I first met the Navy SEAL who would soon be living with me at an ultramarathon. Well, I didn't actually "meet" him… "Saw him" would be a better description.
I was running the race as part of a six-person relay team. This Navy SEAL ran the entire event, alone. The race was self-supported, meaning you have to bring your own supplies. So, my team stocked up on bananas, energy bars, drinks, and food. This SEAL's supplies for the 24-hour race were a folding chair, water, and a bag of crackers. That's it.
Before the race started, I couldn't help but keep an eye on him. He was 250 pounds of human steel. He had a look of anger, determination, and purpose that I had never seen before. He was locked in. He looked livid. He was on a personal mission. He just sat in his chair with his arms crossed with a don't mess with me expression while waiting for the race to begin.
Who was this guy? After the race I decided I had to contact him. So I cold-called the SEAL. After a short chat I decided to fly from New York to California, where he was based, and "officially" meet him. During our meeting it became increasingly clear to me that he had something I wanted. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I knew my life would dramatically improve with him around. So I asked him to move in with me (and my wife)... for 31 days. He agreed.
"SEAL," as I call him in my book, Living With a SEAL, is widely considered to be the toughest man on the planet, both mentally and physically. On top of being an American hero, he broke the Guinness World Record for most pull-ups in a day. He did 4,030 in 17 hours. He takes the term "no excuses" to another level.
I kept a blog of our time together. The blog hit a nerve among both fitness enthusiasts and friends who needed a little motivation in their lives. That blog became my new book.
So many of us live our lives on autopilot. We do the same thing every day: wake up, go to work, come home, and have dinner. Repeat. When I found myself drifting in that direction, I had to make a change. My life and SEAL's nomadic take-no-prisoners life merging (or should I say colliding) for a period of time is what I needed. It was wild and unexpected. And while I got in the best shape of my life during my time with SEAL, the lessons I learned from him extended way beyond fitness. Here are a few that rubbed off on me:
1. When you think you're done, you're only 40 percent done.
This is one of my favorite "SEALisms." There is always more in your tank than what your mind is telling you. If you can train yourself to get past that initial warning of "I'm done" from your brain, then you probably have 60 percent more in you. As SEAL would also say, "Control your mind, son."
2. The harder the challenge, the more alive you feel.
One of the most important lessons I learned from SEAL was the level of appreciation he has for difficulty. The harder the training, the more courage it took to do and the more satisfaction was derived from it. As he would say "coasting is for wimps." It's when you dig deep that you feel the most alive.
3. You have to be willing to get uncomfortable to get better.
SEAL had a quote he often used that I love: "If it doesn't suck, we don't do it." He taught me that we all have a reserve tank and that only by pushing ourselves to our limits can we discover what is in our individual tank. As I look back on my own journey, most of my successes in life have come from learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
4. It's not what you do, it's how you do it.
It was incredible to watch a man for 31 days who was so focused on doing everything in his life the right way. It started with simple tasks like being on time (which he ALWAYS was) but extended to every aspect of his daily life. His bed was made like a professional — every morning. His form on all of his exercises had to be perfect. His attitude in life was: Do it 110 percent or don't even bother doing it. He was never impressed with accomplishments — he was impressed with how you got there.
5. Enjoy the pain.
While most of us spend our lives trying to avoid pain, SEAL sought it out. His believes that you can't possibly reach your true potential without truly pushing your limits. To get there will take some tough challenges and pain. Enjoy it. Embrace it. The pain is a reminder of your hard work.
Adapted from © 2015 Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet by Jesse Itzler
Photo credit: Deana Levine