Hell Week, if you’ve never tried it, is a particularly vicious series of sadistic torments that anyone wishing to become a US Navy SEAL must endure without quitting in order to make the grade.
Their own website describes it as the toughest training in the US military, or “five and a half days of cold, wet, brutally difficult operational training on fewer than four hours sleep.”
It involves carrying a very large log around and doing interminable press ups while instructors bellow insults to crank up the misery.
Worst of all, to my mind, it requires entering the sea with your clothes on.
And staying there.
Even in films it still astonishes me to see anyone jump into the sea, a river – any body of water – without first removing their clothes, making some show of folding them and putting on more appropriate gear.
The way actors march in and out of the ocean in their shoes, or cross rivers up to their chests fully clothed makes me want to look urgently around at the audience and say “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
I had to watch The Revenant through my fingers.
So to put oneself forward to do same in real life, for hours on end, with all that sand in your socks, a backpack full of sea – no one could argue that those who stick it out don’t deserve some sort of beret for that.
Inadvertently, however, the designers of the “event” have also come up with a branding expert’s dream in the name “Hell Week”.
Two short nouns of equal length, one sulphurous and evocative, the other mundane, finite and open to no interpretation at all.
Like so many unlikely bedfellows, they work together brilliantly, which has made the haunted-house frisson of the “Hell Week” label very attractive to others.
Clearly, my principles regarding the wearing of clothing in water rule me out of ever becoming a SEAL.
Fortunately though, there are now alternative versions available.
This is one: Hell Week, Seven Days to Be Your Best Self, by Erik Bertrand Larssen.
Erik is Norwegian, a former soldier who did a real Hell Week in order to join his country’s special forces, and is now a “performance consultant who energises people into successful careers and happier lives.”
His version of Hell Week is designed – like the real thing – to show people how they are capable of far more than they imagined, and that that revelation lasts a lifetime.
“You can take a lot more than you think,” was his key insight from all that business with the logs.
As someone who worked in the magazine industry until large parts of that economic sector decided to lie down in a ditch and wait for the end, I need to move on to the next thing.
But without someone shouting in my face, telling me to put that silly cocktail down, it’s easy to let the days slide past with financial salvation remaining as remote as ever.
And with the line of people eager to employ my services yet to take shape outside my door, I need to find, from somewhere, an unstoppable determination to set up my own business or find a new position.
Hence my purchase of Mr Larssen’s manual.
The first few pages are extremely promising.
“The distinctions between the winners and the rest of us are surprisingly small (his italics),” he writes.
This is excellent news.
The winners “pay attention to detail…develop exceptional habits…(and) are better at making more of the small positive decisions in their everyday life.”
And encouragingly “It isn’t a question of talent. It’s a question of choice.”
Mr Larssen came to this conclusion the hard way, when a traffic accident brought his military career to a premature end and left him in constant pain.
His big choice moment came when he decided after a period of despair to treat his adversity not as a moment of rotten luck that had ruined his life and embittered him, but as an opportunity.
Having made this selection, he was off, and now has business executives and Olympic athletes handing over a portion of their wealth and treasure to be told how they can best get their own act together.
“Embrace adversity” is his first preparatory instruction.
One is also urged to “Gather Feedback”, “Define Goals” – the eyes slide over this stuff a bit – and perhaps inevitably, there’s quite a bit of PE.
The program requires at least an hour of exercise a day and at least two of the sessions are to be “extremely vigorous”.
I’m quite happy with the time demand – I already do a lot more than that walking everywhere – it’s the extreme vigour that’s missing.
Then, to your normal routine, you apply the following for one week:
- Get up at 5 every day
- Look your absolute best at all times
- Exercise to the extreme
- Stick to a healthy diet (all junk food and alcohol is verboten)
- Take charge of your digital life (no personal social media during work hours, no television at all)
- Get hyperfocused (trans: “make work only about work”)
- Step up your game (be positive, focussed, dedicated, get stuck in and be the agent of change)
And to this foundation add, on Monday, a thorough analysis of one’s habits –because “Excellence”, according to Aristotle is “not an act, but a habit.”
And on Tuesday, something about “getting into the mode”, which sadly, is nothing to do with dressing fashionably.
After 48 hours immersed in the Norwegian method, I can confirm:
- The 5am start is not a problem
- I like to think I look my best at all times anyway. It’s not entirely clear what the Norwegian ex-para version of “best at all times” means, but from some of the photos of him on Google, it may involve wearing a tie at maximum tightness. I have stuck with my own interpretation.
- For “extreme vigour” I’ve attempted to run the 2 x 5.5 mile walks I do each day, and have discovered that if you can walk, you can run. This may be of immense metaphorical benefit.
- The only chance I have of applying any sort of pause to alcohol is a Norwegian soldier telling me to give it a rest.
- “Digital life” definitely needs “taking charge of”.
- I’m fairly sure I didn’t reach speeds of “hyperfocus”, but Day 1 at least was abnormally productive, and Day 2 also above normal, although less “hyperfocussed” than “1”.
The getting in the mode thing, though, I may have to go back and read that again.
It’s something to do with being in your “optimal mode” at key times.
I feel I may be failing this module.
But no matter – I shall overcome!
(To be continued…)