Making yourself unbreakable, with 27 lessons from the Dutch special forces

As one of the business coaches of, I have the pleasure of working with people with special forces background. I think CEOs and entrepreneurs can learn a lot from special forces, particularly in areas such as mindset, discipline, routine and fitness. Hence, “Niet te breken”, or “unbreakable” in English by Sander Aarts.


A book about special forces and lessons in leadership under extreme circumstances, team dynamics, cohesion and triumph over unbelievable odds. Lessons tested and forged in combat. The lessons from the book:

  1. People are more important than equipment
  2. Quality beats quantity
  3. You cannot train special forces at scale.
  4. You cannot suddenly create a competent team, it takes time.
  5. You can’t operate a team outside other stakeholders
  6. The power of special forces is in creativity and innovative solutions
  7. The essential elements of special forces are speed, aggression, surprise and unpredictability
  8. Your attitude, mood and behaviour has a direct impact on your environment
  9. No dickheads allowed.
  10. Visualise.
  11. Create the pathways in your brain through practice, practice, practice (and through visualisation).
  12. Scan and breathe.
  13. Focus on the things you can control.
  14. Do a regular risk assessment (business, health, finance) and develop a number of what-if scenarios with potential solutions (risk matrix).
  15. Follow your moral compass.
  16. Have a sense of humour.
  17. Understand your “why.”
  18. The obstacle is the way (read this book with the same title).
  19. Eat healthily, drink a lot of water, sleep enough (read “Eat, move, sleep“).
  20. If you do not do the small stuff well, you will not do the important stuff well. Quality is an attitude.
  21. Conquer your fears.
  22. You can learn to deal with hardship. You can own your suffering, instead of focusing on self-pity.
  23. Take the route of most resistance. No pain, no gain.
  24. The route to change starts with turbulence.
  25. It is what it is. Accept.
  26. You will need to find your passion. Don’t give up on finding it because then all you’re doing is waiting for the Reaper
  27. Live according to your core values


The characteristics of special forces operators:

  • Mindset
  • Ability to push on where others stop
  • Failure is not an option mindset
  • Extreme physical and mental resilience
  • Can-do mentality
  • Flexibility
  • Ability to control reaction to stress
  • Extreme ownership (read ‘Extreme ownership“).
  • Disciplined
  • Focussed

Targets and mission intent

You adjust the method to get there, not the goal. If it looks too big, you split it up in small achievable targets (micro-targets) If you lose motivation, focus back on the big target, so you know why you are doing what you are doing.

About mindset

Daily you have about 60,000 thoughts. Try to be aware of your internal dialogue. Focus on the unhelpful thoughts and replace them with your own mantra. Your most important mentor is yourself. Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions Watch your actions, they become your habits Watch your habits, they become your character Watch your character, it becomes your destiny


Surround yourself with people that are better, smarter, more experienced, stronger, and you will create a culture of constant improvement. You are your surroundings, and you are the average of the five people that you spend most of your time with.

Situational awareness  

Be situational aware and look around you. In a lot of cases, we are unaware of our surroundings. Become self-aware and understand your habits, attitudes, biases, ideas and patterns. Change the patterns that are unhelpful (Read “Atomic habits”

). Decide if you like your character.


Stress is normal, but breathing helps you to take you out of the moment of chaos, stress and confusion. Deep and regular breathing settles your nervous system and your heart rate. Breathing techniques you to control your emotions and helps you to think. The technique he suggests is 4 seconds in, 4 seconds out, for 4 minutes. When you are under pressure or feel pressurised to act. Step back and breath.


Your values are the fundamentals of your life and are the cornerstones when things get tough. So you need to think and feel about what is important to you. Step out of your comfort zone and start doing. Go and experience new things and think about who you are and what you stand for. It is not about being super fit, status and wealth. It is about love, family and relationships. Find your passion, keep your head cool, your heart warm, and the worlds will open up to you. You are worth it.

Key message

The last paragraph is the end of the book and the key message. You don’t have to be in the special forces to take the author’s lessons to heart. Personally, I think being super fit helps. As a Dutch person, it is nice to have a Dutch perspective. Which is very similar to the US perspective, with a little more balance. Here are some other books:

To repeat, I think CEOs and entrepreneurs can learn a lot from special forces, particularly in areas such as mindset, discipline, routine and fitness. You should take note (or book us at ;).

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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