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Thinking Outside the Box vs "If You Are Not Cheating - You Are Not Trying"

Stew smith

Are You Cheating or Thinking Outside the Box?
It is Not Always Black and White...

What Decisions DO YOU MAKE When No One is Watching? 

Nobody is a perfect human and has a 100% honorable history in their life. Face it we all have regrets -myself included. Whether it is telling a lie, cheating, or stealing (or worse), we all struggle to make the right decision when tempted to find an easier path. However, there comes a time in a person's life when these childish habits or undesirable character traits need to be reduced / stopped if you are going to truly succeed and accomplish your goal. Especially when it becomes as important as serving in dangerous occupations where honor and integrity are valued as the norm. One day you will be simply judged by how hard you work and if you can keep your word. This and everything in this article requires courage, discipline, and integrity if you want to get to where you belong. If you have to cheat to get there, do you really belong then? 

It Pays to Be a Winner (but at what costs?)

If you are familiar with the terms, "it pays to be a winner" or "if you are not cheating, you are not trying" you may be preparing for a challenging world that requires long preparation, relentless work, daily discipline checks, and yes the opportunity to cheat to make something a little bit easier if possible.  When is this philosophy OK and when is it not OK? 

Here are a few opinions of some of the situations you will be faced with when working hard to be a winner. Do you think out of the box or do you try and cheat your way through the daily occurrence of difficult challenges?

There are RULES for a Reason - At first, the rules may seem somewhat arbitrary to you at the time, but somewhere in history these rules were put into place often after incidents happened. There is a saying in the military, "Rules are often written in blood". This means someone was seriously injured or died doing something that is now forbidden. There is NO GREY area in these situations. If you break the rules, you will be punished, IF LUCKY, and kicked out of the program if serious. 

Distance / Time / Reps - There is no grey area when it comes to these measurements. If you are shortening the distance, lying about the time, or adding reps to your totals you are cheating yourself and your team mates around you. If caught there is also no grey area - you will be kicked out of any programs for this type of cheating. This type of cheating is an integrity issue. 

Pretty much if "cheating" is going to cause you to be kicked out of a program for an integrity violation (breaking well established rules) then it is NOT the kind of creative thinking around a situation that works. 

Add PEDs to That List- Performance Enhancing Drugs - NO one needs PEDs of any type to graduate selection training in any special ops program. In fact, you cannot even take nutritional supplements at BUDS - RULE!. Recently, BUDS has come under fire for students feeling they HAD to do them to graduate. Now, BUDS is testing for such performance enhancers and you will be kicked out of the program if discovered. The tests to assess are not perfect (read this) but if this new testing policy does not stress there is no grey area for this type of cheating I do not know what does. This is not creative solutions to get through a problem - this is cheating period. 

Land Navigation - It never fails. Every land navigation course there will be rules to not take the roads when going from point A to B. You may not think of it as cheating, but if you are caught, you will be dropped from any course within all the branches of the military. It is a rule for a reason - DO NOT BREAK IT. Even in third phase BUDS just weeks before graduation, there are students who are kicked out for breaking this rule. 

Type of Creative Thinking Situations

The Special Operations community is filled with creative thinking people and these skills have been seen throughout their selection journey to find ways to make the process just a little more comfortable. To make something easier, safer, more effective that changes procedures is something that is often tested on a platoon level and if it works becomes the new SOP (standard operating procedure). That is creative thinking - not cheating.

Working Smarter - Not Harder!

There is a fine line however between creative thinking and cheating during the rigorous curriculum that is BUDS or other special ops selection programs. You may find that unlike in the Teams where creativity is rewarded, at BUDS it can be considered cheating that can get you kicked out of training or if you are lucky just hammered for getting caught. 

Helium in a Boat - True story - The boats at BUDS are heavy and act like a hammer on a student's head. A clever boat crew decided to place helium in their boat. Long story short - it made lifting the boat easier but they were soon discovered by the instructors and paid the price for their creativity. They were hammered but not kicked out. Imagine an instructor kicking a boat to make a point to a boat crew and it leaving the ground briefly.  Pretty funny moment to be honest.

Padding in Hats/Covers - I have seen people get away with padding in their hats but also seen many get busted for it and hammered but not dropped from the course. 

Resoled Jungle Boots - Long before Bates Lights (1992-2018) and the current  NIKE Combat Gen 2 "running boots" there were Vietnam era Jungle Boots that weighed over 1.5-2 lbs each depending on the size. We would take the steel shank out of the boot, the metal bungee stick protection liner and just about everything we could to make them lighter or more flexible to run in at BUDS. We were never in trouble for doing so. However, a student who worked as a cobbler previously, found a lighter and softer sole but it had a completely different track on the bottom. No problem, he used a tool and created the same track as the bottom of the above jungle boot. His boots were incredibly light, but somehow he got caught by an instructor with good attention to detail and once again was hammered but also applauded for his creativity - "not cheating".

Not a Rule Against It BUT...Personally, I wore a second pair of socks that were made of polyester / rayon blend against my skin underneath the wool dive sock issued at BUDS. I never got a blister at BUDS. It was not a rule that you could not but it was not issued BUDS sock either. I was never sure if I could or could not do it and never asked if I could. Depending on the instructor that may have seen that, I could have been hammered for that discrepancy perhaps. Was never caught though. 

It Pays to Be a Winner - You do not have to cheat to be a winner. Most winner simply put out and are better prepared than the rest of the group. However, I think it is safe to say that when your victory is a result of a cheat code, a hack, (a PED), or a lie, you have compromised something of yourself with that win. Do you really win in that situation? When Is It "OK" to Cheat? Some will say never and they are not wrong. However, when you have no options in a life or death situation there is no bad idea if it works. In fact, any idea is good if it is effective and you and your team live to fight another day. 

There is a World Where Your Team Expects You to NOT CHEAT.

Your Teammates will Demand More From You - If you are trying to join a group of high performing people in any capacity, they will expect you to have reached their community by hard work and commitment not by cheating your way there. Your fraud will be quickly exposed in that situation and you will likely not last long. 

By shirking a duty, gun-decking maintenance, taking short cuts, and not following procedure, you can get you or your team members seriously injured or killed. This is why doing the right thing ALL THE TIME will eventually matter when your responsibilities increase, there is no room for cheating. 

When It Matters the Most - Build the Good Habits of Doing the Right Thing NOW

When you make it into your special ops community, it is no longer the "games" you had to endure at BUDS or other selections, it is real life and death. This is when your hard work, commitment, creativity, but more importantly your integrity matter as it is now a dangerous job where even in training there are deaths. Just about everything you do could become a life or death situation

Getting THROUGH Selection
Requires Hard Work and Consistency
In the end, you will find that there is no easy way to get through selection. 

See what is "good enough" - PST Type Scores:

Now how about your durability - strength scores 


Who is Stew Smith? Coach, Trainer, Author, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that special ops candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

Where to Find More Information About Optimal Performance Training Programs

When you start training again, consider the seasonal tactical fitness model.  I call it A WAY to train and obviously not the only way to train. But it offers the opportunity to never neglect your weaknesses, helps with flexibility and mobility, but will also put you at a level of physical abilities where you are happy with your overall ability to just about anything. We have a systems where the seasons dictate our training. When it is nicer outside, we tend to run and do more calisthenics.  When it is colder and not so nice, we lift more, run, less, and still maintain our outdoor activities with shorter runs and rucks. Check it out: Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization System.  

My most recent programs that walk you through these four cycles with 12 weeks of each season in two programs. 

These Seasonal Tactical Fitness BLOCK Periodization programs will walk you through 4 x 4 weeks cycles with 16 weeks of each season in two programs. (32 total weeks)

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Navy SWCC Workout

Army PFT Workout (Prep For Rucking, OPAT, ACFT)
Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout
Army Air Assault School Workout
Army Airborne Workout


Advanced Running Program - Special Ops Supplement Plan
USMC OCS / TBS Workout


The Combat Conditioning Workout
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The UBRR Upper Body Round Robin Workout / Spec Ops version


The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer / Navy SAR Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
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The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Workouts

The FBI Academy Workout  |   FBI Workout Vol 2  
The DEA Workout
The FLETC Workout - Ace the PEB
The PFT Bible: Pushups, Sit-ups, 1.5 Mile Run
The Fire Fighter Workout - Ace the CPAT


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