Damn Few is a memoir and inside look at Navy SEAL training by Rorke Denver, who served both as an active duty SEAL and later as an instructor for basic and advanced SEAL training. Denver also starred in the movie Act of Valor, which brought to the screen fictionalized accounts of true events from his career.
From a performance psychology perspective, this quote from Denver provides insight into the mentality necessary to make it through SEAL training, “I knew one thing already: However relentless the instructors, however high the demands, I would find a way to get through BUD/S. I was not going to quit…that positive self-talk, that sense of absolute inevitability, that refusal to even consider anything else-that turned out to be the elusive key to doing well at BUD/S. I was already getting into the SEAL mind-set” (p. 26). It is apparent from Denver’s account that becoming a SEAL is more of a mental test than a physical one, and the extremes to which SEAL candidates are pushed provide support for the nearly limitless capacity of our minds – and how rare it is that we truly test that capacity, let alone even approach its limit.
So, if you are seeking inspiration or motivation for a difficult task in your life, try reading about the experiences of these incredible warriors. Your challenge will be put into perspective very quickly.
I first heard this from Dr. Ken Ravizza. A lot of times we show up to the “big” competition with heavy legs, a nagging injury, a cold or flu or worse, a recent breakup, relationship stress, jet lagged, tired, stressed, or just in a bad mood. Then there is bad weather, bad food, bad officiating, nasty fans, and teammates that are distractions. And it is tempting to think, “This just isn’t my day.” It is just a fact that sometimes we are less than 100%. In fact, we are almost never at 100%.
However, many times we show up with 80% to give, but think it is just not enough and so end up giving only 60%. The self-fulfilling prophecy that it was not your day comes true. But what if the prophecy only came true because you gave 60%? What if 80% was enough that day, but you didn’t give yourself the opportunity to find out?
And here’s the real catch: we never know ahead of time how much we truly have to give! We may think we have 80%, but if we give ourselves a chance find that we feel better as the performance progresses. Developing a mindset of giving all you have on any particular day starts with training. Get the most out of training sessions when you don’t feel great. Like everything else, this will show up in competition as well.
Have a good crappy day!
In most domains of performance, much more time is spent practicing and preparing for competition than actually competing. This is obviously helpful for skill development. During practice, our mindset is analytical, focused on error detection and correction, and self-monitoring. This mindset is essential for skill development, but as discussed earlier is counter-productive to skill execution.
In order to successfully perform the skills we have trained, we must be able to shift to the competition, or trusting, mindset. In the competition mindset, we let go of conscious control of the movements necessary to perform and allow our learned skills to be automatically executed. The competition mindset is a skill in and of itself (and a difficult one at that), and thus requires practice just as any other skill we wish to develop.
The spectacular performers of Cirque du Soleil at times deliver over 400 performances in a single year. They are masters of the competition mindset, and this is part of their stunning showmanship. For the rest of us, we must intentionally cultivate the competition mindset by dedicating time to practicing in the mindset. This means setting aside time to simulate competition and performing skills without technical feedback, self-monitoring, and coaching. Similar to a physical periodization regimen, how you incorporate the different mindsets will vary based on the time of year. Typically, it would be effective to spend a greater proportion of practice time early in the season to the practice mindset. However, some time, perhaps 5-10%, should still be spent in the competition mindset. Later in the year as skills have been developed and refined and physical training is tapering, the majority of practice time will be in the competition mindset. These sessions will likely be shorter in duration and higher intensity (with some variability depending on the performance) and focused on developing trust in executing the skills already mastered.
No matter what your performance area, spending time in the trusting mindset can be a welcome relief from our tendency to be overly critical and caught up in our own heads. Give yourself time to enjoy performing the skills you have developed. It will result in more effective and consistent performances while fostering confidence and motivation.