failing these drills and repeating until digging deep enough to succeed. Bear crawls, chase the rabbit, push-ups, sprints… and so much more while the Class still running with the lead Instructor snaked and circled. These Goon Squad Students who’d quit in their minds earlier were now paying the price.

Over the days, weeks and months –most of them found new professions. A rare few chose to pay the price up front to forge mental toughness.

You won’t forge mental toughness by sitting in your comfort zone. You won’t forge mental toughness by jumping into an icy lake or from an airplane one-time. You won’t forge mental toughness by confronting your fears once. And you won’t forge it alone.

You will develop mental toughness only through repetition. Like any other muscle, this is how you will strengthen your mind.
And this mental toughness, my friends, is something no one can ever take away from you without your permission.

Call to action:
What can you begin today to increase your mental toughness? Where can you get help?
All the best, TC Cummings

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mental Toughness part 1-of-2

My inspiration for this topic: Have you ever felt inexplicably drawn to something? Over the past months I’ve noticed an innovative fitness gym near the beach in North County San Diego. I felt drawn to it. I even pointed it out to my wife once as we drove by (she really wasn’t interested.) Last week I went inside and discovered that this attractive, versatile, simple and unconventional gym is owned by a U.S. Navy SEAL I worked with in my active duty days. CDR Mark Divine trains “SEAL Fit: Forging Mental Toughness.”

As “The Mind of a SEAL,” I found Divine’s tagline “Forging Mental Toughness” very near and dear to my heart.

The greatest asset any Special Operator has is his mind. U.S. Navy SEAL Training is 85% mental and the other half is physical. (Thanks, Yogi Berra.) Mental strength is what gives you clarity during your daily battles. I’m reminded of the dojo fight scene in the movie The Matrix when during an instructional pause; Morpheus asks the panting Neo “do you really think that’s air you’re breathing?”

Like Neo, Have you ever caught yourself unnecessarily holding your breath out of stress? Maybe you were stressing tension into the muscles at the base of your neck while simply sitting at the computer? Or got flustered and reactively said something you wish you could take back because you felt caught off-guard?
Mental toughness gives you the ability to view the big picture so you can see the challenge clearly along with your options for successful resolution. Mental toughness gives you the ability to face your fears or at least to take action in spite of your fears. Mental toughness gives you peace of mind, knowing that you command the driver’s seat of your life in the face of adversity.

Developing mental toughness is found throughout U.S. Navy SEAL training. One of the most relatable exercises in the training is running.

In what ways would you want to increase your mental toughness? In my next install, I’ll tell you how.
Wishing you all the best, TC Cummings

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pain is only weakness leaving the body.

This weekend, a film maker friend of mine, Jeremy, asked me excitedly to remind him of “that thing you Navy SEALs say.”
I had to scroll through a handful of our mental tools before I landed on the quote he was after.
“Pain is only weakness leaving the body.”
The following day, Jeremy told me he’d been telling people about this tool we use in the SEAL Teams.
Like many people, Jeremy has seen ups and downs in his business. And sometimes the downs can, well, they can hurt.
A mental tool that can help us navigate through these periods where we perceive loss, stress, pressure, doubt and uncertainty is the reminder that Pain is only weakness leaving the body.
Most often, what we perceive as pain is unfulfilled ego-attachment.
Yes, there are truly painful times in our lives.
But ask yourself: what percentage of your pain is real and what is ego-based?
(Caution: be intentionally objective in your personal assessment.)
If you stop and look at the lives of others who’ve truly made something of themselves, you’ll see there were multiple moments of “pain” during their lifetime that helped them become the person they are today.
When you stop to look at your own life, where you experience pain –what percentage would you say is something that you can grow through by allowing some “weakness” to leave your body?
You’ll find that these weaknesses draw you to the reactive side of your life.
When you are purposeful, the pain you experience is so different.
Perhaps the pain feels even greater –but you persevere knowing that you are doing your best to be true to your plan and your bigger picture.
You know you are on the right path.

A call to action:
Today, identify one-form of “pain” you have and consciously go through it knowing that a weakness is leaving your body. Maybe…
- Skip the extra helping of your favorite food or go without desert
- Exercise or meditate if that’s something you’ve been struggling to do
- Have that uncomfortable conversation you know you need to –coming from a place of humility instead of ego
- Take ownership instead of blame
- Take an accounting of your actions towards your desired result
- Get to bed on time for a change, or set your alarm so you can finally exercise in the morning before work
- Honestly listen to someone else…
There are so many –just choose one important to you.
I’d like to know the results you see.

Bonus: what do you suppose happens when you do not allow this weakness to leave the body?

Wishing you all the best,
TC Cummings

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Russ Vaughn's "Sheepdogs"

This was forwarded to me.

I feel it's a special person who can articulate in poetry the relationship between military and civilian life.
I teared up when I read this. Clearly it's allergy season around here.
Thank you, Russ -for your service and exercising your talent.
All the best,
TC Cummings

The Sheepdogs

Most humans truly are like sheep
Wanting nothing more than peace to keep
To graze, grow fat and raise their young,
Sweet taste of clover on the tongue.
Their lives serene upon Life’s farm,
They sense no threat nor fear no harm.
On verdant meadows, they forage free
With naught to fear, with naught to flee.
They pay their sheepdogs little heed
For there is no threat; there is no need.

To the flock, sheepdog’s are mysteries,
Roaming watchful round the peripheries.
These fang-toothed creatures bark, they roar
With the fetid reek of the carnivore,
Too like the wolf of legends told,
To be amongst our docile fold.
Who needs sheepdogs? What good are they?
They have no use, not in this day.
Lock them away, out of our sight
We have no need of their fierce might.

But sudden in their midst a beast
Has come to kill, has come to feast
The wolves attack; they give no warning
Upon that calm September morning
They slash and kill with frenzied glee
Their passive helpless enemy
Who had no clue the wolves were there
Far roaming from their Eastern lair.
Then from the carnage, from the rout,
Comes the cry, “Turn the sheepdogs out!”

Thus is our nature but too our plight
To keep our dogs on leashes tight
And live a life of illusive bliss
Hearing not the beast, his growl, his hiss.
Until he has us by the throat,
We pay no heed; we take no note.
Not until he strikes us at our core
Will we unleash the Dogs of War
Only having felt the wolf pack’s wrath
Do we loose the sheepdogs on its path.

And the wolves will learn what we’ve shown before;
We love our sheep, we Dogs of War.

Russ Vaughn
2d Bn, 327th Parachute Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division
Vietnam 65-66

Monday, February 22, 2010

Are you challenging life, or is life challenging you?

This question caught me off guard last week.
Someone made a statement and I turned it into a question to ask myself.
I was caught off guard because, well, er I... I answered that life was challenging me.

Objectively speaking, this is not good or bad. Not right nor wrong.
Objectively: this is disempowering.
I'd slid into the passenger seat of my own life.
So busy handling what ever life was bringing -knowing that I'm responsible for it.
But I wasn't asking for what I want and bringing full guns a-blazing.
That is scary.
Because it's risky.
I might not get what I ask for.
I might not get it on my time-line.
Can you smell the fear in my voice?
Me too.
Now I get to do something about it.
I get to hop into the driver's seat, ask life what I want from it, bring full guns forward and hit-it.
I also get to dismiss my ego-attachments.
Reminder to self: The Law of Cause & Effect includes the element of Time in-between.
I'm not in charge of "when." I'm in charge of "why."
Reminder to self: The Law of Cause & Effect is beyond my limited comprehension. As big as I can dream -I am still limited by my Ego ("I know").
I'm in charge of "why."
Reminder to self: The Law of Cause & Effect tells me that I cannot sow a positive seed that doesn't bring positive fruit (whether I see the fruit or not.)
As long as my "why" is positive, then my fruit will be positive.
As long as my "why" is selfless, then my fruit will be surprisingly sweet.
As long as my "why" is bigger than me, then my fruit will be bigger than me in multitude.
Or as Ronnie White may say: "By a LARGE margin." (He's Texan.)

Once upon a time, there lived a small team of Navy SEALs who felt they'd been forgotten over seas.
Disconnected from communications, ill-equipt & ill-fed.
They'd discovered they were simply decoys and were being used as show-pieces.
The hard-working men with their champion hearts felt like the Christmas animation of misfit toys adrift on an island.
Life was challenging them.
Their brilliant leader "Lancelot" approached the huddled, depressed men.
He shared their pain.
He missed his wife & children (who hadn't heard from them for months.)
He asked them if anything could be done by the men to turn things around.
The men looked at each other quizically...
He asked if there was anything humanly possible to turn the tables and challenge life.
And if there was such a thing... was it within their power?
The creative ideas began to flow.
The excitement rose.
The inspiration came.
The chose to Challenge Life and they had a plan.
The created a Warning Order, Prepped their gear, did walk-throughs and eventually came to GO time.
They brought it. Full force.
And their audience of the most important Generals in the Theater will never forget the amazing display...
And those Navy SEALs will never forget the day they fell so low, got some help and reclaimed the driver's seat.
They chose to Challenge Life.

All the best,
TC Cummings
Mind of a SEAL