Jocko Willink On Dealing With Stress

I previously wrote a blog in which I introduced Jocko Willink and one of his core principles of prioritizing and execute, this can be found here. As the title suggests, this blog is concerned with handling stress and who better to take advice from than a former navy seal commander.

Stress needs no introduction. We have all experienced stress and sometimes dealt with it successfully and other times have given in to the pressure. It is for those times where stress got the better of us that I turn to Jocko for advice.

In his book, Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual, Jocko simply states two things concerning stress.

First is to gain perspective. Not to minimize what you are going through but it is always good to understand that other people have been through much worse. This does not mean that what you are going through isn’t important. It is important and it is real but remember, those people who have had stress beyond what you have ever experienced, they made it through that, they figured out what was required and they were able to deal with their stress, which means you can too.

But warriors have faced much much worse: The Battle of the Somme, or Gettysburg, or the Battle of the Bulge, or the Chosin Reservoir. Humans can withstand almost inconceivable stress — and you can too.

Perspective allows you to take a deep breath and calm your mind and think clearly.

Secondly, you must detach from your situation. This is done in order to see if you have control over whatever it is that is causing you stress. This is a simple yes or no. If the answer is no, then, you just have to accept the situation that is causing you stress.

The worst thing about incoming artillery fire is you can’t control it. It is happening and you just have to accept it. Don’t stress about things you can’t control.

However, if the answer is yes and you do have control over the situation that is causing you stress, then detachment allows you to see your own lack of discipline and ownership of the situation which has resulted in it becoming a stressor. So, simply take control of the situation, solve the issue and relieve the stress.

Montaigne On The Displacement Of Anger

In the essay, How the soul discharges its emotions against false objects when lacking real ones, Michel De Montaigne makes a simple and yet truthful observation. Often times people displace their anger upon an object or a thing that is not deserving of their feeling. This cathartic solution, however, does not address the real issue.

Seriously though, when our arm is raised to strike it pains use if the blow lands nowhere and merely beats the air; similarly, if a prospect is to be made pleasing it must not be dissipated and scattered over an airy void but have some object at a reasonable distance to sustain it.

From this, I understand one thing, that being the pleasure aspect involved in displacement. The strike is done in order to feel pleasure. Without striking something, that pleasure is not achieved and one still feels the effect of whatever that has caused them the negative emotion. We seek pleasure to cover the pain that was caused.

This hedonistic approach raises a question: how long does this pleasure stay? Pleasure comes and goes and so does pain. So once that pleasure is gone, you might need to strike again or perhaps by then, you can deal with whatever caused you the negative emotion but also, by then your conscious might have subdued the emotion allowing you to go on without confronting the displeasing thing.

Control your pleasure instinct, your reactionary instinct and address the situation properly.

Not otherwise does the bear in Pannonia: made more savage by the blow struck by the Libyan hunter with his dart tied to a leather thong, she rolls on her wound and attacks the weapon buried in her flesh and chases it round and round in circles as it flees from her.

Next time your emotions are running high, ask yourself, are they pointed at the right thing? This requires detaching from the situation. The task is not an easy thing to do, even the great emperors like Augustus and Kings like Xerxes attacked the storms and cursed the storms, in Xerxes’ case, had his men whip the sea water. If they can be tricked by their emotions into instant release, rather than proper one, then perhaps so can you.

But remember:

There is no point in getting angry against events: they are indifferent to our wrath.

Lastly, all this external blaming and violence leads to one thing, lack of ownership. Ownership that would allow one to “utter enough abuse against the unruliness of our minds”, as Montaigne puts it, saying that we often lack the ability to address the thing that caused the negative situation to happen. That being, ourselves. Our mind. Our habits. Our actions. Don’t take it out on other things or other people. Rather, turn that anger inwards and strike away at the unruliness in you.

Otherwise, you are merely distracting yourself from the main issue.


Reflections: On Detatchment

Many times in life I find myself anxious. The anxiousness usually has to do with my future. In those times I often see that the reason behind my feeling is that I am not doing what I am supposed to do right now in order to secure the future I want.

One practice that has helped me think with simplicity and clarity on this has been the practice of detachment.

One thing I find to be true is that I know what I am supposed to do. I know I should wake up early in the morning and workout and in order to do this, I also know that I should go to sleep at an appropriate time. I know that I should write at a certain time instead of spending another 20-30 minutes on the internet which usually bleeds into being an hour or more. I know I should be reading when I am not. I know I should be studying instead of killing time doing something that will bring almost zero benefits to my future but does bring this instant pleasure.

For these reasons, I’ve found detachment to be helpful. The purpose of detachment is to take a step back from yourself and view yourself and your actions from an outside point of view. To see yourself wasting time, procrastinating, feeding into the bad habits, those habits which you are reinforcing and make it only harder for yourself to get better.

When you are detached, it is almost like a reset button. You see yourself being something you should not be and you call yourself out on it. You pause and see your actions for what they are, hurtful, and you change, right at that moment and do what you need to do. Detachment is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. So one has to spend time developing the muscle, working it out, practicing it so eventually, it becomes second nature, like breathing.

Essentially, everyone needs that friend, a good friend, who is willing to call you out on your flaws and bad habits in order to see you improve as a human being. That is what a good friend is. However, this friend does not have to be a person outside of you. The idea is that you become your own good friend. What that does is it awakens trust in your own judgment, in your gut, in your actions for you know that if you are doing something wrong, there will be a voice in your head checking your actions and if you trust this voice, it will better you. You can then rely on yourself. You can have confidence in yourself that if things are not going as you wish them to go then you can implement a change in behavior or habit that moment and start working on the positive things.

Of all the advice I have come by, this one keeps coming back to me. I practice detachment through journaling. I can sit down and make a list of things I should do and what I shouldn’t. Detaching from the current situation it is easy to come up with the good and bad. I often need reminders for the current age we live in, it is easy to forget and be distracted. Before I would need to go through books or videos trying to find someone, some word or something that would put me on the right path. But now, it’s as simple as reading this ideal version of what you’re aiming at and judging your current actions or desires with this ideal.

That anxious feeling goes away when I have mostly good days, productive days. Every now and then when I do slip up and perhaps have a few consecutive days of nothingness, it has become easier to stop myself.

That is what it comes down to. Having more better days than bad ones. It’s a simple concept. Detachment has been essential in limiting those bad days.

Every day there is probably a new person telling someone what to do and what the proper way to live life is. They might be right or they might be wrong. For me, it is about finding what you mesh with, what attracts you, something that you can do with as little resistance as possible for that is human nature. If something is too difficult we easily fail to adapt it. Detachment has not been difficult, in fact, it has been the opposite, a simple exercise to bring order in life.