Rich spent 20 years in the SEALs, including time as a commanding officer. He did 13 overseas deployments, 11 of those to Afghanistan and Iraq.
One of Rich’s main objectives in his leadership role was to improve mental resolve and resilience within the SEALs. In this episode, he details how the right mental framework can prime you for success, no matter what challenges you might be facing in your life.
Rich also shares his thoughts on antifragility and how to come back stronger than before after you’ve been pushed below your baseline, how to utilize microrecoveries throughout your day to improve your performance, and the difference between peak performance and optimal performance. Additionally, he explains the importance of adaptability, resilience, and how being a SEAL taught him how to just control the controllables.
Stay healthy and stay in the green!
2:43 – Becoming a Navy SEAL. Rich says he and his twin brother always “wanted to be military jet pilots,” because they were inspired by their father, who was a pilot. He said his interest in becoming a Navy SEAL stemmed from an article he read in Newsweek magazine detailing the SEALs. “I said to myself, ‘I know I can be a Navy pilot.’ I just didn’t want to be a Navy pilot and wonder if I could ever be a SEAL. So I decided to go SEALs.”
5:13 – SEAL Training. “It takes you down to sub-zero,” Rich says of SEAL training. “Ultimately, it was just the idea that they took you down to this place of sub-zero where you really feel like you can’t go on and then they ask you at that point, ‘Can you?’ That’s what I loved so much about the training. It was so pure. There are very few other experiences on the planet that are that pure. It didn’t matter who you were. It didn’t matter if you were the star athlete … or if you were a guy from the farm throwing hay bales, it didn’t matter what grades you had. All that mattered was ‘Can you push through?’ Then you end up with this core of people that did, and that’s really what I loved.”
9:07 – Leadership. “There’s a distinct difference between being in charge and being a leader. … Leadership is pushing forth and supporting those people in your span of care. Oftentimes, the best position for the leader is not even in front, which is why the words get conflated a little bit, it’s actually letting your people move to the front and perform. I always used to say to my junior officers that our job as leaders is to eventually work ourselves out of a job. We need to create an environment where they don’t need us and they can operate.”
12:54 – Confidence and Perseverance. “People ask me what’s the one biggest thing I took away from being a SEAL, and I would say it’s true confidence. True confidence, in my mind, is the ability to understand and know that regardless of what the environment does around me, regardless of how uncertain or dirty or uncomfortable it is, I will make it through. I will perform. I will be able to figure it out and charge on. That’s the confidence level you come out of training with and it just compounds as you do the job.”
14:43 – Adaptability and Resilience. “We are designed as human beings to be resilient. We are designed to be adaptable. We are designed to persevere. Evolutionarily, that’s what allowed us to get to where we are today. It’s allowed us to go from cave dwellers to space explorers.”
15:58 – Controlling the Controllables. “The SEALs call it controlling your three-foot world. What that means is, out of all this uncertainty, you stop worrying about that which you can’t control and you ask yourself, ‘Okay, what can I control?’”
18:51 – Allowing Yourself to Recover. “Some of the roadblocks to most high-performers is they just want to keep going. They love that idea of keeping going. Recovery becomes necessary.”
20:31 – Antifragility. Rich shares his thoughts on antifragility, which he defines as the ability to come back stronger, above your baseline, after you’ve been pushed below it. He recommends the book Antifragile by Nassim Taleb.
28:08 – Neuroplasticity. “Plasticity, the ability for the brain to create neural connections and learn things, comes from both focus and the intensity of that focus.” Learn more about neuroplasticity in Episode 69 with Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman.
29:45 – Microrecoveries. Rich shares how visualization and breath work can help you recharge and recover in a short period of time. “These microrecoveries are things you can do if you have two minutes or three minutes,” he notes.
35:27 – Recharging. Rich details how implementing microrecovery techniques throughout the day can help you preserve your energy. “If you start to think about times in your day where you can actually plug in your physiological mobile phone once in a while, then what happens is that energy bank begins to refill a little bit throughout the day. So instead of at the end of the day being left at zero, you can charge throughout the day so maybe you’re left 30 or 40%. … The microrecovery concept is something we should all think about and we can all enact just throughout normal days.”
39:24 – Peak Performance vs. Optimal Performance. “Peak is an apex. It’s an apex from which you can only come down. It often has to be prepared for and planned for and scheduled,” Rich says. “What we were focused on [in the SEALs] and thought was more realistic was optimal performance. Optimal performance is, ‘Hey, how can I do the very best I can in the moment, whatever the best might look like.’ The best, sometimes, looks like peak. … Sometimes [it’s] gutting it out. Going step by step, moment by moment. It’s dirty, it’s gritty, it’s ugly.”
42:49 – Taking Care of Your Body. “One of the things that I would say is a disadvantage about SEAL team is that you get used to beating yourself up physically, so you almost begin to turn off your relationship with your physiology, almost because you have to. It’s very advantageous when you’re in Iraq or Afghanistan … but it becomes disadvantageous when you’re trying to figure out what certain things mean for you.”
47:28 – His Book. Check out Rich’s new book, The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance. “Skills are things that are taught,” Rich says. “They’re very visible, you can see how well someone does those things. Attributes are more inherent. They’re things like patience, situational awareness, resiliency, adaptability. Those are the types of things we lean on in stress, challenge, and uncertainty. When we are in an environment that we are trying to understand, it’s unknown and uncertain, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to apply a known skill to that environment. So we lean on these attributes.”
49:12 – The Human Engine and Attributes. “We’re all like automobiles. Some of us are Jeeps, some of us are Ferraris, some of us are SUVs. No judgment. The Jeep can do things the Ferrari can’t do and the Ferrari can do things the Jeep can’t do. The question is, ‘Hey, can you look under the hood and figure out what automobile you are?’ If you’re a Jeep trying to run on a Ferrari track, it’s probably not going very well, or if you’re a Ferrari trying to run on a Jeep track. The attributes are the first indication of your own human engine, and then you can start making choices because you can develop attributes, it just takes a little bit more difficulty.”
51:15 – Discover Your Own Attributes. Check our Rich’s free attribute assessment at theattributes.com.
52:03 – How to Become a Leader. “You don’t get to call yourself a leader. That’s like calling yourself funny or good looking. Other people call you a leader. They decide whether or not you’re a leader, because leadership is a behavior, not a position. It’s the same thing with a teammate, you don’t get to call yourself a great teammate.”