You’re capable of much more than you think. The mind quits before the body does. “I can’t” just means “I don’t want to.” Know the difference.
During Special Operations selection training, we were subjected to a brutal series of physical and mental tests. Between 60 and 90 percent of candidates don’t finish this type of training.
But it taught me something important: pain does not stop the body. There’s nothing that hurts so badly that you can’t keep going just a little longer.
Praying to Pass Out
Extreme and continuous stress teaches you to break daily life down into short, measurable goals. You make it to breakfast, and then you focus on making it to lunch. Sometimes your mind refuses to project beyond the immediate future: running one more step, swimming one more stroke, grinding out just one more push-up.
Everybody hits bottom at some point. You get to a place where you’d do anything to make the pain stop. If your mind breaks first and you stop running, or wave for a support boat on a swim, or raise your hand during a beat-down to say that you’re done, you’re officially “weeded out.” You’ve quit. You’re part of the majority, but you still feel like a loser.
Fortunately, there’s a loophole: If your body breaks first, they won’t hold it against you. Every guy in my squad had the same perverse thought at some point: “If I can just push myself hard enough to black out, I’ll crash in the sand, take a nap, and wait for the medics to revive me. I’ll get a nice little break, and then rejoin the pack.”
So we ran harder. We pushed. But we hardly ever got those naps.
We thought we’d hit bottom one day, and thought we could finally reach our breaking point if only we pushed a little bit harder. But it never worked. The agony would only increase. But so would our capacity to keep going. Pain, in other words, never actually broke our bodies.
Which isn’t to say we weren’t incapacitated from time to time by hypothermia, hypoxic blackout, or hypoglycemic shock. But passing out was acceptable. Quitting wasn’t.
Yes, You Can
I’m a civilian now, running a facility and training people. Every now and then, I hear someone say, “I can’t.”
Frankly, that’s bullshit. Next time you’re tempted to say you “can’t,” remember that what you’re really saying is, “I don’t want to.”