Physical and mental discipline as the leadership framework

The military is the only profession that teaches leadership under extreme circumstances. And they have been teaching that for thousands of years. Which is why have started to read up on leadership practices in the military and in particular the special forces. Can you lead when you are being shot at? Can you lead when every decision you make could mean life or death? Hence “The unbeatable mind”.

Leadership is physical and mental

What you immediately find is that the main focus of the way the military train is nothing technical, but mostly physical and mental. Focussing on consistency, resilience, mindset, toughness, fitness, resistance, humility, focus and coherence. Discipline in body, mind and spirit.

Discipline as a way of life

And maybe we should take note of that in other parts of our lives, apart from business. Our health care, medical, and insurance industries are trillion-dollar industries as a result of several generations of people chronically making poor decisions in matters of nutrition, health and wellness. That is why our retreats at always have a mix of body, mind and spirit and that includes being trained by people with a special forces background (it is very cool).


A warrior experiences a lifetime in a single day. Each moment is lived as if one’s hair is on fire, with a fullness and purpose. SEALs operate at an elite level because they know how to discipline their minds and secure the win internally before they enter the fight. The first secret to mental toughness is to recognise and embrace the power of choice and how that power can shape your life. Hence “Unbeatable Mind: Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level”. The lessons:

  • Consistency is the omnipotent force behind change. 
  • Satisfaction with mediocrity is as unacceptable
  • Slow down enough to pay attention to the details. This is where we find the opportunity to do things a little bit differently and be a little bit special. 
  • You can no longer rely on the successes achieved yesterday. Yesterday is gone. It’s over. Tomorrow is hopefully going to come, but there are no absolute guarantees there. So guess what? It’s all about today. 
  • The secret for a successful redirect is to inject a new positive thought pattern into your stilled mind that aligns with your immediate goal. 
  • Success is defined by choice, and it’s the small choices, not the major ones, that make the difference between good and excellent. 
  • If you are service-oriented, then you tend to be more emotionally resilient. 
  •  Resiliency is ensured when you have an attitude of self-control. 
  • The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to reflect their inner beliefs.
  • An embrace of simplicity offers another potent and liberating opportunity. It allows you to reduce the number of commitments, material possessions, and unsupportive relationships we burden ourselves with. 
  • Training is not optional; instead, it is as essential as eating and sleeping. Second, training is too critical for it to be random or haphazard. 
  • Your authenticity as a leader will evolve naturally as you focus on self-mastery, but it is also important to discipline it into your being. Authenticity will lead to enhanced trust, thereby fostering a transformational relationship between interconnected individuals seeking common ground and a win for all. 
  • Compassion evolves from self-respect and being able to assume the perspective of others. In them, you see yourself, with all the glory and suffering of the human race present in some manner. 
  • When you align your beliefs and actions with Universal Laws, then your life experience will improve dramatically. Universal laws form the basis for a set of beliefs that won’t alter within or across cultures. What is universally true for me is also for universally true for you, regardless of the context in which we are raised.
  • Cheating, especially on the small, seemingly inconsequential things, degrades integrity and chips away at trust.
  • It is imperative that all leaders train their minds to be the “morale officer” in charge of their own morale and the morale of the team. 
  • Talk straight
  • Demonstrate respect
  • Create transparency
  • Right wrongs quickly
  • Show loyalty
  • Deliver the results that you promise. Better yet, exceed them. 
  • Clarify expectations
  • Practice accountability
  • Practice authentic listening. 
  • Communicate with brutal honesty
  • integrity in leadership must be framed within a positive service attitude in order to build trust and loyalty and lead to honourable results. 
  • If determination is the will to keep showing up and putting out 100% every day, then perseverance is the discipline to follow through and keep on going no matter what obstacles stand in your way. 
  • SEALs will always persevere to “find a way or make one.” Second, they will never give up. SEALs persevere against all the odds because they believe that failure is not an option. This doesn’t mean that they can’t fail or that things never go wrong; rather, it means that they don’t accept the concept of failure. You don’t fail; you find a way, make a way, or learn again how not to do 
  • To become as innovative and persistent as a SEAL requires a higher degree of risk tolerance and commitment to the task. It must start with your self-dialogue. As Yoda implores, “do or do not; there is no try.” Never suggest something can’t be done, and if you decide to do something, then commit to seeing it through. 
  • SEALs pride themselves on training more realistically than any other special ops force. When the call comes to get in the fight, it is just another day. Whatever training is right for you, endeavour to make it as real as possible. The more your training is like the real deal, the more mentally prepared your team will 
  • Negative attitudes attract negative energy and weaken the mind and body, degrading performance and life in general. 
  • Hang around people who are doing bold things and study their way.
  • Take action before you think you are ready. 
  • Whatever you think you can do, think bigger. 
  • Live an examined life, and embrace sacred silence. 
  • Employ KISS “good-enough” planning. Take massive action, and then fail forward fast. Never, ever quit.


The author talks a lot about stress. Stress is neither good nor bad—it just is what it is. Stress is simply a term for resistance or pressure. It is about how you deal with it. How you mentally frame and handle the stress.

  1. Step 1 is to witness the adverse stressor as it impacts you and begins to affect your psychology and physiology.
  2. Step 2 is to interdict the response to the stress.
  3. Step 3 is to redirect your psychology and physiology to counter the impact of the stress and transmute it to positive performance.
  4. Step 4 is to use breathing and concentration techniques to maintain performance and eliminate the stress from your mind, body, and life.

Manage your amygdala

Fundamentally it is about how you manage your amygdala. Managing the “fight, flight, or freeze” response which in turn activate the hypothalamic, pituitary and adrenal glands that flood us with adrenaline and cortisol. These lead to the familiar physiological effects such as elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, rapid breathing and a boost of energy. The fight-or-flight response is an adaptive reaction, and extensive increases in stress can cause a variety of negative physiological and psychological effects. 


Stress is easily managed through breathing and concentration tools. Breathing is free medicine, and the daily practice of breath control leads to optimal health and a longer life. Breathing properly slows everything down so that you can concentrate on a fixed point, and do so for a longer period of time. When you’re able to concentrate on a single thing—the right thing—at a time, it significantly reduces your stress and increases your sense of internal control.


He writes about system one and system two thinking. System 1 works only with the information that it has ready access to. System 1 is inclined to stereotype because if no other information is available, that is the only pathway we have to conjure an instant impression. Due to the extraordinary amount of information flowing in from external and internal sources, System 1 must make assumptions and take shortcuts. Add to this the inherent laziness of system 1 (after all, it must save energy for the inevitable crisis), and you end up with the knee-jerk reactions and hair-trigger responses we all make that turn out dead wrong. 

The 4 brains

He writes about the brain. The actual brain and the three components, or mini-brains that make up our whole brain. The reptilian brain is formed from the brain stem and cerebellum. It is also responsible for hardwiring behaviours from memories—so this is where deeply rooted training information is stored and retrieved. It may also be safe to assume that this brain is a component of the subconscious mind. The mammalian brain evolved some 300 million years ago, The prominent behaviours it regulates are the fight, flight, or freeze response and our need to feed and reproduce. This sub-brain is largely responsible for the bias toward negativity so prominent in the human condition. The fear wolf spends most of his time lurking here and sending fear signals to the third sub-brain. The third sub-brain, the monkey brain, is the most recent addition to the zoo and is the seat of awareness, cognition, problem solving and creativity. The frontal lobe of the neocortex is your “executive office,” where intent, focus, and willpower conspire to move you toward greatness or misery. 

The Witness

The Witness exists independent of the organ of the brain. The yogis and other Eastern spiritual traditions believe that the mind is consciousness, and consciousness is one’s unique soul using the organs of thinking and feeling (the brain, heart, belly, nervous and neuroendocrine systems) to make meaning and to create your reality. The mind not only has its own unique imprint (like a fingerprint of the soul), it makes meaning from the collective stimulus of life experiences, and has an interconnection to other beings and to a universal intelligence, the latter being that vast spirit that runs through all things. 

Train the brain

To connect with and control this intricate mind, you must train your neocortex to acknowledge that it isn’t the only animal in town, nor is it in charge. Use martial arts, yoga and/or mediation to train the monkey mind. In the moment of laser-like intensity and challenge (the play or crisis) the mind operates from an unhindered Witness, time seems to collapse to just “now,” and you are thrust into what feels like a state of flow. In this manner, the trained frontal lobe becomes your “flow activator” dissolving past and future into the present moment. 

The five building blocks

  1.  The purpose. Alignment with your purpose and your One Thing, you can always answer the question “why?” Your sense of being settled and balanced is very strong. All your actions and decisions, the quality of your relationships, all flow from this more evolved state of clarity and calm.
  2. The physical: methodically developing the ability to control and use your body with all-around functionality.
  3. Mental: cultivating mental control and concentration, and upgrading the content of your mind to ensure a positive contribution to the world.
  4. Emotional: understanding, harnessing, and controlling your vast emotional power, developing self-esteem, confidence and forging a positive resiliency in the face of great challenges.
  5. Intuition: becoming an aware and intuitive leader by learning to look within and develop your sixth sense and to listen with your belly

Merging the five blocks achieves Kokoro. Kokora has Japanese origins and means to merge one’s heart and mind into action. 

Write your own script

Do you write your own scripts, or are you reacting to a script written by someone else? You have a choice to be in control of your life and to be authentic. How you use your mind, body, emotions, and intuition and connect with your spirit is a choice. Do you leave it to chance, letting the preconditioning of life write your script, or do you take control and write your own bestseller? The answer is clear. 

The Three Spheres

They are the “I,” “We,” and “It” spheres, which the author also refers to as the Self, Team, and Organization, in the context of the professional realm. 

  • The I sphere is the realm of your individual, subjective self. It is your consciousness, worldview, beliefs, and desires.
  • The We sphere is your inter-subjective space between two or more people sharing experiences and trying to uncover common meaning. This sphere can also be thought of as the culture of a team, community or society.
  • However, the I and We spheres don’t exist in a structureless vacuum of anarchy. Both are influenced and restricted by systems, rules, roles, and behavioural aspects of an organisation and its members. These are referred to as the It, or organisation sphere. This sphere includes the bureaucratic organisation as well as the family system and its behaviours, or the team’s org chart and the techno-economic system it’s embedded in. As with the other spheres, the It sphere overlays the I and We.

You need to win at all three spheres

As a leader, you are always poking around and thinking, “You know, we could use a system for that” or “That system is broken, and we need to rebuild it.” The internal awareness of the I sphere, the sense of responsibilities to the team in the We sphere, and the external awareness of the systems and structures in place in your business, military unit, academic or non-profit It sphere, allow you to take rapid and effective action, resolving problems and reflexively responding to opportunities as a leader. You need to win at all three spheres. We do this by aligning for maximum results in all three spheres, simultaneously. 

Universal laws

Philosophers of all ages have noted that goodness comes from aligning with universal laws and internalising these universal laws into beliefs, while the potential for weakness, even evil, comes from moral relativism. The confluence of your beliefs, values, expectations, and level of consciousness forms a foundation for your overall belief in yourself as a person. This impacts your willpower and self-esteem. In other words, if you hang your hat on relative beliefs, then you are at risk of relying on weak or outdated perspectives, empty values, and perhaps even ego-driven expectations to prop up your willpower and your drive to get the job done, whatever it is. 

He lists the universal laws:

  • The law of cause and effect: this law states that for every cause, there is an effect. It is also known in the East as karma. Study the Baghavagita. 
  • The law of abundance: this law states that the world has enough for everyone who chooses to see the world as abundant. Study Peter Diamandis’ Abundance. 
  • The law of winning in your mind first before taking the first action: this law says that you will achieve victory each and every time if you first see it, say it, and believe it in your mind. Study Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. 
  • The law of attraction: This law operates somewhat passively on your environment. It says that what you fix your mind on, you will attract in your life. Like attracts like. Study James Allen’s As A Man Thinketh. 
  • The law of receiving: that you receive in proportion to the value you deliver in life.  
  • The Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Study the New Testament. 
  • The law of surrender: this law states that instead of pushing against the tide, surrender to it, and you will find enlightenment and peace. Study Lao Tzu’s, Tao Te Ching. 
  • The law of forgiveness: this law says that if you forgive yourself and others, you will release negativity and find happiness. Study the life of Nelson Mandela. 
  • The law of non-attachment: this law directs us to detach from material things, ideas, and ultimately to life itself for lasting contentment. Study the writings of the Dalai Lama. 
  • The law of nonresistance: this law is similar to non-attachment, but it specifically applies to nonviolence. It states that you should never meet force with more force. This response never solves anything, and in most cases it just makes things worse. Fighting violence with violence should be last resort and only done in self-defence. Study the lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. 
  • The law of focus: Similar to the law of attraction, this complementary law is very active, stating that whatever you focus on with intensity and duration will come to pass. Study Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich. 


To succeed at the highest levels as a leader, you must habituate the virtues of a warrior into your character for true character excellence. Then these virtues will ensure your destiny. Virtues, like values, are nothing more than words—unless we choose to practice them and integrate them into our character in private and public. Portraying a virtue in public but betraying that same virtue in your private life means you might as well be acting in a movie. It’s not real, and it’s not the same as truly embodying the virtue. Heraclitus said that “character is destiny,” and Aristotle told us that “to enjoy the things we ought to enjoy…has the greatest bearing on excellence of character,” and “no one who desires to become good, will become good unless he does good things.” And “example is not the main thing in life…it is everything”. 

The planning tools

The author gives us the SEALs planning tools:


  • Fit: Does your goal fit you and your team in terms of your skills, resources, time, and personality? Is it reasonable or a long shot? 
  • Importance: Is this goal strategically important to achieve your mission or purpose? 
  • Timing: Is this the right time for this goal? 
  • Simplicity: Is this a KISS goal? 


The SMEAC mission planning process 

  • Situation: The situation is the background study that helps the team to understand the reasons behind the current requirement to act. 
  • Mission: The mission is a specific statement of what you intend to accomplish, where, when, and the measure of success. 
  • Execution: The execution part defines how the mission will be accomplished. 
  • Administration: the administration section of the plan defines the administrative and logistical details that must be coordinated 
  • Command and control


  • Priorities: what are the key priorities that are driving your mission? 
  • Realities: what are the ground truth realities you are facing, 
  • Options: list the most compelling options 
  • Plan: what is the plan you decided on? 


  • Observe the situation closely. 
  • Orient to the reality of your observation. 
  • Decide on a course of action. 
  • Act—nothing happens in life until we take massive action. 

I would expect that these planning tools could work very well for startups as a replacement for business plans.


Something the author noticed when he was in the SEAL Teams was how much a powerful team elevated me as an individual, leading to higher performance and a sense of well-being and growth. But how often have you participated in a team where the teammates serve each other, never quit, have a terrific attitude and achieve victory time after time? The team affects the individual just as much as the individual affects the team. A bad team will spoil an individual, and one bad apple on the team can ruin the whole bunch. In addition to skill development, teams that rely on physical work, such as the military warrior, first responder, electrical lineman or roughneck, benefit greatly from a well-designed daily functional fitness program combined with periodic challenges. Performance soars when a team works out together.


You develop uncommon resolve by fortifying the five key attributes of your character. They are: 

  • Desire
  • Belief 
  • Attitude
  • Discipline
  • Determination


When things go off the tracks, the master doesn’t assign blame and wallow in self-pity; rather, he or she immediately seeks the positive lesson and then acts on it with an offensive attitude. 

  • Mastery requires detachment to wealth and fame, instead directing one’s energy toward the “higher” values we’ve been exploring
  • One of the more useful traits of mastery for leaders to develop is to remain perfectly calm and controlled in even the most chaotic circumstances.
  • When they lean hard into any workout, project, or mission they deem worthy, masters eventually will smack into a wall of challenge, just like you and I. They experience pain and discomfort at a physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual level, also like you and I. However, what separates them from the common is that they reflexively embrace the suck and step up performance in anticipation of these moments. They exhibit the trait of fortitude.


In the moments when you have no choice but to suffer or quit, you learn to suffer in silence and embrace the suck to get through it with grace. Embracing the suck-type fortitude is developed by pressing hard into your challenge, deliberately internalising any expression of pain or discomfort. Do not participate in your own pity party. Projecting weakness creates weakness because your body will follow your weakening mind. 


Studies have shown that a smile brings the same level of stimulation as eating a bunch of chocolate bars Smiling releases endorphins, serotonin, and natural painkillers. So slap a smile on your face, support your teammates and repeat the phrase “Pain is weakness leaving my body, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” 


Humility has become a litmus test to determine whether someone is a master or a charlatan. You can choose to develop it now by seeking to remove the ego and self-serving behaviour from your actions. Your personal humility is also deepened by releasing attachment to desires and to expected outcomes.

Kokoro Spirit 

Humility is a cousin to Kokoro, which we earlier stated means to merge your heart with your mind in your actions. However, we can train Kokoro. The Buddhist practice of loving-kindness is a powerful means, yet you need not become a Buddhist to practice it. Cultivating Kokoro requires you remain focused on your larger responsibility of fulfilling your purpose in the service of others, the environment and ultimately, the global family. 

Five plateaus

Research showed that most humans experience, at most, a 5% growth in consciousness during their entire lifetime. 

  1. First Plateau: The Physical-Instinctual Self. At this plateau, the earliest one developmentally, we operate out of our lowest instinctual, animalistic self. 
  2. Second Plateau: The Emotionally Driven Self. At this plateau, individuals operate out of their emotional selves. 
  3. Third Plateau: The Mental Achiever Self. This level of consciousness will find well adjusted, success-oriented members of society busy achieving important stuff. 
  4. Fourth Plateau: The Sensitive Self. Those at this level transcend achieving solely for the sake of personal or material earnings and instead seek to achieve with goodness directed toward others and the world. Their hearts, as well as their rational minds, drive them. 
  5. Fifth Plateau: The Integrated Self. In this plateau, the heart, mind, and spirit begin to integrate into the individual, creating a world-centric, service-oriented sense of self. Truth, wisdom, and love are felt and expressed universally. 

We all move a bit fluidly between the plateaus, but with a dedication to growth, we will find that our centre of gravity shifts upward and we spend less and less time in the lower plateaus and more in the highest. 


What always strikes me about military leadership are the words they use. Discipline, humility, resolve, mastery, team, breathing, brain management, training, beliefs and willpower. Nothing technical. Everything mental and physical, with a purpose.

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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