Extreme Ownership is written by former Navy Seals officers whose message is simple: “Own it.” You are 100% responsible for your success and your failure.
Extreme Ownership means taking responsibility for everything
Extreme Ownership is written by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, two now-retired Navy Seals officers. They distill the lessons they learned on the battlefields of Iraq to build strong, responsible leaders who don’t shirk accountability.
When leaders fail to accept responsibility, the results can be far-reaching. That attitude spreads like a virus through a team and infects everyone. Instead of solving problems, people make excuses and seek to lay the blame elsewhere. Extreme Ownership teaches that a leader accepts responsibility and learns from their mistakes. Everyone down the line adopts an ownership mentality, too. And it happens personally, too. When I fail to take ownership of my failures and shortcomings, the tendency to self-victimize seeps into many other areas of my life. I become an excuse machine.
I read this book to learn how to incorporate some of its leadership wisdom into my health and fitness practices. At first glance, there might not appear to be much correlation between how a commander deploys troops under hostile fire and how a person loses weight and exercises. However, I gleaned a lot of practical tools for becoming accountable for my own health, wellness, and goals.
Extreme ownership demands to know why
If you don’t understand the mission, you really cannot expect to make it succeed. An immediate reaction is to reject a plan or idea that you don’t agree with. Especially when you have certain biases about the subject. But taking the time to learn and understand what the mission is, and how your part plays out in it, transforms you from a doubter into a true believer.
Almost every goal-setting resource tells us that one of the best ways to make a goal succeed is to understand why we are doing it. Many times we make goals and commit to things without a thought as to why we are doing it. We are not true believers. Without an urgent sense of “why” we are poorly motivated to stick with our goals and succeed.
I have a goal to lose over 60 pounds in 4 months. That is my mission. But why is that my mission? Do I actually believe that I can accomplish something so drastic? Do I really what to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve success? Every decision I make regarding food, exercise, health, and attitude needs to support this goal. Can I ever expect to reach it if I don’t understand what my mission is and why I’m doing it?
Extreme ownership means that we dig into our motivations and goals. We must root out the purpose and make sure that it aligns with what is truly important to us.
The enemy is external, not internal
I frequently feel pulled in so many directions that it seems I am at war within myself. There are not enough hours or resources to placate my determination, my impulses, or my desires. I experience stress when the pressure is coming at me from all sides.
My old attitude would have been to punch down half the voices in my head. I would be angry with myself for succumbing to impulses or distractions and blame them for my failures. I constantly fought a battle within myself.
Since reading Extreme Ownership I have incorporated a Navy Seal principle into my life: “cover and move”. This basically means to work as a team. All my different ambitions, wishes, impulses, and emotions were in constant competition with one another. Battling myself made it impossible to form the focus necessary to meet the external challenges I encountered. Changing my mental model let me recognize that I needed a “cover and move” attitude. I needed to pull myself together and create an internal team.
Getting my whole self involved helps me direct my attention outward, against the slings and arrows of the external world. I am not fighting with myself. I am taking ownership of my life and supporting an internal team that understands that the war is not within but without.
Evaluate, prioritize, execute
Extreme Ownership means not letting situations overwhelm you. I have learned this over years of working in the culinary industry where time is compressed and pressure builds. It is natural to become paralyzed with indecision when you are feeling overwhelmed. It can also be disastrous.
Willink and Babin write that a key to remaining calm under pressure and making sensible decisions is to set clear priorities, communicate them to your team, and act upon them. This is what the Seals call “relax, look around, make the call”. It’s about responding instead of reacting, using the analytical part of the brain instead of the animal part.
By identifying my highest priority (following my meditation routine), communicating that to myself (this is more important right now than phone surfing or folding laundry), and then acting on it (okay, sit your ass down and start meditating), I can experience less stress and feel more organized.
Own the risk as well as the reward
Extreme ownership means taking the time to identify what can go wrong. It also means having a plan to mitigate risks that you don’t yet know exist.
We crash more goals by setting ourselves up for failure than through any external influence. We plan endlessly for how things are going to go right. Yet we don’t consider how we will react when things go wrong. Planning for failure is also called risk mitigation and it is 100% my responsibility. I set myself up for failure if I don’t figure out how to keep going when things go wrong.
In a 4-month plan to lose 60+ pounds, a lot can go wrong. I know I might fail due to a lack of will. I know I might fail because of an unexpected challenge that throws me off my program. But something I have no clue about may cause me to fail in a way I cannot predict. While I cannot influence the things that are out of my control, I can diminish the impact by planning as meticulously as possible to support my mission.
This is a theme touched on by Kelly McGonigal in her book “The Willpower Instinct”, another one of my favorites. She shows how risk mitigation can overcome challenges and keep a goal on track without sapping willpower in the process. Using planning strategies to offset the impact of triggering events helps keep me from making reactive choices.
Looking at a situation and considering what factors could interrupt my routine (work-related call while I’m trying to meditate) and how to mitigate its effect (phone goes to airplane-mode while meditating) make sure that I have tools allowing me to cope with whatever comes up. Planning to have healthy snacks on hand or bottles of water helps to avoid impulse purchases at a convenience store, for example. make it possible for me to stay on track without changing my plans or recovering from a failure.
Why I think this book will help me with my fitness goals
My takeaways from this book, and what makes it a favorite of mine, is that:
- Extreme ownership makes no excuses. I must take total and unflinching responsibility for everything right or wrong in my life. Blaming anyone else is a wasted exercise because it doesn’t solve anything. Rather than blame, take action to make my life what I want it to be.
- Understand the mission. If I don’t understand what I’m doing and why I’ll never be a true believer in the mission. It is my responsibility to know my mission, understand it, and most importantly, believe in its value.
- Realize that the enemy is outside, not inside. Don’t turn on myself in the face of adversity. Pull myself together and focus on the real problem, an external challenge. Cover and move.
- Evaluate, prioritize, act. With a multitude of threats or distractions, step back and evaluate the situation calmly. Then prioritize what to deal with. Finally, take ownership of the situation and act to resolve the problem. This can be done with scheduling, with family vs. work, or paying bills.
- Manage the risks of the known-unknows. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Extreme ownership of my life means doing everything I can think of to make it successful. Making plans and increasing my awareness helps mitigate risks. Plan for what I know, but also for what I know I don’t know.
Exercising extreme ownership takes away my excuses and pushes me to fix what’s wrong instead of complaining about it. The better I get at doing that, the more I can accomplish.