- Jocko Willink is a retired US Navy SEAL commander, bestselling author, and popular podcast host.
- His experience taught him there are two types of stress to deal with.
- Staying calm and focused required confronting these two types, and knowing when to prepare and when to accept.
As a US Navy SEAL commander, Jocko Willink had to approve and oversee missions for his two platoons, communicate with his own bosses up the chain of command, and coordinate plans with troops from other branches and allied countries. He had to do his job, as everyone else he worked alongside, under a near constant threat of attack.
Despite these conditions, Willink led SEAL Team 3 Task Unit Bruiser to become the most highly decorated US special operations unit of the Iraq War.
The experience taught him, to put it lightly, how to deal with stress that makes office anxiety not really seem so bad.
Business Insider recently spoke with Willink about his new book about leadership and health lessons learned from his time as a SEAL, “Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual,” and he explained how “most of the time we’re either facing stress of things that we can control and stress of things that we can’t control.”
When it’s out of your control
In war, the most ironclad plans can be shaken by a surprise attack from the enemy.
“If it’s stress of things that we cannot control, what you have to do is you mitigate that stress as much as possible,” Willink said. “You’ve planned, you’ve trained, you’ve done everything you can in your power to mitigate the stress that’s facing you. And then after that, there’s nothing you can do. So, you have to let that one go.”
Willink may have learned this in an extremely high stakes setting, but it’s an insight that’s applicable to everyone, both personally and professionally. Prepare, accept, and then adapt. It’s not productive agonizing over what was out of your power, because “worrying about them is taking away energy from what you should be doing, which is concentrating on the things that you actually can control.”
When you can confront it
As commander, Willink instituted a philosophy he dubbed “extreme ownership,” which is also the title of the book he wrote with his business partner and one of his platoon leaders, Leif Babin. It’s about taking full responsibility for everything that happens under your watch.
“A lot of times people have something that they’re afraid of,” Willink told us. “They have got a client that’s mad at them. They have got a project that’s due. And they let that stress hang over their head. I don’t let that happen.
“If I’ve got a problem with one of my clients that needs to get solved, guess what I’m going to do? I’m going to call them up and I’m going to say, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on. This is the situation. This thing went sideways. I didn’t expect it. Now it’s going to take me some more time to get you what you need.’ But I’m going to do that upfront.”
Willink said the approach is a remedy for procrastination. “I’m not going to let that thing hang over my head and wait till the last minute and be scared of it,” he said. “No. If I’ve got something do. I’m going to attack it. I’m going to attack that stress.”
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