THE FIVE PILLARS OF FOCUS: Perspectives of a Navy SEAL (2023)

Heroes can take all sorts of forms, from doctors to military to basketball players. But what are the common factors that help EMS and Navy SEALs focus on achieving their goals and heroics in the face of overwhelming challenges?

By CAPT Rob Newson (RET), US Navy SEAL | 08 May 2020

My partner and teammate, my better half and my hero is an ER doctor. You and I agree: Navy SEALs and EMTs have something in common. We all have a little cowboy, a little privateer in us. Chaos and challenges attract us. We run into the gap and walk through the fire because that's what we are. That is why we are attracted to what we do.

But you don't have to be a Navy SEAL or EMT to take on and overcome a challenge. We all get thrown into chaos at some point and winning can feel impossible.

I ran the gap as a Navy SEAL for 30 years and spent almost 3 years of my life fighting abroad: Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen. I hope that my lessons on SEAL training and warfare can help you now this season and that you take those lessons with you into the future as another challenge is just around the corner. Embrace the following five pillars of focus and you will be amazed at what you can overcome and achieve.

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In SEAL training, we have what we call "hell week." It really is a marathon of suffering that lasts five days with little sleep and the freezing cold Pacific. When the hellish first day of the week begins with the thought, "I can't believe I have five more days like this," the task seems daunting. Unsurpassed.

Instead of focusing on the size of the task, focus on the immediate. What do you have to do?now🇧🇷 Don't spread future pain. Don't let your mind wander over the horizon and think of all the difficult things that are yet to come.

This concept applies well beyond SEAL training. It applied to me when I entered war zones. Becoming a single father of three children. To fight cancer. Concentrate on the now. When faced with a challenge or disruption, shorten your time horizon by focusing on your immediate tasks. They will do what needs to be done and eventually move on.


Everyone is a leader in one way or another, and leaders focus on others. Leaders lift others up. Turning inward in a challenging moment and just thinking about how difficult things are only adds to the pain. Introspection drains the willpower and makes it harder for you AND others to achieve and be successful.

With an external mindset, you care primarily about others and about helping them, even in small things. Being an extrovert not only makes it easier for others to succeed, it also minimizes your own suffering. An introspective mindset is bad for you and the team. An external mindset benefits you and those around you.

In Hell Week and through BUD/S, anyone can stop by ringing the bell three times. For us, the bell is a sign of resignation. Never ring! When I was a senior officer, I asked if I could go back and mentor members of my SEAL Centennial class. The main point I stressed was the idea of ​​internal dialogue. When times are tough, when your inner dialogue focuses on you and your discomfort, you will answer that bell. When you focus on yourself, you take a step toward giving up. When you focus on the mission, on "our" goals and on winning, your suffering is minimized and you move closer to your goal.


They really test you in SEAL training. They always find something, anything, to punish you. Most instructors actually do it in a fun way if you look closely. Humor is a great way to bond with your teammates. It comes with you when deployed.

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Even in the worst of circumstances, you must find joy. It's actually very important that British Special Forces teach their teams how to be funny. It's missionary.

It's not about ignoring the enormous weight of the situation. It accepts the harmony of life.

I recently started yoga. I was in a position where my muscles were on fire and it was awful. The instructor told me, "Find peace of mind in the effort." That means humor in the absurd. Even in the midst of struggle and great exertion, you can relax your face, laugh, and find peace of mind in that exertion.


As I spoke to residents of Cornell and Columbia ED, I thought about what they will do and what they are doing now. In their situation of overcrowding, scarce resources, and life-or-death decisions, they are unable to end or alleviate the discomfort. This will not happen.

There is a great metaphor for this experience. SEAL training gets you wet and covered in sand. The sand is absolutely on you. The instructor would say, “Don't bother cleaning the sand. Your goal is to make yourself uncomfortable. You have an assignment. A target. Focus on your purpose, not your well-being.”

The same metaphor applies when we face our own challenges. Just sit on it. Don't try to remove it. If you focus your efforts on eliminating your ailments, you are wasting your time and energy. Don't worry about cleaning the sand. Accept that you can feel incredibly uncomfortable and tired and still get your work done.

The human body and our unbreakable will are amazing things. This isn't unique to Navy SEALs. It's a skill you develop. Where I saw this most was in the fight against cancer. When you enter the chemotherapy room, you see people who are suffering greatly, not only from the disease but also from the treatment. There is no way out of this discomfort other than through this. I have seen so many demonstrations of the strength of the human body and that indomitable will. They weren't SEALs, but they found the STEEL in them.

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Your body's amazing ability to keep going and your steadfastness will take you much further than you think. BELIEVE you have it because you have it.


He takes care of himself. The people in your life depend on you. If it doesn't fill, it can't spill.

It's easy to get bogged down in combat: long days and nights with little sleep, probably not the best food, and always doing more than you can. It wears you down physically, emotionally and spiritually. You have to find moments when you put something in the tank. Get some sleep, eat something healthy, exercise, or find a brief distraction. Turn everything off for a moment if you can. The fight will be there when you come back.

We SEAL teams have changed our mental training and mental health narrative. We talk about it like we go to the gym because every SEAL knows what we're talking about.

Go to the mental gym. It is precisely at these times that you will take a few hits and your heart will be hurt. Go to a psychologist, counselor, or friend and talk about the things that are heavy on your heart. Pushing it down and ignoring it never helps. That's our lesson in the army. We have seen so many suicides and people not seeking help. The mindset used to be, “It hurts when I ask for help. I have to be broke if I want to improve."

I had a great leader and friend who always said, "You don't have to be broke to get healthy. You don't have to be sick to take care of your health. If you go to the gym, it's not because you're broke. It's because you get stronger. If you seek advice or talk to someone about your problems, it's not because you're broken. Because you are strong enough to get help to get through it.

I'm concerned for our healthcare workers because of what we've seen in the military. Our health professionals see things that cause moral damage. As a nation, we need to come together and talk about self-care and caring for one another.

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It might sound a bit controversial to say that focusing on these five things will get you through the tough times. I've been all over the world. I saw incredible suffering. I have seen humanity not only in these dire circumstances, but struggling to get out of them. There is no way out but through.

When I was conducting my centennial SEAL training course, someone asked me, "Are you sorry for them?" I told them no, and I didn't. Hell Week is an opportunity few have: be put to the test, survive the fight, and cross over to the other side. We all have that opportunity NOW. We didn't volunteer for this, but now we're all in this fight.

For healthcare professionals around the world, they are fighting a battle most of us will never know. You have been called upon by your community, your nation and our world at a time of great crisis. You know that most of us somehow don't understand what it means to keep getting on our knees only to get up and keep fighting.

Knowing who you are is important, and knowing what you do matters on a scale hard to imagine. This is the fight of your life. A fight you will win. We, this nation and this world, are grateful to you.

We can all learn from the healthcare professionals who are fighting this global battle. Remember, you're up to the task. You will be tested and eventually you will fail. That's human. We all fail.

Get up, get wet and full of sand and keep fighting.

Rob Newson, Navy SEAL, retired captain in the United States Navy, served as a federal executive member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City and as director of the White House Military Office. It has seen service in 14 different countries on 5 continents and has received the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit and Bronze Star. Rob is the current vice president of strategy and vision for the Philadelphia 76ers.

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Listen to Rob's Five Pillars of Approach

THE FIVE PILLARS OF FOCUS: Perspectives of a Navy SEAL (1) THE FIVE PILLARS OF FOCUS: Perspectives of a Navy SEAL (2) THE FIVE PILLARS OF FOCUS: Perspectives of a Navy SEAL (3)


What is the Navy SEAL mantra? ›

I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission.

How do Navy SEALs focus? ›

The SEALs call positive thinking "attention control." In other words, where you focus your attention is crucial to the success of a mission. A Navy SEAL can't allow his mind to go negative in battle. "If you say to yourself, 'Holy cow, that enemy looks stronger than me,' then you're toast," says Divine.

What is the Navy SEAL mindset? ›

The Navy SEAL Mindset: Courage, Confidence, Perseverance, Resilience.

What percent of people pass the Navy SEAL TEST? ›

SEAL basic training has earned a grueling reputation, in part because of a notoriously high failure rate. Nearly 70% of enlisted SEALs fail, mostly by hell week. But Naval Academy officers have an 89% success rate, mainly because they go through years of training and evaluation before they arrive.

What is a famous Navy saying? ›

America's Navy – A global force for good.” “Ready to Lead, Ready to Follow, Never Quit.” “The only easy day was yesterday!” “Qui Plantavit Curabit” – “He who has planted will preserve.”

What are some Navy SEAL sayings? ›

They define our culture and how we approach life and work.
  • The only easy day was yesterday. ...
  • It pays to be a winner. ...
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable. ...
  • I persevere and thrive in adversity. ...
  • In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my team and accomplish the mission. ...
  • Uncompromising integrity is my standard.

What makes the Navy SEALs the best? ›

It is their mental toughness, refusal to quit (GRIT), and self-discipline that makes them stand out and earn the right to wear the Trident. But that is only the beginning. From there the skills are constantly reinforced and improved through realistic, difficult training, and actual combat missions.

How do Navy SEALs become mentally strong? ›

How to increase mental toughness: 4 secrets of Navy SEALs and Olympians
  1. Talk positively to yourself. Your brain is always going. ...
  2. Setting goals. You hear this a lot. ...
  3. Practice visualization. Close your eyes. ...
  4. Use simulations. Visualization is great because you can do it anywhere as often as you like.
Jun 14, 2019

Why is it so hard to become a Navy SEAL? ›

The Navy seal training program is one of the most difficult human conditioning and military training tests in the world. During this program, students overcome obstacles designed to test their stamina, teamwork, and leadership. For every 1,000 people who start Navy Seal training, only around 200 to 250 succeed.

What chant does the Navy say? ›

Oorah is a battle cry common in the United States Marine Corps since the mid-20th century. It is comparable to hooah in the US Army and hooyah in the US Navy and US Coast Guard.

What is the Navy's motto? ›

Other sources claim that “Semper Fortis” – Latin for “Always Courageous” – is the Navy's unofficial motto; considering that the Navy was founded in the 18th century, when sailing in a Navy required venturing out into the unknown of the vast oceans, some still uncharted, this emphasis on courage seems fitting.

What does the Navy say like Semper Fi? ›

The U.S. Marine Corps motto is “Semper Fidelis” – “Always Faithful.” The U.S. Coastguard's is “Semper Paratus” – “Always Ready.” The U.S. Air Force motto is “Aim High... Fly-Fight-Win,” and one of the U.S. Navy's unofficial mottos is “Semper Fortis” – “Always Courageous.”


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