11 Short Life Lessons from Extreme Ownership
7 min read

11 Short Life Lessons from Extreme Ownership

In the book, Extreme Ownership Jocko Willink and Leif Babin explain timeless principles for living a better life. While they mainly write about how to lead their lessons apply to life in general. We’ll explore 11 Lessons about mindset, teamwork, standards, and more. Let’s jump in.

1. Take Extreme Ownership

The foundation of a winning mindset is Extreme Ownership. Extreme Ownership means taking ownership of everything in your life. It goes further than admitting responsibility for problems: you need to take responsibility for implementing the solutions for the problems as well.

Extreme Ownership requires you to stop shifting the blame for failure on other people or external events. If you take Extreme Ownership, you make no excuses. Instead, you acknowledge mistakes, admit failures, take ownership of them and develop a plan to win. If problems appear, you first blame yourself and examine what you can do better.

Problems that remain unsolved compound until they overwhelm you. If you don’t fix problems, you can’t improve your situation. Once you take Extreme Ownership, you are compelled to take action and solve problems. The benefits of Extreme Ownership become especially clear when we compare them to the mindset of a Tortured Genius.

A Tortured Genius doesn’t accept responsibility and blames everyone else. He believes that others can’t see or don’t appreciate the genius in what he is doing. He sees himself as a victim. His mindset prevents the self-reflection that’s necessary for self-improvement and results in an unending cycle of blame. It’s almost needless to say that this mindset has a catastrophic effect on performance and personal well-being.

2. Others Will Adopt Your Mindset

If you blame others, the people around you adopt this mindset and blame others as well. Soon, everyone feels like they aren’t responsible for anything, only make excuses and avoid the necessary adjustments to fix problems.

Your mindset and behavior spread to other people. They emulate you. In this way, your attitude, actions, and example set the tone for the entire team. This is why checking your ego and adopting the mindsets of Extreme Ownership, Discipline Equals Freedom is so important.

3. Internalize That Discipline Equals Freedom

Jocko Willink describes Discipline as the most important quality for individuals and teams.1)

The importance of discipline results from our tendency to take the path of least resistance. As Jocko writes, “The temptation to take the easy road is always there.”2) Contrary to popular belief a life without discipline is not a free life. Without discipline, we quickly give in to our lower tendencies and begin to decay. Instead, discipline is the path to freedom. Following a time-management schedule results in more free time. Exercising regularly increases your ability to move and do however and whatever you want.

Discipline in seemingly insignificant decisions leads to discipline in more significant decisions in life. Simple things, like shaving every day, getting up immediately after your alarm went off, or taking a walk every morning set a positive tone for the day.

4. Check Your Ego

Everyone has an ego. The most difficult ego to deal with is often our own. Often, we believe that we do everything right and blame others when things go wrong. But no one is infallible. The positive effects of ego are that it makes us proud of our achievements and drives us to win and excel.

The detrimental effects of ego make us prioritize our personal agenda over doing what’s best overall. Then, ego clouds and disrupts our ability to plan and makes us complacent. It prevents us from taking good advice, accepting constructive criticism and makes us unable to let go of ideas. Ultimately, it prevents us from seeing the world, other people, and, most importantly, our selves as they and we are. Realistically assessing ourselves becomes impossible.

But assessing ourselves realistically and honestly is essential to improve ourselves. Further, we need to be able to set our ego aside to look at problems objectively, come up with good solutions and fix problems. Instead of focusing on personal agendas, we need to be focused on how to best accomplish the task at hand. We need to keep our ego in check.

We can prevent the complacency that ego brings with it by continuously striving to improve ourselves. We can remind ourselves to never be satisfied. At a more fundamental level, we can develop an attitude of humility and open-mindedness. We can remind ourselves that we know very little, have a lot to learn, and are far less great than our ego wants us to believe.

5. Detach: Relax. Look Around Make a Call.

In our day-to-day lives, decisions are often made based on emotions. How we slept, what we ate, and who we talked to influence our decisions in various ways – often not for the better. Detaching means acting on logic, not emotions. Leif Babin has broken the concept down to a simple reminder: “Relax. Look Around. Make a call.”3) The idea is to remain calm and make the best decisions based on the information available to us.

Making decisions in a detached state of mind benefits problem-solving. When we are overwhelmed or have to deal with many problems we need to prioritize and execute. We determine the highest priority and lay out a simple and clear solution. From there, we focus all our energy on executing the solution. Once we have implemented the solution – or when it has real momentum – we repeat this process by determining the highest priority and repeating the same process.

While this process is very efficient in solving problems we can become too fixated on our current priority. When this happens, we may not see other problems or weaknesses and fail to fix them. Thus, it’s important to regularly take a step back and confirm that we are focused on the right priority.

Detachment and Prioritize and Execute further enable us to act decisively amid uncertainty. Uncertainty can paralyze us with fear and lead to inaction. Outcomes are never certain and infinite options for solutions exist. Thus, it’s important to avoid waiting for a perfect solution and instead act promptly and adjust quickly – especially when decisions can be quickly reversed or altered. Hence, it’s important to be proactive rather than reactive.

6. Always Work as a Team

Whatever you do, it’s highly likely that you are part of a team. As such, getting all team members working together to accomplish the overarching mission leads to increased performance and better results.

Working in isolation or against each other is the opposite of teamwork. It negatively affects results and performance. Thus, silos must be broken down and the shred mission needs to be kept in front of everyone’s mind. It’s also helpful to understand who depends on you and your team and to support these elements. Make others a part of your team, not an excuse for it.

When it comes to individuals, always explain why you do something, not just what you do. Create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable asking questions and take the necessary time to clarify a plan until everyone involved in it understands it. Train and mentor underperformers, but terminate them if they can’t improve. Form manageable elements of four to five people with designated leaders and delegate as much of the planning process to them by giving them ownership of parts of the plan. When you communicate with your team, present information simply, clearly, and concisely. If mistakes have been made, always begin communication with what you’ll do differently, not with what others need to do.

When it comes to your superiors, communicate more information about what’s going on – especially when you shift priorities – than seems necessary. That way, they feel comfortable with what you’re doing and can better help you out. Remember that questions, criticism, and paperwork normally mean that you need to communicate critical information to someone.

7. Believe in Your Mission

When it comes to the long-term, belief is essential. Your behavior reflects if and how much you believe in a mission. After all, actions speak louder than words. Only if you believe in a mission will others follow you.

To believe in a mission, you need to always understand that you’re part of something greater than yourself. You need to understand why you are doing what you’re doing. Understanding the purpose of what you do guides your decisions and actions. If your why is unclear, it’s your responsibility to ask your superiors questions, until it is clear. Then, communicate this understanding to your team.

8. Have Simple Plans

Once you and your team believe in a mission, it’s essential to come up with a good plan. Good plans are simple. Bad plans are complicated. Complicated plans produce mistakes, confusion, and misunderstandings – complexity compounds.

Instead of creating highly complex plans, keep your plans simple. Begin by identifying a clear directive that you then refine and simplify. Focus on the mission that your plan is a part of. Explore different courses of action, gather information, and utilize all available resources and assets. Communicate a core-understanding of a plan to everyone which allows for rapid adjustments, adaptations, and modifications for when the situation you’re planning for changes. Keep the plan and relevant information simple, clear, and concise. The result should be a plan that is easily understood; it can be quickly adjusted and can be expanded later.

9. Stay Focused on the Right Priority

After planning, it’s important to remain focused on what matters.

If you focus on distant goals that are only vaguely defined you’ll quickly lose motivation. Instead, focus on immediate goals that are attainable. If you focus all your efforts on reaching immediate goals, you’ll reach your distant goals eventually. Your goals should always be in alignment with one another. If they aren’t, aligning them should be your top priority. Connect what you do every day to your overarching goal and prioritize your efforts accordingly.

10. Set High Standards

Once a plan has been created, a high standard of consistent execution has to be achieved. This often requires behavior change. Behavior change requires a strong correlation between reward and punishment. We need to see the connection between actions and consequences to learn. If poor performance has no consequences, it becomes the new standard. In this regard, it’s not what you preach, but what you tolerate.

Similar to mindsets, standards are set by individuals and then are adopted by others. High standards are necessary because poor standards lead to poor performance, mistakes, and failure. Tasks must be repeated until the expected standard is reached. Eventually, repetitive exceptional performance becomes habitual.

11. Reflect, Adjust, Learn

Lastly, it’s important to regularly take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Analyze the effectiveness of your actions. Ask yourself, what went right, what went wrong, and how you adapt. When you reflect often, you can enhance, refine and improve your actions, implement lessons learned and avoid repeating mistakes.

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