Prior to training starting, if you would have asked all of the 135 BUD/S students who began our class if they were committed to graduating and becoming a SEAL, every single one of them would have said “yes”.
However, at the end of Hell Week, only 20 students remained. There are multiple dynamics to each decision as the experiences and motivations in a person’s life vary. For all of our differences, I know one thing we all had in common. We all desired to graduate and believed we were committed to doing so.
How Commitment Works
To understand the mentality of those who remained, we must understand how commitment works. Once we understand its elements, we can then better create it within ourselves, and as leaders create team members who are highly resilient and consistently engaged.
Whenever we commit to accomplishing a goal, we know there will be circumstances along the way that we cannot control.
Commitment is discipline to fundamentals in the face of those uncontrollable circumstances. It’s a pre-determined discipline, and discipline is doing what we don’t want to do when we don’t want to do it.
Discipline is an action, and all actions require motivation. Therefore, discipline and desire have a relationship. They work together to form commitment. We must use desire to fuel our discipline.
It is discipline that lands a jet on a moving aircraft carrier at night, but it’s the pilot’s desire to survive that fuels it in the hours of training prior, and in the moment of execution.
Every BUD/S student desired to call themselves a Navy SEAL just as everyone desires to be elite in their competitive environment. Because everyone has desire, it can’t stand alone to be the separating factor.
When constant pain, exhaustion, and disappointment reach a level the student has not yet experienced, they come to a mental threshold and face a crossroads. Do they want to call themselves a SEAL or are they willing to do what it takes to become one? It’s either worth it, or it’s not.
The question winners ask is not, “Do I want something?” but rather, “Is what I want worth it to me?”
If a goal is meaningful enough to an individual then the desire to become it, attain it, or achieve it will fuel the necessary discipline in the weak moment.
In weak moments, we must think forward to what the discipline will create for us and determine the pain of the process is worth it to achieve our goal. This will help us give up the comfort of the moment in order to become something better in the future.
I believe it was a deep desire driven by meaningful purpose that made it worth it to us. The more meaningful something is to us, the more powerfully it fuels our discipline. Think about it like this, if I were to put you through a Hell Week right now, 5.5 days with no sleep and hypothermic conditions, do you think you do it?
Most people don’t think they can. It’s not worth it because there is no meaning behind it or purpose to accomplishing it. But what if I rewarded you with $100 Million? Or a contract with your favorite pro sports team? Could you do it now? Suddenly, it starts to feel more attainable.
All in. All the time.
In the same way, the motivations I had from my life experiences in addition to my intrinsic passions and values were enough to make me willing to die to complete the training. Those who made it through Hell Week were what we called: All in. All the time.
For me, becoming a Navy SEAL was not about status. Status doesn’t contain enough meaning to fuel us through the severe and constant adversity faced in training. Rather, it was a path for personal redemption, a life of growth through challenge, and soul-satisfying adventure. I loved my country and wanted to provide justice for those killed on September 11, 2001, and protect the innocent.
I also had a deep desire for the trust and bond found in being a part of something special. I had experienced that to a degree with college baseball and knew it would be greatly amplified in the brotherhood of special operations.
These formed the deep meaning that fed my desire, which fueled my discipline and created the effort necessary to accomplish my goal. As leaders, we want to increase our team member’s engagement. If discipline is an action, then we must find a way to motivate that action by creating deeper meaning behind it. In my upcoming video, I’ll provide specific ways leaders can do this.
The challenge is that what may be meaningful to one person, may not be to the next. Leaders must be just as committed to understanding their people as the commitment they’re trying to create within them.
Committed people stay consistent with proper action until they’ve reached their desired outcome or die trying…or have at least exhausted all options.
We may be forged through failure or pivot into another direction for strategic purposes, but we don’t retreat. We are highly resilient with a discipline that is driven by deep desire, because it’s how winning is done, and it pays to be a winner.
What separated those who made it through BUD/S and those who quit? It is not a simple answer, but here are some principles based on my experience.