A Navy SEAL's 4 Steps To Emotional Resilience
Do you tend to back off, or even quit, when things get really hard? Is it because you get overwhelmed emotionally, and let fear, uncertainty, or frustration derail you from your mission? My experience is that most people feel they should be able to bounce back quickly from life’s bummer moments, but they don’t know how and are left living in regret.
Resilient people are resilient not because they were born that way, but because they learned along the way that setbacks are simply an opportunity to learn and grow. It is a mindset and set of skills.
The bottom line is that emotional resiliency is a necessary ingredient of success.
I am a former Navy SEAL, and work on training SEALs in my current role. When you look at the tactics employed by Navy SEALs, you would notice a fiery determination to stay the course — even when hit by serious difficulties. SEALs learn that an inability to rebound quickly from failure can have crippling consequences. Grit, formed from mental toughness and emotional resiliency, is a by-product of training through failure, while expecting to win.
The bottom line is that emotional resiliency is a necessary ingredient of success for anyone working toward lofty goals. Here are a few tips to help you develop strengthen your resilience. Though these steps are simple to understand, they take extreme discipline to master. Here they are:
Step 1: Learn to witness the negative emotional reaction as it arises.
Next, observe the root emotion beneath it.
Step 2: Examine that root emotion to experience it fully.
This helps to ensure that you are avoiding denial or transference.
Step 3: Intentionally transfer the negative root emotion to a positive counterpart.
For example, you can turn fear into courage, anger into commitment, jealousy into appreciation, shame into pride, and despair into surrender. Admittedly this step takes great patience and willpower, which are part of this practice.
Step 4: Finally, engage the new emotion with self-talk.
This action blocks the old emotion from returning. It helps to divert your attention away from whatever drama caused the reaction to begin with, and focus on something positive, such as a teammate in need.
The positive momentum developed from this process will carry you to emotionally resilient territory. Let me use a personal example I wrote about in my book Unbeatable Mind: Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was quoted in a newspaper article that focused on the way SEALs were being employed in Iraq. I thought I was having a casual conversation with a friend (who happened to be a journalist), and did not consider that he intended to use me as a source (my bad). He used my name and rank in the story to make it appear an official statement — one that was critical of the then SEAL leadership.
As I received the verbal beating, I could feel my anger boiling. My instinctual response was to lash out to verbally defend myself.
I got called out quickly by an official who read me the riot act. As I received the verbal beating, I could feel my anger boiling. My instinctual response was to lash out to verbally defend myself. And that was what he expected. But I witnessed the anger and sensed that a reaction from that emotional state would get me into deeper water. So I chose to interdict the reaction with an internally voiced command to stop the anger — while I nodded politely to the captain.
Though I was feeling anger, what I witnessed was that it was associated with guilt for my obvious screw-up and a fear of loss. The anger was a habituated reaction that clouded over the root emotion of fear. In those short moments I examined the fear, kicked its tires, and came to the conclusion that though I had made a mistake, it was an honest one and I was blowing things out of proportion. I chose to redirect the fear toward courage, and to maintain a focused, professional demeanor. I changed my internal dialogue to support the emotion of courage.
Soon what felt like a major incident was under control, and time moved on. Like many setbacks in life, this one was temporary and self-induced, yet provided a rich opportunity to cultivate emotional awareness and resiliency.
Imagine challenging situations in your own life. How have you reacted? Did the moment get the best of you and your emotions, and turn what otherwise should have been a speed bump into a full-blown wreck? If that’s the case, then consider experimenting with the above emotional training. Trust me, it will pay off.