Everyday Warrior: Special Forces Operator Dean Stott on Mindset and Overcoming Challenges
By Mike Sarraille and Jack Haworth
This article is an installment of The Everyday Warrior series, a recurring column by retired Navy SEAL and best-selling author Mike Sarraille and edited by Jack Haworth, featuring advice, key interviews, and tips to live a life of impact, growth, and continual learning.
“I like to prove people wrong,” said Dean Stott, British Special Forces veteran, and Guinness World Record Holder. “I don’t see the point in arguing with people until you’re blue in the face. Doing what you said you were going to do, and then coming back to the table, speaks volumes.”
This straightforward yet powerful mindset has fueled Stott as he’s taken on challenges around the globe. Having spent 16 years in the British military and notably becoming one of the first army soldiers to join the Special Boat Service (SBS), Stott is no stranger to daunting situations.
In 2011, a parachute accident during pre-deployment training resulted in a severe leg injury that ended his military career. While Stott’s transition back into civilian life created a self-described “identity crisis,” he soon began work in private security and specialized in high-pressure evacuation situations in conflict zones.
“I was trying to match the adrenaline rush that I had when I was in the special forces, without actually coming to terms with the fact that I had left,” said Stott.
With a wife and young children, Stott decided to spend less time abroad and began searching for his next challenge. He found it on the Pan-American Highway — a 14,000-mile road spanning from southern Argentina to northern Alaska — the longest drivable road on Earth.
His goal? To set a world record for the fastest cycle journey on the highway and also raise money for mental health awareness — a philanthropic initiative he adopted after consulting his longtime friend, Prince Harry.
Stott exceeded his expectations and broke two world records on his journey — the fastest person to cycle the length of South America and the fastest cycle journey of the Pan-American Highway — while raising over a million dollars for charity. His official time was 99 days, 12 hours, and 56 minutes — smashing the former record by 17 days.
Since completing the journey in 2018, Stott has gone on to write a book about his life experience, Relentless, and is now plotting his next challenge: to kayak the length of the Nile River. We caught up with Stott to get some tips on overcoming major obstacles, coping with mental health struggles, and why everyone should embrace failure.
How did you process such a monumental challenge as biking 14,000 miles in under 100 days?
You’re not looking at the final day, you’re looking at what is in front of you today. What do I need to do today to get to tomorrow? And that’s how I did it. I broke down the countries into days, and I broke the days into stages. I just really laser-focused on what the objective was and kind of blocked everything else out.
I also ensured that I hit my targets for the day because when you go to bed at night you’re in the right mindset for the next day. And that’s a good takeaway point, whether it’s in business or sport or whatever, stay on that bike or do those extra phone calls, make sure you get done what you said you were going to do.
How do you handle a situation that doesn’t go according to plan?
I always say to at least have a plan in your head, but don’t be too worried if it doesn’t go according to plan. A good leader is someone who can react to that situation and react to those changes because the rest of the team is looking to them.
I talk about positivity being contagious, negativity being contagious, and fear being contagious. So if you’re positive and fearless, then how does that rub off on the people around you?
You can’t be experienced without experiences. There’s no organization out there that could replicate experiences that you have in the military, just that high octane environment and having to make crucial decisions.
For people trying to cope with the mental toll of Covid-19 pandemic, what advice would you give them?
You can’t change what’s happening. You can’t control the uncontrollable. I think the first thing everyone needs to do is accept that it’s happening. But whether you had an injury or whether it’s the situation with Covid-19, it can be very hard to stay focused.
For me, I need to do physical activity to keep me on point. I think you need to have a goal or something to aim for because it’s easy to get into a rut and just do nothing.
Everyone’s personal circumstances are different, but looking after your mental health, physical activity, communication, and then just setting yourself independent mini goals, that will help. If you see something not working, then be creative and change that. You don’t want to just keep doing the same thing over and over again.
Why is failure is something we should all embrace?
Failure is a great thing to take on board, but I don’t call it failure, I call it experiences. You need to identify what’s working, what’s not working, what would you do differently? Those three questions are quite key.
I think people fear failure and nowadays with social media, you see posts of people that already succeeded, but they don’t post their failures, and they will have failures. That’s why I think people should share more. I’d like to see people sharing what worked, what didn’t work.
People should change their mindset and embrace failure. Failure is good but learn from it, if you then make the same mistake, you’re not learning from it.
What is the best way to cope with the pressure to perform?
I think everyone takes pressure in different ways. For example, as long as I hit my targets for that day and do what I am supposed to do, then I’m not putting myself under pressure. But if I don’t hit those targets for that day, that’s when self-doubt starts creeping in.
With mental health issues on the rise, how can we better instill mental toughness into our kids?
People should try to reflect on what they did as a child. What they enjoyed and where they got their mental toughness or robustness.
I don’t wish to discredit social media or the internet, as there are pros and cons from both, but I think a break from the technical world and just unplugging completely to be outdoors is good. Go camping, go for a walk for an hour, that is going to help your mental state.
What is one takeaway people can use to make the most of every day?
The ethos of the Special Forces is the “Unrelenting Pursuit of Excellence”, but it’s not just sport or military. It can be anything that you do, as long as you do it to the best of your ability and don’t compare yourself to others. You can ask no more of a person if they’ve done something to the best of their ability.
When people want to do a challenge, often the anticipation is worse than participation. Many people will tell you why they can’t do it, but when they’ve actually gone through the work and done it, they look back and realize it actually wasn’t that bad.
Originally published at https://www.mensjournal.com on August 27, 2001.