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Navy SEALs "Embrace the Suck"

During my keynote speeches, I talk about "Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable." A lot of time during our mountaineering expeditions, I'm uncomfortable. It's very cold. The climbing can be painfully exhausting. I'm usually sleep deprived because it’s hard to sleep at 13,000’ with the tent flapping and ice chunk pushing into my back. Don't even get me started on having to use "the bathroom." Yet, that all exercises my brain to get comfortable being uncomfortable during difficult times at sea level and builds my mental resilience.

My life at sea level is so comfortable. We push a button from our warm homes to get our cars all warmed up, so we don’t have to sit a cold car for two minutes. My Wi-Fi connected home allows me to control temps from my couch. Don’t even get me started about how much can be delivered to my doorstep within a few hours. (In full disclosure, I do often have to walk 10 feet from my couch to get those deliveries.) If I don’t go on an expedition for a while, I feel my mental resilience slipping away.

Former Navy SEAL turn leadership expert, Rich Diviney, points out, while we can work on our skills, our attributes are largely determined at birth. Still, as he explains that during SEAL training, he was able to enhance his attributes of courage and resilience.

In Diviney's SEAL-speak -- try "embracing the suck" when things get hard and notice how it builds your resilience over time. In his blog on he writes:

If you want to be a Navy SEAL, you have to go through something called “surf torture.” You lie in the freezing surf for hours, with no assurance of when or how it will end. A lot of guys quit during surf torture. Some of us didn’t, though. Some of us made it through. There are a few reasons for this, but today I am thinking about one you might have heard some SEALs call “embracing the suck.”

Diviney suggests finding something positive about that moment which give your body a shot of the pleasure/motivating hormone dopamine.

We do that in mountain climbing as well. We literally set our sights on small goals and link them together. We tell ourselves "I can rest in another 100 years when I get to that rock." And, repeat that over and over. As we conquer this moment, we also build our mental resilience.

Back at sea level, we all have daily challenges both at work and at home. We need only to look at the past few years. At work we had to deal with the pandemic, supply chain challenges, and worker shortages. In our home lives there's paralyzing stress as well: high inflation, childcare challenges, and uncertainty.

That's why I constantly work on my attribute of mental resilience. I go on climbing expeditions. I do multi-day fasts or take cold showers. Not everyone wants to do that, so start with a 5k or 10k. Try Intermittent fasting by skipping breakfast a few days a week. That will benefit your mind and body.

Tim Ferriss in his best-selling book on entrepreneurship, The 4-Hour Workweek, makes hilarious suggestions about prepping yourself for challenges. Try lying down on the floor of a busy Starbucks for 10 seconds. (Personally, I'd rather climb a big cold mountain than do that.) Or walk up to a Starbucks counter and say, "Can I please have 10% off my order today?"

We can get overwhelmed looking at all the bad swirling around us. So, embrace the suck to find silver linings. During COVID I loved that there was far less traffic on the roads and easy parking! We also know things will get tough again, so let's start preparing for those now, prepare for the long run.

Sure, there are now SEAL training type adventure weekends we can sign up for now. But you won't find me at one. I will continue to find ways to push my mind and body for that inevitable moment when life gets difficult for me again.

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