If you have ever looked at a new training or fitness program as "THE ONE" that is finally going to get you the results that have eluded you, then you are not alone. The flaw in this approach is looking to the program for results instead of looking in the mirror for them. There is no perfect training program that on its own will give you the gains to perform like an all-star. That disappointing truth is any easy hurdle to clear if you are willing to employ certain habits in your training/fitness mission. 

expert in habits of success

I recently had the honor of listening to Commander Mark McGinnis, a U.S. Navy SEAL, describe his experience overcoming incredible challenges through tremendous focus and mental toughness. Commander McGinnis is the Founder of SEAL Leadership, LLCnd the SEAL Legacy Foundation. After 4 years as a varsity football player at the U.S. Naval Academy, 17 years of Special Operations experience and over 400 missions completed successfully, the man knows a thing or two about effective habits for elite level performance! 

Triumph versus poor performance is the difference between life and death in the world of a Navy SEAL. In comparison, positive outcomes versus defeat in the world of training and fitness is trivial. Even still, the habits of elite performance are the same in both worlds. Here are 5 Navy SEAL habits that when applied to any fitness and training program will set you up for success:  

1. solve complicated scenarios with simplicity

Navy SEALs go into complex missions with one critical goal and they align all of their actions with that goal in as simple a format as possible. In order to conquer highly difficult tasks, the plan of attack must be simple or the task will consume you. The same goes for attacking your training and fitness aspirations. If achieving training and performance goals were easy then everyone would be successful - it is hard. Make a habit of simplifying your approach and you will be much more likely to see results. 

In order to conquer highly difficult tasks, the plan of attack must be simple or the task will consume you.

Example: If your primary goal is to jump higher, then doing two or three days per week of upper body work is not working towards supporting that goal. This will sabotage your efforts and end with you frustrated wondering why you didn't achieve your goal.

The Fix: Identify the single most important performance or body composition goal to you and align all of your training efforts towards that. If you want to jump higher, then focus your training around lower body or hip strength and power development PERIOD. The body prefers simple/focused stimuli and will be much more capable of responding. 

2. bounce forward (not back)

Commander McGinnis made it very clear that Navy SEALs are defined by how they respond to getting knocked down. The ability to learn from and bounce up/forward from a setback or poor performance will set you up for success. Clearly the repercussions from getting knocked down during a training or fitness charge are slight compared to facing the adversity of a Navy SEAL mission. That being said, you are bound to stumble at times while working towards your training goals - how you respond is what will define your training and fitness success. 

RELATED: The Key Attribute that Determines Success: Grit

Example: We've all had subpar training sessions or even weeks that feel like an uphill battle where we are losing ground. It's very easy to turn away from this setback and say "screw it." The problem is that the moment you stop showing up is the moment that your fitness and training goals become unobtainable.

The Fix: The first thing to do is to make sure you keep coming back for more! Instead of allowing a bad training day or week completely derail your momentum, look at it as a sign or an opportunity to learn and get better. This could be your body's way of saying you are doing too much either in the weight room or in your life. Next, troubleshoot your sleep, nutrition and hydration habits. Ignoring these areas is a surefire way to set yourself up for an uphill training or fitness battle. Expecting and viewing bumps along the training and fitness path as chances to make gains is the trick to bouncing forward towards success. 

The problem here is that the moment you stop showing up for more is the moment that your fitness and training goals become unobtainable.

3. do the right thing when nobody is watching

I know you think this is corny, but doing the right thing when nobody is watching as a Navy SEAL can save lives...still corny? Doing the right thing when nobody is watching during your training and fitness work can save your ability to get results. 

Example: What's the big deal if you skip a rep, a set, an exercise, a training session or take a week off due to travel or a busy time at work? Nobody will know besides maybe your trainer or your training partner (if you have one). The trouble here is that this approach will put you on the fast-track to seeing your current gains slip away and getting further away from future training or fitness success. 

RELATED: 6 Red Flags That You Are Working Out Vs. Training

The Fix: Start by making your training and fitness programs, schedules and commitments so easy that they are impossible to justify missing. I see people struggle in training and fitness when they commit to something that is far beyond what they have the time or capacity to sustain. When you start with highly manageable commitments to fitness and training, you set yourself up for small but steady wins. Small and steady training victories over time lead to big time results and success. 

RELATED: This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing By 1 Percent and Here's What Happened

4. all in, all the time

Assuming you are a leading expert in cliché detection, this one is likely setting off alarms. As you might expect, a common denominator among Navy SEALs is that they are all in, all of the time. I definitely believe that this habit is necessary for training and fitness success but I doubt that my interpretation of this clichés the same as yours. 

Instead of looking at this SEAL saying as a cliché, I see it as a way to describe your level of self honesty. In the video above, Scottish rugby legend, Jim Telfer explains this with absolute clarity: 

"There are two kinds of rugby players boys: there's honest ones, and there's the rest. The honest player gets up in the morning and looks himself in the f****n mirror, sets his standard, sets his stall out and says I'm going to get better, I'm going to get better and I'm going to get better."

Telfer goes on to say how complaining or making excuses about things that can't be controlled are simply not a part of the fabric of the "honest player." Being all in, all of the time is about self honesty and without a high level of this, you are simply not equipped to achieve legitimate fitness or training results. 

Example: In my experience, the dishonest athletes or training/fitness enthusiasts are the ones who go through the motions, look to do the bare minimum or simply try to fool themselves that they are doing things to get better. They use any excuse they can to get out of doing extra work and always have something to complain about or blame a lack of results on.

The Fix: I know that you, our reader, are in the "honest" category but in case you run across someone who is displaying signs of being "dishonest," there is a way to help them dig out of that hole. Challenge them to develop this habit each morning by writing down one single thing that they can do that day to get better. Learning or practicing the habit of being all in, all of the time can be hard but if you honestly want success it is a must. 

5. debrief

One of the last things that Commander McGinnis talked about is how important debriefing after each mission is. This allows SEALs to look closely at the bones of each mission to see what needs to be improved and what worked. The debriefing sessions help them to be more precise, accurate and successful in future missions. The same habit should be applied to your training sessions in order to avoid making the chronic mistakes or unproductive actions that undermine success. 

Example: After you finish a hard training session the last thing you want to do is sit down and analyze it or jot down some notes about it. You are exhausted and it is much easier to just hit the showers and be on your way - I get it. The issue with skipping the debriefing process is that you miss out on a checks and balances opportunity. You may be heading down a long, grueling, unproductive training and fitness path and fail to realize it.

The Fix: Ideally you keep some sort of training log to record exercises, sets and reps. The debriefing habit does not need to take much time or be overly complicated. Use your training log to record a few words or sentences to describe how things went. This way, at the end of the week, month or training phase, you can look back and see how you responded to the work you did. This will allow you to make adjustments and be more accurately directed towards fitness and training success moving forward. 

RELATED: Optimizing Recovery In Sport: Psychological Considerations

take home

In this industry of training, fitness, health and wellness, it is critical to understand the science, evidence and technical aspects of how to achieve results. This helps us to evolve best practices and achieve things that once may have been thought impossible. The key to real long term training and fitness success, though, is to have a foundation of unbreakable personal habits. Regardless of whether you are a Navy SEAL or if you are just trying to figure out how to get more out of your time at the gym, these habits will be the foundation for your results. 


Carmody, B. (2015, May 28). The Cost of Being an Entrepreneur and the Key Attribute That Determines Success: Grit. Retrieved May 31, 2015, from http://www.inc.com/bill-carmody/the-cost-of-being-an-entrepreneur-and-the-key-attribute-that-determines-success-.html  

Clear, J. (n.d.). This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here's What Happened. Retrieved May 31, 2015, from http://jamesclear.com/marginal-gains  

Judy, M. (n.d.). Seal Leadership. Retrieved May 31, 2015, from http://www.sealleadership.com/  

McGinnis, M. (n.d.). Seal Leadership - Mark McGinnis | Blue Giraffe Sports. Retrieved May 31, 2015, from http://www.bluegiraffesports.com/consulting/797  

No One Left Behind...No One Forgotten. (n.d.). Retrieved May 31, 2015, from https://www.seallegacy.org/index.html  

Patrick, T. (n.d.). OPTIMISING RECOVERY IN SPORT: PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS. Retrieved May 31, 2015, from http://www.aspetar.com/journal/viewarticle.aspx?id=181#.VWppb2RVikr  

Sisson, M. (2012, April 19). Five Common Nutrient Deficiencies | Mark's Daily Apple. Retrieved May 31, 2015, from http://www.marksdailyapple.com/5-common-nutrient-deficiencies-and-what-to-do-about-them/  


Timothy DiFrancesco

Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT spent 6 seasons as the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and is the founder of TD Athletes Edge. He is nationally renowned for his evidence-based and scientific approach to fitness, training, nutrition, and recovery for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

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