A Navy SEAL’s Guide To Reaching Your Full Potential

Navy SEALS during hell week.  Getty Images

Ten years ago Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin were serving together in Iraq as commanders of the elite Task Unit Bruiser. Their involvement with the Battle of Ramadi shot them to military stardom along with fellow team members Marc Lee, Kevin Lacz, and Chris Kyle. Since retirement they have shared the lessons learned from those operations though their company Echelon Front and their book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.

Last night Willink and Babin visited Los Angeles’ Wild Card Boxing Club to deliver a combination of anecdotal war stories and inspirational philosophy. Then the pair fielded questions from an avid audience, moderated by Call & Answer speaker series organizer Pete Berg, on a range of subjects. Here are a few inspirational tidbits from their talk. You can watch the full video below.

On the Importance of Perseverance and Adaptation:

Leif Babin: “Standing here in a boxing ring where a lot of physical training is going on, SEALs take pride in a very tough training program and going through a tough screening process, and maintaining a high level of capability. One of the lessons that we brought back from that intense combat in Ramadi was humility. I remember the first patrol that I went on in Ramadi back in 2006, which is now called the Battle of Ramadi, there was a group of Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment that had been on site for about six weeks at that point. They were pretty much seasoned veterans at this point. My team was going out on their first patrol with these guys.

This is an environment where it is incredibly hot, hitting about 115 to 120 degrees. These guys had been engaged in heavy combat. We were on a nighttime patrol with these guys and we were going through a particularly bad area called Firecracker Circle, which was a joke name for a place that had a large amount of IEDs. There were a lot of U.S. troops lost there. This was my first patrol out there so I was loading up my pack with magazines and hand grenades. I was prepared for World War III. There were a lot of snipers out there, so the Marines were moving into position and taking turns covering each other while the others sprinted up the block. It was a sprint all across the city, and I was getting smoked. I was carrying this gigantic bag, and it was completely humbling.

I was having a hard time keeping up, and I am supposed to be a leader. I couldn’t have someone else having to carry me. I can’t think about the bigger picture if all I can focus on is putting one foot in front of the other. Immediately after that trip we all cut down our rucksacks and only carried what we needed. Then we started to train even harder, starting at noon, when it was 120 degrees, we were out there flipping tires and running sprints. That is one of the lessons that you learn in combat. You can’t get too comfortable with where you are at, because you can always be better.”

On Waking Up Early:

Jocko Willink: “When I checked into SEAL Team One many years ago one of the things that I noticed was there was this old guy, who was younger than I am today, who I decided that I was going to be like. I wanted to emulate what he was doing, and one of those things was he got to work before anybody else. So my buddies and I decided that we were going to beat him to work, and we started kicking back our wake up time to 6 o’clock, then 15 minutes each time until we started beating him there at around 5:15 a.m. 

There is one thing that gets you out of bed in the morning and that is discipline. Because your dreams and your goals are not there waking up for you in the morning. When you first open your eyes, all you care about is sleep. So it is a fight. People say, “Jocko is not human.” Bullshit, I wish I wasn’t human. Trust me, I would replace my body with robot parts tonight. How do you get up early in the morning? My answer is very simple. Set your alarm clock. Get out of bed when it goes off. Do it. That is what you have to do. That early time is the only time you are going to get to yourself. You can say that you are going to work out in the afternoon but what happens to those workouts? You get an email or a text and that time is gone quick. But if you give yourself those early hours, you can have those to yourself, because sooner than later you are going to have problems. You are going to have people.”

On What It Really Means to Be a Navy SEAL:

Jocko Willink: “There are a lot of inaccuracies out there when it comes to the SEAL training process. You will see guys carrying logs around on television. They think that the hardest part about being on a SEAL team is getting through that training. The fact of the matter is, if you have a good attitude, that training is fun. I had a blast. Sure, you might be cold and wet, but you are going to work out all day. You are going to get three or four giant, beautiful meals each day.

I was 18 years old and it was a dream come true for me to work out and eat great food for free. What else do you want in life? People think that is what it is like to be in a SEALs team, but it is less than a fraction of your career as a real SEAL. Most of that training is almost meaningless when you compare it to what goes on when you get overseas. In comparison to being cold and wet, you are going out on operations where there are other human beings who are trying to kill you and your friends. I would sometimes watch a platoon go out at night. Watch them line up their vehicles and see them off, and you would see these kids. One of the things that always struck me was on the way out of the base at Ramadi you drove by the Vehicle Graveyard, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is where they took all the vehicles that had been blown up by IEDs, burned, or had their passengers killed on. They brought these vehicles back to the base and stacked them in this field. So when you are rolling out on an operation, there is no possible way that you can not be thinking about the fact that there may be an IED out there that may have your name on it.

Having that mentality, to be the kind of guy who gets in the car, regardless of what it takes — and I’m not just taking about the SEALs team here at all, I am talking about the Army, Marine Corp — those bullets don’t actually have your name on them, and those bombs don’t have your name on them. They say, “To Whom It May Concern.” They don’t care if you have a family or not. Being the kind of man who still says, “Yes I can do this” is a very special quality. I think that that is something that even people who haven’t been in that situation can really think about. If you are not in a situation where you know you might die tonight, what are you going to do with that? What are you going to do with that opportunity? Are you going to watch television or another YouTube video? Are you going to procrastinate a goal that you have and waste another second of this precious life? Or are you going to step up and make it happen?”