Fear and Mental Toughness

Source: Men’s Health

The U.S. Navy SEALs are among the most courageous men on earth. Their secret: mental conditioning. Learn their secrets and you, too, can conquer any fear says an article in Men’s Health magazine.

According to the article, the SEALs are fearless because of the training they undergo. Their secret is what psychologist call habituation. This simply means the more you’re exposed to something that you initially fear, they less it will fear you and eventually you become immune to it. You get used to it.

This is mind over matter situation. Sergeant Bill Cullen of the First Battalion of the Fourth Marines says, “Essentially, you’re bending the body’s software to control its hardware. It works standing over a putt on the 18th green. It works shooting a final-second free throw. It works banging down a door with a bad guy on the other side.”

Graduating as a SEAL is not all about being physically fit, Lieutenant Commander Mike H of executive officer of SEAL Team 10, says, “Today, our primary weapons systems are our people’s heads. You want to excel in all the physical areas, but the physical is just a prerequisite to be a SEAL. Mental weakness is what actually screens you out.”

The articles reports that recent experiments at tops institutions in the world including Harvard, Columbia, the University of California at Irvine, have started to solve the mystery of both primal fear and remembered fear. Previously it was thought that once an animal has “learned” to be afraid of something, that memory never vanishes from the animal’s amygdala. But Gregory Quirk, Ph.D., and researcher Kevin Corcoran, of the University of Puerto Rico school of medicine, have discovered that we can overlay our bad memories — and the emotions they evoke — by forming new memories in the brain’s prefrontal cortex that supersede those stored in the amygdala.

You have to repeat an action, any action, over and over, with the knowledge that you are “unlearning” the bad memory. Lieutenant Commander Eric Potterat, Ph.D., a Naval Special Warfare Command psychologist, quotes Hamlet on the subject: “‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

Eric Potterat relates this study to sports and described the difference between winners and losers. “Physically, there’s very little difference between athletes who win Olympic gold and the rest of the field. It’s like the SEAL candidates we see here. Terrific hardware. Situps, pushups, running, swimming — off the charts, superhuman. But over at the Olympic center, the sports psychologists found that the difference between a medal and no medal is determined by an athlete’s mental ability. The elite athletes, the Tiger Woodses, the Kobe Bryants, the Michael Jordans — this is what separates them from the competition. Knowing how to use information.”

“Being a warrior, being what you call ‘brave,’ requires attention to something greater than just martial activity,” says Master Chief Will Guild, a 27-year SEAL veteran who runs a mentorship program for incoming candidates. “These men are problem solvers, and there are many ways to solve problems. I think you have to be ready to do whatever it takes, and that includes using diplomacy.

“There’s no shortage of physical courage in the SEALs or Marine Corps or any active military branch of the service. Moral courage is something else. And if you want to inspire moral courage in your troops, you have to teach them how to make decisions.” he continues.

Human beings can adapt to the very harshest of environments. Viktor Frankl, the famous Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, who is also a Holocaust survivor said, “if someone now asked of us the truth of Dostoevski’s statement that flatly defines man as a being who can get used to anything, we would reply, yes, a man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how”

Psychologists and neuroscientists now agree conquering fear is simply suppressing a fright reaction by repeatedly confronting, the fear-triggering memory or stimulus – facing your fears. For specific phobias, up to 90 percent of people can be cured through such exposure therapy, says David Barlow, director of Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders.

So the secret to courage is putting yourself in the same difficult situation or hostile environment on a consistent basis, day in day out, or doing a seemingly difficult action over and over, a million times, until you not longer have any emotional attachment to that situation, environment, or action. You become immune to it. You become part of it.


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