Sometimes I like to challenge myself. Most recently I wondered how it would feel, physically and emotionally, to keep grinding out a ton of pushups, hour after hour. So I did 5,000. It sucked.
But I did learn a lot about myself.
And that's why I'm fascinated by the new television series The Selection: Special Operations Experiment, debuting tonight at 10 p.m. EST on History.The premise is simple: 30 people with no military background undertake an extreme physical and mental challenge; their instructors are combat veterans from various U.S. Special Operations units including Navy SEALs, Special Forces Green Berets, and Army Rangers.
I've seen the first two episodes, and it's great. And brutal. And eye-opening. I'd love to try it... and I'd also hate to try it. (Isn't that how the most rewarding experiences always are?)
Of course I'm not sure whether I would make it; that's what makes difficult experiences so rewarding. If you know you can make it... what do you learn about yourself?
One of the instructors on The Selection is Ray Care, a 12-year veteran of the United States Navy who spent 10 years serving as a SEAL; later Ray served as an overseas security officer for government agencies.
I had the honor of speaking with Ray about perseverance, developing the right mindset, the keys to success... and how the only limits we really have are self-imposed.
To me, the show is about finding limits. It's almost like you want people to break.
We don't want people to break. I'm not looking to break someone. I'm looking for people to find themselves.
A lot of people aren't willing to do that. That's a difference between the instructors you see on the show and the Special Forces community at large, and the rest of the world. Most people are used to being in their comfort zone, so when you take the elements of extreme physical activity, sleep deprivation, cold, guys in your face, and Mother Nature... it's a wicked combination. It's explosive. Most people don't have the temperament to take it.
But I don't want anyone to break. I want to see them push through.
If I knew I was going to be on your show, I would train for months.
That might help, but it's really hard to prep for something like this. You can do all the pushups and sit-ups and running and all that stuff you want... but I honestly think everyone has it in them. They just don't know how to find it.
I'm lucky enough to have found it, and the other instructors found it, too.
But it's really not physical. It comes from inside you, and you have to do some serious soul-searching to find it.
What I like is that there is no prize at the end. There's just finishing. That's when you find out what truly motivates people -- when it's all about you and not what you receive.
You're right. There's no prize, no reward... so whatever their motivation is, they're going to find out if that motivation will carry them through.
What was your motivation?
I didn't want to let people down. My whole life I had been let down, and I didn't want to let other people down. And I just didn't want to be average.
So when I went through BUD/S (Navy SEAL training), I went in with the mindset that quitting is not an option. Literally. I told my mom to buy a non-refundable ticket.
I know that sounds simple, but that's what it takes if you want to succeed... at anything. There's always an out. Quitting is easy. I just went in with the mentality that there was nothing else on the planet I was meant to do except this.
The show really drives home a powerful premise: when you think you're "done," you can always do at least one more.
Here's the thing about being "done." When you truly have nothing left in the tank, you either black out, pass out, or die. That's it. Otherwise you have more in you.
It's all about getting past your comfort zone.
One of the instructors did something I've never seen done before (you'll have to wait to see it on the show). After you get to a certain number of reps or steps or whatever, people think it's over... and you do another and another and another, and finally there comes a time when you either mentally lock it out and say, "I'm going to do this," or you say, "I can't."
When you can say, "I'm going to do this," that's when you're finding yourself.
So yeah, you're right: we always have more gas in the tank. We just don't think we do because no one wants to run on reserve. They don't want to go past what they think is their limit.
Going past your limit takes you to an interesting mental place.
Exactly. You find out it's not so bad to be tired, or cold, or wet, or stressed...
That's the thing. This show is no joke. We didn't pull any punches. We didn't stop. We didn't edit it to make things look harder than they were. If someone seems to get hurt, they were legitimately hurt.
In war, you can't just stop. You hope that everything you've done to that moment in your life, whoever you are, no matter what the situation, when it is fight or flight... you pray that everything in your muscle memory will help you to fight and win that battle.
That's how we're programmed. Some people have it, and some people don't. But everyone can find it if they're willing to push themselves.
Go back to your training and experiences; what has all that taught you about yourself?
For one thing, I've learned there is no definition for the word "boundaries."
What makes the Special Ops community so elite -- and a little foolish -- is that if someone tells me something can be done, I'm going to do it. If you tell me I can run through that wall, I'm going to do it.
Every instructor you see on the show has that same mindset.
The other thing I've learned is that even the most physically difficult thing is really a mental challenge. I can speak only for BUD/S -- I will never speak for any other service -- but BUD/S is really a mental game. There's a tremendous amount of physical effort involved, but if you mentally block it out and have a little bit of luck on your side and don't get injured, you can do it.
I've seen physical specimens fail... and the 120-pound guy make it. It's mental.
People think you succeed based on physical attributes, but it's a thinking game. And that's what makes us so unique. We're in shape, but that's just an added perk. What matters most is that we've learned to win the mental game.
And that's why you can pull together people from different units and it will instantly look like they've worked together for the past ten years. We all have that common bond.
I love the line in the show, "It could always be worse."
That was Bert (one of the other instructors.) He's right, and it's a perspective a lot of us use to get through tough situations. When you're down on your luck and freezing and it feels like someone just kicked you in the balls... hell, it could be worse.
I actually have been kicked in the balls. It sucks. But it could be worse. It can always be worse.
At some point it's hard to remember that, though, especially if you're discovering yourself for the first time. That's when some of the people on the show broke down.
You also learn to suffer in silence. We all had to do that, and the people on the show had to learn it, too. Show no emotion. Don't let us see weakness. If you show weakness, we'll attack.
Here's the thing. The Selection is a show, but it wasn't a show to us. We held nothing back.
Since so much of "unscripted" TV is partly or even largely scripted, that might be hard for people to believe.
Trust me: when you see people dropping out, we didn't drop them for ratings.
We had a schedule and we said to the production team, "Here's our schedule. This is what we're doing." We didn't change it to make the show more dramatic or suspenseful.
That's why there's no prize money. It's real. And we worked our plan.
So I don't like the word "show." This was a personal and social experiment that was filmed. No punches were pulled.
And that's what is so great about it: it has depth, it's an emotional roller coaster, and you can see the process of selection exactly as it unfolded.
Since most of us can't get on the show, what advice can you share for people who want to learn more about themselves by pushing themselves?
Winning is a mindset. Refusing to give up is a mindset. When you learn that you can do more than you thought in one aspect of your life, you can apply that to every other area of your life.
So get out and do things that are hard. Refuse to quit. Push past your comfort zone. Over time that ability will become a habit -- and you'll accomplish a lot more than you ever believed you could.
Success is a mental game. Learn to win the mental game and you can do anything.
More in this series: