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The Navy SEAL's Guide for Financial Freedom and Professional Success

What a highly decorated, financially successful, wildly knowledgeable former elite soldier can teach you about how to get ahead.
The Navy SEAL's Guide for Financial Freedom and Professional Success
Nick Ferrari

If Eric Greitens were your commanding officer, you’d have to listen to him—the military is tough like that. Of course, he’s not your CO, but you should listen to him anyhow because he’s a worthy superior in every way. A former Navy SEAL and commander of an al Qaeda–targeting cell, he’s a also a boxing champion, a tae-kwondo second dan, and a sub-3-hour marathoner who bench-presses 280.5 pounds.

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That’s not all. Greitens is also a Rhodes scholar who got a full academic scholarship to Duke. And, most obnoxiously, he’s not obnoxious, either. In fact, when he returned from Iraq with a Purple Heart, he used his combat pay to found a charity, The Mission Continues, which helps veterans find meaning and thrive in their post-service lives. 

So it’s no surprise that a guy who knows his bench max down to the half pound doesn’t get through life just by winging it. Greitens has developed systems and techniques to help him achieve his goals, many of which he outlines in his new book, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life.  Here are his essential lessons for achieving financial freedom and professional success. 

All of us have ideas of what we want our lives to look like, from getting more exercise to getting the girl to getting the promotion. But to fulfill those desires, Greitens says, you need more precision.

First, put your goals on paper. Yes, it sounds dorky. But experts have found that the mere act of writing down goals increases your chances of achieving them.

Then Greitens takes it a step further. “Visualize the moment of achievement,” he says. “Show me what the movie poster looks like.” Once, when a veteran was struggling to transition to the civilian world, Greitens helped him create this mental snapshot: “He said, ‘I’ve just walked across the stage, I’ve just gotten my degree, I turn and see my family smiling at me, and I’ve got a job lined up,’” he recalls. You can guess what that soldier did after that.

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By carrying a picture in your head, “you’re not just ‘working toward’ these goals,” he says. “The picture gives you something to actually ‘live toward.’”

Finally, share your goals. By letting your buddies know that, say, you’re focused on paying off your student loan by 2017, they’ll understand when you skip the Vegas trip this year. 

Greitens reached back more than 2,000 years to the Greek Stoics for a life hack that helped him get through SEAL training, and it can help you overcome adversity, get to the office early, and avoid stupid financial moves.

As we all do, the Stoics thought about things that could go wrong. But instead of worrying, Greitens says, they mentally rehearsed their responses. They even gave the process an awesome name: “Premeditation of Evils.”

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One of the tests for SEAL hopefuls requires them to jump in the water, do a front flip while submerged, then, without taking a breath, swim underwater the full length of the pool and back. So Greitens mentally practiced for the moment when he was 25 meters in, out of breath, and couldn’t even see the finish line. "If the first time you do it is during the test, you’re going to bolt for the surface," he explains. Instead, he imagined telling himself to put his hands out in front, relax, then pull his hands back. "If you’ve thought about it over and over again, when that moment comes, you’ll know how to react."

The technique is so useful because we tend to be guided by our emotions, which often push us in the wrong direction. "So when the alarm goes off at 4 a.m.," Greitens says, "your feelings say snooze. And if that’s all there is to guide you, you’ll keep hitting snooze." Instead, mentally rehearse what you’ll do: Get up and into the shower, enjoy the hot water, have enough time to get ready before arriving at the office on time.

It works with money, too. One of the hallmarks of great investors is that they do the opposite of what their emotions urge them to do. So mentally rehearse exactly what you’re going to do with your savings when the next market crash comes (and it will). Though every bone in your body will want to sell, picture yourself logging into your account and investing a small amount in the market. And if it keeps falling, buying a little bit more. Then imagine that movie-poster moment, in the next bull market, when your friends say how they wish they’d bought at the bottom, and you say, “I did.”

Greitens says the toughest time in his entire SEAL-training Hell Week wasn’t when he was carrying a soldier on his back on a 10-mile run or struggling underwater with his hands and feet tied. It came when the men were finally allowed a few desperately needed hours in their cots, but he couldn’t fall asleep. "I started to feel all this self-pity and fear. That was my hardest moment," he says.

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At times we all feel this way. Occasionally, it’s even justified—life isn’t always fair. But unlike a football coach, you don’t get a challenge flag; there’s no one to overturn the ruling on the field. So Greitens came to a realization—one that can help make you a better employee, a better husband, a better father. 

"I said to myself, 'It’s not about me. This test is about my ability to be of service to the people who are asleep in this tent right now,'" he recalls. He stopped focusing on himself, and his fear and self-pity washed away. And he fell asleep. "The more I thought about myself, the weaker I got. The more I recognized that I was serving a purpose larger than myself, the stronger I got."

If you start saluting your boss every morning in the office, you’ll look like a jackass. But there is one military procedure I sometimes wish my direct reports would follow, and Greitens concurs. It’s called “commander intent.”

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After receiving an order from a superior, a lower-ranking officer will repeat it: “You told me to do X because we want to achieve A, B, and C,” Greitens explains. In civilian terms, it means making it clear you understand what your boss wants to accomplish. “Not just what he’s asked you to do,” he says, “but his larger goals, for the week, the month, the year. What are the larger goals the company is pursuing?” Every day when you get to the office, you want to be able to act as if you’re an owner of the company.

Now, in the real world, where the boss is more like Michael Scott than Agent Coulson, your boss either won’t tell you what he wants, or he’ll make a very specific demand today, then contradict himself tomorrow. Tempted to give up? Close your eyes and picture the movie poster: you, sitting in your boss’s chair, doing a better job. Then premeditate the evils conversation. Greitens pro- vides the script: "I really want to make sure I’m doing this job in a way that’s going to exceed your expectations,” Greitens suggests. “I’d be grateful if you’d help me understand this in a way that I can achieve excellence."


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