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10 Lessons from Living with a SEAL

Jesse Itzler was in a rut. He had all the trappings of success, but something was missing.

When he went to run a 24-hour relay race with a group of friends his life was about to change forever. He saw one man do the race by himself with a lawn chair, some crackers and water. This man was SEAL.

Jesse eventually asked SEAL to move in with him and his family for a month and train him. SEAL agreed under one condition – Jesse had to do whatever SEAL told him to do during that month.

Living with a SEAL is the story of their month together.

Here are the 10 best lessons.

Lesson #1

Every day do something that makes you uncomfortable. -SEAL

It is easy to go through life stuck in the same gear.

Do the same job, go to the same places and get the same food, day after mind numbing day.

What if we chose to make ourselves a little uncomfortable? How would life go if we broke out of the rut?

This short directive from SEAL made me look at ways that I could disrupt my own routine. I knew I didn’t have to do what Jesse did, but it made me think about the last time I did something uncomfortable.

Lesson #2

The temperature is what you think it is, bro, not what your computer thinks it is.

Jesse complained one night that it was too cold to run. SEAL told him it is only as cold as you allow your brain to think it is. Talk about mind over matter.

This exchange reminded me a lot the Stoic philosophy that I have been studying this year. The only thing we can control according to the Stoics is how we react to events.

What if we decided – like SEAL did daily – that anything outside our control is not worth complaining about. How great could our lives be if we made that simple decision consistently.

Lesson #3

“When you think you’re done, you’re only at forty percent of what your body is capable of doing. That’s just the limit that we put on ourselves.”

One of the first workouts Jessie did with SEAL he had to do 100 pull-ups. He had never done more than a few and why would you as a you long distance runner.

He surprised himself by eventually doing all 100. How? He would do one, get off the bar, rest, and do the next one.

How much could we get done if we used the same strategy. It wasn’t a race to be the fasted to 100, it was about getting the job done in any way he could.

Lesson #4

“If you want to be pushed to your limits, you have to train to your limits. If you get hurt, you will recover.”

I used to do Crossfit and one thing I quickly learned was that my limit was a moving target.

I would see a WOD and think, “There is no way I can do that.” What else could I do? So I just did it. It hurt, but like SEAL told Jesse, you will recover.

So many times we make the impossible impossible before we even try. SEAL made it a point to push Jesse to his limit and beyond.

Lesson #5

“Whatever you got going on, someone else has more pain. You gotta learn how to fight through it.”

My dad would tell a story to all of us growing up. It was about a man complaining about having no shoes. After going on and on the man next to him told him, at least you have feet.

Yes, we would always roll our eyes. The truth though is if we appreciated what we have compared to so many others who have so much less, life would look so much better.

Lesson #6

If you can’t do the basics, you can’t do shit. -SEAL

There is a great quote about an author and grammar. He said you shouldn’t break the rules of grammar until you know them. SEAL is saying the same thing here.

It reminded me of what James Kerr wrote in Legacy about UCLA coach John Wooden:

Under coach John Wooden, the UCLA Bruins basketball team won the US national collegiate championship for seven straight years, starting in 1967. At the start of each season, writer Claudia Luther reports, he would sit his team down in their locker room and, for a long time – for a very long time – they would learn how to put on their socks: —— Check the heel area. We don’t want any sign of a wrinkle about it . . . The wrinkle will be sure you get blisters, and those blisters are going to make you lose playing time, and if you’re good enough, your loss of playing time might get the coach fired. The lesson wasn’t really about blisters, or playing time, or whether the coach got fired. It was about doing the basics right, taking care of the details, looking after yourself and the team. It was about humility. ‘Winning takes talent,’ John Wooden would say. ‘To repeat it takes character.’

How much better could we be if we did the basics with consistency. Maybe 90% of success is showing up.

Lesson #7

Know what’s important to you and protect it at all costs. -SEAL

This excerpt is about SEAL telling Jesse how to protect his family. I also took it to mean what is important in our lives and how we need to protect that.

Jesse did a great interview on The Moment with Brian Koppelman where he talked about protecting his own time to get important things done. He points to it as one of the secrets of his success.

I want to be a writer. I need to protect my time to write at all costs. Up until this year I was not doing that.

Lesson #8

It just shows that repetition and consistency equal results.

Jeff Goins has repeatedly said he became an author when he decided to write every day for year and get better at his craft. He was consistent. He put in the work.

Mastering the basics, doing the reps, and being consistent. All of it is so simple, but why do we find it so hard?

Lesson #9

I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m done. -SEAL

Nobody has time. Everybody is busy. We all have 24 hours in the day.

Why do some people get more done than others?

I think SEAL is on to something. Stop when done. That is the only time to stop.

Lesson #10

Our minds sometimes tell us little lies about ourselves, and we believe them. We think we can’t do this or that. It’s not true.

We are all capable of great things.

The world may seem aligned against us, usually though the biggest obstacle is between our ears.

It reminded me of a heartbreaking story Tara Brach tells in Radical Acceptance about the final hours of a friend’s mother:

One morning before dawn, she suddenly opened her eyes and looked clearly and intently at her daughter. “You know,” she whispered softly, “all my life I thought something was wrong with me.” Shaking her head slightly, as if to say, “What a waste,” she closed her eyes and drifted back into a coma. Several hours later she passed away.

Don’t believe the little lies. There is nothing wrong with you.

Conclusion

There were many more lessons in Living with a SEAL. These were just the ten that stuck out to me.

Living with a SEAL is a great book.

We may not be able to hire a SEAL to come train us for a month, but what Jessie did was document in stirring detail everything he learned and by extension what we could learn.

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