Ruben Navarrette: An Ex-Navy SEAL's guide to surviving the coronavirus

Summary: On the bad days, you ought to listen to the hard-earned wisdom of Brian "Iron Ed" Hiner.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
Tribune graphic

SAN DIEGO β€” In a global pandemic, there are days when you think you can handle the fear, confusion and isolation. But there are other days when you realize you're going to need a Navy SEAL to pull you through.

On the bad days, you ought to listen to the hard-earned wisdom of Brian "Iron Ed" Hiner. The ex-SEAL now shares with mere mortals β€”through books, speeches, executive training β€” some of what he learned on his personal journey from a hardscrabble childhood in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to an exclusive membership in one of the most elite units in the U.S. military.

Of every 10,000 people who apply to be SEALs, only 1,000 are invited to endure the training. Only about 200 complete it. That's an 80% fail rate.

Hiner went through nine major deployments on five continents, four of which were combat tours. He has fought in three wars β€”including those in Iraq and Afghanistan β€” and conducted hundreds of combat missions.


And you're stressed out because you still can't dine in at your favorite restaurant.

Hiner's first book β€” which was titled "First, Fast, Fearless: How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL" β€” gives advice to business leaders about how to go from the battlefield to the boardroom. His new book β€” due to be published later this year β€” is titled "GUTS: Greatness Under Tremendous Stress."

The timing isn't bad. This warrior is in a position to help everyday Americans whose personal lives suddenly feel like a battlefield due to the coronavirus.

"It's all unfolding right in front of me," he told me.

Our lives have been turned inside out, and our stress level ratcheted up, not just by COVID-19 but also by how the government has responded to the threat, and how the public has, in turn, reacted to the government. The coronavirus is scary. But the rest of the story is just as frightening.

Why is everyone acting crazy?

Hiner calls it the "fear trap." He says people fall into it because β€” lacking the discipline to control their focus β€” they "awfulize" a bad situation. They imagine the most terrible outcome.

"Everyone is falling for the fear trap," he told me. "When people have unknown fears β€” like going into battle β€” their mind goes right to the worst-case scenario always happening to them. That's the awfulizing phase, and it's easy to get stuck there."


I get it. It can be something minor that I blow up into something major. I think to myself: "The kids may not be returning to school until the end of the year. What are we going to do?" When, according to Hiner, I should focus on making sure my kids and I get through one day at a time.

"Most people don't have the discipline to control their focus," he explained. "It starts with language. Your language creates your internal thoughts, and your thoughts create emotions, and your emotions create your actions. Right now, people are out of control with their actions."

Control, huh? That word comes up a lot these days. It's interesting that β€” at a moment when we feel as if we don't have a lot of control over our personal lives β€” the first thing some people worry about is that the government is trying to seize even more control from us.

We seem to be having some success in slowing the spread of COVID-19, thanks to the same social distancing that we're sick of and now can't wait to end. That's like showing gratitude to your life preserver by tossing it away. What sense does that make?

But, while we may be flattening the curve in some places, we're losing the mental game. We're just not thinking clearly.

Hiner chalks some of that up to the debilitating power of isolation.

"Under the Geneva Convention, it's a form of torture," he said. "Isolation will drive you insane."

So how do you survive it?


"You don't waste that [bleeping] time," he said. "It's a lot of reflection time. Reset your life. Read books. Meditate. Find out your purpose in life. Most people are so busy, and their lives are so cluttered, they have no idea what their purpose is. Ask yourself: What's my life worth? What do I do with it? And, of course, reach out to others. And check to see how they're doing."

So, I have to ask: How are you doing? What's your life worth? And, when this is over, what are you going to do with the rest of it?

If you need help sorting it all out, I know just the frogman who can help.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

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