When the contract for my first book, “Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons,” arrived, I had already experienced success as a performance writer. I had written about how the principles of SEAL performance apply to all areas of life; produced papers and classes about mental management, adversity, performance health, leadership, memory techniques (like how I taught myself to memorize a deck of cards), and how attack dogs relate to behavior change; but I had shared very little with regard to how the SEAL teams taught me to be a better father.
This was a topic I had nearly a lifetime of experience in, but had never written anything about, so the notion of churning out 250 pages—in 90 days, no less—seemed beyond impossible.
But I knew better.
Navy SEALs may seem arrogant for believing that they can do anything, but we’ve seen the impossible become possible far too many times to think otherwise. I’ve watched dudes hobble through Hell Week with multiple fractures in their legs, fellas run hundreds of miles in a week while suffering from pneumonia, and even buddies of mine—Marcus Luttrell in “Lone Survivor,” Derrick Van Orden in “Act of Valor“—star in major motion pictures. Hell, I’ve even seen myself do a few things I never thought I could pull off, like making the transition from corporate trainer to full-time writer.
I approached the book as I did anything else: I found my objective (to be a best-seller), planned my route (scheduled daily writing time), got my gear ready (found a badass book collaborator named Dina Santorelli who didn’t take any of my shit), and then I got on my belly and started crawling (writing drafts that we called “rounds”—five rounds per chapter was our average—and sending them downrange until we hit our bull’s-eye, like a sniper doping in his gun).
My formula for becoming an expert
As a SEAL sniper instructor, I had developed a passion for human performance and process, and I developed a formula I call “PAID” that helps a student to master any field and reach his objective (I would later teach this formula to high-level executives and rely upon it to personally master or teach any discourse):
• Purpose: Identify the objective and never lose it.
• Action: Stalk your target, even when in doubt.
• Information: Collect information as you stalk to refine or change your plan.
• Debrief: Convert action and information into the knowledge and skills required to reach your objective.
I just dug in. Some days I wrote for 30 minutes, others I wrote for up to eight nonstop hours. The ability to focus that I developed as a sniper was critical. Often, I wrote for so long that my hands would alternate between going numb and burning with pain.
Writing a book forced me to dig deep and practice inherent levels of self-regulation and discipline that went beyond what I had ever experienced as a SEAL. It was a reminder that my current set of skills, capacities, and desires are not fixed traits like my eye color, but are things that can be developed or modified to support me in whatever I need them to.
I had never intended to become a writer—I didn’t even like it, at first—but by applying the principles I learned in SEAL training, I learned to love it. The trick is to open yourself up to life like a sniper student, and then stalk it.
- What objective do you now face that would require you to become someone different than who you are today?
- What are you going to do about it?
Eric’s new book, “Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned From their Training and Taught to their Sons” (St. Martin’s Press), will be available on May 3, 2016.
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