I'm a former Navy SEAL. Hell Week training pushed me to my physical limits but the real lessons were mental.
Nick Norris served as a Navy SEAL from 2003 to 2013, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The training exercises pushed him to his physical limits, but the hardest part was the cold.
This is Norris' story, as told to Rachel Hosie.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Nick Norris. It has been edited for length and clarity.
When I was 19 in 2000, I left my home of Chicago and enrolled at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. I was a political science major and I earned a BSc while also preparing to become a commissioned officer.
After getting my degree, I went through the selection process for Naval Special Warfare, which is the SEAL team. What's known as Basic Underwater Demolition Seal (BUDS) training takes place at the Naval Amphibious Base out in Coronado, California.
BUDS, including the infamous "Hell Week," was as grueling as expected, but I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to do it.
The hardest part wasn't the exercises that pushed me to my physical limits or being brutalized by staff, it was the bitter cold — which is ironic given I now voluntarily do cold water therapy for my health.
When I completed my training in 2003, I began 10-and-a-half years of active service as a Navy SEAL, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Looking back, what I remember most is the incredibly strong bonds I built with my fellow servicemen and women.
Training pushed me to my physical limit
Hell Week is the third week of BUDS training and the most notorious part, but it's actually only a small part of the Navy SEAL selection process. The hardest exercise I remember actually came before.
We had to carry a log weighing over 200 pounds while running up sand dunes and through water in a team of six to eight people. However, my team-members quickly started dropping out and it ended up being just three of us carrying the log for three hours while being shouted at by staff. It pushed me to my absolute physical limit. I was completely exhausted.
It got to the point where I was physically incapable of doing the things they wanted me to do, facing failure, and in that moment I was angry and frustrated at the people around me.
I lost my cool and started yelling, but afterwards I reflected on the fact that I'd allowed my emotions to override my pragmatism and my ability to lead. I learned the importance of controlling my emotions and being part of the solution even in the most dire situations.
BUDS takes a lot of tenacity and perseverance, but Hell Week is where things change for most people. It can't just be about you.
You're carrying boats and logs, you're in freezing water, you're constantly wet, cold, or sandy, and you can't get through the hard, dark, bad times that seem unendurable without the support, humor, and positivity from your friends.
The team aspect of BUDS is a key part of getting through
If you don't embrace being a team, you get in your own head and start second guessing yourself and your ability, and that's when people quit.
Former Olympians and athletes try to become Navy SEALs, and obviously they all have the fitness to get through it — you don't have to be physically superhuman — but I've seen these people quit. Not because they're not physically capable, but they don't have the mental resilience to handle failure without giving up.
You need tenacity not to quit when you're struggling, and BUDS builds your mental resilience, which is crucial for serving as a SEAL. You can't send people into a life or death scenario like Navy SEALs are without testing who they are mentally.
Going from a Navy SEAL to a civilian was tough
I left the military in 2013, which wasn't an easy decision.
In 2012, my younger brother died in an avalanche and it had a devastating effect on his wife and children. My wife was pregnant at the time, and I couldn't bear the thought of her and our daughter going through the same thing.
It was a really sobering experience for me and I realized I wanted to be there for my family.
Since leaving the military, I've been on a journey and it took me years to admit I was struggling. But over time I learned to embrace vulnerability, stop repressing my emotions, and heal, and now I focus on simple healthy routines to keep me balanced.
My own journey towards wellness and healing led to the birth of my supplements company, Protekt, as I learned the importance of hydration, sleep, and mindfulness in wellness.
It's been a wonderful, beautiful process for me.
A Naval Special Warfare Command spokeswoman told Insider:
"Naval Special Warfare's selection, assessment and training pathways, including Basic Underwater Demolition School (BUD/S), have high-risk training elements that are carefully designed to develop candidates' mental and physical stamina and leadership skills. These pathways are designed to produce world-class naval commandos that are prepared for combat and can accomplish increasingly complex NSW missions anytime, anywhere."
Read the original article on Insider