4 Mental Toughness Hacks I Learned in U.S. Special Operations

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I’ve always loved the movie Black Hawk Down, and after four years of watching it on repeat, I joined the army and eventually Special Operations. 

Like the guys in Black Hawk Down, I wanted to be a badass. 

One of my favorite quotes from the movie is when Hoot (Eric Bana’s character) is asked for his opinion on why they were sent to Mogadishu. He responds:

“Y’know what I think? Don’t really matter what I think. Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that shit just goes right out the window.”

He understood a critical truth of battle: 

Under stress, the only thing that matters is doing what you’ve trained to do in order to survive. 

Even if you aren’t in the military, this still applies. When you’re under stress, the reason why you’re in a world of shit doesn’t matter as much as how well you handle it. When things get tough, you fall back on your training.

Whether it’s prepping for a competition or weekend at the vacation, we train for a purpose.

At some point in our lives, injuries, illness, and stressful situations are in store for all of us. How well we’re prepared for them will determine exactly how well you handle them. And if you’re caught unprepared or unfocused, you might find yourself trapped.  

If I ever slip up on training and complacency begins to creep its sneaky tricks into my head, I remember the lessons that I learned in Special Operations to help me keep my mind together, and you can do the same.

These are all habits that you can apply to your current training regimen.

1. Train As You Fight

If you want to look, feel, and perform like a warrior, you have to train like one. Bodyweight movements like push-ups and pull-ups are critical to master on your fitness journey, as are heavy lifts and carries. I don’t just suggest this. I firmly insist upon it. 

So, don’t miss a session. Prioritize your fitness, or else find yourself in deep shit when things go awry.

Train with intensity. What do you think you’re going to get the most out of? A stroll on the treadmill or sled pushes?

Train rigorously or don’t do it at all.

2. Use What’s in Your Kit

Getting in shape means being resourceful with what you have. Nice gyms aren’t always convenient or available.

Whether it’s a sandbag, ammo can, a small animal, or just your body weight, you can achieve fitness with just about anything available (I’ve included a workout below that can be done anywhere, so you have no excuses).

3. Know What’s at Stake

If you’re the only one accountable for your progress, it’s likely a matter of time before you fall off the wagon.

The truth is that humans are motivated more by the avoidance of pain than the pleasure of a reward. Who are you letting down? Who depends on you? 

By way of contrast,  knowing what you truly want to achieve is going to be a safety net for when we want to quit. The difference between someone who succeeds in Special Operations and someone who quits is the ability to find your “why” when things get tough.

Why do you want to be fit? Asking yourself why can help get you closer to your true motivation. You’ll need to smash through the ore to find the gem, but that is what separates the winners from the drop-outs.

4. Take R&R (Rest and Recuperation)

Proper recovery helps you to make quicker strides and ensures you’ll have energy for when you need it most. Consider deloading every 4-8 weeks depending on your level of fatigue.

Don’t push through injury unless your life depends on it. Otherwise, you’re out of the fight and leaving others to pick up the slack.

I stand behind these principles because they’ve saved my ass in combat, and I’ve seen them do wonders for my coaching clients.

Are you ready to put them to work?

Try this quick Training Grinder to get your energy out of the trenches and closer to fighting shape. It can be done anywhere.

Turn up your favorite gym song (I recommend Eminem’s Till I Collapse) and go as hard as you can, as if a drill sergeant is watching. 

Alternate between each exercise for three rounds each, then take 1-2 minutes rest between circuits 1 and 2.


  1. Inverted push-up (feet on a bench or the wall) – 12 reps
  2. Goblet squat w/ sandbag, kettlebell, or whatever weight’s available –  20 reps
  3. Mountain climber – 20 per leg

Repeat 3 times, rest 1-2 minutes, and then proceed to Circuit 2. 


  1. Sandbag bentover row – 15 reps
  2. Alligator push up – 10 per side
  3. Jump lunges – 8 – 12 per side

Bonus: wear a weighted vest while completing this.

Even if you’ve never considered yourself a warrior, it’s not too late. You can still take apply principles to help you look, train, and feel like a fucking badass.

About the Author

Brian is a Special Operations veteran turned fitness coach. His actions in Afghanistan earned him a Bronze Star in combat, inspiring him to teach others how to find their inner warrior through fitness training. He believes that anybody can look, feel, and perform like an elite warrior, even if they aren’t a full-time knuckle dragger in the military. Check out his battle-tested regimen here.

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