When looking to improve yourself at anything in life, the first thing you have to do is push yourself straight out of your comfort zone. Joining any Special Operations Forces unit, means being able to make the uncomfortable known and to push yourself to your absolute limits. That is the most important part of your preparation.

However, we are putting the cart before the horse here. This post is designed for those of you who are aspiring to be one of those SOF folks. And to become one, first, you must be prepared to pass the rigors of the Selection and then the qualification courses. And, unfortunately, many of the candidates are woefully unprepared. 

And as the old saying goes, “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” 

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a former Navy SEAL officer Mike Hayes, who rose to be the commander of SEAL Team Two and worked in a Joint Special Operations Command billet and many other challenging assignments.

Mike Hayes touched on something that is near and dear to every SOF cadre that knows what it takes to succeed, where so many others have failed. He said that until a person is pushed beyond their own perceived limits, they’ll never know the limits of their character. 

Special Operations Selection
U.S. Army Soldiers from the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct a field training exercise near Panzer Kaserne, Boeblingen, Germany, October 29, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Rey Ramon)

In other words, SOF candidates have to push themselves out of their own comfort zone.

We’ll never be able to find out exactly how far we can go and what we can accomplish until we push into that unknown. And rest assured… it isn’t easy. 

Breaking out of our comfort zone is one of the hardest things to do for all of us. That not only goes for training, which we’ll be talking about today, but for everyday life situations. How frequently do we do many of the same things because “we’ve always done them?” Why? Because we’re comfortable doing so and mostly like what we’re going to encounter in those situations. In truth, it isn’t really a comfort zone we fall into but a “comfort rut” which isn’t a good thing.

Being in a “comfort rut” in preparation for Selection is to risk failure at the worst possible time. It is a given that we all have our strengths and weaknesses and when working out we all have our favorite exercises which we do religiously. Why? Because we’re good at them. 

The biggest fear one has as a Special Operations Selection candidate is failing. It is not an option and no one anywhere ever wants to fail at anything. It is this ingrained mindset that we will not fail at anything that is one of the things that all SOF troops, regardless of unit or service, share. You’ve heard many times the saying that “failure isn’t an option.” Well, that mindset begins in one’s own preparation. 

Special Operations Selection
U.S. Special Operations Soldiers, assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, conducts a live fire training exercise at the Panzer Range Complex, Boeblingen, Germany, January 13 2021. Live-fire training enables the unit readiness and proficiency to be able to respond within the European area of operations whenever called upon. (U.S. Army photo by Yvonne Najera)

Arguably, another of our biggest fears is looking foolish when doing something, especially among our peers. And very, very few people are good at things the first time they try. That’s why we must ensure to break through that wall of uncertainty when prepping for Selection. We have to leave our comfort zone and practice the things we may not be very familiar with or good at.

Are you an excellent runner but not very good with a rucksack? Chances are that you probably don’t like rucksack-marching as a result and avoid it if possible. We’ve all been there. 

When I was young, I had a phobia of speaking in public. It wasn’t until college that I finally got over that. How? I had a professor that broke down what exactly I was afraid of. (And those fears were truly nothing to dread). This allowed me to break through that wall. While no one will ever confuse me with, say, a Winston Churchill, now I actually do enjoy public speaking — and as anyone on the line when we do a writers’ call will tell you getting me to talk isn’t the problem, instead, they’re probably wondering when that guy will shut the hell up.

When training for SF Selection, I was just an okay but not great runner. I could easily run for distance but was never one of the faster guys (and still am not). I also sucked at climbing ropes, and again, the truth be told, I’m still not great at that either — although in my old FOG state, at least I have a “slight” excuse. 

In preparing for Special Forces Selection, my training partner was a deer in the running department and, as he used to say, “a rope-climbing MFer.” He, however, wasn’t a great rucker so we decided to work out together. Because I liked to ruck, he was forced to do that more than he probably would have on his own. And we incorporated much more rope climbing than I would have done otherwise. 

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We pushed each other out of our comfort rut and both ended up successful in the end. It isn’t rocket science. It is simply pushing through one’s own perceived limits and putting aside the feelings of looking foolish among your peers. But better to face such situations in preparation and improve than to find yourself wanting in Selection.  

Special Operations Selection
First Phase Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs candidates from Class 281 navigate through Naval Special Warfare Centers obstacle course. First Phase is an eight-week course that trains, prepares and selects SEAL candidates based on physical conditioning; water competency; mental tenacity and teamwork. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Scorza/Released)

I never enjoyed leg training back then, but my partner had legs like fireplugs and could squat a small Toyota. After working out together, it ended up being one of our more fun days of the week as we’d push each other to where we could barely walk down the stairs after some workouts. He smoked my a$$ on those days. But it wasn’t about who could do more — he clearly could — but about improving (not that I ever stopped trying to catch him). Hardly a leg day at the gym comes by now without my thinking of my buddy back in the day, although my leg days aren’t quite as challenging as back then… Arthritis does present some challenges along the way. 

It wasn’t until years later that I was able to generate more speed with my running when I met a football coach who was working out at a local track. He was running some laps and then was doing a series of sprints. We spoke and I told him I had tons of endurance but no speed. “Then do something about it,” he said. By foregoing the normal distance run, we worked on sprint work which not only improved my endurance but my speed as well. Just that little extra push helps. 

Before moving from the northeast, I employed a personal trainer three times a week to push me into doing things that I know I wouldn’t choose to do. And truth be told, I miss her (yes she is a beast in the gym) telling me to do those uncomfortable things.

Remember, you won’t be able to truly challenge yourself until you reach a stage that is uncomfortable for you. Pushing yourself past your own perceived limits and comfort zone is the path to achieving your goals. It is also the path that professional athletes refer to as “in the zone” which is when you are operating at peak performance. 

Good luck in the journey. It’s the difficulty that makes being in the Regiment great. If it was easy everyone would do it.  

De Oppresso Liber.

This article was originally published on February 16, 2021.

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