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  • Writer's pictureJayaram Krishnan

Embrace the Suck: baby steps to incredible resilience

When life sucks, or our situation sucks (i.e. it is painful, horrible, ugly, irritating, annoying etc), we must embrace (i.e. accept and willingly dive into) it, and continue to perform with a strong sense of purpose and duty. This is roughly the meaning of the term “Embrace the Suck”, believed to have originated in war combat situations in the early 2000s and is associated with US Navy SEAL (SEa, Air, Land special forces) training, which is legendary for its difficulty levels. If you want to explore the original term more, you could read the books written by ex SEALs David Goggins or Brent Gleeson, or see the many excellent videos and other content available online.

However, in this article, we discuss the basics of the Embrace the Suck (let’s call it “ETS” for short) method, how to take baby steps in it in our daily lives, which are likely to be far simpler, less difficult and less life-threatening than critical operations or training, of military special forces. We shall also see how to apply the ETS method to challenging points in our goal achievement journeys, both as individuals as well as leaders or members of teams. This can empower us to reach unprecedented levels of resilience, which shall then increase the probability of achieving challenging goals and high levels of excellence. This can be applied by students (right from middle school to the post doc level), to professionals, leaders and individuals in any kind of difficult situations. When individuals apply them together harmoniously, then teams and organizations can utilize ETS for collective growth and development.

Unpleasant and difficult situations, and times of suffering, come to all of us at various times. Why do we not naturally embrace them? Why do we not dive into them willingly, accept them as inevitable, and patiently allow them to run their course while we adapt to them? Why do we not literally look forward to “enjoying” this suffering, or at least tolerating it?

There are many possible reasons. The human mind is repelled by suffering. We back away from it like a human hand does reflexively, upon accidentally touching a hot object. Now, a reflex or trained reaction may not be possible to change easily, but what happens after that? This is now a critical juncture: that which happens, after the initial repulsion. For the general untrained person, the next response is to rationalize the repulsion and think, this is bad; this is bad for me; I should run away from it as soon as possible. If I have to suffer it, I shall try to get away from it at the first opportunity; I shall not involve myself with this situation, but close my eyes and hope that it gets over soon. Here is where the ETS response would be different: after the initial repulsion, the ETS trained mind would think, this is NOT so bad; I can conquer this; I can learn to live with it. In fact, let me immerse myself in this situation of suffering, try to understand, enjoy and survive in it… even thrive in it.

If ETS is beginning to sound like masochism or some kind of perverse search for suffering, let me immediately clarify that it is NOT. On the contrary, it is a way of coping with inevitable or unavoidable situations of suffering that one MUST go through, by deconstructing and conquering the very cause of our suffering. ETS is also not defeatist acceptance and resignation. On the contrary, it is active participation in the situation of suffering, seeking to surmount that very situation by knowledge, experience, improved tolerance and growth.

There are several easy methods to test and train ourselves in ETS: try to pick up any healthy, constructive or productive habit which you naturally shy away from. It could be waking up early in the morning, having cold showers, avoiding unhealthy food or alcohol, working out regularly, shutting off your phone an hour before bedtime and so on. These are good preparatory processes to train the mind. Another great way, if you are into physical fitness (which you should be anyway!) is to do the activity that comes to you least naturally. For many recreational (non competitive, non elite) athletes especially older ones, quite often, this is flexibility and mobility drills. Pushing yourself to the limit on flexibility and mobility, regularly and progressively, needs a strong ETS mindset.

However, the above methods are still controlled and planned ETS methods. The true test for ETS comes in actual life situations where we may be thrown into challenging situations that we did not ask for. The controlled and planned methods described above, as well the cognitive knowledge of how we can apply ETS can really help us prepare for such situations. Therefore, what we actually need to do is to treat ETS as a skill for us to learn and improve upon. So, how do we build the skill of ETS for ourselves? Here are a few pointers:

  • Be prepared to fail and fail again.

  • Do not waste time or effort worrying about all that you do not know at present, all that you cannot do at present, or all that is not in your control right now.

  • Instead, focus on what you know, what you can do, and what you can control, and continuously try to improve on those progressively.

  • Focus your vision on your long term goals and commit yourself to doing everything in your control to reach those goals.

  • Rest when you need to, but do not quit. Like water finds its way through a leaking roof, you shall ultimately find a way.

  • If your situation sucks, tell yourself that you are strong enough to embrace it. And then, go ahead and embrace your situation. If you make that choice, no one and nothing can stop you from adopting the path of resistance and resilience.

  • Be prepared to outlast your situation. Again, the decision to hunker down and bide your time, is a choice which is completely within your control. ("Dear pain, I am prepared and committed to be here forever... Are YOU?")

  • Remind yourself that pain with a purpose is not bad for you, but good.

  • Make your situation as favorable and comfortable as possible for you to strengthen yourself to embrace the suck, for example: if you get strength from many encouraging voices, tell your friends and well wishers about the battle you are going through and keep updating them so that you get their encouragement; On the other hand, if you prefer to fight your battle alone, in privacy and silence, then do that; if you wish to journal your progress, do it; If you get strength from motivating books, videos and quotes, use them; On the other hand, if light entertainment completely removed from work situations recharges you, enjoy it before and after your ETS battles. Essentially do whatever works for you, which is in your control, to strengthen yourself to the maximum, every time you need to dive into your suck situation and embrace it!

  • Draw self belief and confidence from peer individuals who have been able to overcome similar situations. (“if he can do it, I should be able to!”)

  • Be brutally honest with yourself on your progress as well as your performance with respect to your potential. ETS is your personal battle: you are the judge, you are the witness, and you are the scorekeeper. The outside world may not even understand what you are going through.

In today’s world, ETS is becoming a less and less attractive, preferred and favored path. That could be for various reasons: we have far more options, we have far more information (and misinformation), we think we have many more rapid and quick-fix solutions, and it is also possible that in some respects, we are becoming softer as a civilization and species. But if we think about it, ETS in some form or the other is already a familiar experience to people who worked their way up to higher social, financial and educational standing, to people who built their lives in other cities, countries, professions and vocations. Many such people succeeded because they had no alternative but to survive and grow by ETS. I have a classmate from many years ago, who was constrained due to a physical disability from travelling, pursuing a competitive profession and so on. He finally became a teacher in his hometown and went on to excel in his field. I once asked him whether he liked what he was doing. He said he chose his job because he had to, not because he liked it; but ultimately, he learned to love it. For me, that was a brilliant example of a successful lifelong ETS conquest.

The great opportunity for success with ETS is, that as fewer and fewer people are willing to do it, we can stand out and become stronger and stronger at practicing and applying it, even starting with the smallest baby steps. This shall help us progressively build our resilience and endurance, so that fewer obstacles really challenge us, in our march to our most incredible goals! And the only equipment we need to practice ETS is already within us – our all powerful mind. We hope that this post leaves you looking forward to your next episode of hardship and suffering so that you can hone your ETS skills! :D

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