If ever there was an experience more apt for the phrase ‘groundhog day’ it would be the initial ‘hills’ phase of selection for UK Special Forces (UKSF). Four weeks spent on gruelling marches designed to test physical and navigational ability.
Days begin with a 5am wake up to force down as much food as you can stomach at that hour, trudge down to the parade square and sit on your bergan in the inevitable cold drizzling rain. Wait for your number to be called and jump onto one of the waiting 4-tonne trucks, joining the other 19 tired faces cramped together.
Spend the next hour or two with your hood pulled down trying your best to drift off and catch some extra sleep. Arrive at an unknown spot, work out where you are and get the relevant map folded and ready. Then carefully time the stripping off of your warm kit to avoid shivering for 20 minutes before your shouted forward
Once called forward, point out where you are on the map, receive your next grid reference, dress off to one side, quickly work out the best route and a rough estimate of how long it should take and then you step off.
And so begins the next 8 – 10 hours of your life, spent on your own trudging through some of the most morale sapping terrain in the United Kingdom. Just you, alone with your thoughts, the last song on the radio you heard at breakfast on a loop in your head. Your thoughts swinging between which is worse, the sheer monotonous boredom or the fatigue from the 60lbs on your back.
Not forgetting the wonderful weather on those hills, who seem to run by their own meteorological system: Driving rain and gale force winds in winter that chill you to the bone, and thick fog that takes every bit of navigational skill you have to stay on track.
And errors are not something you can afford with unforgiving terrain and conditions that mean even the good days taxing. Make one mistake and you can probably regain the time you lose by pushing your body as hard as possible. Make two and the time it’s likely you will receive a red card that day. Get one more and that is your selection over!
The reward at the end of the day, returning to the bleak battle camp at Sennybridge to prepare for the next day: De-service/re-service kit, stretch out sore limbs, tape up blistered feet, and eat as much as physically possible. And if you are lucky snatch an hour to decompress with a film or any form of morale before bed.
Repeat this process each day as you become more fatigued, the days seem to get longer, the terrain steeper, the load heavier and the weather worse. A process that sees over half of the starting candidates fail, quit or medically withdrawn.
A fact put into perspective when you understand that the majority of candidates come from the Royal Marines or Parachute Regiment. These are individuals already versed in overcoming adversity having completed one of the most demanding basic military training courses in the world. And most will likely have at least one operational tour in places like Afghanistan under their belt.
But best of all is to realise this is not selection, not really. It’s purpose is to weed out those unsuitable for the next phase which is when the real testing begins. The ‘hills phase’ is more like a trial you need to pass in order to earn your plane ticket for the jungle, which is where selection really begins.
By the end of the jungle roughly 10% of candidates will remain and you will have been pushed physically and mentally as close to the limit as possible.
There are many factors that account for why one individual will make it and not another, and the field of study into success is vast and varied. But to me there is one vital ingredient which seems to be a common theme amongst top performers. And I personally accredit a large part of my success in passing selection to it.
A powerful vision.
A vision is the capability to see beyond your current reality, creating and inventing what does not now exist and becoming what you are not right now.
The problem is this seems a bit ‘out there’ and is one of those things that people tend to write off as something lectured about in self-help books but nobody actually does in real life! The thing is though, people do actually do this and it’s proven to work.
Many of those who are highly successful in their fields — such as Oprah, Tiger Woods, and Jim Carey, among others — have openly said that visualisation has been a valuable tool in their career progress.
As a young athlete, Arnold Schwarzenegger swore by the power of visualisation to reach his bodybuilding goals.
“I had this fixed idea of growing a body like Reg Park’s. The more I focused in on this image and worked, the more I saw it was real and possible for me to be like him.”
Personally having a strong vision that inspires commitment and action has underpinned the foundation of every success I’ve ever had. As a kid my love of the outdoors and adventure combined into the goal of joining the military. The older I got the more strongly I was able to visualise the end result.
In the months before joining the Royal Marines I would read the Globe & Laurel Magazine, a journal keeping readers up to date with what is happening in the corps. In each issue is a picture of the latest recipient of the Kings Badge which is awarded to the best recruit from each troop.
The first time I saw that photo my vision evolved from not just becoming a Royal Marines Commando but passing out with the Kings Badge and having my picture in the Globe & Laurel.
BUT, and let’s be clear on this, there is a difference between having the vision and doing the work. This whole ask the universe and you will receive misses the key point that you still need to show up and put the work in.
I didn’t just wistfully imagine how nice it would be to have my picture in a magazine. I completely immersed myself in the idea of what it would mean to earn that picture, and made sure every action I took fell in line with this until I passed out as the Kings badgeman for Troop 964.
Why It Works
Science tells us this….
Located at the base of the brain where it connects with the spinal cord, there’s one of most important parts of the brain: the reticular activating system (RAS).
RAS influences cognition and is basically a filter for the roughly eight million bits of information (subconsciously) flowing through our brain. In other words, it eliminates the white noise.
When a message gets past the RAS filter it enters the cerebrum and is then converted into conscious thoughts, emotions or even both.
As Ruben Gonzalez, author of The Courage to Succeed, explains:
“Even though the cerebrum is the center of thought, it will not respond to a message unless the RAS allows it. The RAS is like Google. There are millions of websites out there, but you filter out the ones you are not interested in simply by typing a keyword.”
So, what messages get through?
Pretty much just the ones that are currently important to you. For example, if you’re focused on preparing for a speaking engagement then your RAS is going to filter in the thoughts that are going to make your presentation a success, such as the tools and resources you’ll need to deliver a memorable speech.
This means the more you keep your goals ‘top of mind,’ the more your subconscious mind will work to reach them.
Looking back at the 12 months between submitting my application for selection and the day it started it dominated my entire consciousness. Every second thought would be linked to the vision of being successful. Every training session I did would end with the positive affirmation that it would ensure I was there at the end of the course.
Along with science, practical application reveals another truth….
Having a strong vision helps you fall in love with the process which is inevitably long and often boring.
Whether we are talking about athletes, artists, or academics, the story is the same. If you want to fulfill your potential then you must put in the work for a long time with remarkable consistency.
Of course, whenever stories are shared about successful people they often leave out a key ingredient: How top performers fall in love with boredom.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear tells of a conversation with a coach who had worked with thousands of athletes over his long career, including some nationally-ranked athletes and Olympians.
“What’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else?” I asked. “What do the really successful people do that most don’t?”
He mentioned the factors you might expect: genetics, luck, talent. But then he said something I wasn’t expecting: “At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.”
And although there are various tactics you can employ to mitigate boredom, first and foremost there is very little hope for falling in love with work that you truly hate.
When you have a very strong vision of where you want to end up in life it makes it much easier to fall in love with the process needed to get there, even when it involves boring and repetitive work.
Selection is, in a word, is hell! If you do not have an incredibly dominating desire to pass, coupled with the belief you can pass, you simply will not make it. Time and time again during that course I would fall back on the vision I had been cementing in my mind over the previous months and years.
Where To Go From Here
Creating a vision for your life and what you want to achieve might seem like a frivolous waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want has been shown time and again to be an incredibly effective strategy.
And the reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.
It doesn’t matter where you are in life right now, you can still use this process to map a path to your personal and professional dreams. But don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection.
Your best vision originates from hopes and aspirations, and resonates with your values and ideals, in order to generate the energy and commitment to make it a reality.
Who do you want to be?
It is important to know clearly who you are right now to know who you want to become. This includes your habits, attitudes, and points of view. If you are unclear about yourself, you will be unclear about your future. Have a look at my previous article Who Are You for tactics on this.
What do you want?
The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires is something most of us shy away from.
You might also believe you don’t have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.
- Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible.
- Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, fun and enjoyment.
Some tips to guide you:
- Remember to ask why you want certain things.
- Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
- Give yourself permission to consider ideas that you never thought possible.
- Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.
Ask questions like:
- What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
- What would you like to have more of in your life?
- What do you want in your career?
- What are your secret passions?
- What are your values? What issues do you care about?
- What would you most like to accomplish?
- What would legacy would you like to leave behind?
What would you like your life to look like?
Describe your ideal life in detail. Set aside preconceived notions and allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture.
Ask questions like:
- What will you have accomplished already?
- What kind of people are in your life?
- What does your ideal day look like?
- Where are you? Where do you live?
- What would you be doing?
We must see it before we can believe it.
Visualisation is simply a technique for creating a mental image of a future event. When we visualise our desired outcome, we begin to “see” the possibility of achieving it. Through visualisation, we catch a glimpse of what is our “preferred future.”
It is not a gimmick, nor does it involve dreaming or hoping for a better future. Rather, visualisation is a well-developed method of performance improvement supported by substantial scientific evidence and used by successful people across a range of fields.
Visualisation is a powerful tool to retrain your subconscious mind, because it allows you to feel and experience a situation which hasn’t happened yet. In short, if you are able to genuinely ‘see’ yourself as successful in your mind, your subconscious will process that as reality.
BUT visualisation does not guarantee success. It also does not replace hard work and consistency. But when combined with diligent effort it is a powerful way to achieve positive behavioral change and greatly increase the chances of creating the life you desire.
The Silent Assassin
Stress has become the silent assassin wearing us down day by day without us even realising it: Weakening our immune system, affecting digestive health, destroying sex drive, causing aches and pains and making us tired, unhealthy and unhappy.
When you feel under pressure, overwhelmed, unfocused and low on energy it's really easy to convince yourself that this is just how life is, how everybody is.
But that simply is not true.
Watch this replay of a live chat I ran on stress to discover:
- The battle I had with stress after leaving the military.
- The strategies I used to overcome it.
- What the Limitless 30/30 Challenge is.