Deep within the island of Raasay, a bunch of rag tag civilians with something to prove are being “beasted” in a range of challenges by a group of men dressed head to toe in black.

You might wonder what is going on, but this is just a filming of the British TV show SAS: Who Dares Wins – a reality show that give’s the viewer an insight into the selection process for one of the most elite units in the world.

One of the men – Ant Middleton screams at them

“Don’t be last”

Almost like a rallying cry, the contestants are driven into completing their tasks, whether it’s carrying heavy equipment in pairs across the wet Scottish hills or racing through rugged trails.

The words become a metaphor for the type of mentality desired in this gruelling selection process of discomfort, physical exhaustion, and less than ideal weather conditions.

Regular viewers soon learn it’s not always about whether a recruit wins or loses a task – it’s about pushing to your limits, facing fears, and achieving things you never realised were in you.

On your worst day…

There has been times on the show, the black clad “staff” have been impressed at a recruit limping across the line last, recognising the adversity faced, an internal battle not to give in, even when faced with excruciating pain.

Often, it’s not necessarily the most athletic who survive.  In the spin-off book of the same name, it’s noted during SAS selection the number of the exceptional marathon runners and triathletes failing to make the cut.

Something not always realised with winning is that it doesn’t necessarily mean you went out and tried your best – so when it comes down to a real challenge, the ones out of the comfort zone of air conditioned gyms, paved roads, ideal sleeping and eating conditions, soon crumble.

No matter how fit you are, if you break down in tough conditions, all you end up doing is holding your unit up in a life or death situation.

An attribute not desired for a high risk operation.

The key is not to find the best on their ideal day, but on their worst day – the type of person who can be exposed to hell and keep going.

As the screams of “don’t be last” continue, I translate this to actually mean “don’t give in”

Reflection…

What can a TV programme showing a filtered version1 of SAS selection teach us?

The difference between winning and losing.

Winning doesn’t necessarily mean getting better.  If you are in situation where the odds are in your favour, you aren’t necessarily challenging yourself.

Losing, for all it’s bad press, isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it doesn’t result in the end2, but an experience to learn from and push yourself through.

Winning is addictive and comfortable, but if you want something you have to take the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, experience a tonne of losses, with no guarantee of ever getting the desired result.

But you will gain much more along the way, rather than staying with what you know you can do.

And if that isn’t winning, I don’t know what is.

Don’t be last.

If you want to read more about the SAS mindset, check out my post Handling pressure: Lessons from the SAS


Footnotes

1 I use filtered version with the greatest respect.  As noted by people who have gone through SAS selection, there are elements that are too much for TV, for example the torture methods used when the contestants are captured are said to be much worse.

2 A worthy caveat to note is failing isn’t good if it results in loss of life – a consequence many in the military have to deal with if a wrong decision is made.


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