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How to Develop Mental Resilience Like a Green Beret: PACE

When did Noah build the Ark? Before the Flood. 

The world is full of possibility but also uncertainty.

The other day, I was talking to someone in my year who’s had a job lined up for the past month. It was a position he was passionate about in a field relevant to his studies situated in a country he loved—every graduate’s fantasy.

But an hour before I ran into him, it fell through completely. The business had to cut back and couldn’t afford to bring him on.

His plane ticket was purchased. He’d been telling people about the job for weeks. The guy had been so excited to have this great plan. Than it was ripped out from under him.

So the plan was rubbish and he was crushed. He didn’t know what to do, didn’t feel comfortable graduating, was so overwhelmed with the sudden uncertainty of it all that he’d decided he shouldn’t go to the country even though the ticket was nonrefundable.

He was, as they say, shit out of luck.

More than that, the misfortune had completely flattened him. He never expected things to go wrong and so when they did, the damage was exponentially worse. The discrepancy between his expectations and reality carved a canyon so massive that he was still falling toward the bottom.

There are a host of strategies for recovering from disaster but only a few for preventing fallout before it happens. The most important of these involve preparation and expectation.

There’s a reason schools practice things like fire drills. It’s so that the building’s occupants know the quickest routes out of the building BEFORE the fire because during a fire, everything goes to hell. And there’s never just one route from a burning building because you never know which will blocked.

To respond to a disaster like a fire, you need two things.

  • The expectation that disaster can and probably will happen.
  • Multiple contingencies for what to do when it does.

We can’t control what drops into our world but we can control how we react to it.

Welcome to PACE.


What Is Pace?

PACE is an acronym invented by the Green Berets to outline effective communication strategy. When working in sketchy areas, it is of the utmost importance that boots on the ground can contact the folks back at base (or anywhere else for that matter). But, as you’ll see if you read on, the methodology can be applied to just about anything.

Primary: The routine and best method of communication (or getting a job done).

Alternate: Another common method of passing a message (or achieving the mission) with minimal to no negative impact. Often used alongside the primary for redundancy.

Contingency: This method will normally not be as convenient (or as fast, inexpensive, or efficient) as the first two methods, but can get the job done.

Emergency: This is method is the last resort. It is far from ideal, probably sucks in a big way and is more expensive, slower, less efficient, etc. However, it will get the message across or the job finished.

Knowing each of these paths ahead of time allows for“graceful degradation” through the stages rather than a chaotic scramble to save one’s ass.

By the time the primary has failed, you’re already working with the alternate. You’re always searching for an opportunity to move back up the chain and improve positioning but the point is that functionality continues. The mission continues. Progress toward your goal continues.

With multiple backups in place, you have the safety to act boldly. If something goes south, you can adapt and overcome. It won’t be ideal but it won’t be the end of the world either.

Having a mental safety net goes hand-in-hand with maintaining the positive mindset vital to success in any arena.

You probably know where this is going.

PACE can be applied far more broadly than just communication. It’s a mindset for handling obstacles. When things happen fast—a fire in the middle of the night, a canceled flight, a broken income stream— decision making is delayed and/or compromised. Having a hierarchy of alternatives removes the deliberation and allows quick, effective action.

How To Apply PACE to Your Goals

Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” The punch can be anything. A car that suddenly won’t start, a job that falls through, an extra mouth to feed, anything.

One plan is not enough. If we only have one plan and it goes bottom up, we’re stuck. We make rash emotional decisions that limit our effectiveness and create even more problems or become paralyzed completely.

Two is one and one is none.

Life has never had a shortage of unexpected and unwanted obstacles. Somethings ALWAYS comes up. The only thing that you know for certain is that something will go wrong. Murphy’s Law.

My job, your job, everyone’s job, is to figure out what can go wrong and plan as if it that thing will absolutely happen.

In a given scenario, what’s the worst possible thing that can happen?

That’s you’re starting point.

For example, I’m currently living in Central America for three months so I can finish writing a sci-fi novel without distraction. My priority is having as much time as possible to write. The objective isn’t communication, it’s maximizing free hours in a day (and the days available by saving money when possible).

Primary: A low maintenance WorkAway program that asks only 15–20 hours of work a week in exchange for lodging and meals. (Provides ample time to write and conserves money).

Alternate: Use savings to rent a cheap place and live simply. (Provides ample time to write but spends money)

Contingency: Seek out employment through freelance contracts, online employment, and gig-type jobs. (Cuts into available time for work and spends money).

Emergency: Return to the states and finish writing while living at home with relative. (Significantly more distractions, cuts into available work time, decreases independence, etc.)

Now, this isn’t an ideal chain. I don’t like that all potentials for income earning require an internet connection and I don’t like the contingency in general. But if I had to, I could. In all likelihood, if I were utterly unable to gain sufficient freelance work or acceptance into a decent Workaway situation, I’d skip straight to Emergency.

The exact same model can be applied to anything, from traveling to starting a business.

Planning and accepting your backups in advance liberates the mind from having to worry. It lightens your cognitive load so you can make real progress on what matters.


What matters most to you? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Imagine that thing has happened, figure out what you’re going to do to preserve happiness, health, wealth, progress, etc.

If you aren’t clear on your priorities, you can’t plan a graceful degradation that still facilitates progress. If my most important goal was exploring Central America rather than writing, my PACE would look drastically different. Maybe similar variables but in a different order.

Start with recognizing what mission matters most. Go from there.

The more my friend talked about why he’d chosen THAT place for THAT job, it became clear that his underlying motivations were still perfectly valid and attainable. He had two big priorities: to explore a country he loved and share his love for environmental education work.

Once dug down to these underlying motivations, he was able to step back and recognize other routes toward their fulfillment. He took a few days, assessed his options and came up with the rest of a plan, A, C, and E.

Primary. Alternate. Contingency. Emergency.

And remember, Keep It Simple Stupid.

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