6 College Mind Hacks From a Navy SEAL
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Politics and Activism

6 College Mind Hacks From a Navy SEAL

Jocko Willink gives you his six mind hacks that college students need to succeed.

6 College Mind Hacks From a Navy SEAL

College. For many young millennials it’s their first real taste of adversity they’ve ever had in their entire lives. Out on their own, independent, and free to forge their own path! All wonderful things, until reality sets in. This isn’t high school anymore and your dorm room isn’t your mother’s house. It’s all on you now. Bills pile up, you’re working 35 to 40 hours a week in a non-career opportunity job, and on top of that your education DEMANDS the entirety of your attention. We’ve all heard that phrase from one or more overzealous professors who’s likely never experienced life outside academia “School is your job, if want to succeed then you can’t be employed.” Is usually how it goes, but that is simply not reality. You need food, right? Food costs money, right? Better get a job. Although in the U.S currently you will receive more return on time invested in education than any other nation; thirty percent of first year students just aren’t able to handle the workload required to succeed and ultimately drop out according to collegeatlas.org. Those who do continue on to graduation would likely tell you of the ‘hell’ that they had to endure to earn that piece of paper. Now this may all sound a little melodramatic but truthfully for those who haven’t truly had to experience adversity until this point in their life, college is one of the ultimate crucibles.

But what would someone who’s not only faced the challenge of earning a college degree but did so while maintaining a senior leadership position in the United States Navy SEAL teams have to say about the woes of young college students? Enter retired SEAL and author of "Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win" by Jocko Willink.

Jocko Willink obtained his English degree while serving as an active duty Navy SEAL. He states on his weekly podcast "Jocko Podcast" that he chose “English because he knew that as a SEAL officer he would need to communicate with a great many of people and English seemed like the best fit.” (Paraphrased). Jocko served two combat deployments to Iraq most notably during the Battle of Ramadi and his team Task Unit Bruiser is the most decorated SEAL team of the Iraq war. Currently Jocko is one of the owners and co-founders of Echelon Front a business advisement firm utilizing lessons learned from combat to assist business leaders in maximizing their own sense of ownership to improve productivity and efficiency.

When I corresponded with Jocko on twitter and presented him with the question of how college students need to think in order to better adapt, improvise, and overcome the challenge of school. He gave me these six “Mind Hacks.” I will do my best to translate and expand for the reader's understanding.

  • Extreme Ownership
  • Discipline Equals Freedom
  • Prioritize and Execute
  • Hard Work
  • Default Aggressive
  • Balance.


The first thing Jocko would likely have to offer when asked any question regarding leadership, discipline, or success. Jocko has invested so much into the concept of Extreme Ownership that he wrote an entire book on the topic. The basic definition and application of Extreme Ownership to the college student is this…Ultimately it is ALL on you! Your homework, your day to day job, meeting deadlines, and studying for your exams. IT’S ALL ON YOU! When you get a bad mark on a test it is not the professor’s fault, you should have made the effort to fully prepare. If you sleep through a morning class, it’s not your advisor's fault for not getting you into a later session. You should have set three alarms and made sure you were up and ready to go! For everything that goes wrong in your college life you could easily associate blame on some external force but that’s not getting you anywhere, that’s not making you better. Ultimately you are responsible for your success or failure in school and life. You need to own it!


I know, it sounds strange right? Why would you need discipline unless you were doing something that you didn’t want to do? If you are doing something that you don’t want to be doing then how are you free? Have you ever sat down to knock out a term paper although it wasn’t due for three weeks? Within four hours you’ve written a rough draft, and if you’re an exceptional writer then maybe you even completed a final draft ready to be turned in. Now you have three whole weeks to contribute to other activities. You’ve freed yourself of that commitment for the time being.


The dreaded finals week is upon you. Multiple classes, each demanding countless hours of study time to prepare for their respective exams, you need to complete one more essay for college writing, and in addition, your roommate is planning a party to celebrate the end of the semester, you have been scheduled for overtime at work, and can’t find coverage! Ok that’s a lot of stuff in a very short period of time. How are you ever going to take care of all these things that in your mind currently are each of equal importance? What we in the Army call establishing priorities of work, Jocko calls Prioritize and Execute. The basic concept being that you need to objectively take a hard look at your schedule and determine what on that list absolutely, positively needs to be done first. Maybe they all need to get done but keep in mind deadlines. You have a term paper due the Monday of next week and your finals don’t start until that next Tuesday? Then perhaps you should be working towards completing your essay before you crack open the books. Your friend is done with school on Thurs and having his party that following night but you have your last final that next morning. You need to prioritize studying before playing and make sure you are absolutely prepared for your final. If you are not, refer back to #1 and #2.


So all of this stuff sounds great on paper but ultimately the real world is going to present you with these challenges and you are going to need to apply these principals, don’t be shocked when you find out that it’s not as easy as it sounds and you actually need to put in the work. Yes there are going to be late nights, yes you are going to make mistakes, and you are definitely not going to absorb every word of information as it is fed to you in the classroom, some content may need to be reread twice, three, maybe even six different times before it sets in. Basically it’s going to be HARD, and you know what? To quote Jocko` “GOOD! Now get after it.” Yeah it’s hard, if it was easy then do you think thirty percent of first year students would drop out? It takes commitment, and it takes work. The real world doesn’t make deliveries to the safe space. You need to get out there and earn it! It all starts in that classroom. Have some legitimacy behind that piece of paper and work for it.


Be the person who wakes up and when their feet hits the ground the devil says “Oh hell, they’re awake.” You need to attack life. Every day you need to wake up with the purpose and motivation that you are going conquer whatever is thrown at you. This isn’t a mindset that you put yourself into, this needs to be the default setting. It’s beyond motivation. Its hunger, you need to want that degree, or career! Approach every obstacle with not only a can do attitude but a WILL DO one!


We’ve talked a great deal about motivation, discipline, and “getting after it” but let’s talk about something just as important. For your own mental health and state of mind it is beyond imperative that you find the balance. Remember that friends party a few paragraphs back? Let’s say that you finish all you’re studying and you are beyond confident that you are going to dominate this test. You’ve fulfilled all your priorities of work and now you get to play. You go to the party and have a few drinks, making sure not to overdo yourself. After all you don’t want to lose too much clarity before the exam. That is balance. Life is about enjoyment, the entire reason any of us are in school to begin with is to achieve a career that will afford us a better quality of life. You work hard as student, you deserve to play hard from time to time.

So there you have it. The six basic principals of college success as experienced, tested, and certified by Jocko WIllink. Of course you could easily expand this list as many twitter followers pointed out during my conversation with Jocko but for the sake of shortness, we will stick to these six.

For those readers wishing to learn more about Jocko Willink or Echelon Front you can find him at @jockowillink or www.echelonfront.com you can also find his podcast by clicking itunes.com/jockopodcast or by searching Jocko Podcast in your preferred podcast app.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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