SEALing in Good Habits

As a red-blooded American, I'll always respect Navy SEALs.  But luckily for my Mom, I could never be one - my poor swimming skills and INTJ personality don't always mix well with authority.  So rather than living out my GI Joe fantasies, I've been experiencing them vicariously with my new favorite book, Extreme Ownership.  

I know what you're thinking, "How can fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq teach us anything about fitness and nutrition?" It's because strong leadership, problem solving, and hard work transcends industries. And I'll take learning wherever I can get it!

As I've done before, below are several parallels between the book and being successful in the gym.  Hope you enjoy them!

1. Believe

The most limiting factor to most people's progress isn't physical; it's mental.  We limit ourselves by thinking that certain goals are impossible to achieve, or that we're not capable of putting forth the effort.  But it's our body that serves our mind, not the other way around.

That's why I'm not the person to talk to if someone needs motivational advice.  If someone doesn't possess an inner belief that they can achieve a goal, they won't.  Rah-rah speeches can help in the short term, but it's not going to keep someone motivated through the grind of everyday life.  This great post by Joel Jamieson explains how the topic of mental toughness really comes down to psychology: do you see the value in the work you're completing? Is it a priority?  Trying to increase your mental toughness by tough workouts and speeches is a big mistake.

So in order to believe you need to figure out why something is important to you.  For example, my goal of deadlifting 3x my body weight stems from my need to conquer the back pain I dealt with for many years.  It's also to prove to myself that I'm elite at deadlifting.  And my current goal to become a beast tamer is to show that anything really is possible when you believe (I know, I'm cheesy).

Not a Mets fan.  But Tug McGraw was onto something..

Not a Mets fan.  But Tug McGraw was onto something..

Of course, you may have to trick your mind along the way because it's not always easy.  If you'd like more information on how to do that, I'd highly recommend the book Psych.

2. Simple

Once someone does believe, they need to come up with a plan.  But if you're a planner/overanalyzer/thinker like me, these plans can often become unnecessarily complicated.

A few years ago I contemplated doing the Smolov squat routine or using advanced peaking techniques to improve my front squat.  I'm thankful I thought better of it because I would've ended up injured or frustrated (or both).  All I really needed to do was get better at front squatting, and learn how to stop my left knee from caving in and my right weight shift.

On the dietary side, I've seen the same trains of thought with other people.  I've been asked about using intermittent fasting, very low calorie diets, or eliminating all fats or carbs.  But there always tends to be a glaring hole that needs to be fixed before drastic measures are taken.

These examples are a long way of saying that the secret to success isn't foreign. It really comes down to the basics. That's why I LOVE this article about how NBA players recover.  They might be using fancy machines, cold tubs and hot tubs, but they all agree the best recovery aid is sleep. Insufficient sleep has shown to increase their risk of injury and reduce the overall quality of their play.  As LeBron says, "There's no better recovery than sleep."

Vigorous head nodding.

Vigorous head nodding.

If you're looking to start with simple, begin with these basics for nutrition:

  • Are you sleeping 7-8 hours each night?  
  • Are you drinking enough water?  
  • Is there one specific time of day you have trouble with?

When someone wants to improve their strength, start with these:

  • Is your technique perfect? (It never is.)  
  • Are you adding 5 pounds to the bar each week?  
  • Are you focused?

Once those questions all have solid answers then it's time to explore others.

3. Discipline Equals Freedom

While there's a seeming dichotomy between discipline and freedom, the authors of Extreme Ownership have convinced me otherwise.  As they point out, the former allows the latter.

The authors use the example of waking up in the morning.  If you get up after your first alarm, you have more freedom and more time during the day.  If you don't, you have less time and less freedom.  And of course, more time in the morning means more freedom to train or make a healthy breakfast.  But it doesn't stop there.

When you're disciplined with strength, you have more freedom for other endeavors.  Whether it's running a marathon, swimming, biking, or playing pick up basketball, you'll move better and be more resilient.  You'll also be able to continue these activities for a longer period of time.

Discipline on the nutrition side is similar: the more disciplined you are 90% of the time, the less you have to worry about the other 10%.  In a sense, you'll be able have your cake and eat it too.

But it all starts with believing.