I started contributing to Quora.com some time ago. Here’s a post I wrote today in response to Daniel Fidelis (username) asking for ways to prepare mentally for Marine boot camp.
Sun Tzu said that a commander wins a battle before ever stepping onto the battlefield; not through magic, but through preparation. Here are my own three tips to prepare to crush any military school:
How to prepare
- Create flashcards. Use for 30 min upon waking up, and 30 min before bed. There’s an academic portion. It’s no secret. Search the internet. Memorize as much as you can.
- Create a PFT chart. Use it twice a week; make it Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning. You can find an app to calculate your score. The physical fitness test (PFT) consists of three parts: pullups, situps, and three-mile run. Take a PFT a couple times a week. Write it down. Yes. Write it down on paper, and put it on the wall. Try to beat your previous score each time.
Expand your PFT chart beyond to include ruck marching. A good pace means 40+ lbs on your back, 1 mile every 12–15 min (or 4–5 MPH), for 6 miles. See if you can reach 12 miles in under 3 hours. Some tips on ruck marching: Cut your toenails and file them smooth. Wear two pairs of socks; one black dress liner inside, and one thicker green pair outside. Wear your socks inside-out, to point the stitches away from your feet. And here’s a secret to really give you an edge… set a habit and a safe route to ruck while barefoot. It’s dangerous. Especially with the extra weight you’re carrying. Be careful.
- Look for patterns of success. Read books, interview Marines, and watch YT videos. You’re not looking for individual tips. You’re looking for patterns in thinking that lead to success. I’ll guess that success in this case means passing boot camp the first time. Look for patterns that work. Look for patterns that don’t. I’d say that for the time being, anything beyond graduating and helping those beside you graduate, is a shiny object tempting you towards distraction. You may put that off for now. Everyone else’s philosophies about the military can wait until after you become part of the military.
Okay… do NOT read the below if you want to continue to keep the ideal view that the commercials sell. It’s a job. The job is brutal, rough, and aimed more at filtering you out than helping you succeed. These next tips are dirty, but real. Here are those patterns of success while in the middle of the shit:
Dirty but real · Patterns of success
- Remain invisible. Maybe you want to be the best. You definitely want to pass. The better you do at work, the more of it you’ll get to do – especially if it’s something undesirable. And you can only do so much. Don’t try to stick out too much; that means both avoiding trying to outshine others, and falling too far behind.
This means, too, disappearing as soon as possible. It’s hard for work to find you when you’re not there.
This also means keeping your mouth shut and downplaying all skill. Work will skip you when you’re not available, as well as when it believes you can’t do the work. However awesome you were outside of boot camp (or whatever difficult school you’re in), it doesn’t matter. Bragging will volunteer you for more work. Let others do the bragging, act impressed, and hold them accountable to their bragging by giving them the extra work. “Recruit Smith, you were a CrossFit champion before this. Since you’re the strongest one here, everyone needs you to carry the heavier ammo cans… And to wake up earlier to do [whatever]. Thanks, brother.”
- Sandbag (v.). Sandbagging means deliberate underperformance. Why do this? Uncertainty. Your instructors will push you to 110% knowing full well that you have miles to go. Can you sprint a marathon? Play the game. It is a game. And the game is a marathon.
You don’t need to give 110% to pass; you just need to appear that way. Act the part. Look the part. Sandbagging means pacing yourself and not trying to burn out at each event, especially when you don’t know what the next event is or when it’ll happen. You’ll get smoked anyway. That’s why it’s boot camp.
But never sandbag at the expense of someone else. He’ll notice and find a way to get back at you later.
- Volunteering… it’s up to you. I avoid volunteering for extra tasks at work, usually. In a training environment? If I hear, “Give me [X NUMBER OF] bodies!”, I come running to volunteer! Why? ’Cause it’s a game. Play the game. Sometimes the game is that everyone who did not volunteer gets punished with some nonsense. Playing makes it fun.
Also, this is hard on your instructors, too. When you volunteer, it makes work that much easier for them.
A few more quick tips: Don’t expect anyone to thank you; not with words, but people will reciprocate your sincere efforts to help. Let go of trying to win first place at anything. If it happens, it happens. Remain optimistic. Any craziness you experience makes for a great story later. The crazier, the better the story.