“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
Heard of 007?
Well, today we get to sit down with a real life ‘00’.
Ollie Ollerton is a UK Special Forces operative, four-time bestselling author, and star of hit television series’ SAS: Who Dares Wins and SAS Australia.
Ollie’s military career began at the age of 18 when he joined the Royal Marine Commandos and toured operationally in Northern Ireland and Iraq for Operation Desert Storm. After five years as a Commando, Ollie was recommended for SAS Special Forces Selection. Only a handful of the 250 candidates made it through the grueling six-month selection process.
Ollie then spent six years in the Special Boat Service – the SBS – where he undertook high profile missions in counter narcotics, counter terrorism, homeland security, and humanitarian work.
After leaving the special forces, Ollie held roles as a private security contractor in Iraq, project manager for major infrastructure projects in the Middle East (where he also trained a 2,000-strong Iraqi guard force), and as a bodyguard instructor for private projects and government officials. In addition, Ollie infiltrated child sex trafficking rings in southeast Asia.
Today, he is the founder of BreakPoint, where he provides leadership and development courses to the corporate and public sector that leverages the special forces mindset. Ollie is also the author of four critically-rated books and founder of supplement brand Battle Ready Fuel.
In this episode:
- How he made it through the most grueling special forces selection in the world – twice;
- The most impactful moments from his special forces career;
- His best tips and exercises to apply in civilian life; and
- How you can turn your breaking point into your biggest strength.
Before we begin, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode or could use some help to Win the Day, share it with them right now.
Let’s WIN THE DAY with Ollie Ollerton!
Ollie, so great to see you mate! Thanks for coming on the Win the Day show.
Mate, it's an absolute pleasure. I've been looking forward to this day for a long time, and I am winning the day by doing this!
To kick things off, what is the mission that you're on today that you're most excited about?
My mission, if I had to define it – which is the mission that's on the wall as you walk in this office – is to create a globally identified brand recognized for the positive growth and development of others.
At the end of the day we [BreakPoint] are a business that is dedicated to the service of others, which I think is such a powerful thing to wake up and feel that you are doing every day. And I'm pretty sure it's a similar kind of ethos for you.
Absolutely, and with great power comes great responsibility!
In your books, you talk about the importance of standards and constantly being around positive people who inspire you. It's such a motivating force, just as when you're around people who don't deliver that, it can be extremely debilitating.
What I love about the impact you continue to have today, and all the achievements you’ve had, is as a result of being around the right people who believe in you – and can see your potential when perhaps you can’t see it yourself.
I actually think about this a lot. You've got to be so mindful of the people that you surround yourself with. If you look at the people that you surround yourself with, you should admire the qualities they possess.
If you look at the people that you surround yourself with, you should admire the qualities they possess.
Obviously it shouldn't be about envy, it shouldn't be about jealousy. You should look at them and think, “I really respect that quality that person has.” Because if you can't come up with anything good for the people around you, then they shouldn't be around you.
What is the most vivid memory that you've got from your childhood and how did that shape the man you are today?
It's my first memory of my entry to this planet, and that is the chimp story.
We were going swimming in my hometown. I was 10 years old and we stumbled across the circus. They were just setting up, and I found myself in a private little area that I shouldn't have been in where I came across a baby chimp. And I was absolutely in love with the program Tarzan at the time, so for me seeing that baby chimp, it was a little piece of Hollywood. I was compelled.
I went toward the animal, we started to engage. It was this unbelievable moment of connection between man and beast. And when I say that, I wasn't much bigger really… I was 10 years old, so it was more like two chimps communicating.
And then this chimp started to feed me. It was passing me food. I wasn't eating it, I was pretending to eat it. All of a sudden there was this scream that I'll never forget, as the chimp’s mummy or daddy saw what was going on – saw me as an immediate threat – and came on the warpath.
The blue sky turned to black very quickly as this thing pounced through the air and landed on my chest, pinned me to the floor and started absolutely going crazy. The first fist that came down knocked everything out of me. I didn't think I had anything left.
It was like a drummer in a rock band, which I think is a great description of what was going on. But a big, hairy one! Then blood started flying around, the thing was starting to bite me, and my life flashed in front of me. It didn't take long because I was 10, very quick.
In that moment, I managed to summon enough courage to do something about it. I managed to get my knee up to my chest and I kicked the chimp as hard as possible. It went to the floor, which gave me a few seconds to get out of there.
Then blood started flying around, the thing was starting to bite me, and my life flashed in front of me.
The chimp got to its feet. It was angrier than ever this time, and it came at me at Mach 20 and I just lay there waiting for the inevitable. And just before it got to me – it was an inch away – the chain caught it around the neck and it didn't get to me.
And that for me really helps me to define what ‘break point’ is. This was my first break point. It wouldn't be my last, but your break point is when you take that short-term step into discomfort for long-term gain. Short term discomfort was me at 10 years old, fighting a 50 kilogram chimp. I didn't get a chance to weigh it by the way, but it felt heavy.
The long-term gain of that is the fact I'm here to tell the story, but that was a defining moment. It was an experience that would really affect my life moving forward. And it had a very negative effect on my life, because there's a lot of questions I ask about that, like “How would my life be different if I didn't get attacked by the chimp?”
It’s a great question. I don't know the answer to it but, if you're looking at any kind of positives, perhaps I never would’ve made it through special forces selection,
It gave me a burning desire for survival, I guess.
Do you think about it as a metaphor of how crazy traumatic experiences in life can appear at any moment?
We've had people on the show who have been hit by trucks while they're out riding bikes, all these different things, as evidence that can just completely derail you in the worst way when you least expect it.
At the end of the day as well, every experience that we have in life, you shouldn't brush it away. You shouldn't try and forget it. You should try and think of what you've taken from that experience.
For me, I look back on that experience. It gave me a lot of trauma, but the things I took from it... It sounds weird, but I'm almost grateful for getting attacked by the chimp that day.
In my most negative experiences is where I've grown the most.
Although on that day I wasn't feeling that way! But hindsight's a wonderful thing. It never won any wars, but it's great for reflection.
In my most negative experiences is where I've grown the most.
In your book, you mention ‘the urge to live’ and how the chimp experience gave you the urge to live for the first time.
How can people develop that urge to live without having to go through a potentially life or death situation?
Yeah, you don't need to go and find a circus! You don't need to find a chimp to beckon and attack.
At the end of the day, you have got to understand it. People are so confined through society and so confined in their limiting belief systems. We need to understand that we are infinite. We are absolutely infinite. Sometimes it takes a very traumatic event for you to start to understand that.
But regardless of the traumatic event being there or not, that doesn't change you. That event doesn't make you a superman or a superwoman, but it can give you a zest for life – and help you appreciate that. It's almost like that brush so close to death made me want to embrace life 100% more.
Your break point is when you take that short-term step into discomfort for long-term gain.
And really it's a tough question. A lot of the stuff we do as a company at BreakPoint, we use a special forces kind of format but we're not trying to train people to be special forces soldiers. At the end of the day, when we were out on operations and doing things, there was a lot at stake. People could die. It's hard to replicate that kind of feeling. It's very hard to replicate that.
We try to push across to people the importance of having goals, a mission statement, and all that kind of thing. The fact of the matter is, we're only here once…apparently. We've got to make the most of it. We've got to do what we can in this short amount of time, because time is running out. We're all going in the same direction.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Ollie Ollerton does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
At the age of 18 you joined the Royal Marine Commandos, and after five years you were then selected for special forces selection, which you went through twice.
How would you describe the other candidates who were with you for the special forces training?
I looked around, I looked at them, and I felt like a boy in a man's world. I had immediate self-doubt and lack of confidence. Looking at them and how they looked, and how I perceived them, made me feel extremely weak.
At that time I can remember, I got off the bus to start the first climb of the mountain, which was the start of a six month process, which essentially is nine with continuation training. And I can remember getting off the bus and thinking, “No, you're making a mistake. You are setting yourself up for failure by being here.”
There was a little voice in my head at that point that just said, “Ollie, just do today.” So I did just today.
When I look at it, we talk about ‘ego’, and sometimes I think, “Well, why is the bloody ego invented? No one's got a good word to say about it!” But at that point for me it was ego that kept me from getting back on the bus.
There was a little voice in my head at that point that just said, “Ollie, just do today.”
I preferred to have failed on the mountain when no one was looking instead of having 280 people see me just get back on the bus. So that was a good thing. Ego stopped me from doing that. Just do today. The day went really well for me. I came back off the mountain in the top five. A lot of people went home.
And that's how I did that course, James. I did every day with the “just do today” mentality.
When it went to the interrogation phase at the end, which was absolutely horrible, it was just do this second. I think that's a really important message for a lot of people. Your goals should scare you but excite you at the same time, because nothing was ever great unless at some point you doubted your ability to achieve it.
When the pressure's on, that goal starts to dissolve. Because your brain can't see the path to the goal it disregards it can be done, or it starts to reject the fact it can be done. And in those moments, just do today. Just do the next second, just do the next hour.
But keep moving forward. Don't stay still. Because like water, you'll become stagnant.
It's such an important point.
People reach out to me and they say, "You've written a lot of books. How can I write a book?" And it seems like such an insurmountable goal. But just focusing on your version of ‘just do today’.
For me, when I wrote Think and Grow: The Legacy, it was just to do the best interview I can. Or if it was a day of preparation, just do today by doing the preparation. And eventually all of those days, which really comes into the Win the Day mentality as well, all of those things add up over time.
Like a compound interest graph, you start to get exponential rewards the longer you are consistent with just doing today.
Going back to that point, at that moment of pressure, there were loads of people who wanted the same as me. If I focused then on that really big ambitious goal of being one of the few percent, that out of that group of 250 people, only five would pass, that I'd be one of them. For me to think about that in the moment became so unrealistic.
So don't think about it. Think about your momentum – you moving forward in that very moment. That's all you've got to do. And as soon as I got onto that mountain, I started passing people straight away. Those were milestones of growth. Every person I passed was a milestone of growth. Just get that momentum, just move forward.
Nothing was ever great unless at some point you doubted your ability to achieve it.
Another exercise from the special forces is the idea of one meter square. When all around you is falling apart or becoming overwhelming, bring everything back to one meter square. Focus on your immediate environment, and keep the momentum moving forward. Triage that situation.
Look at the things you can't control and just focus on the things you can, because they're the only things that matter in that moment.
In special forces training, it looks like it's a real mental and physical battle to find out the people who want it the most.
At what stage do they go away from that mental and physical test to actually teaching you training and practical skills that you can take into combat?
Your first phase is the hills phase, which is a real grunt. True grit, determination, lot of physical ability. People often ask me what percentage is mental vs physical, but I don't see it like that. Everything starts in the mind – everything.
But it's so important to understand that the brain gives up way before the body, because it's a self-preservation system. And once you understand that you've got a lot more potential.
The first phase is to weed out those people who really haven't got that sort of mental robustness to get through that grunt stage. So that's two weeks on the mountains. You lose a lot of people on that. You lose probably 60% of the course on those two weeks.
Think about your momentum – you moving forward in that very moment. That's all you've got to do.
Then, should you be successful from that, you go away to the jungle for six weeks. Four weeks of that you are fully immersed for 28 days right in the jungle. Your flesh starts to rot. You get trench foot. The only luxury you really have is a toothbrush. And then you have all your fighting kit, your weapon and everything else.
The jungle is trying to kill you. The directing staff are trying to kill you. It's such a battle.
And it's such an amazing environment to test the skills of a soldier, because before you can even start to think about the tactics of soldiering you have to make sure that your personal admin – whether that's yourself and your kit, your weapon and everything else – you have to take care of that before you even think about soldiering. And it's a brilliant environment to test that self-admin, if you want to call it that.
Once you pass the jungle, they know that there's an 80% chance of you passing that course. And at that point they start to invest in you as a person. At that point they start to train you in skills, preparing you to fit into your team.
Special forces selection doesn't train you to be a special forces soldier per se. It trains you to be able to fit into your team to then start the real training as a special forces operator.
At the jungle phase, you've then started doing all your building assault skills, helicopter skills, demolition skills, radio communication or morse code, medical – everything, the whole lot.
Then the last phase, which is the hardest phase of all, I thought, is escape and evasion. That is the final test of a man's mental robustness, I suppose.
The brain gives up way before the body, because it's a self-preservation system.
You can't predict anything, because you don't know what's going on in here at the end of the day until that very point where 36 hours of… I'm not going to call it torture, it's mental torture. It's not physical torture as such, but it is the hardest thing.
People say, "Oh well, it's not real." But there's a lot at stake. And when you've had that sleep deprivation, you can say one wrong word and everything you've trained up to that point is just gone. They can say no at that point.
It looks like the special forces is comprised of individuals who don't fit into the traditional military. From what you’ve said, it’s like they nurture that individual creativity and then show them how to thrive in a team environment with other misfits.
Is it challenging to take an individual with that personality, to then mold them into being an essential part of a small team?
This is a really good question, James.
A lot of times I get called to corporate events and everything else. They want to talk leadership, it's always leadership, leadership.
First of all, leadership is about leadership of self. There's plenty of people out there in leadership roles that can't even lead themselves, and that's where it should start. I truly believe that special forces operators are more like a group of leaders who adapt to working as a team, as opposed to a load of team players where one of them steps outside to be the team leader.
We are a group of leaders, and you've only got to look at lads that leave the special forces. We're very much the lone survivor kind of mentality when we leave, we go on our own path.
So I was also very much spoiled, when it comes to leadership I was spoiled. Because I worked with a highly trained group of leaders. It was more a group of leaders than it was a team, that there was one individual that was responsible for that team.
Leadership is about leadership of self.
At the end of the day, it's essential you get that person. They're not just leaders, they're pioneers who are prepared to carve their own path – rather than just follow someone else's footprints. When you look at the special forces, they were laughed out of White Chapel when the concept was introduced.
It’s interesting to think about why they were so successful with limited resources and assets, but caused so much more damage? And that's really because they were given the autonomy and the responsibility to get the job done at any cost. They didn't have to seek a high command to take the shot.
That's what made them so different. A group of pioneers put together, a group of leaders put together, with their ‘get the job done whatever’ attitude. Obviously enough rope to hang yourself! But at the end of the day it was the fact that we don't have to seek a high command to get the job done. We take the shot.
When you look at the corporate relevance of that, there's a lot of people in corporate structures who haven't got that autonomy. They're scared to take the shot. And then before you know it they've missed the opportunity because they've got to make a phone call before they can make a decision.
So that's one of the things we really put across in our leadership training: you have to give people the autonomy and responsibility to be able to take the shot.
You went on to then join the Special Boat Service [SBS]. How did you feel ahead of your first operation as part of the SBS compared to your first one as part of the Royal Marine Commandos?
Yeah, what a different world. It was such a different world, and it was everything I dreamed of.
When I was 10, when I got attacked by the chimp, that was the same year that they stormed the Iranian embassy in London. So it was a big year for me, 1980, the chimp, the significance of that attack, which the whole world saw on TV. And I feel that was the one thing that really captured me as a kid. Seeing the Iranian embassy operation planted a seed so deep within my subconscious.
And then my first operation with the SBS was exactly the same, not exactly the same operation but it was exactly that look. The balaclavas, the black kit, the small submachine guns, it was that moment. I joined the Royal Marines for that feeling, that experience, that sense of that brotherhood. I didn't get that there, so that's why I went for special forces selection.
You have to give people the autonomy and responsibility to be able to take the shot.
I remember that day when we were going out of camp, going home. We had pagers, and all of a sudden the pager went off. Now a lot of times they would just do it as a comms check, and everyone would check in.
But this time the code came up, which meant this is a real one. And it was just like, “Wow, it's happening. It's happening!” A lot of times we used to go off and you'd sit out in a forward operating base for weeks, sometimes out at sea on a ship waiting for the job to go down. But this job went in, straight away we were flown to a forward operating base.
The job went down that night. It happened all over night. We were back lifting the boats out the water as the sun came up the next morning, it was just phenomenal. And that was the difference. Wow, what a difference.
And the Iranian embassy incident that you mentioned before, that was the very first time that the SAS had been seen in public, wasn't it? And even publicly acknowledged?
Margaret Thatcher was in power at the time, and she wanted to send a message to the world not to mess with our assets and not to mess with our special forces.
Usually what you do in those situations, you will blanket the whole front off so that the media can't see anything, they can't film anything. But Margaret Thatcher wanted to show the world what we had. And what a significant attack that was, what a significant rescue that was, which is still talked about and renowned all over the world.
The SBS motto, “By strength and by guile,” how would that be revealed in a practical sense during missions?
At the end of the day, it’s not just by strength, it's about skill … and tactics and everything else. So really what that displays for me is really it's about this up here [mindset]. Your mind is the best weapon you've got.
And really the thinking soldier, it's not just about grunt and blood, sweat, and tears. It's about how we can use this.
So that motto really displays that sort of mental strength and the thinking soldier.
So rather than a level playing field, it's what can you do to win in the most efficient way possible?
Yeah, it's thinking outside of the box, being totally dynamic, and not being so addicted to structure so that when it falls down, you fall down. If there's anything I took from the special forces there's a couple of things. First of all, it was the power of process. And secondly, it was the ability to understand that no plan survives first contact.
Mike Tyson said that a little bit more succinctly, “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.” When it comes to the corporate world, another thing we teach is that no plan survives first contact.
Remain totally dynamic and understand that any sort of progress towards a goal is never linear.
People in the US hear a lot about Navy Seals, Delta Force, etc. but a lot of them were modeled on the SAS and SBS. It was really the British special forces that created all of these other special forces units around the world in a modern sense.
What is the skillset of the SAS and the SBS? How capable are they on the battlefield and how devastating would they be against a regular force?
We always laugh at this. At the end of the day, I'm a little bit biased because I was part of the best special forces military in the whole world!
But why are the UK special forces so good? First of all, we have the heritage and the knowledge.
Secondly, I know this is a bit of a funny one, it comes down to money. At the end of the day, we haven't got the money, so it's all about being the jack of all trades, master of none. At the end of the day, the Americans have got so much money. They've got someone to hold the weapon and they'll bring in a number two to pull the trigger!
It's like in the NFL where you’ve got the offense, defense, and special teams.
Also the harshness of the environment that we train in, which really at the end of the day, builds mental robustness and resilience. We train in so many different theaters of combat, whether that's in the desert, in the Arctic, the jungle, everything.
So really for us, again, it's all about being the jack of all trade, master of none. We have to be that sort of universal soldier. The amount of skills and the amount of weapon systems and everything else you have to have the knowledge on, it just gives you a lot more bandwidth as a special forces soldier.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Ollie Ollerton does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
You mentioned earlier when you were in special forces training how apprehensive you were and that feeling of wanting to get back on the bus.
What was the moment when you recognized that “Yes I belong, and yes I'm elite”?
Going through that selection course was such a massive step in my development as an individual. When I was thinking about leaving the military, going to be a civilian or go to special forces, it was actually my officer who was the one that made me make that decision.
He had more belief in me than I had in myself. I almost did selection because I felt I had a duty to honor his confidence in me. Up until that point, I went to Northern Ireland with him. I went to Operation Desert Storm in Iraq with him, and I actually thought he didn't value me as a soldier at all.
And then I randomly bumped into him sometime later down on the track, and I told him, "Look, I'm leaving." And he was like, "No way. Please don't do that. Because I believe you have the aptitude to be a special forces soldier and you'll regret that for the rest of your life if you don't do it."
He had more belief in me than I had in myself.
So I borrowed confidence off that man. And that's why it's so important. If you are a leader, the effects you can have on the people around you that look up to you. Any of those words of confidence have such a deep and meaningful effect on any individual, and it certainly did on me.
But really then pushing forward for special forces selection, that growth that I felt through that course. All my life I had given myself a hard time. It's like all my life, self-doubt self-criticism, and that's never gone away. But it's different levels of self-criticism and belief.
When it got to the end of that course, I was like, "Wow, I'm one of five out of that 250, or whatever the number was on that day, I must have something."
A lot of the special forces operators that I've spoken with have mentioned the camaraderie between different units.
Did you notice any common traits between the Delta operators, the SEALs, the British special forces, the Aussies, what were the common traits between the most elite soldiers from all around the world?
As a special forces soldier, we work with units all over the world. At the end of the day, there's no easy special forces selection. This is fact. There's never going to be an easy one where you say, “I'll go to them because that's an easy one.” They're all meant to be hard because of the environment they're training you for.
Now, it's not the same for every special forces unit. And certainly as a contractor as well – I spent a long time as a military contractor working with a lot of former special forces from all over the world – there's almost this sense of belief in someone else's abilities once you know they've done a special forces selection.
They were given the autonomy and the responsibility to get the job done at any cost. They didn't have to seek a high command to take the shot.
How that plays out when you're working together is you know that that person has a strong belief in their own abilities. You know they're the kind of person who will get the job done whatever, they've got that ‘can do’ attitude.
You know you're dealing with someone highly motivated, highly driven, and really that is for anyone who's done any kind of credible special forces selection process. So there's a certain set of skills, as Liam Neeson once said!
But the thing is it's your character. Forget these skills on a weapon system or whatever, it's your skills as a person, your ability as a person. We’ve got a lot of time for the Delta lads because we feel the Delta lads are more like the SBS than the Navy SEALs, but really it's understanding that it's that character of person. You can rely on that person 100%.
You often talk about breathe–recalibrate–deliver. Can you share an example of how someone could use that in a civilian setting?
One of my best mates, Foxy, who's also a former SBS operator. He's on the TV show. We sat down and we said, "How did we manage, throughout that time of absolute mayhem, to step outside of that mayhem, slow everything down to our speed so that we were in control?"
We put ourselves in the driving seat. But what did we do, and what was happening? So really let's look at what happens when you get into a very stressful situation. You don't even know you're doing it, but your breathing starts to become very erratic. What happens then cortisol levels start to increase.
Our brains can only handle five to nine bits of information at any one time. When we’re stressed, that goes down to one, maximum two. The only way you can alleviate that confusion through the rise of that cortisol is by breathing. That's not just in a special forces environment, when things start to go wrong, that could be a traffic incident or even an argument. It ramps up very quickly.
Your mind is the best weapon you've got.
Now, you can't allow yourself to get pulled along at that speed, because the situation will grab you around the neck and it will rag you around a little doll. So basically what you have to do in that moment, and it sounds like a long process but it doesn't have to be.
If you are going into a situation, you've got to control the cortisol. And the only way you can do that is by breathing. They teach it in yoga. People who do yoga will understand it. Breathe in for three to five seconds, hold for three to five, out for three to five seconds, hold for three to five. And control your pattern of breathing.
That lowers cortisol, and at that moment, that's what we call recalibration. Recalibration is about letting go of all the things that don't matter in that moment and focusing on the one to two things that do. And once you're in that emotional state, you then deliver the action.
Because if you don't control your faculties, your brain is just wired to go, “Get me out of here, whatever it takes!” It'll take the shortcut just to get out of that situation. Nine times out of 10, you will step into further danger or make a decision that you’re going to regret afterwards.
So just that simple process.
Don’t they say in scuba diving that you go through your oxygen tank twice as fast when you can’t regulate your breathing – often through fear?
Yeah, 100%. It is the same when you're above the surface.
This isn't just about being a special forces soldier and being shot at. This is about everything in your life. If you know you are going into a situation that is going to be stressful – it could be a negotiation, it could be speaking to your boss about a pay rise, whatever it is – control your breathing before you go in.
Recalibrate to let go of all the things that don't matter in that moment and focus on the one to two things that do.
Because if you go with that heightened sense of emotion, which is basically your fight or flight response, you are not going to make the right decision or take the right action. Also, if you suddenly find yourself in that situation, the first thing you should do is take a breath before you take action.
It can happen really quickly, really quickly. But yeah, breathe, recalibrate, deliver the action. And nine times out of 10, you'll make a decision that's based on clarity and not confusion.
Which can have a very big difference to sending an email that could ruin your career or relationship.
Listen, we've all been in that situation, whether it's road rage, whether it's an argument with your partner, whether it's how you've reacted to your kids, we all do it. And then afterwards you go away, you go, "Why did I say that?"
Your face goes red. You feel like an idiot. You can avoid that from happening.
It's easier said than done, but if you can make that conscious effort not to react in that moment. Take a knee in the heat of battle and just go through that process very quickly, it makes all the difference.
And listen, I'm not perfect. I still react. I still get flared up in the car and stuff like that, but I'm extremely conscious of when that does happen.
Yeah, the quicker you can take that breath, the quicker you can get the situation back on track.
Are there any things that you do instinctively from all of your special forces training in life today?
Process, I understand how important process is.
When I get up, I have a very strict routine, and my best day is the best version or the best day. And I say my best day because every day is not like this! But I aim to do this every day. And that's get up very early in the summer, which can be as early as 4:30 AM.
I get out of bed. I go downstairs. I go into my infrared sauna, I sit in there, I use YouTube for a guided meditation for about 20 minutes. I'll then come out of there, get the dog, go for a run. I put some clothes on first, by the way!
And then by the time I've got back to my home office, which is the only time I will turn my phone on, I'll take it off flight mode, I then can do probably an hour's work that would take me two hours to do later on during that day.
Now, the reason I've detailed that is because I don't want do that. At the end of the day, people go, "Oh, it's because you're an ex special forces soldier. You can do that." That's absolute rubbish, because I bleed and breathe just like everyone. I have the same things going on up here as everyone does. Or “You've worked hard enough, let's start on a Monday,” blah, blah, blah. This, that, and the other. Or you're tired.
All these range of things, because your brain is wired to take that creative procrastination. It will try. Your brain says, “Go check your phone, check your email.” It's looking to try and steer you in a path that's going to avoid the unknown stress that's about to happen.
Process is what gets me through that. I've got to switch off the emotional messages going on in my brain and just follow process. I know at that point, I wake up. I don't need an alarm clock anymore because I'm so used to getting up at that time.
Process is so powerful. Don't expect to be motivated, because it comes and goes – no matter who you are.
So I wake up, I know straight away that I've got to get out of bed. And that's a process: “Get out of bed. Go downstairs, do the sauna.” Especially in the winter, after the sauna, what do you think my head's saying? “Stay in. The radiator's just come on. The coffee machine is there. The bean to cup coffee machine. You worked hard yesterday, why don't you go for a run tomorrow?” All this stuff.
But no. You follow the process. Put your trainers on, get the dog, take a step outside. As soon as you close that door, everything changes.
Now, if I have a bad day after that routine, I've won every day. I don't care how bad the day is, but if I've allowed my brain to combat me or dominate over me and I have a bad day, that day is something I prefer to forget. And you should never want to forget any days. Well, some days you've got no choice on that.
So really for me, it's about process. Process is so powerful. Don't expect to be motivated. It comes and goes. I don't care if you're an astronaut, special forces soldier, gold medalist, motivation comes and goes. It's not there all the time.
That's where process really is important from A to B to C to D. Follow that process and you'll get there.
What if you're out of your environment, say you're hopping on a flight to Australia to go and film an episode of your epic show, SAS Australia, you've had zero sleep on the plane. You're in a hotel room, maybe there's construction next door. And you've got to rock up and deliver on camera. Everything's riding on you.
Have you got something that you do to make sure you can get in the zone and deliver the best in that moment?
Mate, that sounds very familiar! It sounds very familiar indeed.
I've been in that situation time and time again, but the thing is at the end of the day, I understand how my body works and I understand when I'm feeling tired. I understand why my mind's pretending that I'm tired to try and avoid something.
And I think understanding how I'm wired, understanding exactly what's going on. I'm very in touch with who I am. I think that helps me to understand the days when I do need to take a rest.
For me, again, getting up in the morning, I don't set the alarm. So if I sleep until 6 AM, my body needs it. And that's the way I run things. If I'm going overseas, I can't get that workout in. I can't do my routine.
No plan survives first contact. Remain totally dynamic and understand that any sort of progress towards a goal is never linear.
I don't give myself a hard time. Weekends, I don't do that routine. I give myself a break. I have a lie in, that's never really a lie in as such. 6 - 6:30 AM lie in. But really it's just understanding that, and I adapt.
A lot of times, in the morning, for instance, not tomorrow morning but this week I couldn't do my routine on Monday because I had to be on a train early to London. But I just understand that will be a day that I have to put stuff to one side, but at least I've got a good reason to do that.
So at the end of the day, you can't give yourself a hard time when you don't do it. As long as you've got a valid excuse and it's not just your mind doing that creative procrastination that it loves to do.
We’ve got some questions now from the Win the Day community:
“How do you help people get really honest about what their personal mission is and what their true goals are?” – Nathan (Sydney, Australia)
There is a process around that. It's really important to understand that goal has to be extremely selfish. A goal is not about how it looks to the outside world, you have to be passionate about that. Because if you're not passionate about it, you're never going to achieve it.
So really, the first thing to do with anyone that really wants to evolve in life is they have to be 100% honest with where they are right now.
You want to go somewhere, you need your GPS. If you don't know where you are right now, you're never going to find your destination. So it's 100% being totally honest with where you're at right now.
I am getting so tired of people who are not authentic. You see it everywhere. Everyone is faking perfection, especially on Ego-Gram, which I call Instagram. Everyone's faking perfection. There's a lot of people out there painting this picture of perfection, and it's such a lie. It's such a lie.
Write down all your weaknesses, because if you can't expose your weaknesses you can't do anything about them.
Be absolutely honest with yourself. Write down all your weaknesses, because if you can't expose your weaknesses you can't do anything about them. It's like when I went through some mental health issues, I came back and basically I wanted to start this company called BreakPoint. BreakPoint is all about helping other people. And I was broken at the time I came up with that. How can I help other people if I'm broken?
If I didn't expose all of my weaknesses and do something about that, there's no way I could have achieved what I wanted to achieve. So really it's about being 100% honest with yourself.
When it comes to your goals, once you've defined your weaknesses – that could be alcohol, it could be drugs – whatever it is, once you've addressed that and got yourself to a place where that is no longer evident, that is a much better standing point to state your goals. You've got a much better foundation for that.
And I want to acknowledge you for a moment with just how honest, vulnerable, and upfront you are with your books. If you haven't gone and grabbed a copy of Ollie's books, they’re amazing.
Thank you, mate. Thank you.
“Is it true people in the SAS and SBS inflict pain on each other to keep from getting bored and to keep on edge?” – Tim (Gladstone, Australia)
I love that question!
I'll look for an element of truth in that. And probably mental torture, yeah. And it's always from a joking kind of nature, but we're just like a load of kids all together, practical jokes and everything else. So that's probably the only element.
But you don't sit there and put a hot poker in the eye kind of thing just because you're bored! It doesn't happen.
“How do you process some of the atrocities you went through in war? Do you have to replay them with a different mindset to come to terms with it?” – Brad (Vancouver, Canada)
I think you've got to understand it.
It's another great question, but I think you've got to understand it. You've got to take yourself out of that equation and not allow yourself to be the victim of the situation. You've got to understand, your power has to be the purpose of what you are doing.
It's like when I went across to Southeast Asia to handle child prostitution and slavery. I'd just come back from the UK, I'd reunited with my son. I'd not seen him for eight years before I did that. Seeing my son then, it was amazing to see him.
Then I went over to Southeast Asia, saw kids my son's age that were being sold into a life of child prostitution and slavery. Now, I could have looked at that and all kinds of mental trauma and everything that could have related to that.
Your power has to be the purpose of what you are doing.
But really when I then focused on them as opposed to me, and how my actions were helping to change the destiny of their lives, that became a lot more powerful than the atrocities that I was witnessing.
It took me out of being the victim, and knowing that everything that I was doing was for the greater good at helping them. So define your power away from yourself and don't allow yourself to be subject to being the victim.
“Would you recommend your own children follow in your footsteps?” – Mary (Kelowna, Canada)
No, I would not.
We were all put on this planet to find our own path in life. At the end of the day, if my son said to me one day, "Look, I'm joining the military" I'd support him 100%, but I wouldn't shoehorn him into it.
We are all here to find our own path in life, and I think we can support, but I wouldn't want to start shoehorning and start saying, “This is what you should do.” I know my son wouldn't do that anyway!
Actually my son just turned up about four weeks ago and now lives with me for the first time ever, so it's a good thing.
At the end of the day I'd just like to say as well, I have a lot of different views nowadays about war itself. I look at the validity of some of these conflicts and some of these wars, and I don't have a lot of belief in the motive behind them. So I certainly wouldn't be pushing people to do the same.
Does the validity come from the costs of war?
The costs and also the motives, the motive at the end of the day then further amplify the cost. Because I know a lot of people who come back with missing limbs, but obviously not all scars are evident. The meaning behind the reason to go to war. And that's very apparent in this world today.
The world we experience on a daily basis as well. I think a lot of people are making decisions, and they’re writing paychecks for other people's lives, and I think it's a terrible thing.
“As a soldier, did you ever put yourself in the other side's shoes where you feel empathy, sadness, or even not want to fight?” – Karen (Dublin, Ireland)
I can remember when I went to my first war – they call it a ‘conflict’, but if someone's trying to kill you I call it a ‘war’ – and that was in Northern Ireland.
I would put myself in their shoes, and I thought very much like we were fighting the IRA out there. And I said it on a daily basis, that if I was born in Ireland I would probably be in the IRA. And I've always held that thought. Whenever I go to any kind of war zone and have been anywhere, I always put myself in their shoes. I always put myself in their shoes.
It's like when I was in Iraq, I got attacked by the militia. I thought, well, I'd probably be in the militia. If I lived there, and the Americans moved in and everything else, how would I feel? How would I feel if that was my country? I would want to rebel. I want to be in the resistance or whatever.
“What's the hardest thing that you've experienced as an elite soldier?” – Brett (Brisbane, Australia)
Selection was the hardest thing as an elite soldier.
One thing I'll say, look, I make no bones about this, is the fact that when I passed special forces selection, I expected to be at war every day. It's something that I wanted to be. That's where I wanted to be. That didn't happen for me. I wasn't around during the time of Iraq, because when I was in Iraq I’d left and was a military contractor.
When I passed special forces selection, I expected to be at war every day.
So really for me, and the reason for a lot of my frustration as a soldier, is because I wasn't at war every day. There wasn't loads going on. The hardest thing for me, I tell you what, and I know it's going to be a bit deflating for someone asking that question, is the fact I could not handle life as a peacetime soldier. That was the most frustrating thing for me.
I wanted to be at war every day, and sitting there around camp training, training, training, that was the hardest thing for me.
So sorry there wasn't blood and guns and bullets in that answer, but that was it!
Let's switch gears now. So much of your journey has been inspired by that time after you left the military. And you did a lot of soul searching when you were in Australia and all of those different things before BreakPoint.
The structure of special forces was a big part of your discipline and desire to maintain that excellence. Why is it that so many people who are in the special forces struggle to maintain that discipline and that strength when they leave?
They lose their sense of purpose. If you want to relate it to someone who’s at the top of their game, like in football, any kind of Olympic medalist, or whatever, coming out of that and then all of a sudden seeing this massive void, and struggling to find purpose.
I didn't understand what that word meant when I was serving. I didn't understand – it's nothing that ever came into my vocabulary. But I really did start to understand it afterwards.
I was bouncing around warzones, looking for this external fix that I thought was going to make me happy.
When I lost that sense of purpose I came outside, and I had no discipline as such because I was drinking heavily. I knew there were things I was doing wrong, but I was still doing them. But really I lost that sense of purpose, that enthusiasm for life.
I was bouncing around warzones, looking for this external fix that I thought was going to make me happy. It took me a long time to realize that there is no external fix. And it was only when I was forced to look within that I realized the answers were at, that's where the answers are all along.
Leadership starts with you, like you mentioned earlier?
100%. We are so much output, output, output, and we rarely think about input.
But I was forced into that. I was at my lowest ebb after 10 years after leaving, when I started thinking about suicide. I had just gone overseas to do that thing with helping the kids. Came back, that fell apart. And it was like my life just fell apart at that point.
That forced me to stop looking for the answers externally, and it forced me to look within. And you know what? My greatest obstacle was my greatest discovery. And that obstacle was really the fact that I was forced to look within. Looking within very quickly, the return on investment was absolutely unbelievable.
Was there a particularly dark day that stands out where you were at your lowest point that you remember?
I was living in Australia at the time. I stumbled across something overseas that just meant more to me than the military. It was that piece that had always been missing. And I just sat there thinking, “Wow, I felt I had the biggest sense of purpose I'd ever had.”
I just thought, “This is me for the rest of my life. I found it. I found it.” I stumbled across it – and that was the power of helping people, especially those less fortunate. I wasn't being paid for that. I was funding that myself.
And that all crumbled down and I ended up back in Australia. A short time after, there was a group of days when I actually started thinking about suicide. That was the point where I went, “Whoa, what are you doing?”
I don't know if I'd have attempted it. I never attempted it, but the fact I was there, that was a wake up call for me. That little voice I heard again that said, “Ollie, it does not end like this.” I heard that. And that voice, hearing that voice, I was like, “No, it doesn't.”
At that point, I started to realize that the more we focus on anything, the bigger it gets. That can be positive. But if it's a negative thing, for me, hating my environment, hating myself, the more I did that, the bigger that was going to become. So really it was about taking myself out of there, starting to visualize, and starting to project what I wanted to look like.
That little voice I heard again that said, “Ollie, it does not end like this.”
Once I could visualize what that looked like, I then add emotion to then create what that feels like, which is so important. That is what pulled me out of that darkness.
I want to make a point of this because I think it's really important. When it comes to mental health, I started to question myself. I sat there going, “I've got mates with legs that are blown off.” This, that, and da, da, da, da,da.
I started to compare myself to them, and wonder why I deserved to have mental health issues? I started to think there was some kind of criteria, some kind of checklist. The fact of the matter is it's relative to you. We are our own barometer.
Now, it's as simple as this. There's seven days in a week. If you are feeling bad five out of seven, you need to do something about it. If you are feeling bad four out of seven, you need to do something about it. At the end of the day, we have bad days, but we should be feeling good more so than not.
The military don't own PTSD. The military don't own mental health issues. You need to do something about it. And that's when I then reversed that.
The answer to our mental health is our mental wealth. The more we invest in ourselves, the better the return on investment.
How is PTSD handled in special forces? Do they assume because of your superior tactical training that you would be better equipped to handle something like PTSD?
I did hear a statistic recently that there are a lot less mental health issues and PTSD in the special forces than any other unit, but they still have their issues.
A lot's changed since I joined. I've been out a long time, James. Back in my day, it's shut up, have a beer, and get on with it. And I know that attitude. The more we can do to change that, the better.
Looking back, I left with that mentality. Listen, I'm a big alpha male. I'm all for being alpha. I am an alpha male. But I came out with this sort of macho attitude that showing any kind of weakness or any kind of emotion is weak, and it should be hidden away.
The more we invest in ourselves, the better the return on investment.
I look back on that now and I think how weak I was for not being able to help myself, for not being able to take that help from other people who were there to support me. I look at that and I think how weak I was for that.
I sat there thinking, “I'm a former special forces soldier, I can't have mental health issues.” So you need to stop labeling yourself. At the end of day, it's simple. Are you feeling below par more so than not? If you are, do something about it.
When I went to see a spiritual psychologist, everything started turning around for me. They're the ones who reversed the lens and told me to look within, and that was life changing.
Can you tell us more about what happened during that encounter?
I was in Brisbane at the time, and I’d come back from Iraq.
I started to question a lot, looking back, and thinking, “Wow, this is not good.” It's probably the first time I'd actually sat there and thought about it. I was drinking too much. I was coming back from a war zone, and I do empathize with my partner at the time, Nat, who was a psychologist, thank God, because she saved me a fortune!
I started to think about the people around me and how I was affecting them. And it started to make me question myself a lot. At that point, I knew by going to a doctor that they would slide me across a load of pills and they were not going to help – I've had friends who have done that and then died shortly afterwards.
I started to think about the people around me and how I was affecting them.
I wanted to seek something alternative to that option. And I don't know, I just was almost drawn to this person who was a psychologist but in a more sort of holistic kind of way.
I did group meditations, and other things I would've never have done under my own steam. But him pushing me into that, that was life changing. That was unbelievable. So yeah, that was really the start of me starting to reflect and look inwards.
And in Battle Ready you said you were happier than ever because you found your inner purpose and you followed it. Was that the process there of all that that you just shared, or was it something else?
That's exactly as you just said, a bit more clarity.
Because later on down the track I was searching. I look back and I've had a great life. It's been amazing, but I've always had that ‘I'm not settled in my environment’ kind of feeling, and I'm not at home here, not right. I've always felt that.
After the spiritual psychologist, I went to Southeast Asia, stumbled across that experience, which was, again, something that was devastating for me. But look at the silver lining I took from that. I understood the power of helping other people. That was so powerful.
That would then be the heartbeat and DNA of starting my company BreakPoint. It's something I'd never considered before, a life in service of others. And I think it's a really good way for a lot of people to reflect. If you are feeling a bit like you are in this monotonous routine, life's a bit mundane. Life's a bit flat. Don't reflect on your job as just a means for paying your bills. Start to look at how your job is positively affecting the life of others.
And once you reflect on it like that, it gives you a greater sense of purpose than just paying for your car finance or for your kids' bills or whatever. A lot of time people can't just say, "Oh well, I'm going to change jobs. I'm going to do this." They can't do that. But you can reframe. It's a simple process to reframe exactly what you're doing. And that was a massive thing for me.
Start to look at how your job is positively affecting the life of others.
The thing that changed my life, when I came out of the military, all I thought about was money, money, money, money, money, where can I earn money? Oh, go to Iraq as a contractor, earn loads of money. It was all money. Money was in the driving seat. I was money's bitch. I was also alcohol's bitch. And basically that was in the driving seat.
I learned so much from that operation in Thailand, because all of a sudden I had a greater passion that was far superior to the driving force for revenue. Finances became the byproduct, and that's why I'm the happiest I've ever been, because front and center is my passion and my mission for what I'm doing. It’s no longer about money.
Because when you've got that attitude – that money's in control, or anything, whether that's money, pornography, whether that's alcohol, whatever it is – you are never going to be satisfied. With the money thing, once you get to that next goal, whatever it is, you want the next, you want the next. It's never ending. You're never going to be happy.
But when your passion is driven by something more powerful than that, your sense of purpose, which it is for me now, the money's a byproduct.
Such an important distinction. So well said.
Through your TV shows and also your military career, you've trained so many people, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Ollie Ollerton does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
How quickly can you tell whether someone has what it takes to succeed, and what are the signs that you're looking for?
You can tell by their energy, by their commitment as well.
I deal with a lot of people. I do a lot of talks, and I’m often brought in to help companies evolve. But there's never a greater audience than the audience that is totally invested in developing themselves.
It's like when you've got an audience who are hungry for that content because they want to add that value to their own life. When you can see that in a person, and you can feel that, it's an energy exchange.
In some environments, for example I might be doing a presentation, I feel like an energy bucket with a hole in it. It's just leaking out, pouring out. And the more you put in, it's just pouring out. But when I have an audience and people around me that you can feel that they are so invested in self-development, they're going to meet you halfway and then some.
Money was in the driving seat. I was money's bitch. I was also alcohol's bitch.
It becomes like this energy circuit, as opposed to just your energy pouring out and going nowhere. It becomes this energy exchange. And that's amazing. You can feel it and you can sense it, and that is just amazing.
I can sit here talking until I'm blue in the face about stuff, but if someone's not invested in taking on board what I'm saying, it's going to have a limit, a very short limit as well.
And speaking of great energy, shout out to Laura, Denny, Lisa and the BreakPoint team doing some amazing things. What are you working on now that you're most excited about with?
Yeah, we're looking to get everything online now. That's a passion for me. And I've got Denny and Lisa out here, they're pushing the events side of the business, so the front-facing side of the business, which has then given me and Laura the freedom to then branch away and start to really get the online program so we can reach a much bigger audience.
But that mission to create a globally identified brand recognized for the positive growth and development of others, the way we can do that is through our online and virtual programs. And then all of a sudden we find that we're moving, we've created this amazing space, but we've managed to find what we've been looking for a long time.
And that is a property where we can co-locate the business and everything. So we've got the business there, the house, the whole lot. So that is our next project and move into that, and I think that really is going to help us go to the next level.
But really just doing what we are doing on a bigger scale, that's the mission.
On your best day, what's an affirmation that you would write on a flashcard that you could show yourself on your worst day?
“I am willing to accept change. As difficult as it may seem, I know it's taking me to bigger and better things.”
That was the one affirmation when I was in Australia, and I knew something was changing. Everything was starting to fall apart. Pain screams the loudest when it's dying. It's the birth of something new. And I said that affirmation every day, and the more I said it, the more things started to change.
As I looked around me, I started to realize as difficult as it may seem, it was falling apart, but it was the birth of something new. I always relate to a relationship because everyone's been in one of those. Everyone's been in a toxic relationship, especially people my age anyway, at some point.
Pain screams the loudest when it's dying. It's the birth of something new.
When things start to fall apart, it's because you can't fool the universe. Because your soul's not connected to that engagement, whatever it is, it starts to fall apart, but you have to surrender to it and if it feels painful, but you've just got to get through that and understand it's the birth of something new.
Like I just said before, pain screams the loudest when it's dying. You've got to allow it to scream. It will try and hold onto you and claw you back in, and it's easy to put that bandaid on, but you've got to let it go surrender because it's the birth of something new.
An increasing theme on this show from all the amazing people who have come on it, which you've just shared there, it's the idea of embracing and leaning into change rather than resisting it.
It's such an important thing to do.
Because naturally we're wired to avoid stress. We want to go the path of least resistance. And really what do we do at BreakPoint? We embrace short term discomfort for long term change, long term gain.
Final question, what's one thing you do to Win the Day?
What I do to Win the Day is I follow my morning routine religiously. I give myself something every day. That's in front of my wife, kids, anyone. It's about me being selfish, investing in myself before anyone else.
And the more I can do that to create the foundation of strength, I'll bear the storm.
Ollie, what an absolute pleasure, mate. Thanks so much for coming on the show.
Likewise mate, thank you very much.
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