Ask Stew: How to Apply a Never-Quit Mindset When Joining the Military

army ranger swim test
Staff Sgt. Andrew Hickey, 121st Security Forces Squadron, takes a water survival assessment August 15, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. Hickey and three other Ohio Air National Guard Airmen were attempting to meet all the physical requirements necessary to attend the U.S. Army ranger school. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Ralph Branson)

It can take years to acquire the skills necessary for military service, especially if you're looking to serve in a job that requires advanced training. Many schools in the military have notoriously tough requirements in physical fitness, academics and the ability to quickly learn new tactical skills.

Here is a question that many of us have asked as we prepare for a goal: How do I know I am ready?

Stew, I feel I have mentally and physically prepared myself for my future in the military, but still have some doubts as to whether I can make it without failing or quitting. I am preparing for a job in the military that is academically and physically tough. I just wanted some advice on the "never quit" aspect of my training. Thanks, Ben B.

If you are a special ops candidate or are considering a difficult military program with a higher-than-average attrition rate, you know that success requires resilience, determination and an unwavering commitment to never give up on yourself.

You've already accepted the challenge to do something that is not easy, so your pre-military goals should be to prepare yourself to meet and exceed the standards of any activity in front of you. It is very much a mindset of understanding that "exceeding the standard is the standard."

The first step is to set yourself up for success.

Create a plan that outlines your goals and a timeline for achieving them. Don't hesitate to ask for help from others who have accomplished your goal. However, this timeline should be more of a performance starting line.

Reach a level of high performance that's way above minimum standards before you join the military. That delay will help you stay on track and provide a benchmark for measuring progress, versus joining and then being on the military's timeline as you start your training.

It's also important to document your successes and failures, so you can learn from them and move forward. If you are not assessing yourself along the way, you are just guessing at your strengths and weaknesses. If you ignore a weakness, it will quickly be exposed during your difficult and competitive training or selection program.

If possible, create a support system. If you cannot surround yourself with people who share your goals and understand the importance of perseverance, just understand that nothing you are about to undertake is impossible.

Understand that the people who have the job you want were once candidates and had the same discussion with themselves about whether they could succeed. If you are fortunate and have access to veterans or mentors, these people can provide the encouragement and advice you may need when you experience doubt.

Take comfort in the fact that we all had these doubts and then one day realized, "I can do this." This magical day may not occur until you are weeks into the actual training you are having anxiety about right now, but it's sure to come if you've properly prepared.

It's also important to stay focused on the long-term goal, but break down long-term goals into edible, short-term goals. Literally, make it to the next meal each day. When working hard in the morning, focus on getting to lunch. The same goes for afternoon and evening. Take it one step at a time or one meal at a time.

Finally, take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Focus on mitigation skills to help manage daily stresses as well as the stresses we put on ourselves by just thinking and worrying too much about things not yet in our control. Make sure you get enough rest and nutrition, as this will help keep you energized and focused on the task at hand. It's also important to stay positive and look for the good in every situation.

You will find that if you focus on these little things and smaller goal chunks and start performing, you will not even think about quitting, especially if you find yourself competing to be the best or top 10% of the class. There is an old saying that you "never think about quitting when you think about winning." It is true.

Believe in yourself, stay focused on the long-term goal, but break the long-term down into smaller daily goals, and keep pushing forward. You have what it takes to succeed, so go for it!

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, has you covered. Subscribe to to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Show Full Article
Military Fitness Fitness