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8 Conventional Life Rules Successful People Break All the Time

A retired Navy SEAL reveals how true leaders use unconventional thinking to accomplish their goals.


Rule to break: Become a great multitasker

The myth of multitasking for efficiency has been busted. However, it still has a powerful hold over us, especially with smart phones and other technologies that allow our brains to distract us. According to Gary Keller, author of The One Thing, multitasking leads to more mistakes due to the mental tendency to favor new information over old; a distorted sense of time, taking far longer than necessary to accomplish the important things; lost time as you bounce back and forth between tasks (Keller estimates a 28 percent loss of your workday!), and more. Keller’s research found multitaskers are less happy than those who learn to focus on one thing at a time.


Rule to break: Nice guys finish last

I am a very nice guy, but if you saw me facing a new class at the start of Kokoro camp (a class modeled after U.S. Navy SEAL Hell Week), you probably wouldn’t say so. In those moments, a casual passerby could mistake me for a monster even though there isn’t a negative thought in my head. Focused determination is often mistaken for stern, cold, or even mean. That’s fine: It’s okay to be both nice and intensely focused. In those moments, everyone who matters—those who actually know you—knows you have your game face on and are not intending to be short or mean, even if you might appear that way. “Nice” in our society typically means you go overboard to get along; you give in to peer pressure or allow “B” players to stay on the team to avoid making them feel bad. These are all recipes for mediocrity. Here are more winning attributes all successful people have.


Rule to break: More is better

This is actually true in a very few cases, yet it is a dominant belief in our society. More responsibility is given by moving someone up the ladder, even though doing so may not be in the best interests of the individual or organization. Bigger business is seen as better by “the markets” even though the bigger an organization is, the more divorced it gets from its original mission and its customers, investors, and stakeholders. The more you stack your to-do list with tasks, commitments, projects, and leadership roles, the less meaningful work you will actually get done.


Rule to break: Fight fair

Do you think that drunk at the local watering hole is going to restrain from taking cheap shots when he charges you? Can you count on a coworker in competition with you to highlight favorable details about your project or results when she makes a presentation to your bosses? If you must “fight,” you must be offensive and unconventional in your approach. This means being aggressive and leveraging surprise to defeat your competition. However, you can be intensely competitive while at the same time super cooperative. In the SEALS, we would train together daily—a very cooperative, team-building endeavor. But each training session turned into a barn-burning competition to stimulate intensity and our winning spirit. The best businesses have this same balance between competition and cooperation. It requires deep confidence in your skills and the personal power you bring to the table so you can help others without feeling as if you were risking your own win in the process. Practice these voice tricks successful people use to gain respect at work.


Rule to break: Always tell the truth

It’s important to learn what truth to tell to whom—the whole, part, or none. Often, it’s a good idea to filter truth to protect others or deceive an opponent. Sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and be proved as one. An example: Say you have information that could be damaging to your leader’s reputation. It may be true that he slipped up and did something stupid, but that doesn’t define who he is as a person and it’s not your job to drive the stake in further. On the other hand, sometimes it’s better to speak up than allow someone to take advantage of you—say, if a teammate is doing something that could seriously impair your team’s ability to accomplish its mission.


Rule to break: Eat three square meals a day

I believe nutrition accounts for at least 50 percent of your performance. The “three square meals” myth evolved because of industrial-age work schedules, but the human body is designed for as-needed fueling. I eat when I’m hungry throughout the day, which leaves my valuable lunch hour free. For elite leaders, lunch is “training time” where you can get a workout in, take a walk, or do something to refresh your mind, body, and spirit.


Rule to break: Be real, all the time

I want you to be real with your intimate team—authenticity is critical in a leadership role. But most folks have difficulty being authentic with people they don’t know well. Shyness and an inability to be yourself in front of others is a liability for a leader, so sometimes you have to fake it till you make it. There are times when you simply must act the part. Try an acting or public speaking class (Toastmasters is a great resource) to improve your performance when interacting with a new team. Here are more tips to make yourself stand out at work.


Rule to break: Nothing good comes free

In today’s marketplace, the real commodity is trust. How do we earn customers’ or clients’ trust? By helping them achieve their goals without asking for anything in return. Consumers increasingly expect this in the form of free white papers, free samples, and free consultations. What you offer has to have real value—it won’t work if you offer something they can’t actually use or implement. The more value your free offer has to customers, the more likely they are to invest their hard-earned money with you by purchasing your products or services, and the more likely they are to tell their friends, which taps into the power of the elusive buzz. You’ll also want to steal these things successful people do at work every day.

Think, Act, and Lead Like a SEAL

Want to be tough? Cool under fire? In The Way of the SEAL, retired Navy SEAL commander Mark Divine reveals exercises, meditations, and focusing techniques to train your mind for mental toughness, emotional resilience, and uncanny intuition. Learn more and buy the book here.

Originally Published in The Way of the SEAL