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4 Mental Preparedness Secrets Used by Navy Seals

4 Mental Preparedness Secrets Used by Navy Seals post image

You can practice survival skills like food utilization, finding water, and emergency first aid but, unless you are mentally prepared, these skills aren’t going to do you a bit of good. Unfortunately, mental preparedness usually gets put on the backburner.

What is Mental Preparedness?

In short, mental preparedness is a way of getting your mind ready to cope with stresses in a survival situation. Navy Seals, Marines, SWAT teams, and law enforcement go through mental preparedness training so they can handle dangerous situations. However, mental preparedness is also important even in situations which aren’t life-or-death. Athletes use mental preparedness, as do lawyers, managers, and others who successfully work in high-stress situations. Heck, my wife has mastered the art of mental preparedness in keeping her cool when our daughter gets particularly annoying.

Why is Mental Preparedness So Important?

Talent and skills can only take you so far. I like how hockey player Jamie McKiven describes the importance of mental preparedness. He points out here that the fastest skaters don’t play in the NHL, nor do the people with the strongest shot.   It is the mental aspect of the game that separates the good from the great. The great hockey players need to be able to apply their skills in the heat of the moment. They need to react quickly even when things don’t go as they practiced.

If you aren’t mentally prepared, you aren’t going to be able to survive a SHTF disaster. Yes, you should still practice survival skills like filtering water and building a survival shelter – but make sure you build up your mental toughness too. This mental toughness is what allows completely untrained people to survive disasters – such as Juliane Kopeck who survived a plane crash in the Peruvian jungle and went 9 days before being rescued, or the pair of sisters who survived 2 weeks eating Girl Scout cookies after their car got stranded in a snowy backroad.

Mental Preparedness Secrets

When we hear survival stories, it might seem like some people are just better cut out for dealing with stress and cope better in tough situations. Yes, some people might be mentally tough by nature. But I want to point out that the brain is like a muscle. It can be trained and made stronger.

That is the secret: if you want to be mentally tough, you’ve got to train your mind. Here are 4 methods used by Navy Seals to build up mental preparedness needed for survive any situation.

1. Emergency Conditioning

Also known as EC, emergency conditioning is a training technique which is used to make unknown situations seem familiar.   You basically trick your brain into thinking that it has already gone through the experience so it doesn’t seem as scary or stressful when you actually do go through it.

Here is an example of how EC would work for soldiers preparing for battle:

The soldiers would imagine that they are going into battle. They would imagine themselves slowly approaching, listening to the sounds around them. They would imagine the signal telling them to start the attack. They’d imagine in great detail the sounds of the weapons going off, the smell of sweat, blood, and smoke, the sound of screams…

You can practice emergency conditioning by playing out all the possible disaster scenarios in your head – like a fire in your home, a home invasion, a terrorist attack, an EMP attack, and so forth. Remember that the key to EC is imagining the situation in as much detail as possible.

2. Set Goals

When I first started working out again (and wasn’t exactly in the best shape), I had a goal to run a marathon. But, when I got on the treadmill at the gym, I didn’t think about that marathon. When I started getting short of breath and feeling like I couldn’t go any further, I’d look at the numbers and tell myself “just 500 more yards.” Once I reached those 500 yards, I’d set a new goal for myself – like more distance or another 10 minutes.

While your main goal may simply be to “survive” a disaster situation, you’ve got to break it up into smaller short-term goals. For example, you might give yourself the goal of making a shelter or finding water. These smaller goals help keep you focused. When you are focused on the things you can control, the stress of the situation is less likely to defeat your mind.

3. Think Positive

You know that kid’s book The Little Engine That Could? The engine keeps telling himself “I think I can, I think I can…” Guess what – he could!

It may be a children’s book, but we could all take a lesson from it in mental preparedness. Navy Seals use this type of positive thinking to get them through training. They remind themselves that many other trainees have passed the course and, since they are physically fit, they should be able to pass easily.

Another example of positive thinking is tightrope walkers. They practice tightrope walking at low heights. Then, when they are up in the air, they remind themselves that they’ve already done this a zillion times before – the only difference is the height.

This is where your survival skillset training can really boost your mental preparedness. If you practice survival skills, you will be able to put yourself in a positive mindset by reminding yourself that, “It is a crappy situation, but I am prepared for it.”

4. Arousal Control

Arousal control training is something which is commonly used by professional athletes, but it is also part of the mental preparedness training that Navy Seals get.

To understand how arousal control works, you must first know that stress helps us survive. When the body perceives a stress, it goes into “fight or flight” mode. Our attention gets highly focused, our breathing increases, and our heart rate also increases. This fight or flight reaction is what allows mothers to lift entire vehicles off their trapped child and wounded soldiers in combat to keep fighting.

However, there is a limit to how beneficial stress is. As shown in the Yerkes-Dodson model of arousal and performance, too much stress causes performance to suffer. To make sure your stress levels don’t go too far, you must use arousal control tactics like:

  • Having a plan
  • Focus on things you can control
  • Use breath control (such as breathing in sets of 4)

Do you think you are mentally prepared for a disaster?  How are you preparing?

Image credit: “Navy Seal” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by  ArmanMesh 


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