Navy SEAL Training for Owners & Salespeople

Although I’ve only met a few of them, when I think of a Navy SEAL I think of someone who is disciplined, well-trained, resilient, mentally tough, confident and clear about his purpose. Not only are these critical character make-ups of a Navy SEAL, we can learn much from them in terms of how we run our businesses or sell for our organizations. Today’s article will discuss how we can use some of what Navy SEAL’s use for their own training, with the purpose to become stronger in ways that will help you grow.

Let’s concentrate on training for a moment. Post 9/11 the Navy SEAL sniper program was determined to be inadequate. They had an unacceptable attrition rate and a sub-par graduation rate. A Navy SEAL instructor, Brandon Webb, was tasked to improve the rates and became the Naval Special Warfare Command Sniper Course Manager with the objective of improving how the program was run. He would run the program from 1993-2006, with amazing results.

To start, he broke participants into pairs and assigned a mentor. The purpose was to increase accountability. He then created classes to better understand the mechanics of the equipment, with the understanding that if someone knew his weapon intimately, they would take more pride in the program. Next, he adopted “mental management” techniques established by well-known snipers, Marcus Luttrel and Chris Kyle, which they learned from being in combat.

The result? The NSWCSC went from a 30% attrition rate to only 5%. The graduation rate went from 70% to over 90%.

We can learn much from what he accomplished. Here are four rules that he immediately employed in order to raise the expectations and performance of snipers going through the program. The mentors were responsible for carrying out these expectations.

1. Produce excellence, not “above average”. In our own organizations, I would task each owner, each manager and every leader to not accept mediocrity. Don’t accept excuses. That doesn’t mean you become more critical. It means that you don’t allow people that work for you to give you excuses for giving above average performance. Set the bar high. Reward them for an excellent job only. Show them what excellent looks like.

2. Incentive excellence, not competence. Same idea when they are learning from you or others. Work on small details with them and get them to repeat them back to you. Have them teach others with that same level of detail. If you think about Navy SEALs, there is often no margin for error. A detail missed could mean that someone dies. In business, put tight systems into place so margin of error is low. Monitor progress until the new behavior becomes habit.

3. Incorporate new ideas from the ground. Like the Navy SEAL sniper program improvements, take what happens in the field, learn from it, create a system around it and teach it to your teams. What we learn in the trenches can be brought back to our organizations and utilized to gain efficiencies.

4. Lead by example. Credibility is earned through the very behavior that you exhibit. If you want your people to be on-time, you should be as well. If you want them to be detail oriented, we have to show them how we are. If we want them to be disciplined, show them how to be disciplined by exhibiting that behavior as well.

The issue of fear. There is no place for fear in the Navy SEALs. When you fear, you hesitate. When you hesitate in a crucial life and death situation it could mean the difference between making it out alive, or not. Thankfully, sales is not a life and death situation. However, there is definitely fear in many areas of the profession, as well as a business owner. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being judged, fear of embarrassment, fear of risk, fear of change and even fear of the unknown.

When faced with fear, there are many techniques they use in order to stay calm in pressure situations and to avoid fear. Here is one of my favorite systems they use:

1. Set goals. Navy SEALs set goals as if they are already going to achieve them. In other words, they state things as, “I am going to enter the building on the east side, make it up the stairs and be there in 2 minutes”. They regularly use statements like, “I will, I am, I can” when they set their goals. They say it like it is a foregone conclusion – something that has already happened. They visualize succeeding.

We can use this information to grow as well. Self-doubt is something we discuss often in our training. The ability to grow through self-confidence is important if you want to bring your business to the next level. Set small goals with a deadline, then reach to the next one.

2. Mental rehearsal. Navy SEALs rehearse stressful situations endlessly until the event is no longer stressful. If you’ve ever seen some of the videos on the training, they will tie their legs together, tie their hands behind their back and drop them into a ten-foot pool. The warrior must allow themselves to sink to the bottom, then push off vertically, arriving at the top of the water only long enough to take a deep breath and sink down again. They do this exercise 20 times over a 5-minute span. Many will panic and fail. The ones that succeed go to the next exercise.

In business, there are many areas where panic can set in. Having a bad month or a bad year, losing a large sale, trying to break into a new account, getting a call from an upset customer whose business you value are all examples. Learn to become calm in stressful situations. Train yourself to let things roll off your back. Practice not reacting and looking at situations differently. You can train yourself to deal with all sorts of adversity differently.

3. Self-talk. Navy SEALs are trained to quiet the voices in their heads. We speak to ourselves at a rate between 300-1000wpm. These are “can” vs. “can’t” messages that they learn to control. They talk about “weeding their gardens”, meaning removing all of the clutter, self-talk, negative messages and self-defeating inner voices from their minds. This too takes classroom study and understanding, mentoring and endless practice. It creates an environment of assuredness, calmness, and mental strength.

In business, you can learn to remove your “need for approval” with others. What used to bother you for a weekend can be shortened to bother you only a day, then a half of a day, then several hours until finally it doesn’t bother you at all. We’re talking about rejection, loss, judgment, being offended, all of it. Try putting a rubber band on your wrist. Each time you’re offended in some way by anyone, snap the rubber band. You may think it’s easy, it is not. Studies show that we have approximately 70,000 thoughts in a day (who knew?). They believe that most people have around 85% of them being negative. Think about it, someone cuts you off in traffic, is your first though positive or negative? Learn to control your thoughts.

4. Arousal control. They call it this because of the nature of their world. There are a constant influx of potential stimuli coming at a Navy SEAL all at once. If they over-react or make a rash decision at the wrong time, they could have a big problem. They have a strong ability to shut down negative stimuli in extremely high-pressure situations. As an example, one exercise involves putting them in a room with some form of extreme situation. They put a bag on their head, and put noise canceling headphones on them. Suddenly, the bag is lifted and they become acutely aware of an intense situation in an instant. They must react appropriately in a moment’s notice. Not all situations require an attack mode. It could be someone simply walking by asking for directions. They must control their minds.

One way they accomplish this is by specialized breathing. They learn to exhale in long bursts, as they have learned that it sends more oxygen to the brain and imitates relaxing.

In our training, we actually teach a Navy SEAL breathing exercise called “box breathing”. Box breathing is inhaling deeply for six seconds, holding that breath for six seconds, exhaling for six seconds and holding that exhale for six seconds, all through your nose. Repeat for five minutes. It calms the mind and allows you to think faster before entering into a stressful situation, like closing a big deal or entering into an important meeting.

We can learn much from Navy SEALs and frankly, from all branches of the military. If there is one thing they are all good at it is systems. They have to have good systems. As stated before, they are dealing with lives.

Many of these lessons are available in books and online and can be utilized in business. Although we aren’t necessarily in life and death situations, they could mean the difference between reaching your goals or being stuck. It can be the difference between reaching your potential and staying where you are. Good luck!