When it comes to getting through difficult challenges, there are certainly people who handle it better than others because they're tough. Then there are Navy SEALs.
I'm a professional speaker and after my keynotes I quite often get the chance to talk to the audience. After a recent keynote where I preceded a Navy SEAL who spoke on succeeding under extreme pressure, I was engaged in a discussion with a group of leaders from a utilities company that were enthralled with all things SEAL. They told me about a Navy SEAL commander by the name of James Waters. He granted an interview to theweek.com on October 2015 on how to tackle brutally tough challenges with extreme determination and perseverance.
These leaders regularly disseminate the teachings of Waters to their staff when times get tough. And Waters would know a thing or two about this because he was not only among the few (6 percent) who made it through the prolonged challenge that is SEAL qualification training, he also rose to commander.
I investigated and found Waters's advice to be spot on. I'll give you the best of it here, along with my own perspective. Here's how to get through challenges with grit.
1. Ask yourself, "Why do I want to tackle this challenge?"
No one thrust it on you. That is, you could always say you're not going to take the challenge on. Sure, there might be big consequences, but in the end, you're choosing to take on the challenge rather than averting it somehow. Why?
This is where what I call the Profound Why kicks in. What's your purpose for needing to persevere through the challenge that lies ahead? Finding the intrinsic meaning behind the task(s) is a great power source for carrying you successfully through. I teach companies all over the world about the power of purpose and its ability to motivate in a manner that sustains. Tap in.
2. Prepare to prepare.
To say that Navy SEALs prepare would be a gross understatement. For example, they have an official training video entitled "Preparing for Prep," which helps SEAL wannabes know how to prepare for the preparation training they'll have to pass so they can then really prepare to be a SEAL. Whoa.
Waters says that, in truth, SEALs spend only 25 percent of their time in the field. The other 75 percent is spent in training. I'm not saying you have to be so (literally) militant about preparation, but the spirit here is applicable.
Giving a highly paid keynote is not SEAL training (I know, shocking), but many would call keeping an audience riveted for an hour and walking away with epiphanies and actionable next steps a big challenge. It is--one I face all the time. But I can tell you that intense preparation is at the root of success here because it reduces uncertainty and builds confidence.
3. It's not a continuous challenge, it's an opportunity for continuous improvement.
Waters calls the SEAL culture one of continuous improvement and says each mission isn't about winning or losing. It's about whether or not you did your absolute best and are willing to reflect and figure out what you could do better--and accept criticism in so doing.
Here's what I like about this point of view. Often, we struggle with an upcoming daunting challenge because we're afraid to fail. But if you say there is no failure (no losing versus winning), only your best effort and the privilege of continually getting better, it's a reframe that helps defuse that fear. A reframe that helps your sense of determination. Who doesn't want to keep getting better?
4. Celebrate small wins and find big laughs.
Waters says celebrating small wins is vital for SEALs because they go through one impossibly tough challenge after the other. Said Waters, "But you've got to be able to accept these peaks and valleys, these small victories, and recognize that, yes, so many things are bad but they do have a start and an end." I find this especially true; the power of celebrating the little victories in the middle of your struggle is like little releases of perseverance dopamine to the brain.
And your will power is further fueled by finding a few things to laugh at in the midst of your challenge. Laughter provides instant perspective, and perspective fuels perseverance.
So take inspiration from the SEALs to keep yourself going through your next daunting challenge.