It’s Not The Strongest And Smartest Who Will Survive

It’s always something… the real estate crash of 2008, 09/11, COVID, inflation, recession, oil prices, and geopolitical conflicts. There’s always something testing our financial mettle; and some are up to the task, and some aren’t.

Are you ready for the next storm, and do you have what it takes to survive?

Speaking of tough tests, Navy SEAL training is considered the toughest in the military. The first phase, BUD/S, assesses candidates’ endurance and conditioning, water competency, camaraderie, and grit, culminating in “Hell Week.” Of an average 170-person class, only about 30 make it to Week Five. John Gugala, What Every Man Can Learn From the Navy SEALS About Grit and Mental Toughness,

According to Darren McBurnett, a 24-year Navy SEAL veteran, it’s not the strongest or the fittest that survive Navy SEAL BUD/S training; it’s the ones who can adapt to adversity.  “Every once in a while, you’ll have one of those unicorns show up,” McBurnett says.

They’re the men who seem to get illogically stronger as they go through BUD/S. But they’re rare. The guys who look like extras in 300 – the ones who clock the fastest obstacle course laps, lead the runs, and swim laps around their peers – drop out almost immediately upon reaching Hell Week. Take away warmth, sleep, cleanliness, and even air, and, to paraphrase a Johnny Cash song: ‘What’s all them muscles gonna do?’

In the same article, McBurnett made a statement about how “when other candidates see men quit, there’s an inward-looking, self-pitying look that spreads like poison. Once that seed is planted, it’s easy to go down the same route.” In other words, quitting can be contagious.

The infectious effect of quitting among Navy SEAL candidates reminds me of the Bystander Effect.

This phenomenon occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency, against a bully, or during an assault or other crime. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any one of them to provide help to a person in distress. People are more likely to take action in a crisis when few or no other witnesses present.

The Bystander Effect came to the forefront in the case of Kitty Genovese in New York City in 1964. The 28-year-old woman was stabbed to death outside her apartment. It was reported that dozens of neighbors failed to step in to assist or call the police.

According to psychologists, one of the principal explanations for the Bystander Effect is social influence. Social influence means that individuals monitor the behavior of those around them to determine how to act – not unlike herd behavior.

During the next financial crisis, will you succumb to the Bystander Effect and let the actions of others dictate your actions? Like Navy SEAL candidates who find it easier to quit because of seeing others quit, will you follow others to your detriment?

Navy SEAL training aligns with Darwin’s Origin of the Species, which tells us it’s not necessarily the most intellectual or the strongest of the species that survives. Still, it’s the ones that can best adapt and adjust to a changing environment.

In the world of investing, it’s not the ones with the degrees, the ones with the highest paying jobs, or the ones born with a silver spoon in their hands that survive a financial crisis; it’s the ones who can adapt.

If you were to assess yourself, how would you rate your ability to adjust and adapt to change? Have you shown resilience in the past, and what have you changed?

During the next crisis, here are ways you can prevent yourself from falling under the Bystander Effect:

Ignore the masses around you.

The masses are usually wrong in a crisis. They run when they should stand their ground and stand still when they should be running. In investing, the successful investors zig when others zag.

Seek out mentors or small groups that operate and think on the fringes/bleeding edge.

If you want to survive Navy SEAL Hell Week, the most logical place to go for advice is those who have already survived it.

Don’t be afraid to question the norm or “standards.”

Question the institutional rules and the indoctrination you’ve received throughout your schooling, career, and adult life that has told you to do things a certain way. All those fitness gurus and high school football heroes who all thought they were cut out for Navy SEAL training but quit all drank their own Kool-Aid and the institutional Kool-Aid that made them believe they were superior. They weren’t because of their inability to adapt to adversity.

Take time away to think and learn critical thinking.

Train your brain to adapt to new situations and circumstances.

Expect change.

Expect the unexpected. Know that the next life-changing event is coming. We don’t know what that event is but prepare yourself to adapt to whatever that event is.

Seek out opportunities, and don’t ignore those that show up at your doorstep.

There are opportunities in every situation, and know that they only really exist for those who take action. Otherwise, opportunities that are ignored are merely events. Everyone experiences events. Not everyone recognizes opportunities in those events.

Assess your risk tolerance and develop your ability to accept more risk.

You can’t take advantage of more opportunities if you’re not open to taking on more risks. Otherwise, you’ll stay where you are.

Prepare yourself as if the next life-changing event is just around the corner. Will you be a bystander and follow the crowd? Or will you take matters into your own hands and adapt and do whatever it takes to survive and prosper?

History has favored those willing to adjust to a new world and new circumstances. Those who stand around watching will get left behind.



Mike Ayala has owned and operated mobile home parks since 2007, and has been active in construction and management since he was 15 years old. He graduated from the Associated Builders and Contractors 4-year project management program at age 22 and then became a licensed instructor. He is also the host of the Investing for Freedom podcast.