Recently, I was listening to a Navy Seal candidate talking about his induction.
150 tough men start Seal training, only about 15 actually finish.
The instructors do anything they can to make them drop out.
This Navy Seal was talking about the part they call Hell Week.
That’s the part of the selection process where instructors try hardest to break the men.
For seven days they get no sleep, just pain.
The conditions are designed to push them way beyond the limits of normal endurance.
Physical discomfort beyond the point where the mind says stop.
The instructors’ job is to weed men out just short of killing them.
This Seal candidate said the toughest part of Hell Week was about halfway through, in the middle of the night the candidates had to wade into freezing cold surf, then lay down.
Then stay there, as the icy water kept breaking over them, hour after hour.
He said the cold was beyond anything he’d ever experienced.
It seeped into his arms, his legs, his mind, until he was shaking like a jackhammer.
The instructors knew that the main enemy isn’t physical it’s mental.
The mind just keeps asking again and again: “Why am I doing this? Why?”
So instead of making it physically worse, the instructors addressed their minds.
When the men were barely able to take anymore, a jeep drove onto the beach.
On the jeep was steaming hot coffee and warm doughnuts.
The smell drifted across the frozen men shivering in the icy water.
The instructor yelled: “Okay men, it makes no sense to put yourselves through this torture any longer. Just quit and you can have hot coffee and warm doughnuts, plus a hot towel and a ride back to base in the jeep.”
The Seal candidate said every ounce of him wanted to crawl out of that surf.
Until the man next to him shouted: “Do any of those doughnuts have a chocolate glaze? cos if they don’t you can shove ‘em up your ass, I’m fucking staying here.”
And he started to laugh, and he looked around and other candidates started to laugh.
And about half the candidates started laughing out loud.
But about half the candidates didn’t laugh at all.
And the strange thing was the candidates who weren’t laughing stood up and quit, while the candidates who were laughing stayed, and eventually became Navy Seals.
He said the laughter made two things happen, one emotional and one physical.
Emotionally, it punctured the drama and the fear, the laughter made it shrink in size until it wasn’t terrifying anymore.
Physically, the laughter released endorphins and serotonin.
These are ‘feel good’ chemicals, they reduce pain and increase a feeling of wellbeing.
So laughter had a double benefit.
If the mind concentrates on the physical world, obstacles can seem insurmountable.
But laughter tells the mind not to take the physical world so seriously.
Laughter puts everything back into perspective.
Put simply, if you can take the piss out of something it’s less frightening.
Laughing at it means you dominate it instead of it dominating you.
Which is why it’s sad to see the death of laughter now.
Laughter is great way to get impact, get remembered, get repeated.
Laughter is a great way for something to go viral.
Laughter is a powerful motivation but, in current advertising, laughter is looked on as trivial and crass.
Sensitive, cultured, people don’t laugh, they appreciate art, and style, and subtlety.
That’s why we don’t do advertising for simple ordinary people who like a good laugh
We only do advertising for people who can appreciate the finer things in life.
Like awards juries.
This piece first appeared in Dave Trott's Blog here.