21 Mental Strength Hacks for Success, Courage and Happiness from the Special Forces
SPECIAL FORCES MENTAL STRENGTH HACKS
The Special Forces are world famous for their ability to defeat the odds; whether that be battling and eliminating an enemy force greater than their own, engaging in news-worthy hostage rescue situations, undertaking covert reconnaissance in a foreign country or simply by being ‘badged’ in their country’s elite fighting units.
Undoubtedly, it takes a very strong type of person to take on these life or death challenges, both physically and mentally, always on high alert to counter any threat imaginable. Special Forces are not feared for their physical toughness, Olympic level fitness or for their latest weaponry as much as they are feared for their state of mind. There are countless examples of operators who have been shot and injured and have kept up the fight, continually taking the fight to the enemy when their body would be screaming at them to stop and give up. We can, therefore, look to their mental thought processes to discover what makes this special breed of human push themselves through hell and high water to accomplish their objectives.
WHAT IS MENTAL TOUGHNESS?
Mental toughness is about forcing yourself to endure what you truly despise for longer than you believe is possible. Is it far too tough? Too frightening? Too repulsive? Too tedious? Too depressing? Too enraging?
21 MENTAL STRENGTH HACKS FROM THE SPECIAL FORCES:
Here, you will find mental coping mechanisms to help you with whatever daily or life struggles are thrown your way. You will learn how an SF operator is trained to deal with mental pressures by installing habits and changing perspectives: Learn how they push themselves to their limits and beyond so you too can apply this unique wisdom.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #1: PERSPECTIVE
If you had £86,400 in your bank account, how upset would you get if someone took $10 from you? Yeah, they stole it. Would you be willing to spend all of the remaining $86,390 to get it back? No, of course not.
We all have 24 hours in a day, 86,400 seconds. Don’t let the 10 seconds someone stole from you with a negative comment, action or attitude ruin your day. You still have 86,390 seconds left to live. Don’t spend a single second dwelling on those insignificant seconds it took for someone to try to ruin your day. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #2: THE MEANING OF LIFE
The meaning of life is a question which has been pondered over since the birth of civilisation. What does it all mean? You can look at the question spiritually, biologically or emotionally. But you could argue that it boils down to only one thing: Self-preservation.
99% of everything you do in life is to do with self-preservation. It’s how you are hardwired to think and behave. The same goes for everyone else on Earth. Almost every single action you and others take is to do with preserving the individual and the human race. Even those who we may deem to be destructive towards themselves would believe on a conscious or subconscious level that they are preserving their minds – including those who overeat, those with addictions and even those who commit suicide. On a larger scale, why does a country go to war? Self-preservation. Everyone wants to preserve themselves. This helps to put things into perspective. When someone is fighting against you, just know this: No one is against you, they are only for themselves.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #3: INTERIOR LOCUS OF CONTROL
Introduced in 1966 by Julian Rotter, a locus of control is a psychological construct which balances the extent of which an individual believes he or she has power over their life – to what extent a person believes in ‘free will’. A person with a strong internal locus of control believes that they can influence events and outcomes. Someone with a strong external locus of control blames outside forces for life events.
Wanting to make money? Those with a strong internal locus of control will be those who go out and make it – entrepreneurial types. These types of people are confident that they can be successful, they seek to learn, they thrive when undergoing challenges and deal better with stress.
Those with a strong exterior locus of control will be people who believe they have little to no control over their life and the best way to gain wealth would be to leave it to external factors – buying lottery tickets in this instance. They leave life events to chance, fate and the environment. People like this tend to be less successful in life and tend to suffer more from mental disorders. They are quick to blame others, avoid responsibility, are more prone to stress and depression and tend to have a victim’s mentality.
Internal locus types would evaluate life situations and label them in the following ways:
- I am late because I didn’t allow for the traffic
- We lost the football match because we didn’t play well enough
- I didn’t get the promotion because I didn’t plan or work hard enough
External locus types would caption the same situations by stating:
- I am late because the traffic is bad
- We lost the football match because the referee was unfair
- I didn’t get the promotion because the boss doesn’t support me
Which type of person are you? Which do you want to be?
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #4: THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
Humans are natural catastrophists and are often quick to turn their attention to all of the difficult aspects of a task, however, this mental strength hack gets you to totally change how you’d view a challenge. It changes your mindset. Suddenly, impossible becomes possible and it forces you to think that you can accomplish what you want, no matter what it takes.
You can apply this simple question, also explored in the CHIMP PARADOX (Get this sent to your inbox when you subscribe to our newsletter below), to any number of scenarios; from long-term training for a special forces selection to completing military basic training in the medium-term or completing a 1.5 mile run fitness test in the short-term.
The underlying theme here is self-discipline – this mental strength hack not only reinforces your desire to complete your goal, or even make it seem easier, but it helps you to understand your own motivations for it. Ask yourself, “Are you looking for excuses to fail?” If you answered ‘yes’ to the question yet are still procrastinating to reach your goal, then you are looking for excuses to fail. You are not being self-disciplined. If this is the case then you may not be as serious as you thought about your goal and you need to ask yourself why you want to complete that goal in the first place.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #5: ATTACH YOURSELF TO THE FEELING
You probably already do it – you’ve imagined yourself crossing that finish line, making that first $1 Million or summiting that 8000m mountain. However, you may be going about visualising it all wrong.
This is what the British Army is teaching: Elite British armed forces teach new recruits how to gain mental strength by attaching themselves to the feeling of being successful – imagining ‘Passing out’ after finishing their selection and training, rather than only imagining seeing themselves at the end.
You have probably heard of lifestyle marketing whereby a business appeals to its target audience, not by saying what its product’s features are, but how it will make you feel. “Having the newest Apple iPhone with ‘Animoji’ will make me feel happy” – Apple are very good at this. A brand would want to appeal to a particular lifestyle by focusing in on a set of interests, opinions and ideas that the target market can relate to. Furthermore, a brand focuses in on the target market’s worries, ethos and aspirations in order to offer a solution to aid them in achieving their goals. You need to do the same with yourself and your goals.
It’s not about imagining the ‘features’ of your goal. Don’t think about what you could spend your money on if you created a successful business. Instead, use this mental strength hack to sell yourself the dream by attaching yourself to the feeling of being rich.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #6: BANK OF MEMORIES
Visualisation is one of the most powerful things you have in your arsenal for mental strength. When you find yourself in a new or stressful situation, your brain will automatically try to find a similar situation in your ‘bank of memories’ as guidance about how to conduct yourself.
Visualisation ‘hacks’ this automation as it gets you to create strong, repeated mental imagery. The Shaolin Monks in China use visualisation to help them learn Kung Fu. They imagine themselves using their martial arts skills, going through the motions so that when it comes to use them for real, the skills are accessed quickly in the brain, allowing them to apply their Kung Fu like second nature. Relating to the CHIMP PARADOX (Get this sent to your inbox when you subscribe to our newsletter below), the monks are adding an automation to the computer part of the brain ready for instant access. This is where muscle memory is stored.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #7: FEAR IS USEFUL
Fear is a survival mechanism. When you perceive danger, a change develops in your behaviour. Fight, flight or freeze. However, worrying about fear means we suffer more in imagination than we do in reality. A survey included in the book ‘Nerve’ by Taylor Clark, revealed that people are more fearful of public speaking than death. Yes, at a funeral, statistically more people would prefer to be the one who has lost their life as opposed to the one giving the eulogy!
Today’s soldiers are given insights into understanding their fear and realising that it actually has many benefits. Fear keeps you focused, makes you see clearer. It pushes you to keep going. It makes you march faster and try harder. A German proverb reads, ‘Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.’ Yet, the battlefield is a breeding ground for fear. There is so much to be fearful of and here are some ways to counter it:
The first way to counter fear is to prepare for it. People naturally fear the unknown. That is what military training is all about. Navy Seals spend about 75% of their time training and 25% of their time on operations. Likewise, SAS squadrons rotate between active duty, being on standby and rest and recuperation, with the least amount of time actually on operations. Skills and training are practised constantly to the point where it becomes second nature (it puts an automatic response in the brain’s computer) to the point where it’s boring so that when an operator is facing a threat, they know exactly how to defuse the situation.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #8: MEDITATION IS NOT OVERRATED
Meditation is the process of calming the mind (Mental). It is useful when you have a lot of thoughts to handle in your head. You can use meditation to help bring clarity, calmness and concentration. It is attributed to the practise of self-awareness, it aids your immune system, and it has been discovered that it even slows ageing and ultimately leads to all-around happiness.
The aim of meditation is to feel relaxed, yet focused. How to meditate:
- Find a quiet place you can sit calmly, alone with no distractions.
- Breathe deeply and calmly, regulating each inhale and exhale.
- Concentrate on relaxing each muscle in your body, one at a time, as if they’re made of butter softening in the sun.
- Concentrate on a reassuring word or phrase like ‘happy’ or ‘success’ to let go of other words.
- Or concentrate on an image or visualisation of you achieving your goal.
- Stay focused on your image or word for 5-10 minutes.
- When you feel other images moving around your head, witness them without emotion and let them fade, returning to your focus image or word. Acknowledge with no reaction.
- When you feel an itch or feeling, name them ‘itch’ or ‘frustration’ as an example. Do so without emotion, letting them go and returning to your focus image or word.
Meditation does take a bit of practise, but over time, it will become easier and you will become less distracted as you meditate.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #9: HOW TO GET OUT OF BED IN THE MORNING THE PRO FIGHTERS WAY
On an iPhone, for instance, you can change the name of the standard alarm so that it displays any message you want when you wake up (as a default, it simply says ‘Alarm’). This is a technique used by martial art professionals across the world. They change the alarm’s name so that when the alarm goes off at 7am, 6am, 5am… whenever they would arise early to train, it would say: ‘Get up and train. Your opponent already started!’
In the special forces, you may have it read ‘Get up and train. Your enemy already started!’
You can imagine how beneficial this hack would be to develop mental toughness, seeing this first thing in the morning as an extra incentive to wake up, get out of bed and train. Day in, day out. It puts your goal at the forefront of your mind from the second you wake up, appealing to your inner chimp.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #10: THINSPIRATION
Thinspiration mean ‘thin inspiration’. It’s super important to always remind yourself of your goals as this appeals to your inner chimp. If you are working to lose weight, you can refer to this reminder as ‘Thinspiration’. If you are chasing a weight loss goal and know how you want your body to look, it’s a good idea to constantly remind yourself of that body to keep your goal at the forefront of your mind. You can utilise this mental endurance hack by finding a suitable image of a fitness model or celebrity relative to your goal and placing it in prominent places to keep you motivated to follow your diet and fitness regime.
That said, some people have found a negative response to constantly seeing said images as it makes them more body conscious. A good replacement idea is to find key phrases and quotes you can resonate with and place them up instead. As an example, place the following up where you can see it: ‘Dedication is what you want now vs what you want most’. That may work better than a picture of a fitness model. Equally, find a quote you resonate with here in this eBook, then print and display it. It’s super quick to do and will greatly benefit your psyche.
If weight loss isn’t your goal, then no problem. Surround yourself with images of the travel destination you’re saving up for, the dream house you want to live in one day or that gold medal you’re working towards.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #11: 4.5 BILLION YEARS OF EVOLUTION
A major part of mental toughness is the ability to instantly change your mindset. Here is a statement, a mantra, you can repeat to yourself next time you contemplate a challenge or need an extra boost of mental endurance to ensure you give 100%: You have not gone through 4.5 billion years of evolution just to be average.
After all, isn’t it life’s pursuit to be the best version of yourself? Way above your average potential?
This question is deep. Contemplating your place on our rock in the universe is mind-boggling, and is a topic the smartest minds in history have spent countless lifetimes trying to understand. But, reminding yourself how far we’ve all come can help you find the mental confidence you need in order to tackle new challenges.
Just think about how long ago the earth and the human race began. Think of all the struggles the human race has overcome like the discovery of fire, carving the wheel, inventing the combustion engine, coding the internet and walking on the Moon. Now think of the struggles of the future: Global food shortages, possible world wars and colonising Mars. The future, like the past, will not be forged by the average thinker but by people who push their limits and, in turn, the limits of the human race. If the theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ has been applied since the beginning of life, then we truly are the fittest people in history. We are the apex predator, the masters of our world. You too were not born to be average.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #12: BE SMART
A dream with a timeline becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action becomes reality.
For your own goals, start with identifying what you actually want to achieve. ‘Rich’ isn’t a goal. ‘$10 Million in 5 years’… that’s a goal. You can break down your goals by thinking SMART. Remember, ’A great goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot’, Joe Vitale. Hard work doesn’t feel like hard work when you are doing what you love.
- S = Specific: What should be realised? The more detailed and defined the goal, the better. To help, answer the what, where, why and how for your goal.
- M = Measurable: How will this be measured? How do you know you are making progress? Don’t guess, measure.
- A = Achievable: Is the goal achievable? Can this be done by you? Don’t set your target too high so that it is unattainable, but equally, you want to push yourself. If you want something you have never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.
- R = Realistic: Do you have the capabilities and resources to achieve it?
- T = Time: What is a realistic timeframe to achieve my goals? How much time in a day will you devote? ‘Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway’, Earl Nightingale.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #13: BE SWOT
A great starting point for any personal goal is to construct a self-SWOT analysis. This stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Breaking down a challenge into these four categories will help you recognise where you personally need help, where you are most confident and what obstacles are likely to hinder you on your journey.
Strengths and weaknesses focus on the internal factors whereas opportunities and threats focus on external factors. In addition, strengths and opportunities are helpful and weaknesses and threats are harmful. You will only need to make note of between 3-6 entities per category but doing this at the start of your goal planning will certainly help your understanding of the challenges ahead.
Master your strengths with practice and patience. Improve on your weaknesses by giving them more attention. Position yourself for the opportunities and spot and counter threats head-on before they start affecting your progress.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #14: MAKE YOUR BED
“Want to change the world? Start off by making your bed”…
This is the main actionable point made in Admiral William H. McRaven’s New York Times Bestseller, ‘MAKE YOUR BED’. McRaven had a distinguished career in the US Navy, spending over 37 years as a Navy Seal and ultimately progressing towards his final posting as Commander of all US Special Operations Forces.
But what does he mean by making your bed? Why would such a mundane task help you to change the world? In McRaven’s own words, ‘If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.’
This hack is essentially a success habit. It unleashes a chain reaction of productiveness to get more done with your day. More success.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #15: THE 70% SOLUTION
The US Marine Corps believe that a course of action which is planned to a 100% success rate is not realistic and will most likely fail. As the saying goes: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
This is where the ’70% Solution’ comes in. A plan formed to be 70% successful is still highly likely to succeed, but will allow adjustments and improvisation to be made on the run, thus making the plan super flexible and more likely to succeed vs a rigid plan with no room to manoeuvre.
In the ever-changing environment of combat, this highly fluid way of thinking may seem dangerous but it does allow a response against your plan from the enemy – which allows the leader to be both proactive and reactive. A leader would direct their assets by communicating the end goal to his or her team and let the people under their command figure out their part to play on the hoof. Creating a flush plan would be easier in a civilian environment which is why this hack is taught to combat leaders – in an environment where decisions have to be made very quickly without the luxury of group discussion.
Next time you are in a fluid environment where decisions have to be made quickly, apply the ’70% Solution’ in order to succeed and be nimble enough to react to your fast-changing circumstances.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #16: THE HELICOPTER METHOD
‘How important is this situation to the rest of my life?”
As already explored in this book, and as seen in the Chimp Paradox, ‘The Helicopter’ mental strength hack will change your mindset. When you find yourself in the presence of instant stress; feelings of anger, anxiety, unease, apprehension… you can use this hack:
- Imagine yourself getting into an imaginary helicopter and taking off vertically.
- Imagine yourself rising up and up and up so you can look down on yourself and the situation you have found yourself in. This is to get perspective.
- Imagine that when you look left from the helicopter, you see past events and when you look to your right, you see future events, ultimately seeing your life as a linear timeline.
- Now, look back down on your current situation and ask, “How important is this situation to the rest of my life?”
You will probably answer ‘not at all!’.
Remind yourself that everything in life will pass. A stressful moment in your life, like most things, won’t last forever. Very little in life is important for the long-term. Take off in your imaginary helicopter, look at your life’s timeline and wonder if your moment of stress is worth stressing about – Think of this next time you encounter instant stress. Will it bother me in a years’ time? What about next month? Next week? Or even tomorrow? No, it won’t.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #17: REJECTION THERAPY
The mentally strong can accept rejection better than most. They have a mindset which allows them to put things in perspective and not let rejection get the better of them or get under their skin.
However, the aim isn’t to receive a no, or a yes, but to put oneself forward for an awkward social situation. Preparing for rejection this way would make your skin tougher and help you in life by enhancing your ability to not be afraid to fail. As an example, it’s natural for a lot of people to struggle with asking another person out for a date over the fear of rejection. This mental strength hack will help you there.
Being able to handle rejection means you must not let other’s behaviour affect your self-worth. Besides, rejection is one of the most powerful motivators. Rejection therapy is a form of mental ‘flooding’ which is a psychotherapeutic technique that reacts by increasing adrenalin in the face of fear, which over time reduces fear from that and similar stimuli. You might have heard of ‘facing your fears’. Well, it works…
Sounds great? Here are a number of ideas to help you with rejection therapy. Try this technique over the next week, fortnight or 30 days and see what effect it will have on you, your confidence and your ability to go after your goals. Put things into perspective using other techniques mentioned in this book, realise that rejection really doesn’t matter and make the most of it. You may also find that you’re having fun. Just make sure your ideas are legal and trustworthy. Here is some inspiration:
- See if you can borrow £/$100 from a total stranger
- Ask for a selfie with a stranger
- Ask for a tour of a building not open to the public (warehouse or factory)
- Ask to swim in a stranger’s swimming pool
- Offer £/$5 to a total stranger. You’ll be surprised how many will say no!
- Ask to borrow someone’s pet dog
- Ask strangers for compliments
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #18: ONE IN 133,000
Only 1% of all US military personnel are in the Navy Seals. It’s estimated that there are around 2,450 Seals at any one time and the British SAS has about a fifth of this number.
If you take into account the populations of the corresponding countries, there are roughly 133,000 people for every 1 Navy Seal in the US and roughly the same for every 1 SAS trooper in the UK. This adds a degree of exclusivity and pride to those who are badged – they are literally one in 133,000.
This knowledge can be a useful hack for those going through selection and training. Once more, this has to do with visualisation. Those who train hard can do so knowing that they will represent the 133,000 of their country men, women and children on the battlefield – roughly the population of Brighton in the UK or Charleston, South Carolina.
Those running through the hills of the Brecon Bacons on SAS selection or along the beach in California during BUDS can do so whilst visually imagining the hundred plus thousand fans screaming for them to succeed.
Imagine the faces of those you want to fight for, those you want to represent. The men, the women, the children. Imagine seeing them for as far as the eye can see, filling every place a person can stand. Imagine what the banners and signs of encouragement say, held high above their heads, waving gently in the breeze. These are the people you do it for. These people are defendable. Imagine their love and admiration for you. A true warrior fights not because they hate what is in front of them, but for the love of what is behind them. These people want you to succeed. They are rooting for you. Imagine their support to push you through.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #19: IF IT’S NOT RAINING, IT’S NOT TRAINING
The Royal Marines pride themselves on their eliteness and military history stretching back to 1664. The commandos have the longest basic training course in NATO, 32 weeks to transfer the mind of a civilian into a Marine. They look for independence, strength and courage and aim to recruit new members by focusing on the mental toughness aspect of the job – ’99.99% need not apply’.
Like the Royal Marines, most of the world’s military units are taught to not only face the harshness of extreme weathers but to embrace them. From the script of one of the Royal Marine’s adverts launched in 2009, it is stated that ‘Rain is our ally. Rain hides our tracks and quenches our thirst. Rain keeps our enemies inside whilst we get to work.’
The actionable point here for potential soldiers is that although you may have a voice in the back of your head finding an excuse not to go for your training run in the rain, sleet or snow – you may think you will slip or trip, run slower, become bogged down with heavy gear saturated with water or be more prone to blisters – the fear is the same for the enemy.
On real operations, if you operate in poor weather, you are less likely to be spotted by a less disciplined enemy or a civilian population as they would be seeking shelter. As long as you can accept this, you will no longer dread a training session in poor weather conditions but welcome it. The experience will condition the mind to accept the environment and give you a competitive advantage.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #20: “IF ANYTHING CAN GO WRONG IT WILL”
These are the famous words of a US Air Force engineer, Capt. Edward A. Murphy. He was part of a team in 1949 at Edwards Air Force Base, and was working on a project to see how much sudden deceleration stress a pilot could withstand. One day after finding a technician incorrectly wired a part of the test, he commented, "If there is any way to do it wrong, he'll find it.” The project manager for the test kept a list of laws, which he named ‘Murphy’s Laws’, and added ‘If anything can go wrong, it will’ to the list.
There have been hundreds of new laws added over the years and below are some of the most relevant to combat. They also have life applications which can be used to think differently about a situation, against a competitor in a corporate environment, for instance, and can be seen as solid pieces of advice very similar to that found in the Art of War by Sun Tzu.
Get your head around these:
- Friendly fire – isn't.
- If it's worth fighting for...it's worth fighting dirty for.
- You are not Superman; Marines and fighter pilots take note.
- A sucking chest wound is nature's way of telling you to slow down.
- If it's stupid but it works, it isn't stupid.
- Try to look unimportant; the enemy may be low on ammo and not want to waste a bullet on you.
MENTAL STRENGTH HACK #21: GET THE SPECIAL FORCES MENTAL STRENGTH HACKS EBOOK
All of the mental strength hacks mentioned above have been taken from the Special Forces Mental Strength Hacks ebook where you will be able to get actionable coping mechanisms, fast acting strategies and unique wisdom from the world’s elite. The ebook, with 39 mental strength hacks, has been written for whoever may find these special forces inspired mental strength hacks useful in any stage of life; whether you are a professional in business, an athlete, a student or indeed a potential or current soldier.
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