During Navy SEALs training, which is really tough, recruits can quit by ringing a bell three times. Then they get a shower and a hot meal, and they’re done with the struggle.

No more physical ordeals. No more being wet and sandy. No more sleep deprivation.

And no more opportunity to be part of a SEAL team.

Afterwards the recruits who quit can offer up any reasons they want, but it doesn’t matter in terms of results. They’ve demonstrated that they will give up on the team, so the team grows stronger when they leave.

SEAL training, especially hell week, is a filter. It separates the quitters from the committed. It separates those who align with the team from those who don’t.

The SEALs have a sense of the giant pumpkins they’re looking for, including people who won’t mentally or emotionally quit no matter what, so their training tries to filter for people with the qualities they want. It isn’t perfect, but it does filter out of a lot of people who wouldn’t be good matches for the SEALs.

While you could say that these are values-based filters, they’re really behavioral filters. It doesn’t matter why someone rings the bell – only that they ring it. It doesn’t matter why someone refuses to quit – only that they never ring the bell. Ringing the bell is a simple binary behavioral test. Quit or don’t quit.

The SEALs don’t need to do complex testing for values alignment. They can just have a simple test to see who quits and who doesn’t. They let the quitters go, and they invest in those who stay. This way they end up with a fairly aligned group – a group full of people who resist quitting.

Throughout the rest of the training, there are many more tests. At each point people either pass or they don’t. The training could be seen as a series of binary challenges.

I share this because I invite you to think of this as a lens or frame for considering some of your real-life challenges. I don’t recommend using this as your one-and-only frame, but it’s a nice one for simplifying the way you look at complex problems and cutting to the core issues quickly.

How many challenges can you reduce to binary pass-or-fail tests?

Fill in the blank: You either ______, or you rang the bell.

  • started your own business
  • asked for the date
  • wrote the book
  • took the trip
  • completed the project
  • completed the 30-day challenge
  • did the workout
  • spoke your truth
  • unfriended the Trump supporter
  • finished the song
  • seized the opportunity
  • built the website
  • launched the course
  • earned the degree

Think of a goal or challenge you’re currently facing. How does it look when you reduce it to a binary challenge? Get it done, or ring the bell. Does this help you see what kind of commitment you’ll need to avoid ringing the bell?

My 365-day blogging challenge can be reduced to a binary, pass-or-fail test. All I have to do to succeed is not ring the bell any day this year. Every day the choice is simple: create or quit. Either I ring the bell, or I don’t.

Is it always bad to ring the bell? No, sometimes it’s the right move. You just have to consider how you’ll feel about it afterwards. What meaning will you assign to it?

Ringing the bell can mean years of regret, or it could mean something very positive. You have to consider ringing the bell in the context of your big picture framing.

After six years in Toastmasters, I rang the bell and quit. To me that represented a graduation. It was a success. I had invested six years in the club and went from 7-minute speeches to designing and delivering 3-day workshops on the Vegas Strip. So that particular bell produced a glorious ringing sound to celebrate the journey and what it meant to me.

Ringing the bell on my computer games business after 10 years gave me mixed feelings. It was part joy and part sadness – the death of the old and the birth of the new. It was still a positive meaning overall but very different from leaving Toastmasters.

Note also that some people will view your bell ringing differently than you do – and differently from each other. When I left the computer games field, some people treated it like a failure while others congratulated me for making the change.

One interesting way to think about your personal relationships is to ask: What kind of person will never ring the bell on you? Who is capable of being your true, long-term friend?

This loops back to the recent article on Fragile vs Resilient Relationships. A fragile relationship will lead to someone ringing the bell and quitting. A resilient relationship is one where no one will ring the bell.

Truthfully you will have to ring the bell sometimes. You have to quit the misaligned, so you can find what’s truly commitment-worthy for you. You could see life as a process of discovering those deeper commitments where ringing the bell is simply not an option.