It’s all in the mind

As a former professional sportsman in one of the most competitive industries on the planet, I have always been interested in the psychological battle, not only between two opposing individuals competing against one another, but the psychological battle that an individual has within themselves to push them beyond where many are prepared to go.

Author: Nicky Forster

After playing professional football for nearly 20 years, like many other former players, it took me some time to come to terms with the end of my career, to understand where I stood with it all, my place in football history, my relationship with football, what I was to football and what football was to me, my emotions, my worth, and my place in the world now I was outside the bubble of professional sport. I soon realised that although I love the game itself, I wasn’t in love with all aspects of it, I was never a student of the game studying tactics, formations, and phases of play. I never got a buzz from coaching, it took me almost 3 years to work out that my real passion was for the psychological part of professional sport, the battle against my opponent, and the battle against myself was what really ignited my fire and drove me forward. From that point I have immersed myself in learning exactly what drives people forward, the driving forces behind human behaviour, why one person finds motivation easy whereas another finds it incredibly difficult.

Like with all learning, the more I learn, the more I realise how little I actually know.



The Navy Seals have legendary status all over the world, they are some of the most disciplined people in the world. The selection process itself to become a Navy Seal is extremely difficult, admission requires extreme strenuous training, most soldiers who start the program leave before the end of the first stage. Those who make it through, understand the mind is more powerful than they ever imagined because they developed a mental toughness required to succeed.


With the emerging science of resilience and grit we are learning more about why some people have the mental capacity to get through tough times while others struggle to cope, but however you deal with times of increased stress, pressure, and anxiety, there are lots that we can take from this mental application and apply in our everyday lives.


So what can Navy Seal training and science backed research give us the help get through life’s tough times?


These are simple habits anyone could adopt that could build discipline for the benefit of their well-being, health, and career.



  • The 40% rule

Everything starts in the mind, if you are lifting weights in the gym, at some point your mind starts telling you that you can’t continue, it is our inbuilt life preservation mechanism, when we begin to take our body outside of its comfort zone, signals are triggered throughout our body telling us to stop whatever it is we are doing in order to preserve energy, prevent injury and reduce stress. But the 40% rule states that when I mind starts telling the body is tired, we have only reached 40% of what we are capable of, we still have another 60% left on us, to push beyond that 40% threshold, we must accept the mental and physical pain that we are enduring at that moment. To do this we must ignore the voice inside our head telling us it’s time to stop, and when we learn to do this, mental resilience and confidence increases enormously.



  • Arousal Control

When we are in situations of stress our body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, this activates the ‘fight or flight’ response. Most of us are unable to control this process, but the Navy seals are capable to manage their response to the stressful stimuli which could mean the difference between life and death. One method they use to do this is box breathing, when I seal starts feeling stressed, they focus on their breath to regain control, they take a series of four second breaths and hold at the end of each breath, so:

4 seconds in (inhale) – 4 seconds hold – 4 seconds out (exhale) – 4 seconds’ hold

They repeat this until the stress response is controlled and the heart rate returns to normal.

This is a technique that anyone can use any time no matter where you are, when you feel levels of stress and anxiety are increased. Just two minutes of box breathing can reduce the levels of adrenaline and cortisol within our system dramatically.




  • Set (and achieve) Micro Goals

Break big targets down and focus on one thing at a time, small incremental achievements compound to make huge gains over time. Make sure that the micro goals are easy to achieve, especially at the start and are all relevant to the big goal or vision.



  • Do the small things right

Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson once joked with his class of students, a great way to start to take action is to “tidy your room”, and although it was meant as a throwaway remark with some meaning i.e. he was trying make the point to take on something small as the first step towards action, and that a clear living space tidy’s both the room and the mind, the phrase has become widely used, he often revisits the sentiment in many of his talks accepting that it is a great starting point.


A famous speech by Admiral William McRaven, a Navy SEAL commander stated that his first commandment is that you should make your bed in the morning.

Why? Because if you do that, “it will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.”


As a former professional sportsman, who played professional football for almost 20 years, it often frustrated me when players used to coast through training and make mistakes whilst doing simple drills, they often called them out on it, irritating them in the process I’m sure, saying “if you make mistakes on the training ground then you’ll take them onto the pitch on match day, quality can’t be achieved with a flick of a switch” and indeed I’ve seen this to be the case when reading Damien Hughes book The Winning Mindset, in which he says “when you come under pressure you don’t rise to the performance you descend to your level of training”

So, the small things matter, whatever they are, tidying your room, making your bed, or simple technique drills n training, the small things all matter.



  • Practice Gratitude – Make a list – Rate your day

The benefits of practising gratitude are more than being grateful for what you have. People who practise gratitude by taking time to notice, understand and reflect upon things they are grateful for sleep better, experience more positive emotions, have a greater connection with themselves and even improved immune systems.

I use a simple 3, 2, 1 system daily, at the end of each day I will spend 5 minutes writing three words to describe my day – (Reflection), two positive things for the day – (Positivity) and my one Most Important Task for the following day – (Direction)


I then finish by giving my day a rating out of four, by rating things out of four rather than 10, it forces me to reflect more carefully before I answer post op all too often when you asked for someone to write something out of 10 they drift in and around the 6, 7, 8 mark. a rating out of four remove the option to drift with 1 being poor, 2 being average 3 being good and 4 perfect/excellent or as good as it gets





3 – Words to describe your dayReflection – Energetic, Rewarding, Frustrating


2 – Positive things for that dayPositivity – Posted new blog, exercised 40 mins


1 – Most Important Task (MIT) for the next dayDirection – Renew car tax


Day rating – ¾


Try these simple things to strengthen self-belief, increase optimism and improve mental health.

They can be beneficial to both physical and mental well-being.


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