My body had been pushed past its limits. The only energy I could muster was to put one foot in front of the other, keep my weapon on my shoulder, and lift my feet over any ground that looked disturbed to avoid dragging my feet over a pressure plate.
I was in the green zone of Helmand province.
Our TCP (temporary check point – usually a old mud wall compound) was set up on the high ground, to look across the Talibans playing fields. A huge flat plain of greenery and dirt, a perfect place to disguise the placement of an I.E.D. (improvised explosive device)
We were on our way back after an unsuccessful op, our main efforts had been to lure a local group of insurgents into a firefight in order to draw them out, locate their position and engage them.
On our way back in all I can remember thinking was the intense agony my body was in, I knew I wouldn’t stop moving, but I also had no idea how I was going to take the next step.
The snap and hiss of a round flying all to close was familiar to me now, I hit the deck – we were 1k from our TCP when we came under intense enemy fire.
I noticed the leaves around me splitting, torn up from bursts of fire. As we alternate from taking cover to returning fire my body had sprung back to life, I felt energised and focused. It is no wonder humans have thrived, our bodies are masters of reading external stress and pressure, and adjusting accordingly.
I have learned a lot from my time on the front line, but these 6 things changed my body, mindset and life, and if you implement what you read, it will change yours as well.
- Your mind will always completely underestimate what your body is capable of.
- You must have discipline in everything that you do.
- You need much less then what you have.
- If you live how you were designed to live, your health and body changes for the better.
- Everything is sweeter when it is earned.
- Life needs to be simple
1. Your mind will always completely underestimate what your body is capable of.
Have you ever dropped the weight before you managed your last rep, utterly convinced you couldn’t manage that last one?
Our minds aren’t trying to make us lazy, they’re just smart. They tell you you’re done because they keep something in the reserve tank, ready for an emergency.
This example may be a bit unorthodox, but probably more relatable then fighting on the front line: As a kid, were you ever running from the police, sprinting your heart out to get away, never thinking of slowing down or even realising how exhausted your legs were, and once you made it to safety, you stop, and you feel like you are going to throw up or pass out.
That’s because during a time your body perceives as danger, it drags those reserves out, and once used, you’ve hit a whole new level of exhaustion!
While in Afghanistan, there were times I didn’t know how my body was going to manage its next movement, but it never failed. It needed to move so it did. (Read This: The Key to Unleashing The Warrior Within)
This is when I realized what my body is truly capable of, when you break past your mental barrier, the part of your mind that is telling you you’re done, there is no limits to what you can achieve. As an ex 22 Special Air Service RSM (highest rank of a soldier) once told me “Your body is just an empty carcass, it will do what you tell it to do, don’t let your mind put limits on it.
2. You must have discipline in everything that you do.
There are a number of traits I believe to be useful, some essential, but without discipline they are all useless.
The potential threat to you as an individual and as a unit when you’re moving around the most dangerous place on earth is huge, of course, but if you switch off, you times it by 10. Discipline to me means performing an action absent emotion, it needs to be a logical decision, not a decision effected by your energy levels, mood or mental state. When you’re out on the ground, you must watch your surroundings no matter how much the bright sun stings your eyes. You must keep a look out for ground sign (evidence that something that goes bang has been buried) no matter how much you want to switch off and stare blankly at the boots in front of you.
A shit bloke from my unit was posted with another battlegroup, he was caught playing a handheld games console while on stag. Being on stag means you are the eyes of your section while they sleep, it means you keep watch, and in Afghanistan, it’s not something to cuff. He was sent home and sent to Colchester prison (the British Army Military Prison), and rightly so, this was within weeks of a Taliban insurgent trying to sneak into another TCP. The insurgent was forced to engage the guardsman on stag, as he kept disciplined watch. The discipline of that solider who died from his wounds was what kept the men inside that check point alive.
3. You need much less then what you have.
I hate clutter, everything in my life needs to have a purpose. (Read This: Clean Your Fucking House)
Some people find it hard to let go of things, we have a ‘just in case’ attitude, but cleaning out your stuff and realising what little you need is refreshing.
Before experience I would spend hours going through my kit. I would put aside what I thought I needed for the op, and then I would try hopelessly to pack it into my bergen (a bergen is a large day sack used for patrols).
I was preparing to move, I knew the chinook (military helicopter) was picking us up, and dropping us 5k from the TCP, so it wasn’t just a case of cramming everything in, we would be on foot for 5k, where anything could happen, if we came under effective enemy fire or set off an I.E.D I would need to get to my med kit on route, and dragging kit out onto the desert floor while I poked around looking for something wasn’t an option.
Everything needs to be packed, in order and easily accessible. I would pick up every single little thing individually, and I would ask myself “is this going to help keep me or the blokes alive?” If the answer was yes it would go into one pile, if the answer was no it would go into another pile. After doing this with every single little bit of kit I would have a small pile of essential life saving stuff – Rifle Cleaning Kit, Ammo, Essential Med Kit, Water, Rations -, I would then pack in whatever else I could while still maintaining order. Did I need a sleeping bag? It was pretty warm that month, so no, did I need this towel? Well… maybe, but I’ll cut it in half just to save a bit of room. When you’re carrying your kit, you appreciate every gram you can take off your back.
4. If you live how you were designed to live, your health and body changes for the better.
Humans were designed to ensure extreme physical endurance. We were made to walk 100’s of miles every week, hunting our own food and fighting neighbouring tribes to protect our loves ones.
It is no wonder, that when you live like this, your body and your mindset finds balance.
I remember coming home in October and looking in my mirror in the block. The same mirror I had looked in every morning before I went away. I had never seen my body so lean yet muscular. I had always had abs, but nothing like this. I spent a lot of time and effort studying the body. How training and nutrition and lifestyle can effect body fat % and Lean Body Mass etc. What I eventually understood is the undeniable change your hormones can have. Living how I had lived had put my body in perfect hormonal balance. I put this down to Testosterone levels being through the roof due to a lifestyle consisting of controlled aggression during violent engagement. Also the daily stress I put on my body will have been perfect for burning fat while activating all the muscles in my body, walking all day with weight on my back, short bursts of intense activity with long drawn out stints of low intensity movement, call it desert intervals!
5. Everything is sweeter when it is earned.
Me and 3 men were sat with our backs against a compound wall. We were talking about what we missed the most about home. I knew what mine was, I thought about it every few days.
When I used to go home on leave, I would sleep at my dads house, on a little blue sofa in the spare room. The room didn’t seem like much to me when I used to go home, it had a blue sofa, a little pine table and a tele. But when I was away it seemed like paradise. All I thought about was sitting on that little blue sofa and putting ‘Peep Show’ on. I can still remember the image I would hold in my head, people would be talking about the clubs, the women, the holidays, but all I was thinking about was that little blue sofa, and spending a day doing absolutely nothing.
There is no value in relaxing when you haven’t put the work in. Someone who spends all day every day in front of the tele hasn’t earned the rest they are getting, that is laziness and those people will never be truly happy. But when you have pushed yourself past your limits, when you have pushed your pain to the side and shown disciplined determination towards your goals, when you finally do sit down, it will feel 10 times as sweet, because you have earned that rest, and you’l rest with a big fat smile on your face. (Read This: You Don’t Deserve a Vacation)
6. Life needs to be simple.
Our minds aren’t made to worry about bills, events and petty dramas. We are designed to focus on one thing, we are made to have an objective, a clear task, and once we have achieved that, we move onto the next thing. Our bodies work best in a simple routine, and that is what operations offer.
- Stag On
There are curveballs of course, and no plan survives a contact, but taken away from the stresses of every day life, despite being placed in what would seem much more stressful, gives our mind clarity and an understanding of what needs to be done.
You never have to think to far ahead. You tackle things as they come. Your actions although purposeful and tough, are simple.
I apply these 6 lessons to my daily routine and my habits. It changed how I think about tasks I don’t want to do but I know will push me forward. It changed my approach to training. It made me realise what I have and I am lucky for, and what I have that I don’t need. Everyone has been through tough times, and lessons are learnt, but without implementing what you have learnt, our lives wont change. Decide what you want and make a simple yet demanding plan to get there. Stay disciplined in your pursuit. Enjoy your rest once it has been earned.
About The Author
Name: Johnny Collins