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Apply extreme ownership

In 2006, SEAL Team 3’s Task Unit Bruiser entered Ramadi with one goal in mind: drive insurgents out of the city and build up the Iraqi forces to create stability in one of the most violent areas in the world. On the first major operation, Jocko Willink commanded his SEAL forces alongside U.S. Army and Marine men and women and inexperienced Iraqi soldiers.

Almost immediately, trouble struck the operation. Iraqi soldiers had been shot at by what appeared to be enemy forces upon entering a building and had called in for backup. One Iraqi soldier was killed in the battle and air fire was being set up to rain down on the enemy’s position. After hearing the news, Jocko came over to the building’s vicinity. With men and women on the ground ready to engage, Jocko realized his team of snipers were in this area and had recently moved buildings for a better vantage point.

With that in mind, he and some of his men entered the building to find his sniper unit holed up. This was a SEAL commander’s worst nightmare. Fratricide. Blue-on-Blue. A man killed at the hands of his own teammate. In the throes of battle, the group of Iraqi soldiers had gotten confused and entered a building they were supposed to never be near. This resulted in the sniper unit mistaking them for the enemy and engaging in back and forth shooting. A man was dead and one was injured. An airstrike was almost called on his own men. Jocko was soon contacted by upper level military and an investigation would be conducted as soon as possible.

With so many variables leading to this tragic result, Jocko had to come up with an explanation for what happened. The Iraqi soldiers should have never been there. His men should have positively identified them as the enemy before engaging. Movement of the sniper unit should have been better communicated across the board.

When the time came to talk to the investigators, Jocko had come to a decision on who to blame: himself. As the leader of the operation and these individuals, it could be no one’s fault but his own. Even with his back against the wall, Jocko stuck to a crucial leadership principle: extreme ownership. No matter what situation arises, you must take responsibility for your actions and of those you are tasked to lead. Luckily, Jocko stayed on as leader of Task Unit Bruiser and the mission was a raging success. The city was brought to relative peace and stability thought to be nearly impossible.

This excerpt was taken from the first chapter of Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s New York Times Bestseller, “Extreme Ownership”, a book detailing the leadership principles they applied in Ramadi when facing a nearly insurmountable enemy on their home turf and how each principle applies to everyday life.

When reading this story, what stood out to me most was the decision to take complete ownership for a situation which seemed to be out of his hands. There were so many factors that led to the shooting making it easy to blame the situation on the men under him. However, as the head of his unit, Jocko stood tall and let the blame fall on himself.

He then explained to his bosses what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how he would ensure it would never happen again. This principle is incredibly difficult to apply to your life. It is so easy to blame failures on situations around you. I do it all the time.

When a test question is not clear to me, I think about how the teacher did not teach it well enough. Or even when I play a video game with my friends, a bad performance immediately falls on the random player I was given. The biggest problem with this mindset is that you cannot grow if you live by it.

If the teacher is at fault for a complex problem, then it’s not my responsibility to address the problem and get it right next time. If the random player caused my poor performance, then I should not change my strategy to do better next time. While I don’t think video game performance actually matters, the principle stands true.

As students, we may not be leading Navy SEALs into war, but I think there’s immense value in applying extreme ownership to our lesser leadership roles and our individual decisions. If you want to grow and become better in all your pursuits, the first step is taking responsibility for your actions and their results, good or bad, and determining how to improve upon your next go around. As Notre Dame students, we all saw a great example of this in Marcus Freeman after losing to Marshall.

In his press conference, he answered reporters saying, “It starts with me, it starts with me as a head coach.” Through individuals like Jocko Willink and Marcus Freeman, it is clear that leadership starts with the willingness to own one’s decisions and the results which follow. With that said, I believe that applying extreme ownership is a crucial step in growing as a leader and individual and is a principle that we should all strive to live up to, no matter how difficult it may be.

Mikey Colgan is a sophomore from Boston, MA majoring in Finance and ACMS. He can be reached at mcolgan2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author, not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Get it done early

Class ends and it’s 4:30. I just had a long day and the last thing I want to do is work out. I’m tired, there’s homework I have to do and I want to stop by my friends’ room and shoot the breeze. So then I think to myself: I only need to workout four days this week and I’m tired. Why not do it when I’m refreshed tomorrow? Well here’s the problem. I’m almost never feeling refreshed on a weekday and certainly not motivated on a weekend. And if we’re being honest, most of us feel very unrefreshed to say the least for most of our weekend. Now the vicious cycle begins. I lose consistency and things start to break down. Four days a week turns to three. Soon, three turns into three weeks off, and apples turn to apple crisps. Now I’m playing catch up to get back into shape. This struggle besets everyone and is very difficult to overcome. Over the years, I have tried a million methods to combat this when it comes to working out, getting homework done early or any other task I don’t want to complete in the moment. Alerts on my phone, motivational videos, written-out schedules. While some worked better than others, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon my favorite solution this summer thanks to the time constraints of my job.

The long hours of my internship this summer gave me one option to stay in shape: get a workout in before work. This meant I had to wake up earlier and build up the energy and motivation to exercise. At the beginning, I figured this would be a huge problem since I commonly struggle to get up for a 10:30 a.m. class ten minutes from my dorm. However, I soon discovered the freedom that early morning work grants an individual. Each day, my friend and I would trudge out of our apartment in the morning, exercise, then start a grueling workday. On paper, this sounds horrible. Waking up early for exercise after a 14-hour workday sounds like the last thing I would want to do. However, I soon discovered that these “grueling” workdays were made much easier by a morning workout. Whether it’s exercising, homework, or working on any other personal goal, now that you have accomplished a very crucial task in the morning, you will feel more relaxed the rest of the day. You’re not playing catch up. Instead, you can feel the relief of knowing you got your work done and have a sense of accomplishment throughout the rest of the day. This allows you to feel more cheerful and present in the moment because you’re not caught up thinking about the painful task you don’t want to do but know you have to later.

In addition to feeling more relaxed, a huge advantage of waking up before the rest of the world is no one can distract you. No text messages are sent and no spontaneous plans can be made. It’s you and you alone with the opportunity to get your work done as efficiently as possible. Your intentions are clear because there is nothing else to do early in the morning. Essentially, if you’re awake, you might as well be productive with such limited options to procrastinate. On campus, this is especially relevant because most buildings are closed early in the morning besides the productive ones: the library and the gym.

Now that I am returning to school, I am going to try my best to stick to getting up early and getting my work done. While it may be tougher with late nights and a looser schedule, forcing yourself out of bed in the morning will make the rest of your day significantly better. So if you struggle with pushing things off and find it affects your day-to-day life, try getting something important done before your first class. It’s not a crazy change or new idea by any means, but it can make your life less stressful and give you greater control over your daily actions. Put it this way. The longer you wait to do something, the more opportunities you’ll have to push it off. So try a couple early mornings and see where it takes you.

Mikey Colgan is a sophomore from Boston majoring in Finance and ACMS. He can be reached at mcolgan2@nd.edu. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Play the long game

Since it’s the beginning of the school year, I’m sure all of you noticed that the gym is packed and it’s a pain waiting for just about every machine. I’m sure you also know in about three weeks this won’t be a problem anymore.

It’s also pretty obvious why it is the case. There’s almost no work for the first couple of weeks, so everyone has extra time. Also, it’s a New Year’s Resolution. For people that didn’t exercise consistently the prior school year, they want to dedicate themselves to it this year, so they try to start off the semester strong. Then more work comes in and motivation fades, which lowers the number of people in the gym and restores the balance.

While these are the obvious reasons, there is one that goes under the radar: insufficient planning. Going from doing nothing to working out everyday is unsustainable. Instead of just going to the gym over and over as long as your motivation lasts, a better solution is to plan out a weekly schedule that is repeatable for the entire year. Know what your goals are, then determine a sustainable way to achieve them. While dedicating yourself fully to your goals sounds great on paper, easing into the process and creating a long-term path to success create better odds of success in my opinion.

The long-term approach applies to most goals you strive towards. Sustained success in areas like diet, sports or investing often requires a long-term outlook. Greg Doucette, a former bodybuilder and YouTube fitness coach, preaches choosing a diet that keeps you in shape but is also repeatable. This means eating foods you like that still get the job done. As a world record powerlifter and bodybuilder, diet literally makes or breaks his ability to perform well in his profession. Even then, besides the necessary cuts right before a competition, Doucette would not attempt crazy diet changes in-season or during the offseason. Instead, he would eat a similar volume with foods he liked with slower progressions to the heights he was working towards. This also allowed him to avoid the typical cycles of eating for bodybuilders with uncomfortably large amounts of food or so little food that it becomes difficult to get out of bed. 

Sports like football and cross country have perfect examples of how taking a longer outlook is the best way to have consistent results over the years. Tom Brady has used pliability to stay at the top of the NFL up until 45. Despite being the least athletic player on the field in every game he has ever played, his commitment to staying flexible and eating the right foods has allowed him to achieve unmatched longevity.

In cross country, longevity is more about performance during a race rather than the individual’s health. At the beginning of races, a few kids would come out with a jolt of adrenaline and sprint to take a huge lead. Those kids would never win. They were running at a pace they could not sustain and the runners behind them would take the lead with more left in the tank for the final stretch.

In investing, it works the same way. Going after meme stocks may yield a big gain out of luck, but picking an index with solid returns and low risk over time will give you the best chance at making money over time. Famous investors like Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger apply this approach to their work and life for sustained success and happiness.

While shooting for the fastest path to goals may seem like a high level of dedication, it often leaves people tired of the process and short of their intended goal over and over again. Motivation comes and goes, so creating a process with reasonable expectations that still leads to success over time is the safest way to accomplish goals. With that said, for school, health, fitness or whatever you are doing, I suggest you try a long-term approach and watch yourself progress slowly over time.

Mikey Colgan is a sophomore from Boston, Mass. majoring in Finance and ACMS. He can be reached at mcolgan2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Mikey Colgan

Contact Mikey at mcolgan2@nd.edu