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‘Not Dead, Can’t Quit’ -no limit thinking with Navy SEAL Veteran Richard Machowicz

The warrior knows if he chooses the weakest path,
the only person he truly cheats is himself.
— Richard Machowicz, “Unleashing the Warrior

When we decided to add “The Big Saturday Interview” as a feature to TradingMarkets, we spent a great deal of time discussing who should be the person we launch with. A top hedge fund manager? A money manager who is on the Forbes 400? Some great, but little-known trader? All good ideas. But we decided that there was no one better to start with than someone who has lived his life on the extreme edge of personal achievement and who has a philosophy that’s the backbone of that achievement.

This past summer I recommended to the members of TradingMarkets a book written by a friend of mine, Richard Machowicz titled “Unleashing The Warrior Within: Using the 7 Principles of Combat to Achieve Your Goals.” Many of you read the book and wrote me asking if I could get Richard to come onto the site. For those of you who don’t know who Richard is, he is a 10-year Navy SEAL veteran and was a fighting instructor while he was with the SEALs. I’ve had the good fortune of being able to work with Richard on both a physical training basis and a mental training basis. Richard only moves in one direction and that is dead straight ahead. He’s intense, extremely focused and highly intelligent. You only need to spend a few hours with him to know why major figures in the entertainment industry, business world and now an NBA team rely upon his training to help them achieve further success in their professions.
The following interview took place in early November 2002. I hope you’ll enjoy it and will be able to apply some of the principles that Richard lives by. It’s an extreme way to live one’s life, but it is the path taken by many successful people throughout history.

Larry Connors: Welcome, Richard. I have a number of questions for you, and our main focus in this interview will be on extreme achievement. Our members tend to be type A individuals, many of whom have been successful in a previous profession and are now trying to succeed in the trading industry, which is a very, very difficult game. It is an extremely mental game which has less to do with having the ability to get in and out of positions than being able to sustain losses and handle chaos in those positions. Most people can’t handle it. The failure rate in the industry is high. And it’s high with people who are incredibly intelligent. It also has to do with the fact that trading tends to be counterintuitive. That confuses people because they have previously succeeded by being intuitive and logical. Trading is just the opposite. What we’re going to try to do here is focus on achievement — why people achieve great success — not only in trading, but in all walks of life.

Richard J. Machowicz: Sounds great.

Connors: The main thing that people are interested in is the fact that you were a successful Navy SEAL. Let’s talk about the extreme training process that one has to go through to become a SEAL. As I see it, it becomes a mastery over two things. The first thing is the mastery over the SEALs which is one skill set, and the other thing is the mastery over yourself, which is harder to do. Do you want to talk about that and take it from there?

Machowicz: Sure. What it takes to make it as a SEAL and to achieve extreme success in anything in life really comes down to one thing: How bad do you want it? There are times when you think that the SEAL instructors are literally trying to kill you. You have to be able to generate the capacity to keep moving forward in spite of that fact. Or at least in spite of that belief. I think that’s the real challenge, but I also think that it translates to everything you want to do really badly in life.
It’s not some magic formula that’s going to allow somebody to go after the thing they want to do. It’s the consistent progress or moving toward the thing they want to do, regardless of whatever thing comes up — and I call that thing “quitting.” That quitting conversation will show up a hundred different ways. You can say, “This thing is bullshit. This thing is crazy. I can’t believe I’m doing this.” Or you can create things like, “Well, that person’s just trying to hold me back,” or “I’m just not good enough.” Whatever… I’m telling you, quitting sounds very reasonable. Literally, it’s a very simple process of getting on target and moving forward vs. the conversation that leads to quitting. And those conversations show up every day for people. And really, that’s the battle. That’s the war. If there’s
a war going on, really the war is within yourself and one you have to confront day after day.

The majority of people who get selected to SEAL training will quit, drop out or simply go away. You’ve got to be able to generate within yourself the mind frame that you must always be going forward. And you’ve got to want the thing bad enough to be willing to do anything to get there, regardless of and in spite of all the obstacles, in spite of all the hurdles, in spite of all the doubts that get in…the stress and the pain, you’ve got to keep going forward.

Connors: Is it necessary to have the mind frame to reach extreme goals that you are either going to achieve the goals or die? Because that seems to be the common characteristic for many people, such as Navy SEALs, who achieve extreme success. It’s tough for somebody to sustain that type of mind
frame, but is that the type of mind frame it takes to get there?

Machowicz: Well, it makes it very binary. You’re either going forward and accomplishing or you’re not. It’s very clear under pressure, under stress, under doubt, under hesitation, under pain, under intense fear, to make that clear decision. You’re either going forward toward it, or you’re not. It gets all the excuses out of there. I’m telling you: Quitting is very reasonable. I can have a million reasons to quit. But can you find the one reason to keep going forward? And literally, by saying, “Well, I’m going to keep going until I die.” As long as you’re still breathing, as long as you have a single pulse in your body, you can still go forward. I think it just makes it very easy to distinguish whether you’re going forward or you’re not.

Under stress and pressure, you think about the doubt… and it’s just self doubt. I think everybody has self doubt. Everybody has those things that occasionally creep in. I don’t care how em you are. You’ve still got to be able to go one step further. And as long as you can breathe, you can still go one step further. You’re not dead. And so I live by the axiom, “Not dead. Can’t quit.”

I got a quote that really drove me forward when I was trying to get ready for the SEAL team and getting ready for BUD/S. It’s a six-month course and
people get badly injured. We had four broken necks, broken legs, broken arms in the class. It’s a severe, intense course. And they have this thing
everybody knows about called Hell Week in which 80% of the participants fail. I think we had a class of about 140 people and eventually we finished with 23 or 24 people graduating. That’s a significant drop off, especially considering the screening process you had to go through just to qualify for the class. I was like 150 lb. soaking wet at 6 ft. I was desperate to have some kind of advantage. Some kind of thing that would give me an edge. When it was going bad, I needed something to keep me going forward.

I was fortunate to have a friend whose brother had made it through SEAL camp. I didn’t know the guy personally, but what happened was he sent me a picture. On the picture was his platoon jumping out of an airplane. It gave me a visual representation of what I wanted to be able to accomplish. But more importantly, when I turned the picture over, there was a quote. On the back of this picture was a quote that said, ” A man can only be defeated in two ways: if he gives up, or if he dies.” That radically shifted where I was ever going to come from that day to the day I die. A man can only be defeated in two ways — he gives up or he dies. I carried that quote with me until the ink disappeared off that piece of paper.

Connors: Great mind frame.

Your means of execution to achieve your goals is centered around a phrase you coined: “targets, weapons, movement.” You choose your target, which is basically what you are trying to accomplish. This target will dictate what weapons you will use to achieve the target. And your movement will be based upon the weapons you will be using. I know this concept is new for many people who are reading this for the first time, so let’s walk through it.

Machowicz: Yeah. I created this thing called the play dynamic for combat. Basically, it’s: Targets dictate the weapons. Weapons dictate movement. As long as you are very clear on what your target is, you don’t even have to think, and weapons will show up. You don’t have to think and the appropriate movement will show up. That way, you see the things that matter vs. all the things that don’t. That’s what we’re competing for on a second-by-second basis, especially under stress and pressure. You’re competing with all the information that doesn’t matter vs. the specific information that does. And what happens is most people fixate on the minutiae that doesn’t matter vs. the one laser point that will drive them to the thing they want to accomplish.

Let me give you a specific example: Let’s say I’m coming directly at you to kill you. At that brief second, you have a target. And what is your target? You sure as hell better take me out. And the specific targets to take me out are my groin, eyes or throat. So depending upon which target you have chosen (groin eyes or throat) will dictate which weapons you will use. For example, your knee for my groin, your hand for my throat, or your fingers for my eyes. And after you
decide which weapons you will use, the movement becomes automatic. During that brief second of time, nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter how you look. It doesn’t matter if you’re late for an appointment. I doesn’t matter if somebody stiffed you for $20. That’s all bullshit! The only thing that matters at that
second is targets, weapons, movement. Otherwise, you’re dead.

Connors: The target applies to everything in life. For the SEALs, you guys went quickly into a foreign country to execute a mission. That mission became your target. That’s all that mattered. But that same focus applies to everything in life. I recently read an article by a professor from Harvard Business School.

His research found that there is no formula to business greatness. There are, however, themes, and the number one theme was a clear mission. So essentially, the people who achieved greatness in their businesses had a clear mission. They had a clear target. And when it comes down to trading, it is the same thing. A clear target can be wanting to earn $1 million a year, or wanting to become the #1 hedge fund manager in the world. That becomes a clear target.

Machowicz: Yes, for sure. You just talked about big targets. I also categorize targets as primary and secondary… Once you get a target that big, I call it the mission. Inside of that mission, there have to be incremental targets. In other words, there is a target before the next target. I call that target the primary target which will, if you hit it and knock it down, set up the secondary target.

Connors: Give us some examples. Let’s say we know what the ultimate target is, what the mission is. What are examples of the primary targets here within this mission?

Machowicz: In a SEAL team context, what is our mission? Let’s say, we’re supposed to do a kidnap, what they call a body snatch. In other words, we need to collect the general. We go to grab a specific person because that person has intelligence and we need to capture that person alive. That is the mission. There can then be literally a hundred or two hundred different targets inside that mission. Now all that matters is accomplishing the mission, but before you can accomplish the mission, you have to do planning. You make a target of setting up a good plan. In other words, creating a time, a very specific time frame where we’ve got to have a good plan by this time. Period. The end. Now that’s the target. Now you start to break up little things. Ultimately, inside of a mission you have insertion — you could be jumping out of an airplane or coming in by a boat or being inserted via submarine. Then you have infiltration — the process of getting to the target, the main objective. And then you have the actions you do, what they call actions on the objective. What specifically are you going to do on the objective? Then you have to leave the objective and exfiltrate, in other words get out of that dangerous territory now that you’ve told everybody in the world that you’re probably in that town —

Connors: So are these all targets on the way?

Machowicz: Yes, because if I started focusing on exfiltration before I actually got the guy, what are the odds of me being able to get the guy, or to actually infiltrate?

Connors: So it’s one step at a time?

Machowicz: You’ve got to.

Connors: Let’s talk about this in trading terms then. In trading terms, your first target would be to identify the setup. Then it would be to properly get into that setup. Then it’s to properly put in your stops. Then from there it’s to properly start taking profits on your position and move your stops. You’re going one step at a time. You’re not thinking about losing money or how you’re going to spend the money or whether or not this is your third win in a row. You’re not jumping ahead four steps — your total focus is on simply executing the next step.

Machowicz: Exactly. Which helps you stay focused on the main target.

Connors: And it takes the chaos out of the situation.

Machowicz: Exactly! In other words, thoughts or feelings or things that don’t belong get thrown by the wayside and only what is essential to accomplishing your overall mission is kept in the mix.

Connors: So targets dictate weapons; weapons dictate movement. We’ve talked about the targets, let’s talk about weapons. How does this all work?

Machowicz: Really, when we talk about weapons, when I use it as a physical metaphor because usually I try to teach it through a physical metaphor, I want you to develop weapons that easily knock down the target without you getting hurt. And that’s real important, for example, when you talk about using stops in your trading. Minimizing losses is one of the steps in helping you hit your target, and one of the weapons you use to do this is to use stops. What you’re trying to do is use specific weapons to maximize a profit or maximize an income without putting yourself in major jeopardy.

Connors: Go further…

Machowicz: The weapons are… let’s call it a skill set. The weapons could be skills, they could be strategies. They could be actual tools. They could be the technology you are using. It depends on how you’re looking at it. What your target is. Again, it really depends on what your target is. But most likely it’s skills
or equipment, gear… whatever it is that helps you knock down the target. And movement is simply the act of making the weapon hit the target.

Connors: I see this a lot where traders will not pull the trigger on a trade… they have a movement problem. They have everything put together, they know they’re supposed to take the trade, they know where the entry is and then when it comes time to pull the trigger, they won’t do it. That’s the movement you’re talking about. They become paralyzed.

Machowicz: Well, that’s what happens. Somewhere in this chain of “targets dictate weapons, weapons dictate movement,” some place between target and weapon, the whole world can fit in there. When I say the whole world — your whole world of doubt, second-guessing, hesitation, fear, the unknown. And the longer it takes for you to pull the trigger — like you said — the more that doubt, second-guessing, hesitation, pain and fear creep in to that mechanism.

Connors: How do you get them to not creep in?

Machowicz: Go back to the target! Focus only on this one thing. Just ask yourself, “What is the target? What is the target?” This incredibly reduces the chaos and brings everything back into focus.

Connors: Always focus on the target.

Machowicz: Yes. And the second half of this is having guts.

What I like to do — basically it’s a really simple question. I do this thing called the “gut check.” I was really trying to find out what it was going to take for me to
be able to just really handle BUD/S and become a SEAL. What it was going to take for me? Was it going to be the kind of shorts I wore that would reduce chafing? Would it be some kind of socks I wore to reduce some of the chafing or maybe try and keep my feet warm? Was it going to be some kind of supplement that was going to help me? It turned out that all that stuff just was garbage. That didn’t matter. The one thing that kept coming back to me when I would check in, trying to find out what that secret was, was you have to have guts. You’ve just got to have guts. I got the experience of learning what guts
was by sticking through to the end. I got that visceral feeling of what “guts” was. So what I wanted to do was develop a very simple way so that you could get a “gut” check. If you could answer yes to these three questions, you have the guts you need to take on anything in life.

Connors: What are those three questions?

Machowicz: The first question is: Are you willing to make a choice?

Now, a lot of people make choices every day. They choose to watch TV, or to do something else, or they choose to be nice to somebody or they choose not to be nice to somebody. But rarely do they make a choice that would substantially improve the quality of their lives. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the person willing to play the game, and yes, a lot of people are willing to make choices. But when we come to the second question, we start losing people.

We probably lose half the people on the second question: Do you have the courage to start?

A lot of people talk the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk, they disappear. Really, that’s it. Are you willing to step up and show up and get the work done?

Connors: Why do you think half the people stop?

Machowicz: I think people are afraid.

Connors: Why?

Machowicz: Why? Number one, I think people don’t think they’re good enough, for the most part. People think there’s something inherently wrong with themselves.

Connors: Self doubt.

Machowicz: Yes, they just don’t feel they’re worthy. They’re afraid to even try. They’re so sure they’re going to fail. They’re so sure they’re going to get screwed. They’re so sure it’s going to fall apart that they refuse to even show up in the first place.

Connors: How do you overcome that?

Machowicz: How? Recognize you don’t even know what’s going to happen. You do not know from second to second what is going to happen in your life. You’ve got an idea. You think you know. But the reality is what’s going to happen ten seconds from now, you really don’t know. What’s going to happen an hour from now? You really don’t know. A year from now? You really don’t know. That’s the state, that’s the condition of our lives.

Connors: So, if you don’t try, you do know that you’re not going to succeed.

Machowicz: But you know what? You didn’t even have an opportunity. The mind doesn’t want to even go there. It will just assume that it knows that you can’t succeed, so it validates the fact that, guess what? “I know everything.”

Connors: How do you trip the mind up to make it believe it will succeed?

Machowicz: I don’t think you have to trip the mind up. I mean you can do that. You can short-circuit that process. You can use fear to manipulate you and drive you, but your results tend to be overblown and out of control. What I’m more interested in is seeing guys be able to say, “Listen, this is the target, and the fact of the matter is that I don’t know if I can accomplish it or not, but I am going to try. I’m just going to go one step further, I’m going to go one little foot at a time, inch by inch if I have to. But I’m just going to keep going forward and stay connected to the target. Whatever that target is. I’m just going to take one more little tiny step, one more breath in that direction.”

Connors: And the third question is…

Machowicz: Do you have the guts to finish?

Do you have the guts to succeed at the mission you set out to achieve? Do you know what the only common characteristic there is amongst the thousands of people who haven’t made it through Hell Week?

Connors: What’s that?

Machowicz: They quit.

Connors: So the things that you’re teaching here are not just appropriate for Navy SEALs, they are appropriate for any walk of life, no matter what you’re doing.

Machowicz: That’s absolutely correct.

Connors: You’ve obviously been around extremely successful achievement-oriented people who have achieved extreme levels of success in their field, including your teammates in the SEALs. I’ve read that from application time to the finish of BUD/S only one in 6000 get through the process. So these are people who are executing at a level in life beyond what most people can comprehend. You also work directly with individuals who are professional athletes, top names in the entertainment industry and some very successful businessmen. If you could state a single characteristic, common theme, what would it be for their success?

Machowicz: A very clear target and perseverance.

When I look at the guys I’ve worked with that have been successful, the one thing I see consistently is the commitment to finish. Yes, they were willing to make a choice, they had the courage to start, but the thing that made the difference was the commitment to finish no matter what. Even if they were going to finish dead last, they were going to finish. I think that’s the big thing. People do not finish what they start. A lot of people will start things but never see it through to the end.

Connors: These guys pick a target and are always moving forward to that target. Is that correct?

Machowicz: Absolutely. If you’re at least going forward to the target, you’re always moving forward in your world. And that’s the most important thing. You have one life.
You’ve got to play it full out. If you play it half-assed, if you play it partially, I’m telling you, on your deathbed, you’ll be wondering why you ever were born.

Connors: Going back to the SEALs, had that become the mind frame, you’d be killed, you’d be out immediately?

Machowicz: Oh, yeah, I mean what happens is — Vince Lombardi had a great quote, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Literally, what happens with BUD/s, you will have work that will have mentally and physically fatigued you to the point where you only have to blink for a second, when you’re on your third or fourth day of Hell Week, and you’re freezing cold and you’re miserable and you just saw three other people quit. You only have to have one moment… it only takes you 30 seconds to quit, and you’ve destroyed all that time that you’ve put in. You lose sight of the target, and it is over.

One of the things I did early during Hell Week was I would say, “Well, I made it through one evolution, I can make it through one more. I made it through two. I can make it through one more. I made it through three, I can make it through one more. If I made it through four evolutions, I can make it through one more. If I made it through four, I could probably do another four. If I did eight, I could probably do another eight. Oh, I’ve got one day down, let me try another day. I got two days down, I bet I can do one more day. I got three days down. You know what? I know I can do three more days.”

Just let it go. And next thing you know, you start building this motor of momentum, this engine of momentum that just keeps driving you forward, keeps driving you forward, keeps driving you forward. Because I’m telling you, that conversation is not a conversation you’re going away from. That is a conversation of moving forward. And moving forward toward a target that you set for yourself and refusing to quit. People say, “refuse to lose.” I say “refuse to quit.” Recognize the dialogue that leads to quitting and you won’t have to worry about losing.

Connors: Paul “Bear” Bryant’s famous quote, “The first time you quit it’s hard, the second time is a little easier, and the third time you quit, you don’t even
have to think about it.”

Machowicz: Perfect.

Connors: You talk about this in your book. Act as though it is impossible to fail.

Machowicz: Act as though it is impossible to fail. If you are doing these things, if you are clearly on your target, if you are persistent and committed to finishing and you are really committed to results vs. reason, you will succeed. Success is not some magic mystery out there. It is clear connection to the target.

Connors: Let me go back and ask you a question regarding chaos. During your combat missions, your life was very much on the line. If something goes wrong, you’re dead. How do you eliminate the stress of that knowledge?

Machowicz: Stay focused only on the target, that’s how!

Connors: And they teach you that in the SEALs? They teach you how to —

Machowicz: It’s not even “teach,” it’s just “stay focused.” What is the target? You may have to ask yourself that moment to moment. What do I have to do now? What’s the target now? This moment, this moment, this moment…

Always come back to the target. I can’t stress that em enough. I don’t care what’s happening…the universe could be falling apart around you. As long as you keep going, “What’s the target? What do I have to do right now? What’s the target right this second?” The results will take care of themselves. And to the outside world it will look like nothing ever phases you.

Connors: Summarize your message to us.

Machowicz: A single-minded focus on hitting the target and never quitting. It worked for me in my 10 years with the Navy SEALs, it works for the professional athletes I work with, and it works for the other successful people I work with. Live with the mind frame, “Not dead. Can’t quit.”

Connors: Thank you, Richard.

Machowicz: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Article created by Larry Connors |

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