How the US Navy SEAL Backward Law Will Help You Escape the Rat Race

Backward law

The US Navy SEALs are renowned for their extraordinary mental and physical resilience in pursuing excellence.

One foundational principle that guides them is known as the “Backward Law,” a concept initially articulated by philosopher Alan Watts.

This counterintuitive philosophy teaches that the more we chase something, the more it eludes us.

In essence, true success and fulfilment are more likely to be achieved by focusing less on the end goal and more on the process.

For Navy SEALs, this principle is not just theoretical but a practical guide to overcoming the most gruelling challenges.

Understanding the Backward Law

The Backward Law suggests that the harder we strive for something, the more we push it away.

It’s a paradoxical idea: the more you chase happiness, the more dissatisfied you become; the more you aim for security, the more insecure you feel.

This principle can be distilled into a simple yet profound truth: by accepting and even embracing discomfort and uncertainty, we paradoxically find peace and success.

backward law
Photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk on Unsplash

Application in Navy SEAL Training

Navy SEALs are some of the world’s most elite and well-trained individuals, and their training reflects the Backward Law. Here’s how they incorporate this philosophy:

  • Embracing Discomfort: SEAL training is designed to push candidates beyond their physical and mental limits. The rigorous regime includes Hell Week, a gruelling 5.5 days of continuous training with minimal sleep. Candidates are taught to embrace discomfort, understanding that pushing through pain and exhaustion is part of the journey. This focus on enduring and even welcoming hardship prepares them for combat’s unpredictability and harsh realities.
  • Process Over Outcome: Instead of fixating on becoming a SEAL, candidates are encouraged to focus on the immediate task at hand. Whether it’s completing a difficult swim or surviving a 20-mile hike, the emphasis is on the process rather than the end goal. This mindset reduces anxiety and enhances performance as candidates learn to break down overwhelming challenges into manageable tasks.
  • Mental Toughness and Acceptance: SEALs develop mental toughness by accepting the reality of their situation, no matter how dire. This acceptance doesn’t mean resignation but acknowledging the challenge, allowing for a clearer mind and better decision-making. By accepting their current state, SEALs can control their response, maintaining composure and effectiveness under extreme pressure.
  • Detachment from Immediate Results: In high-stress environments, immediate results are often unpredictable. SEALs learn to detach from the need for instant success, understanding that consistent effort and perseverance eventually lead to long-term achievements. This detachment helps maintain focus and motivation, regardless of short-term setbacks.

The Backward Law in Everyday Life

The principles that guide Navy SEALs can be applied to various aspects of everyday life. Here are some practical ways to incorporate the Backward Law:

  • Embrace Challenges: Instead of avoiding difficult situations, confront them head-on. By accepting and tackling challenges, you build resilience and adaptability.
  • Focus on the Process: Whether you’re working towards a career goal, personal development, or a fitness milestone, concentrate on the daily steps and actions rather than obsessing over the end result.
  • Cultivate Acceptance: Accept your current circumstances without complaint. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for better, but rather, you should acknowledge where you are and make peace with it as you work towards improvement.
  • Practice Patience: Understand that meaningful success often takes time. Detach from the need for immediate gratification and trust in the process of gradual, consistent effort.


The Navy SEAL Backward Law is a powerful paradigm that emphasises the importance of process over outcome, acceptance of discomfort, and the development of mental toughness.

 Integrating these principles into your life allows you to navigate challenges with greater resilience and achieve lasting success. Check out my 4-Step Process Guide to how to escape the rat race to start incorporating this law into your life.

Whether in the extreme conditions faced by Navy SEALs or the everyday struggles of modern life, the Backward Law offers a profound roadmap for true fulfilment and excellence.

Who was Alan Watts?

Alan Watts was a British philosopher, writer, and speaker renowned for bringing Eastern philosophy and spirituality to a Western audience. He was born on January 6, 1915, and died on November 16, 1973.

Throughout his career, Watts authored over 25 books and numerous articles, delving into Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and the nature of consciousness. His engaging lectures and writings made complex Eastern ideas accessible and relevant to Western readers.

One of Watts’ well-known concepts is the “Backwards Law,” which suggests that the more you pursue something, the more it eludes you. For example, the harder you strive for happiness, the more unhappy you become.

According to Watts, true satisfaction and contentment arise not from striving and grasping but from letting go and embracing the present moment as it is. The Backwards Law encourages a shift from constant striving to a state of acceptance and flow, promoting a deeper sense of peace and well-being.

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