“We were all rooting for you, but none of us thought you were going to make it”.
That’s a quote from my wife when someone from my hometown expressed they were shocked that I have become a Navy SEAL – and their opinion wasn’t completely unfair. Because when we knew each other, I had set an NCAA record for wild pitches in a single inning of a baseball game, due to performance anxiety. But, fast-forward 20 years later and I had become a Sniper and a Team Leader and during that journey, I learned a lot about confidence.
Performance and Confidence
One thing I learned was that high-quality performance is not dependent on feeling confident.
What I mean by that is we have all felt very nervous and gone out and performed very well, and we’ve all felt very confident and gone out and completely blown it. So high-quality performance is not dependent on feeling confident, and feeling confident does not guarantee high-quality performance. However, when we compete with confidence we increase our chances of success, and over time that’s going to maximize the amount of success that we have. So it’s important to understand what confidence is and where to gain it.
Confidence is feeling certain and certainty is when we feel relaxed and focused with controlled aggression and that’s gained from where we place our trust. But, we have a tendency to place our trust in sources that we can’t control that are external from us, and we create a dependency on them.
The first obstacle to trust is in critics – what other people think and say about us. We allow the opinions of other people to limit, define or even imprison what we believe we are capable of accomplishing in our lives. This is very natural because every day we interact with other human beings and we assess how we’re treated by them, and then we assign ourselves a value but I believe we are all created with the ability to accomplish something great. Something that’s meaningful to you, because there is an intrinsic purpose to every single one of our lives. You don’t need anybody’s permission to honor that, just the courage to try. Anything hard I’ve ever tried to do in my life critics have given me a thousand reasons why I can’t do it. But winners find one reason why they can. They find an excuse to win and that drives them forward into the fight and gives them the courage to face the next obstacle of trust. We often place too much trust or complete value on the low probability of accomplishing something difficult.
Any BUD/S class – Navy SEAL Training Class has a 70% to 80% attrition rate. Meaning that many people fail to graduate. Most of them simply quit and it was no different in my class. A lot of people thought I had lost my mind when I graduated college and they found out I had joined the Navy with the intention of becoming a SEAL. However, I understood that anything that’s meaningful is going to be difficult, and anything that’s difficult is naturally going to attract critics and have a low probability. That’s what makes it so special because it’s overcoming the struggle that creates the reward.
One of the rewards for me was the redemption from the labels of mental weakness that were associated with my failure in baseball. I knew one day I would grow old, and I value time, and I would look back and I would rather have failed at training or died in combat and lived the life of adventure that I wanted to live. To do what I believe I was supposed to do and I wasn’t going to let the critics or the odds limit that for me. I knew that the easy path would create a comfortable life but the hard path would create the opportunity for joy because it’s overcoming the struggle that creates the reward. When we enter that struggle we need to know where to place our trust in order to have a confidence that is unbreakable and free from external dependency.
The first one is in our preparation. We want to earn trust in our preparation with two things. One is attention to detail, and the second is with relentless effort.
Attention to detail, means we do things the right way, or again until we cannot get it wrong.
When it comes to the controllable fundamental processes and how we execute action, how we think, our mindset and culture, and how we treat each other – because the habits we create today, make us who we are when it matters most. We won’t rise to the occasion in dynamic and adverse situations. We will default to our standard of training.
That’s not something I came up with, that’s what was taught to us. When we get on the range to practice shooting, I thought about grip, stance, and follow-through. But, when I was in combat, I didn’t think about those things. I just responded accordingly – according to what I had trained myself to be. So, the men who trained me saved my life and we pursued that attention to detail and those proper habits with relentless effort. I call that
“effort that currently feels unreasonable until it feels reasonable”.
We have to change our normal. When I was in High School I worked hard. When I got to College I worked harder, and when I got into Special Operations, I worked harder than that. I was the same person in each one of those situations but in each situation, I was introduced to a new standard. We had two-mile ocean swims that we had to do in training in cold water, and I was failing. the time. I was completing the swim but not in the allotted time and if I failed another swim, I would be removed from my class. So I thought to myself, how am I going to solve this problem? And the answer was, “man, you just got to swim faster”. I wanted to go home with integrity. Meaning I did what I said I was going to do, and I told everyone I would do everything that I could. So to measure my level of effort, I decided I would swim as fast as I could, until I puked and then try to swim faster, and that’s exactly what I did. I got on the swim, I started swimming and I threw up from exertion and then I tried to go faster, and faster, and faster. I did this a bunch of times on the swim and at the end of the swim, I had passed, barely, but I had passed. There were more swims to do – one every two weeks for the next six months and the times got less. However, if I could do it once then I could do it twice, and if I could do it twice I could do it as many times as I wanted. The question I needed to ask was not ‘do I want something?’ because everyone desires. It’s ‘is what I want worth it for me to give the effort necessary to achieve my goal?’.
Relentless effort. Effort that currently feels unreasonable until it feels reasonable, and the reason why winning our preparation with attention to detail and effort is important is because we can trust it in the moment of competition.
One of our instructors walked in and he said,
“Today there is a man training to kill you, and one day you’re going to meet that man and when you do you’re going to be certain that you and every man standing next to you is better prepared for that moment than he is.” and he was exactly right.
For Each Other
Another source we can place our trust that will give us unbreakable confidence in any environment is in each other.
As long as we begin with the right people and surround ourselves with the proper people of character who are on a mission just like we are. Part of the reason we have Hell Week and try to make so many people quit – it’s literally attrition by design, is because we never sacrifice character for talent, because talent is worthless if it drops its gun and runs away, and character is priceless when it’s time to hold the line.
Our biggest, fastest, strongest, and best performer in BUD/S quit on Monday morning of Hell Week. I remember watching him cry and go get in line at the bell to quit. We were all happy to see him go, because this man could perform very well as long as the conditions were comfortable but when they got hard for him, he would break down and blame in complaint. Even though he could provide us a lot of value in easy situations, when things got hard, he was going to be the first one to tuck tail and run. The same thing happens in other competitive environments.
Sometimes we have performers who are incredibly skilled but when the environment becomes adverse they’re the first ones to break down in concern for themselves blame everyone else and complain about everything. Although they can provide us a lot of value when the environment is comfortable, they cannot help us reach the next level of success, because the next level of success requires adversity. And people of character, who are team-first, are the ones who are going to solve problems and drive us through adversity. Elite-level Teams value character as much, if not more so, than raw talent and skill. They work it into their selection, hiring, and promotional systems.
Conviction and Purpose
The third-place we can place our trust in, in order to have confidence in any environment is in our conviction and purpose. That there’s value to be gained from every negative experience or setback that we go through in life, both as an individual and as a team. So when we engage to compete with somebody, how do we have certainty in an uncertain outcome? We could have perfect preparation and flawless character on our teammates but that makes us very dangerous, not invincible. Well, we can’t be certain what the outcome will be but we can be certain, there’s purpose to every outcome.
When I failed at baseball I thought it took my purpose but when I reframed it and I started viewing it as having purpose for me to be forged into a more capable person is when I achieved more. Short-term failures are necessary to produce long-term success. We’ve just got to be willing to take the hits along the way. And, in that manner, a sports team will be playing their best ball at the end of the season and a corporation will avoid the stagnation of bureaucracy and continue to get more fluid and better throughout the years and that gives us hope. But don’t rely on hope because hope is a beggar.
Go be on a warpath and hunt it down with conviction because that’s how winning is done, and it pays to be a winner!