Next time the Olympics are on, pay attention to the interviews with the top-performing athletes, the ones who bring home the gold. You’ll hear how they talk about their events and training. The phrases they use, the words they feed themselves — how they talk themselves into success. Physically, these men and women train constantly, just as SEALs do. But what sets the gold medalists apart is a superior state of mind.

This is not something you’re born with. It’s something you develop no matter who you are. It just takes commitment, will, and practice.

As I said, when we studied Olympian gold medalists while redesigning our Navy SEAL sniper training program, we found two traits that set these superachievers apart. The first of these was complete and total confidence. And self-talk was how they created that total confidence.

The Importance of Self-talk

If you think this sounds like some airy-fairy “personal growth” workshop talk, think again. Adopting this as one of our core training planks allowed us to turn out a generation of lethal snipers on the battlefield. We trained our instructors to teach and reinforce with positive language rather than negative, reminding students what to do and how to do it right rather than cautioning what not to do and castigating them for what they did wrong. And we trained our students in how to talk to themselves to achieve success.

The truth is, whether out loud or silently, consciously or not, we all talk to ourselves constantly. Every one of us has this running commentary going on in our head. Most of us just aren’t aware of it. The first step in training your self-talk is to become aware of that running commentary. Once you do, you will be amazed. I’ve trained myself to hear it. Still, I am constantly stunned by the crap people tell themselves.

You don’t have to see the face of this sailor, who is undergoing the training at Basic Underwater Demolition School, to know he is weary, hurting, and tired. Just making it through the next run or swim will depend in large measure on whether he tells himself he can make it. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt/U.S. Navy)

You Fail Because You Decide to

I saw this happen in BUD/S. It was the middle of Hell Week, that legendary five-day ordeal designed to extrude all but the toughest from the program. During a rare lull in the punishment when we were allowed to eat something, I overheard two guys in the class talking.

“You know,” said one, “I really wanted to be a pilot anyway.”

“Yeah,” said the other. “Did I tell you my girlfriend was hoping we would get married this month? It’s tough, all this time away. I’m thinking this really isn’t fair to her.”

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