Updated: Oct 11, 2019
There is huge amount of interest, mystique and even glamour around the world of the Special Forces (some ex Colleagues have done quite well out of the TV, book and the speaking circuit!)
I often get asked about resilience, grit and what it actually takes to be in the elite of elite in the military. The answers are often not what people imagine or in some cases want to hear. I think they believe there is this ’ninja’ like mentality and quality that means the guys are impenetrable fortresses of the mental game.
To disappoint – this is not the case! This doesn’t mean that people completing SF selection do not have immense qualities, abilities and fortitude – the selection process ensures this. The immense bravery, professionalism and commitment in the face of often seemingly insurmountable odds is not always the stuff of legend but that of real human endeavours.
My experience is however that not just within the SF community but in all aspects of life (including elite level sports and business people) nobody has the mental game completely dialed in and cracked.
The development of the mental game is something I have worked on relentlessly in the years since leaving the SBS, to come to understand how I operate at my best (and subsequently how others can). It is so nuanced, so complex and from my perspective the ultimate challenge.
So what do they do in the Special Forces…
The processes and training of elite military units ensures that to operate effectively and achieve the levels of mission success required, all members must display key attributes of personal and collective performance.
A ‘mission mindset’ ensures that units, teams and individuals build cohesive bonds of trust and drive towards clarity of purpose in all tasks. And that for me is one of the keys – CLARITY. Being clear on your intent (really clear) can strip away so much of the unnecessary thoughts and actions. The effect of this is to reduce overwhelm, pressure and stress so that operators can achieve a level of calm, intense, focus.
This is something that was ingrained in our habits and processes so that it became second nature. It allowed us to operate at the right level of internal activation and to be able to work instinctively with colleagues to achieve our aim.
The result was a confidence in personal and collective skills – all key components of a robust psychological framework.
Grit and Resilience…
Grit and resilience have to some extent become ‘buzz’ words for things that have been around for millennium. Angela Duckworth has made a career out of it (something she may contest – but I am sure her ‘discovery’ of Grit has had a significant impact!).
There are infinite numbers of events, experiences, DNA, conditioning etc. that can have an affect of a persons Grit in any given moment.
As in training in the gym, resilience and grit comes from pushing our perceived limits. For growth we have to step out of the comfort zone. To face our fears. And it is this last part for me that forms the confidence of the SF Mindset.
It is hard to pin point specifics but my experience was of having a determined inner dialogue, which became even more committed the more I was challenged. Not wanting to let your team mates down and having huge pride in the unit were also massive elements. Quitting wasn’t an option on the table. Duckworth talks about passion & perseverance and that was certainly at the root of facing adversity.
All that said it doesn’t make us infallible. Force projecting – jumping out of a plane and attacking enemy compounds is one thing but dealing with realities of life in other areas can be in some cases even more demanding! Like others I have struggled with anxiety and negative mind states. Sometimes crippling anxiety in situations that have no ‘real’ consequences.
For me Grit and Resilience really comes from the development of all aspects of the mental game. Aspects such as calm, confidence, focus, trust, optimism, control, commitment (aspects of our Mindset Mission programme) which all affect our ability to respond to stress and challenge.
Finding inner stillness…
The reality I see is that the work of building a sound psychological framework is on-going and never ending. We are losing present moment awareness on a moment by moment basis.
Some people (SF guys included) act in unconscious ways and act through habitual patterns of behaviour which may serve in the short term but eventually result in longer-term negative consequences.
The commitment and work of building a robust mindset is the hardest work in the world. It takes a disciplined mind and it is rare. The pay off from the work though, is freedom and a growing inner stillness that leads to higher levels of performance and happiness in our lives.