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Little Victories: Lessons in Mental Preparedness from SERE School

Training your mind to stay positive while facing adversity does not come easy. But these tips from SERE school can help you find those little triumphs and thrive in whatever environment you find yourself in.


“Success is made of small victories.”

Good Day to you, ReadyNutrition Readers.  This segment deals with a topic I label as “The Little Victory.”   It is a concept I learned when I went through SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training at Ft. Bragg, NC.  If you can pick up this concept, it is something that will help you to mentally and emotionally deal with the adversities you will deal with when faced with a large-scale disaster, a survival scenario, or when the SHTF and the bottom drops out.  This concept was taught to us in the classroom prior to our entering the RTF (Resistance Training Facility) and “serving” as POW’s (in a controlled environment), the focal task of the school.

It’s All In the Mindset

The Little Victory, we were taught, is something that you need to help keep your head when everything is going wrong around you.  What it means is to (in the manner of a Positive Mental Attitude, or PMA) focus on the positive things you accomplish, no matter how small they may be.  Such “victories” buoy you through the tough times.  You will find that when you apply this concept that you already have, but probably haven’t thought about it before.

Remember when you played on a sports team in high school or college?  You and your teammates blew a game, and the next day (or that night after the game) the coach had you run laps and PT’d (physical training) you until you were all half dead?  It was terrible, but the camaraderie came to you and your teammates and you all looked at what you endured as a “badge of suffering.”  Somehow you made it through.  Somehow you managed to focus on the overall problem of what you did wrong: missed blocks, missed tackles, whatever the deficiency was.  You made it through the coach’s “torture session” and it followed Friedrich Nietzsche’s phrase:

            That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Fast-forward to SERE.  There were rules that you could not know, because the rules kept changing all of the time… you were eating starvation rations…. a handful of rice with some sardines, served to you in both of your hands, no bowl.  You learned to think fast, to think on your feet.  On one occasion after everybody was served, the pot was unguarded for an instant, and I snuck my hand in, quick as a snake, and grabbed an extra handful.

That is a Little Victory.

In my own fatigued mind, it gave me an edge: the “guards” were not infallible, and I managed a small triumph at being able to “kife” some extra food, with no penalty to me or to my brothers.  In combat you must think on your feet, and this was no different: theoretical instruction only works to a point, and “street smarts” coupled with audacity has to kick in.

One of the things they did was to put us in a box…very, very small so we had to draw our knees up to our chest and we were kept that way for a very long time.  Every 15 minutes, a guard would come by and rap the side of the box with a nightstick, sounding off with “No sleeping in there!”  I (as well as others) still managed to grab batches of sleep, 10 minutes at a time.  Little Victories.  It was not just the sleep that helped you; it was the fact that you managed to do it.

Little Victories Boost Morale

In order to survive through bad or hellish times, you must use this technique (all based on PMA) to steady you and give your mind a triumph in the face of adversity.  How can you translate something such as this into what you potentially face?  Say your house is destroyed in a hurricane (may God forbid it).  Rather than lament what has happened and allow your brain to be paralyzed into inactivity, it is best to gather and salvage what food and supplies you can.  In the end of the gathering, you’ll have a large pile of goods…something tangible that you can all see.

This is a Little Victory.  You lost most of it, but still managed to save some!  PMA is contagious, and when your family sees you are trying to hold onto it they will follow suit.  Talk about it!  Congratulate one another!  It is a great morale builder, and morale is critical for you when the times are tough.  Morale will help you get through the tough times, and later it will be something very important when you gain the Small Victory:

The tragedy you pass through as a family is a shared tragedy, and by getting through it you have built cohesion with a shared experience: a group triumph.

We can’t win every battle and come out on top; however, we can reduce the amount of the pain and suffering by toughening ourselves mentally.  This is one of the ways the human race has survived…as individuals and as a group.  We must use that most powerful tool that we have…our mind…and couple it with our hearts and the resolve to win.  The Little Victories can take the sting out of the major losses and give us the edge we need to go on.  In this way, we may lose the game Friday night under the lights, but we’re still standing, and we will have another day to come out and have a shot at winning.  Take the Little Victories one day at a time, and you can make it through as an individual and together, as a family.  Be good to one another, and have a great day!



This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on October 22nd, 2015

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