“You can only be confident internally when you can control the mind and your emotional state to a point where you can see the truth clearly.” — Mark Divine
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In this solo episode, Mark gives us more insights on the 5th anniversary edition of his book “The Way of the SEAL.” Today he talks extensively about the importance of staying alert and making sure you maintain an offensive mindset. He’s not necessarily aggressive, but he’s always ready to keep moving forward.
- how you can Work on the mental biases and “BOO” that is keeping you reactive and inside the box
- The difference between real confidence and just being sure of an outcome.
- Find out how to use the Cooper color system to move from a Sheep to Sheepdog
Chapter 8 is packed with information about moving from a defensive mindset to being ready to move forward and seize opportunities.
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Mark: All right. So welcome back. This is The Way of the SEAL, Principle number 8. Think offense all the time.
So what I’ve seen a lot in business is a passive or almost a defensive attitude. And of course, as you can appreciate–in the SEALs passivity or defensiveness would get you killed. Or at a minimum lead to failure of the mission or suboptimal results.
And of course, the business world is starting to look a lot like the SEAL battlefield. It’s VUCA–Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous. And you have to have an offensive mindset to navigate those environments.
And so this whole chapter was to try to get the reader and you to think offensively all the time. Now that doesn’t mean you have to become a jerk. Or overly aggressive and plow over people. It really is about how you deal with decisions making with total confidence. With expanded awareness. Beginning with what we talked about in principle 7.
Learning how to act unconventionally by doing the unexpected. Overcoming those biases and leading with rapid execution, fail forward fast mentality.
Let’s start by talking about confidence. I know a lot of folks mistake a feeling of being in control or security for confidence. In fact, you can’t control anything and nothing is really secure. And being attached to any outcome whatsoever is a false indicator of confidence. A false flag.
Unwavering confidence only comes with developing a mindset of resiliency where you’ve let go of any expectation as to the results that you’re looking for. But you have radical focus on the methods… the detail to the methods and your own training and you’re in control of your own body/mind and emotional state as you execute. So you’re making really, really good refined, small decisions or those microgoals along the way.
In this way you’re able to move forward very fast and every obstacle that comes your way–which is a potential failure point for somebody else–is an opportunity for you to refine your plan. And to refine your operating model.
And so unwavering confidence comes from managing the way you use your mind. Not necessarily trying to control the outcome, or having all these expectations which can lead to disappointment.
So controlling your mind requires that you become very clear about what words you’re using to define your own internal state as well as the situation around you. A
And then lining up the attitude and the energy that you’re feeling with those words.
In the book, I tell a story of my SCARS training with the SCARS founder Jerry Peterson. SCARS is the Special Combat Aggressive Reactionary System, which is based off of SanSu Kung Fu that Jerry learned and taught to the SEALs back in the ’90s.
It’s not taught anymore but it’s extremely powerful system, in my humble opinion. And I was fortunate enough to be one of 300 trained as an instructor in it.
And I trained for many years afterwards. And to this day we run a program with our friends at Injury Dynamics in the same principles–but it’s taught a little bit less aggressively, you know? So if you want information on that, you can check it out at sealfit.com. We run a seminar once or twice a year now.
But during that program, Jerry helped me understand that some of the words I was using and some of the attitudes I had picked up in Karate were slowing me down and making me defensive. So Karate–even though it’s a fighting, warrior art–it’s really about developing the mind and the character of the individual. And the fighting is–it takes 20 years really to really learn how to fight. At least the way I’m talking about for combat.
And you can pick up a lot of bad habits. And so to be frank, Jerry told me that I had to unlearn that Karate “Shit” when I got into BUD/S. and I had a black belt.
And so what he really meant was stop thinking defensively and stop using words like “defend” and “block.” or “Retreat” or “try” or “maybe.”
And there’s no maybe. Do or do not, there is no try. So instead of defend you attack. Instead of being good, you’re “great.” Instead of blocking you strike. Instead of retreating you pounce. Instead of “try” you “do.” Instead of “Maybe” it’s “definitely,” right?
And so when you begin to eradicate those words that are defensive and slow and soft and weak, and replace it with powerful words, then you light up the imagery associated with that powerful word, and the emotions. That’s when you start to feel not the aggression, but the offensiveness and the confidence internally.
Again, you can only be confident internally when you can control the mind and your emotional state to a point where you can see the truth clearly, and make as best a decision that’s going to have a win-win-win kind of outcome. Moment to moment.
And you’ve got a good relationship to time. You’re not stuck in past state, which’ll slow you down. And you’re not stuck in a future state of wanting and wishing and desiring some other outcome. Or attached to some outcome. You’re in the moment, acting with that fail-forward fast mentality. That’s what we’re talking about when you can meet every situation with that violence of action in the present mind state. In control of the thoughts and emotions. Using words that are offensive and speed you up and give you confidence as opposed to words that slow you down and bleed off confidence.
So that’s a really cool thing. And we’re going to start and one of the exercises in the book is to start with examining the words that you use and the emotional energy associated with those.
Next up, I mentioned in principle 7 that part of our BOO or Background of Obviousness are these mental biases. And I called them the mental traps in the book and this principle. A mental trap is essentially a bias that causes us to close our mind to a situation because we’re trapped in a pattern of thinking. And these can be cultural biases–most of them are–but they also could be biases that come from the way your family thought, or the way your language is used.
So some of the biases that I mention in this book include avoiding things that you doubt, or you don’t believe rather than really investigating them. SEALs learn that just cause you don’t believe something doesn’t mean it’s not relevant or true. Certainly would be true for someone else. Especially when you’re in a foreign country. Even though you may doubt the way your enemy thinks, you want to investigate it and learn everything you can about it.
And sometimes you find that there’s some truth there. And so you then can mold your own belief systems or thoughts around the combination of those ideas.
But our bias is to avoid the things that we doubt or that turn us off. Rather than investigating them. Studying them. Looking at them deeply. And learning from them.
Another classic is feeling that you owe something to someone who gives you something. People are always offering you something in the marketing sense these days. There’s just a billion marketing methods. A billion offers out there. A lot of free information, free gifts, free this and free that.
And in a sense that’s good to do as a marketer because it does elicit this reciprocity bias, where all of a sudden you feel like you owe something in return. Just be aware of that, when you’re on the receiving end of it. When the Hare Krishna hand you something at the airport, they’re looking for something in return. That’s a form of manipulation.
Another bias is that you believe that if something’s good for a friend or a tribe member or a group that you are comfortable with, then it must be good for you too. It’s like a herd mentality when it plays at a large scale.
It might be good I certain cases for a business. Cause you’re going to get referrals or maybe you can sense a market opportunity, if something’s working for someone else with a particular group.
But then again, it may lead you off a cliff. Because what you have to offer–you personally, as an individual or you as a company–is unique. And distinct. And it may appeal to a much broader audience or a different audience.
Another one is waiting for that social proof before acting. This is probably good when you’re an investor–to get some sense of social proof–because you could throw a lot of money at ideas that are too early or the market passed them by. So timing is critical.
But when it comes to launching a product, you need to work on the most viable–minimal, viable product I guess we call it. Minimal viable solution. Just get out there and get some feedback. Don’t have to wait for social proof from the masses. Just get out there and get some feedback and iterate. And just continue to improve until all of a sudden, what you’ve got is accepted by a large group. And working
And then this one’s classic, but a lot of people will cling to things that they have when it is irrelevant anymore. The market has passed by. You’ve “Bought it”, right?
This is classic in investing as well. People hold on all the way to the bottom. But you can do this with a product line. We’ve done it ourselves in my business. I’ve got my legacy business which has just been really hard to give up or to kill because, you know, hey. There are some people that are earing a revenue. And it’s bringing in some revenue. And people are relying on that income, and it’s hard to kind of cut that go.
And the best business people–I gotta admit–are ruthless with this. You know, Jack Welch every year used to cut away the bottom 10 or 20% of his businesses and even people, right? So you don’t get stuck or cling to things just because you made an investment in them.
Another one, I felt this in the military. But we have this bias that we’re going to inflate the value of some authority figure or the veracity of some authority figure. Whether it be a subject matter expert or a thought leader or a politician… or an organizational leader. We’re going to accrue to them more authority or veracity than they deserve. Everyone’s human, everyone makes mistakes, and someone has to have… there’s gotta be proof and validity behind the words that they utter. The information coming out of their mouth. Cause they’re subject to the same, exact biases and oftentimes when you get that high up, and you surround yourself with people who think the same way. And you’re stovepiped in your own little information silos. Then the information or the way you think is actually stunted or not going to be accurate.
So we really want to examine our mental traps. I recommend the book “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. He won a Nobel Prize in economics in 2002. And he talks about a lot of these biases, and how our brain works in what he calls a System 1 and System 2 manner.
System 1 are these spontaneous, knee-jerk, what you might call “intuitive,” but I don’t think it’s intuitive. I think it’s a patterned, biased reaction. Through priming and through confirmation bias and these different biases.
And then our System 2 is our slower, rational decision judging mind. They both work together hand-in-hand, but we can led in a lot of wrong directions if we don’t analyze and be aware of the different biases.
Charlie Munger, who’s Warren Buffet’s partner is another one who’s written on–he calls them “tendencies.” And if you Google “Charlie Munger’s tendencies” you’re going to get some really interesting responses on what those tendencies are.
There’s a fantastic chart that examines biases. So if you just Google “mental bias” and you’ll come up with this really nice chart that was put together by some folks and put out to the world. I wish I had the name of the author right now, but it’s not in front of me.
And you can print that out and put it up on your desk and you’ll see there’s literally hundreds of different biases that fall into different categories and they’ve arranged them all. So you can study that.
All right. Think Offense all the time. Requires that we’re always on guard, or always scanning our environment to make sure that whatever threats and opportunities are out there, you’re picking them up. So obviously an organization will do this by frequently doing the SWOT analysis–Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
But at an individual level what I’m talking about here is training yourself to use the Cooper Color system and to activate your radar. What do I mean by this?
Well, Cooper Color system was created by Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper, who was an Army guy. And he liked to say that we can do our threat awareness in a color-coded manner, and each color represented a state of awareness that elevated as the color changed.
So essentially, white is the state of non-awareness or ignorance. A good percentage of people in the world are in white. Meaning they walk around completely ignorant of their environment. Unaware of what’s happening around them. Not able to see patterns and recognize threats and opportunities.
We call those Sheep. To use the Sheepdog metaphor.
So the warrior and the warrior-leader in The Way of the SEAL, we don’t ever want to be in white. We want to recognize if we’re going to be in white, what that looks like and to get out of it.
So instead, we always want to be in a state of yellow. A state of yellow is normal for us. Meaning we’re going about our daily business. We’re training. We’re working. We’re coordinating. We’re communicating. We’re relating.
We’re doing our thing, but we’re also simultaneously scanning the environment everywhere we go to just assess it for threats and opportunities. For me this looks like–if I go to a restaurant with my family or with some of my team, I’ll scan what’s happening outside the restaurant. I’ll look at the cars, I’ll look at the people–if there’s any. I’ll kind of feel into the situation. “Okay, everything’s good.”
Then we go into the environment. I’ll do a quick scan there. I’ll look for the exits. I’ll look where the bathroom is. And then I’ll find a table or ask for a table where I can sit away from the door, and keep my eye on it with my back to the wall. And so it’s an ongoing thing. I just can’t sit with my back to the door. I won’t allow myself to. And so I’m always racing for the chair where I can sit where I can see the door.
And then I have a good time. But at the same time, I got one eyelid open looking at the door. And if something happens–something strange happens–like if someone bursts through the door with a weapon. That’s the most extreme. Then I automatically elevate to red which is extreme action.
But it could be something that just seems off. And so it could be like, a guy comes through the door and aggressively walks toward me. And then I go into what’s called “Orange.”
Orange is focused awareness. Now I’m really, really focused on this as a possible threat. I haven’t taken action yet, cause that’s red. But I’m not in yellow anymore either, where I’m just scanning. Now I’ve got a target to look at.
And this guy might come toward me and then veer right and go into the bathroom. And it turns out he just literally had to go to the bathroom really bad.
Okay, “phew.” Now I go back to yellow. Threat is over. But it could go another way. So that’s orange. Where you’ve got a target and you’re watching it closely, and you’re ready to go to red.
So red then is “Okay. I gotta take immediate action.” And if it’s an altercation, this is fisticuffs you’re taking offensive maneuvers. If it’s a threat to your business, then you take action immediately. You don’t wait.
As I’m reading this, I’m thinking about Facebook and the knowledge or the information that they were complicit in the mining of 50 million user accounts that were used by a political campaign.
It’s nothing that you don’t think happened before, cause it did. It probably did multiple times.
But now it’s all of a sudden out. And instead of responding–cause that’s a red signal for Facebook. That’s like red, red, red. Instead of reacting to it like red, they reacted to it like white.
And you didn’t hear at all from Zuckerberg for 5 days. And so a lot of trust in Facebook has been destroyed and even the founder of WhatsApp, which was bought by Facebook–is out there saying “hey, delete Facebook. We’re done with this.”
They’ll probably survive. It’s such a massive organization. But man, a lot of trust has been lost in that platform as a means for good. Because of the way they’ve responded to privacy issues and all the downsides. They have not done well with that.
All right, so next up I wanna talk about unconventional thinking. So the SEALs are great with unconventional thinking. What that means is essentially do things out of the box. Not just out of the box, but create a whole new box.
So in order to do that you’ve gotta break some rules. Do things differently.
My classic, fun story around this is my SEAL teammate Tommy Deets was over in the first Gulf War. He had the mission called Operation Deception where we were going to trick Saddam Hussein into thinking that we were doing an amphibious assault along his beach line. And so we had a SEAL platoon over there with Tommy in charge. And they were going to swim tons–probably not tons, but hundreds and hundreds of pounds of C-4 into the beach and blow it up. And then the boats were going to rake the shoreline, and bombard it. And it was going to be like a big show.
And the whole thing worked, actually. When this was pulled off, they diverted a few Iraqi divisions over to that thinking that they were getting invaded when it was just a big trick.
But the SEALs were like, “How are we going to swim all of this ammo to shore? The water is 105 degrees–super-hot. And there’s tons of sharks around.” They’re thinking this is not such a good idea to swim this ashore. And one of the junior SEALs from San Diego goes “Hey, why don’t we use boogie boards?”
Now that’s an out of the box… new box. Nobody’s ever thought about using boogie boards in the SEALs before. What a great idea.
And so they sent a request back to HQ. “Hey, we need a bunch of blacked out Boogie boards.” and at first, people were like, “what the eff are you guys doing over there? You’re supposed to be fighting a war and you’re boogie boarding.”
And they’re like, “No, no, no. This is what we’re going to use them for. And they’re like, “Ah. Good idea.”
That’s how innovation comes. A lot of times from the most junior guy.
So you wanna break rules and be unconventional. Don’t do things in the same pattern all the time. Figure on new ways to do things. Try new iterations on your products and services. Try different patterns or processes for hiring and firing and just communicating. And that’s what we’re doing in our business all the time. Just trying different new things. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. But you create the mindset of being unconventional. Doing things different. And breaking things.
So you wanna break rules that essentially represent weak patterns of behavior. Outdated models of thinking that might now be hampering your performance. And things are changing all the time, so this is a great time to start thinking how to break some rules and be unconventional.
Just because it’s done one way for a long period of time, or works for other people doesn’t mean that’s how you should do it. Take a look at new ways.
You wanna break rules that might blind you to other options, so we get into… this is back to the biases that I spoke about. How can you use new thinking, new ideas. I’m reminded of TRIZ, which is the Russian kind of science of invention. And TRIZ says “Okay, if you wanna break some rules and think differently then start to look at things from different perspectives.”
And so they’ll look at a problem from a reverse engineering it. They’ll look at a problem upside down. They’ll look at a problem… compare it to a similar problem in a completely different domain. Like, a different environment or a different… you can look at a technical problem from a biological perspective. Or a biological problem from a technical perspective.
You can look at a problem on Earth from the point of view of underwater or fluidic space. It’s just amazing. Really, really cool way to think about how to break some rules and to overcome some blind spots.
And of course, you wanna break rules that are outdated or impractical or even unethical in our world.
So a lot of countries are operating out of an earlier stage of development. And their rules are just flat-out outdated and broken. And if you’re in one of those countries, maybe you should think about doing something a little bit differently. And that’s going to require you to break some of the patterns of your own thinking.
I’m thinking about if you grew up in Afghanistan, and you’re male, then you’ve got very, very strong BOO or bias around the role of women in the workplace and religion. All these things.
Which a lot of people are dying over. You just take a look at them and say, “Well, maybe there’s a different way.” Don’t throw out the good, but toss out the bad that’s not working. And step into a more world-centric point of view.
And guess what? All sorts of new thinking will come to you and you’ll be able to compete at a global stage and do really well.
I’ve got some cool stories in the book about how SEALs have broken the rules. My favorite is Warrant Officer Jackson and he was with us in Iraq. He worked for SEAL team 1. And the commanding officer of SEAL team 1 called him his “Asset Reallocation Specialist”–which was a fun way of saying he could just manifest stuff. And you didn’t really know how or where, and you didn’t ask questions.
And what I saw over there. The SEAL team 1 group had the SOCOM detachment–which was the forefather of MARSOC, the marine special ops groups. And my job actually was to study the Marine Corps SOCOM detachment and to provide a research paper back to the Navy. Through NSW–Naval Special Warfare–as to the effectiveness of these guys in combat and to whether they could integrate and operate as a Special Operations force.
This is before–2 years before the Marines were accepted into the Special Ops community. And anyway, so nobody knew that Baghdad and Iraq was going to be such a volatile, insurgent environment. I mean, this is 2004. We had just declared victory from the conventional war. Everything looked good.
And so when the Marines deployed over there with SEAL team 1, they brought what they called IFAVs. Which were basically German fast attack vehicles that were not armored. They were built for desert mobility. And the Americans had their HUMVEEs. The HUMVEEs weren’t hardened either. But we started hardening our HUMVEEs. Cause the threat environment as soon as the team got over there it was obvious that we needed more armor. So we up-armored all the HUMVEEs.
But the Marines went back and said, “Hey, we need HUMVEEs, and they need to be armored.” And the Marine Corps said, “Okay, that’s gonna take 6 months for us to get them over there.” SOCOM det. would have been home by then.
Anyways, long story short. That was unsustainable. That would have been a failure of their mission. Of course, SEAL team 1 wanted them to conduct their mission, and to be helpful in the war on terror. And they were our teammates.
And so we literally turned to Warrant Officer Jackson and said, “Bart, do your thing.” Basically. And a few days later, Bart rolls through the gate with 10 HUMVEEs and the SEALs start up-armoring them.
The Marines are like, “Holy cow. Those are for us.” So they jump in the game. It became a great team-building exercise where they all together up-armored these new HUMVEEs.
Nobody asked where they came from, but Bart had traded with a National Guard unit over there, and man… he got these up-armored HUMVEEs. That was breaking the rules.
If he had gone through the normal chain of command or process to get HUMVEEs for these people, just like the Marines were trying to do… It wouldn’t have happened.
So break some rules. Some cool rules to break is don’t be a multi-tasker. Go deep like my friend Cal Newport says. Just do deep work. Learn how to say no for the bigger yes. Learn how to do less better.
Another rule to break. This one’s cool. You don’t always have to be a nice guy. You know, everyone wants you to be gushy and nice, and that’s great. But there’s times where you need to be intense and display some tough love.
And we know of course, that works in the military. But it’s a skill that needs to be developed. And especially when it comes to communication protocols and the brief and debrief processes. It’s brutally honest. But it works. And a lot of organizations are just too sensitive to really hurting people’s feelings. And that means you lack resiliency.
This isn’t about feelings. This is about effectiveness. And getting things done. And the more resilient the organization is, the more of an idea of meritocracy it can be. I love Ray Dalio’s approach to the idea of meritocracy and being brutally honest with communications. So it does work in the business world. It works for Ray, it works for the SEALs.
More is better, bigger is better. This is a great rule to break. SEAL teams–we always operate in small units. Even though the SEALs are like a 2500 or a 5000 person organization if you add all the support. Maybe a little bit bigger.
But we always operate in team of 2, 4, 8, 12, you know? So even though your organization might be large, think how to operate small. Smaller is better when it comes to team effectiveness.
Rule to break number 4 is fight fair. You don’t have to. Nobody else is fighting fair, so you don’t have to fight fair either.
Nutrition–I kind of veer off here–but this has to do with fueling. As an elite leader, Way of the SEAL operator you need to learn how to fuel your body more effectively. So you need to explore ketogenesis. And then eating less. Also eating more frequently, and so get rid of the BOO of thinking you have to have 3 sit down meals.
I mean, I have an Ample for my “breakfast” quote-unquote, but I drink it over the course of 45 minutes to an hour while I’m training.
And then, you know, I’ll snack and have high protein and fat type things. And some carbohydrates stuff throughout the day. And often we’ll have one meal where I sit down with my wife and family in the evening.
So you want to turn your body into a diesel engine that can crank into high performance when you need to. Where your intermittent fasting and eating less food and eating more fat and really developing the ability to create ketones and live off those ketones with a high state of energy and alertness.
Super-amazing. I have more information about this in 8 Weeks to SEALFIT. And at SEALFIT we actually have a program–6 weeks to performance–coming out that will really dig into nutrition and physical training.
Anyways, so enough on that. There’s a few more that I talk about in the book but let me move one.
So I mentioned earlier, you want to be able to move fast, you have to think in The Way of the SEAL means that we execute with velocity and agility. Velocity and agility… so speed, right? Speed.
How do we do things faster, better? One of the best ways to do that is to trust those who are closest to the information. The strategic corporal or the SEAL in the field has the information.
And to empower those individuals who are closest to the ground level truth to make good decisions. So in order to do this, we have to be a principle based organization, and apply standard operating procedure. So all of the basic processes are standardized, checklists and information flows and periodicity of communications and battle rhythm all that. Those are standardized. The how.
But then the why is very clear of what your objectives are and what the vision is for success. And then you let those closest to the action make the decisions. And they’ll be held accountable for bad decisions but chances are they’ll surprise you. So learn to trust those in the field, and to communicate with them as frequently as possible. At least once a day. To get that aligning narrative and some of the things we’ll talk about more in the chapter on building elite teams.
This allows us to activate our OODA loop in a manner in the book I call “shoot, move and communicate.” So SEALs are taught if you’re in a firefight, lay down some lead, but don’t stay where you’re at.
You gotta lay down the lead, and then you find a new position. You move to that new position, and then you communicate. You communicate across with your team. You communicate up your chain of command.
So you’re always, and this is real-time. You’re always shooting moving and communicating. And activating what we call the OODA loop. The OODA loop was Colonel Boyd’s innovation around how we take action in real time, and that is how we observe what’s happening, then we orient ourselves to it, we make a decision, and we act. So we shoot, move, and communicate. Shoot is the action. Then we activate the OODA loop. We observe the effect of our shooting at the target. And think about this in the business sense.
Shooting is launching a product line, or starting that new business. Or taking some powerful action.
And then you observe how it lands. What’s the feedback? What are the metrics telling you?
Then you re-orient. That means you might have to change some things. For the SEALs, you change your location. And then you make another decision. “Okay, I’m now engaged this new target. There we go. Lay down the lead.”
That’s the action. And then we communicate constantly. Up and down and through the chain of command as well as obviously your teammates and your subordinates.
So, there’s a lot packed into that chapter. I know I went through it fairly rapidly, but it’s a powerful, powerful chapter. Powerful concepts. And I have some exercises on how you can activate your radar, your Cooper Color System. Develop your own OODA loop for yourself and your team.
So thanks for listening. That’s it for this session of the solocast on the way of the SEAL principle number 8. “Think Offense all the time.”
In the next session we’ll get into how we train the way of the SEAL and we’ll finish off with building an elite team.
Thank you so much for your attention today, and stay focused, train hard, and get offensive mindset.