So I would sleep with my bullet. It was the one thing I could control. Every night, I took that single round to bed with me and slept with it like a long-lost lover.
The first day, I missed my shot. The second day, I missed my shot. I never missed again.
Today, more than a decade-and-a-half later, I still wake up every morning with the sense that I’ve got that single live .300 Win Mag round under my pillow. You might see me in a coffee shop in SoHo, or boarding an early flight at JFK, or heading into some Manhattan TV studio to do a morning interview on the latest foreign policy development. But in my mind, I’m out on that range getting ready to put my single round into the center of that target.
My parents used to say, if you’re going to do something, make the effort to do it right the first time. Cold bore taught me that the first time may be the only chance you get. You don’t always get to warm up. You don’t always get to take practice shots. Neither you can always recover from a first-shot miss.
This is why you need to operate your business with a front-sight focus. Every day you may be called upon to make a decision that will make or break your business, even your career. Every day, you may be presented with conditions you aren’t prepared for, situations you haven’t predicted, choices you don’t have time to think through. Situations where you have one round to fire, and only one round, and cannot afford to miss.
Even on those days when those high-stakes challenges don’t present themselves, if you operate in a way that anticipates them, if you go through your day with that single bullet in your pocket, you’ll be operating at a level that sets you apart and primes you for success.
Embrace a State of Healthy Obsession
Putting a copper-jacketed high-speed sniper round into a target at one thousand yards — 10 football fields away, far enough that you can barely see it with the naked eye — is an extremely complex task. Between the point of release and point of contact, there is an enormous number of physical and environmental factors that mess with your round’s flight path.
Wind currents pulling it right or left. Air friction slowing it down. Gravity dragging it downward. Furthermore, the time of day how hot or cool it is outside will impact the round’s velocity as it spits out the end of the barrel. In turn, this will impact the shape of its arc as it travels. A spinning object’s natural tendency to precess after a while — the way a spinning top will start to wobble as it slows, then spin out and fall — applies to a spiraling rifle bullet, too. In some cases, even the earth’s spin can have an impact on exactly where that round hits when it reaches the thousand-yard mark.
In other words, there are a thousand things that can go wrong. Yet in our SEAL sniper course, we trained our students to place that round on the target, with dead-on accuracy, shot after shot, never missing.
If you think that takes a “steady hand,” you’re kidding yourself. Painting the trim in your living room takes a “steady hand.” Rather, being a Spec Ops sniper takes a highly unusual state of mind. The ability to hold on to dozens of variables at the same time and bring them all together with a precision attainable only through something like a state of self-hypnosis.
Succeeding in business takes the same thing. Sit down with 20 different successful entrepreneurs and have 20 different conversations. You’ll hear 20 different stories, 20 different sets of circumstances, 20 variations on a theme. But there is one thing I guarantee you will always hear: every single one of those 20 individuals will exhibit a level of engagement with his or her business that borders on the obsessive.
In fact, let’s call it what it is. Because it is an obsession. Not an unhealthy obsession that you can’t control but an obsession born of passion and total dedication. Focus taken to a level that can seem uncanny, almost pathological. But it’s not pathological. It is the same thing you observe when you watch Lang Lang play the piano or Michael Phelps race to an Olympic gold medal. It’s the inspired and inspiring capacity of human beings to transcend their limitations and do something great.
Not to make it all sound too grandiose. I’m not saying you have to be the Michael Phelps of the business world to be successful. Just that it’s that same level of passion, transformed into focus, that creates something new. That hits the target you’re shooting for.
Win First in Your Mind
After I got back from Afghanistan in 2002, my BUD/S mate Eric and I were tapped to rework the SEAL sniper course from top to bottom. We had to bring it up to speed for the new century and face of asymmetrical warfare. We completely revamped the course. In doing so, brought in all sorts of innovations, including new technologies, new curricula, new teaching methodologies, and a new mentoring system. Yet, the innovation I believe made the biggest difference in the caliber of our graduates is also the one that is the most relevant in achieving outstanding performance in business: mental management.
Based on the performance practices of Olympic athletes and world-class shooters, mental management focused on developing the two traits common to every one of these top performers: complete and total confidence (“I will win no matter what”), combined with rigorous, consistent, meticulous mental rehearsal (“and this is exactly what it will look and feel like”). The first session we ran with this program in place, we had one shooter-spotter team shoot perfect 100s on the first part of a shooting test. Guess how often that had happened before. Never. In the second part of the test, they shot a 95. Taken together, it was the highest score in U.S. Navy SEAL sniper course history.
Jack Nicklaus used to say that 90 percent of a tough shot is the mental picture you create and how you set it up and 10 percent is the physical swing itself. In that respect, sniping is a lot like golf. So is business.
It’s Not Exactly Visualization
Sun Tzu was right. The outcome of the battle is typically determined before the first shot is fired. I’ve seen businesspeople with all the advantages and opportunities in the world blow it because of what was going on behind their eyebrows. And I’ve seen guys with nothing at all but a mental picture of their own success, surprise everyone and transform industries.
Some people call this process “visualization.” But I prefer the term we used in our sniper course: “superior mental rehearsal.” Yes, part of that is to visualize your desired outcome and fix your goal clearly in your mind. But it’s more active than that. Just seeing the outcome is static. We taught our students to play out the scenario fully in their heads. You want your service to have a million unique visitors per month by the end of the year? Do you want your product in the hands of 100,000 satisfied customers? See it. Rehearse it.
Close your eyes and shoot a movie in your head, a moving picture of satisfied customers using your product. Picture your operations team handing you the year-end report with the million uniques views or see your company listed on the Inc. 5,000 fastest-growing companies list. In your head, give your year-end talk to a gathering of your employees thanking them all for working together to reach this phenomenal benchmark. You don’t get to the top of Mount Everest unless you’ve already visualized yourself being there.
Positive Habits to Win With Your Mind
Today I live an extremely busy life, but I put aside the time to meditate every day. For me, meditation is something like a long hot shower. A quiet time and space that creates clarity of mind and fosters new thinking. Some of my best ideas come to me during meditation. It also exercises the muscles of the creative mind and helps create the blank canvas upon which I practice my mental rehearsal. I know my business plan. I use visualization and mental rehearsal as reinforcement tools for elements within that plan. I’m winning in my mind.
If I need to overcome some self-limiting pattern or bad habit I’ve noticed, or if I’m looking to cement a new goal into my mind, I’ll write it down — either the goal or a positive habit that is the opposite of the bad habit. I will then place it in key places so I bump into it throughout the day, triggering my mental rehearsal again. When you do this, you’re imprinting that positive idea or goal by forcing yourself to think about it.
At one point, I really wanted to get better at remembering people’s names. I repeated each name I wanted aloud three times. I also came up with a funny story I associated with that person to lock the name into my memory. Then I wrote down, “You are excellent at remembering people’s names.” I put a few slips of paper with that written on it around my home. After a week, I removed the slips; a week is all it takes. Now I’m good at remembering names.
I even block out specific time in my calendar that is devoted entirely to examining my current thoughts. Time to put the cell phone away and read, think, focus on my personal and business goals, and build the thoughts I want to build. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and found it to be very powerful.
My SEAL Team Three friend John Zinn started a company with a friend after getting out of the service. They built armored vehicles that could withstand the rigors of the urban battlefield. At one point, they needed to bring out a second generation of vehicles but didn’t have the capital to build a functioning prototype. They needed investors but couldn’t get them without showing the prototype that they couldn’t build. A no-win situation, right? Only in the physical world. To a SEAL, there is no such thing as a no-win situation, because you can always win in your mind.
John set up a large black box in the center of his company’s showroom floor. When people asked what was in it, he replied, “Oh, we can’t show you that yet. That’s Gen 2 —very hush-hush.”
Potential investors went nuts with curiosity. They had to know what was in there. John wouldn’t say. Before long, John and his partner had gotten all the investment money they needed. They developed and distributed the new generation of vehicles to great success.
Of course, there had been nothing in the box. No prototype, no nothing.
Only that’s not really true, because there was something in there: What John saw was in there. He saw it so strongly that his potential buyers saw it, too, and laid down hard cash for it. Of course, hucksters do this, too. They’re so good at painting the picture that they make you believe it, and you give them your money, and you get nothing. The difference was, John could deliver, and he did…
Author’s note: I’m releasing juicy chunks of my book, Total Focus, on SOFREP weekly. If you want the entire armory of weapons at once you can you can order Total Focus here.
Team WEBB & MANN collaborated on their first novel, STEEL FEAR. The book is about a serial killer unleashed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. It comes out in July 2021. Please pre-order now to unlock several special events/giveaways. Save proof of purchase for later! Gracias. -BW
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