US Navy SEALs develop mental toughness by reinforcing one behavior

Achieve your dreams.
Achieve your dreams.
Image: Reuters/Manuel J. Martinez/U.S. Air Force/Handout
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This question originally appeared on Quora: How can the average person learn the skill of mental toughness without joining the military? Answer by Ronald Fry, author of Hammerhead Six.

Mental toughness is a state of mind. Anyone can develop the mental toughness of a solider without being part of the military. Mental toughness is resilience—the ability to stick to something regardless of the obstacles in your way. It’s about being goal oriented, always trying to improve, and being dependable and consistent. I believe mental toughness is fueled by either a dedication to self or a dedication to a higher cause. Ideally it is both.

Any human can develop mental toughness by setting goals, pushing oneself a little harder, and working for small victories. Mentally tough people are always willing to (metaphorically) run up steep hills in the rain because they know the prize is at the top of the hill. Being true to oneself is what keeps people on goals, like sticking to a workout regimen, attempting marathons or triathlons, developing new hobbies, or dropping bad habits and picking up new ones.

Mentally tough people know what is good for themselves, their future, and are willing to show discipline, patience, and sacrifice to achieve their objectives. This is why we often see the most successful people are not the ones with natural talent, but those who had to overcome obstacles through hard work, focus, and dedication to achieve their goals.

The military does a great job in tapping into the motivation and personal goals of an individual. If you want to be a paratrooper, a Ranger, a SEAL, or a Green Beret, you must volunteer, train, discipline yourself, and prove that you are mentally tough. In Ranger School, limited sleep, long walks, limited food, and stresses of leadership are piled on the students to see if they will stand up to the pressure or quit. SEAL and Special Forces training offer similar challenges to see who will quit and who has “grit.” Mentally tough people do not quit.

The military also taps into the other driver or motivator for mental toughness—a higher cause. Those who join the military often have a love for institutions, a way of life, a constitution, and certain values. They are trained to fight for the continued existence of these values. A deep loyalty, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice for their missions—whatever they may be—is stamped on their souls, and it’s at the core of what fuels their mental toughness. We can all learn to emulate and develop this behavior in our own lives.