“The most intense fitness program.” That is how Outdoor Magazine describes the Kokoro Training event. It’s a 50-hour crucible designed to replicate the Navy SEALs’ Hell Week. Run by ex-Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine, owner of SealFit, in Encinitas, California, the Kokoro event is aimed at helping participants realize their untapped potential and redefine their understanding of what’s possible through a series of physically and mentally crushing tasks.
As a father, husband, and company vice president, I know that making decisions with partial information, under time pressure, while maintaining a level head is a basic necessity of life. But it isn’t easy to deliberately strengthen or train. Both work and life tend to teach you along the way, without any real sense of structure or progress. The Kokoro training event is designed to deliver deep training through intense experiences, leaving you with lessons you won’t easily forget.
My first attempt at completing Kokoro filled 30 hours nonstop in 105-degree heat. I found myself in chaotic, painful situations trying to control my mind and work as part of a team in punishing circumstances. Being called the “ugliest Asian ever” was the brightest moment, since it actually made me laugh. Unfortunately, I did not have the mental resolve to finish the full event. Despite the seven months of mental and physical training I had done to prepare, all my training, sweating, meditating, and visualizing fell short. Not to mention all the support family and friends had put in. Devastating.
“It’s only quitting if you don’t get back up.” That was a message the coaches left me with, and eight weeks later I was back to try my hand at the event again. Facing your fears can be an incredible opportunity to learn through humility. And luckily the SEALs specialize in providing that type of experience. So for my second attempt, I concentrated on staying in control, operating in the present, and dealing with the chaos in front of me, so that I eventually could make it to where I wanted to be in the future—the finish line. And after 50 more hours of “hell,” I made it.
Throughout both of my trails in the training crucible, my leadership and teamwork skills were continually tested, exposed and reframed. And in the end, I came out of the program with some key principles that stuck with me and continue to inspire the way I work with my team:
- Breath. Think. Execute. When faced with chaos, panic, or stress , do these three things, in this order. We had ample opportunities to practice this. Breathing deeply creates a moment of focus, which allows you to think, make a decision, and then act. Being decisive (even if you’re wrong) is better than being passive and letting the situation overwhelm you. Equally, this means being ready to be a leader and being ready to follow, no ego.
- Don’t think about what might come next. Wondering what is going to happen and where the stress (or pain) is going to come from next is a surefire way to get your brain to talk you out of things. Equally, thinking of the past and celebrating too much before a job is done is another trap. Keep your focus on the now. It’s the little things you’re doing right now that will lead to great things later.
- It’s never, ever about you. Accountability means that others are depending on you. Focusing on your situation and your problems is quite natural. One technique worth trying: When you are feeling down, find someone else who’s feeling worse than you and do something good for him or her. As we were doing a trail run, I wasn’t feeling awesome, so I spent my time at the back of the run pushing people forward who were clearly hurting more than me. This helped them get through the activity, and it helped me take my mind off my own pain. Double win.
- 100% effort, 100% of the time. I heard this about 50 times, and I will never forget it. Obviously no one can give 100% effort all of the time. And the lesson that our instructor was imparting to us was that even in the hardest of moments, if you pick a timeframe or space or distance, a micro-goal, you can push yourself harder in that parameter. If you do that continually, you’ll surpass your limits. Speed, adaptability, and audacious goals can be broken down into daily goals, which can become a practice, which will ultimately lead to success. I learned this while carrying a big rock on my shoulder, running down a beach, making what the instructor described as “labor noises.”
- It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of how. After we graduated, one of the senior coaches, an ex-SEAL with 20-plus years’ experience, came up to me and handed me a small stone. He said, “Clement, remember that in the SEALs we are trained to not think about the yes or no. It is always yes, which allows us to get to the how much faster. From this experience, remember, whatever you do, that it’s not if but how. I admire that you came straight back to get this done. I expect big things from you.”
Hallucinating, enduring severe stomach issues, injured joints, hundreds of cuts, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and badly blistered feet—these aren’t typical issues people face in the workplace, but dealing with uncertainty, adversity, and tired people are.
Overall, I experienced in the most fundamental way possible that you are in fact capable of 20 times what you think. Being an effective leader and partner is about embracing each of these principles and learning that being more useful to others is the greater goal.