Last week Marcus Luttrell, former Navy SEAL and author of Lone Survivor, gave a pre-game speech to the University of Alabama football team before their game against then number one ranked Mississippi State. This video below is not from that speech but from a previous talk Luttrell gave the Crimson Tide.
Luttrell's description of his survival highlights some of the mental skills Navy SEALs are trained to utilize. Last year Commander Eric Potterat, Ph.D. of the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command shared the central tenants of Navy SEALs mental training in an interview with CopsAlive.com. They are:
Compartmentalization is a strategy that allows people to focus on the task at-hand during moments that are highly emotionally charged. To remain mission focused powerful emotions are temporarily placed in what Potterat described as a "black box". Once the mission is completed and the individual is ready they can process the event Any attempt to process the event in the moment could prove fatal. Luttrell compartmentalized the death of his friend Mike. A man who he acknowledges he loved and had been through a lot with. After watching his friend die he says he snapped. He explained how lying in the ravine dying and feeling badly for himself. Those emotions and thoughts were not productive and were hindering his chances for survival.
Aiding his ability to incorporate compartmentalization he used self talk and segmenting. Self talk is the internal dialogue you have with yourself. Luttrell shares how his self talk changed once he began to think about his brother and fellow SEALs. Those powerful thoughts contributed to a change in internal dialogue that began with the recurring thoughts "Get Up, Let's Go". Proper control of one's self talk has been shown to improve focus, mood, effort, and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is one's expectation of succeeding at a challenge. Luttrell's self talk allowed him to compartmentalize and allowed him to begin the process of goal setting.
Goal setting has a powerful impact on the brain and body in stressful situations. Activation of the prefrontal cortex brings structure to chaos as it helps to direct emotional and physiological responses. Segmenting is short term goal setting. When people show an ability to segment in stressful situations they influence more control over the situation and are less prone to being directed by their environment. Luttrell, who was unable to use his legs, took a rock made a line and pulled his body across the line. The line became his 5m target. He would follow this practice to drag himself seven miles. Each line provided a new goal and a new short term target. Research has shown that when people reach a goal dopamine is released. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for pleasure, motivation, and learning. Each time he drew a new line Luttrell was increasing his motivation and limiting his chances of opening his "black box".
Marcus Luttrell's story is as remarkable as it is powerful. Luttrell's advanced training, values, and courage all proved pivotal in his survival. The mental skills he used to survive have been utilized for thousands of years and are available to everyone. Most importantly they can be trained and developed whether you are a Navy SEAL or not.