I almost quit because of … a pair of shorts? It was a Tuesday night during Hell Week—the sixth week of 25 weeks of training for BUD/S class 181 (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training). It’s a week of punishment to simulate the stresses of combat—at least, that’s what the instructors told us. We quickly found out it was really all about learning our answers to the question, “How badly do you want to be a SEAL when it’s not a sunny day?” It was only one of many lessons that taught me the true meaning of perseverance.
Our class was testing a new undergarment during Hell Week called “tri-shorts”—a pair of tight-fitting long underwear that cut off about 8 inches above the knee. The goal of this project was to reduce the number of chafing injuries that occur during Hell Week. This would allow those who made it through the week not to spend a lot of time on limited duty because of the large scabs on their inner thighs that form from running in wet, sandy pants for miles and miles.
For the first 48 hours, the tri-shorts were fantastic, but when nature finally came calling on Tuesday night we all got a painful surprise. Up until that moment, we had to pee in our pants. We actually welcomed it because it was the only warmth we would experience that week! But that night, we found out a terrible side-effect of urinating on yourself with tri-shorts on—our skin became stuck to the mesh of the tri-shorts. When we pulled down our pants to make a “deposit,” we inadvertently pulled off several layers of inner thigh skin—about six 8-inch strips. It was one of the most painful moments of Hell Week.
Really, Sir—You’re Gonna Quit Too?
I sat on the toilet and quietly cried because it hurt so badly. A classmate of mine was in similar pain in the next stall. When I came out, he was waiting for me in front of the sinks. He looked at me and said, “Sir, when I walk out of the bathroom I’m going to quit—I just want you to know.” I said something along the lines of “Really? I’m thinking of quitting too!” He looked at me in shock and responded with, “Really, sir—you’re gonna quit too?”
I replied, “Hey, take a look in the mirror—look at us. We look like two old men standing hunched over. I don’t know about you, but I sure feel like one!” We laughed … then I grabbed him by both arms, made him look me in the eyes, and said, “Tell you what, just make it to the sunrise before you leave us—deal?” I suspect he could see my pain. I’m certain my tears were visible—he knew I was hurting too. He agreed, and I’m sure glad he did because that young man went on to be the Honor Man of our class.
We all need someone to lean on—a nudge or boost at just the right moment can make all the difference in the world to someone. While you’re wondering if you can be a leader, let me give you a nudge to remind you that all leadership is personal. We are all different but we all respond to the same thing: Care. Sometimes, people just need someone to show they care. "Care" is also an internal thing. It's a battle we fight with ourselves every day.
Perseverance is Often Misunderstood
When things get really tough, it’s human nature to want to give up. After all, what’s the point of suffering if you can just stop and be comfortable? But that’s not what separates the best from the rest. It’s not what determines who attains their goals and who doesn’t. It’s not what allows someone to be a leader and influence others. The answer is perseverance—the quality that allows us to continue despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
Perseverance is often misunderstood. People tend to associate it with blindly continuing down the same path, even when it’s obviously not working. But that’s not what perseverance is. It’s not about being stubborn or refusing to change course. It’s about having the strength to keep going when things are tough. It’s about being able to pick yourself up after a setback and keep going toward your goal.
Definition of Perseverance
Perseverance is the quality of sticking to something despite difficulties, setbacks, or discouragement. It's about continuing to pursue your goals even when the going gets tough. Perseverance isn't simply "toughing it out" or "grinding it out." Those things might be part of the equation, but they're not the whole picture. Perseverance is also about having a goal or dream that you're passionate about. It's that passion that will help carry you through the tough times. After all, if you don't care about what you're fighting for, it's going to be a lot harder to find the motivation to keep going.
How to Develop Perseverance
Of course, even if you have a passion for something, there will still be times when things are tough and you'll want to give up. That's where perseverance comes in. Here are a few tips for developing this important quality:
Find Your Why: When things get tough, it can be helpful to remind yourself of why you're doing something in the first place. What are your goals? What are you hoping to achieve? Keep those things at the forefront of your mind, and they'll help give you the strength to keep going when times are tough. In addition to my "why," I also play the opposite game and consider the outcomes that I don't want to experience, which helps to refocus my attention and give me the push that I need to keep going.
Envision Success: A secret weapon to achieving your goals is using your powers of envisioning. Think of it as visualizing, but in technicolor, by applying all your senses (not just your vision) to create a real-life movie where you see, feel, hear, smell, and even taste your accomplishment. Picture yourself crossing the finish line and hearing the crowd roar. Feel your heart racing as you see your chest heaving to fuel your lungs. Taste the sports drink that is replenishing you. Smell the sweat that is drenching you, but don't stop now because you are so close to reaching your goals! Envision all the details you can and then keep adding to it—think of it as a movie that you keep editing to make it more and more real. This will help increase your motivation and keep you moving forward even when things are difficult. Envisioning your success aids you in overcoming the negativity bias, which is our natural inclination to pay more attention to the negative than the positive, and keeps your focus on your desired outcome.
Break Things Down into Manageable Steps: When you're feeling overwhelmed, remember that Rome wasn't built in a day—and neither is anything else worth accomplishing. When you're facing a difficult situation, it can seem insurmountable. That's why it's often helpful to break things down into smaller goals. Instead of thinking about everything you have to do, focus on just taking the next step. That's usually all you need to worry about anyway. The rest will take care of itself.
Create a Support System: Surround yourself with people who will support you and your goals. These people can encourage and help keep you accountable. They can also provide a shoulder to cry on when things get tough. Everyone experiences difficulties and setbacks at some point in their lives. It's how you deal with them that makes the difference. Sometimes it can be helpful to have someone to talk to who's been through what you're going through. A mentor can offer guidance and advice based on their own experiences. If you don't have a mentor, there are plenty of resources available online (including this very website!).
Struggle Builds Strength: No matter how hard you try, there will be times when you face setbacks. It's important to remember that these are inevitable and that they don't mean you're a failure. Setbacks are necessary for growth, as the struggle to overcome them builds strength to help you with future obstacles. Embrace them, learn from them, and move on. Like a muscle, perseverance needs to be exercised to grow stronger. Over time, adversities that once seemed insurmountable will become much easier to deal with. Remember, you're always in training to become more resilient, overcome bigger obstacles, and achieve greater things.
Develop a Growth Mindset: A big part of perseverance is having a growth mindset, which is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed. This is in contrast to a fixed mindset, which is the belief that abilities and intelligence are static. People with a growth mindset believe that they can always improve, no matter how difficult something may be. They understand that setbacks are part of the process and that they can learn from them. People with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, tend to give up more easily because they believe that their abilities are set in stone. They're not open to learning from their mistakes, and they often see failure as a reflection of their worth as a person.
I think of all of these components as the building blocks of an Unstoppable Mindset. We all have the capability to build one; the challenge is making the choice daily. Our mindset is up to us and here are a few tips on how you can choose to Be Unstoppable every day: First, focus on effort instead of results. Second, cultivate a learning orientation instead of a performance orientation. And third, learn about how the brain grows and changes in response to challenge. I find that gaining more knowledge is very empowering! Check out our Resources and Courses pages for more information on developing your mindset skills and activating your full potential. And don’t forget to sign up for our free monthly newsletter to get regular tips, inspiration, and advice delivered straight to your inbox.