Life In The Military: 15 Badass Skills You Can Apply To Your Own Life

Life in the military teaches you some very useful skills, traits and habits.

My time in the Navy was one of the defining periods in my life. It gave me skills, polished the ones I already had but most importantly it gave me confidence.

Of course, you can learn these skills elsewhere, but military service is one of the fastest and best ways to get them quickly and establish them as habits.

This is because when you first arrive at basic training you are thrown into a completely foreign environment and you have to learn fast to survive. You either adapt or you're out.

However even if you haven't been in the military and never intend to join, you can take these military skills and apply them to your own life.

1. Personal Discipline

personal discipline

The military will instill high standards in all areas.

This will be from personal grooming to your uniform to physical training to the work that you do either in the office or in the field.

To the civilian world some of these things seem picky and trivial such as having gleaming boots and an immaculately ironed rig.

But how can you achieve big things if you can't get a handle on small ones? The aim is to develop attention to detail and instill discipline and high standards in everything you do.

Eventually you won't maintain those standards because somebody is forcing you to. Eventually you will maintain those standards because you want to. Because you want to be the best.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

Whatever you do in life, do it well. Don't be lazy and do a half assed job, even if nobody else will know. Hold yourself to high standards, rather than holding yourself to the standards of others.

Focus on the small details and do them well. Be disciplined in your habits and strive to better yourself.

2. How To Get Along With Others

In the military you live and work with people 24/7. Some of these people you won't like but you are all part of a team.

You must have a thick skin and be able to take criticism. You must have the ability to argue or disagree and get over it. There is no place for holding a grudge or a personal slight.

You have to share small living quarters with others, which means being clean, tidy, courteous and respectful of other people's space.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

In any workplace, sports team or group you are going to have to deal with difficult personalities and people you don't necessarily get along with. They might be your peers, you boss or your subordinates.

You have to be able to continue to do your thing and play your part in the team while maintaining effective personal and professional relationships. The key to doing this is to be respectful.

3. Teamwork

As well as getting along with others, one of the crucial aspects to military life is the ability to work as part of a team. As well as instilling discipline, much of basic training is dedicated to drilling recruits in the ability to work as part of a team.

This doesn't mean, as commonly believed, that the individual's identity to to be suppressed, rather it means individuals have to learn how to put aside their individual needs for the needs of the team.

When people come together they can achieve more than the sum of their parts. In the military you really come to understand this concept. You have to make sacrifices for the collective good.

One tactic often used to drill this in at training is that the person who makes a mistake is exempt from punishment and stands by and watches while everyone else has to complete the punishment. This teaches you to avoid letting down the team and teaches the team that they are only as good as their weakest link.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

A team is not just a collection of individuals, but something with its own sense of self. Whatever teams you are in, learn to put aside your own needs from time to time and think of the collective.

Make others look good, help your teammates, be a constructive team member and most importantly be gracious if your personal ambitions have to take a backseat to the needs of the team.

4. Toughness And Tenacity

Whether it's running up hills with bags of sand, keeping yourself awake during a watch or dealing with a lack of sleep or food the military teaches you to push through mental and physical barriers.

You are put into so many difficult situations that you learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is character building stuff and helps you to learn to overcome adversity

The mind and body are capable of a great deal more than you realize. It's just that most people never push themselves hard enough to discover their full potential.

In the military you learn how to punch through your own resistance and achieve results against all odds. You learn to be tenacious and tough.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

Don't be afraid or shy away from difficult situations. In fact you should be encouraged to voluntarily put yourself in difficult situations.

Instead of looking for comfort, look for a challenge and anything that will build your character and make you tougher. Get out of your comfort zone on a regular basis and see struggle and adversity as a necessary part of life and a means for personal growth.

5. How To Learn Quickly And Be Adaptable

In the military you are forced to learn quickly. Unlike college, who you are paying tuition fees, the military is paying you while you go through training.

They have an incentive to ensure that you take on as much information as quickly as possible, both to reduce costs and to get you ready to do your job because they need you.

Basic training imparts a large amount of information on you, while at the same time instilling culture, habits and discipline. This doesn't stop when you graduate as every new posting or rank will require you to learn quickly.

Not only do you have to learn your specialist skills, but you will be expected to perform a range of general and varied tasks. If you don't know how to do it, you have to figure out how to do it. You have to be flexible, adaptable and most of all efficient.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

Make it a habit to always be challenging yourself with a new skill. Don't get comfortable with just going through the motions with the same old repetitive tasks. Whether this is in your professional life or in your personal life, always be on the lookout for new challenges that expand your skillset.

6. How To Take Responsibility

In the military you need to be accountable for your actions. You need to be a dependable and reliable colleague and team member. You need to able to work and lead in a self directed manner. You need to have integrity and uphold the values of the service and your unit.

All of this requires you to take full responsibility for your actions. Shifting the blame, telling untruths or shirking your workload are not acceptable. You have to own up and man up.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

Make the traits of responsibility and integrity a cornerstone of your character. It doesn't matter whether you are in the military or not, a good man demonstrates these qualities.

Tell the truth, keep your word, do your fair share and be accountable for your actions and your mistakes.

7. Leadership


In the military the first person you need to learn to lead is yourself. You also need to learn how to be a good follower, as it is just as important to be able to receive and execute commands as it is to be able to give them.

If you are enlisted you will start to shoulder leadership responsibilities gradually as you rise through the ranks. If you are an officer, you will be thrown in the deep end and given significant leadership responsibilities early in your career.

What many people don't know is that military personnel do not perform leadership in a hierarchical top down method of barking orders at people at expecting compliance. There is a time and place for that - on the battlefield - but outside times of danger leadership needs to be more motivational and less dictatorial.

Yes, the hierarchy is there, but if you have to rely on your rank as a leader then you have failed. People should follow you because you are competent, effective, trustworthy and because your character commands respect.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

Seek out leadership opportunities wherever you find them. Work to become the type of person who is comfortable taking charge in any situation, even one in which you do not have expertise.

Do not expect to be able to issue commands because of your position. Instead aim to build the trust and respect of the people you lead.

8. How To Be Decisive

In the military you have to make quick and decisive decisions. You don't often have all the information or time that you need to make a well thought out plan. You go with a combination of instinct, gut and training.

In fact research has shown that people who have served in the military are less agreeable than their civilian counterparts. This might have an impact on friendships and relationships but it means you are able to make strong, decisive and perhaps unpopular decisions that might be necessary but upsetting to some.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

Don't wait for conditions to be perfect before you commit to something. Don't plan endlessly and never execute. Just get started.

You can always adjust and recalibrate later on if the original decision was flawed in some way. But be confident and don't let fear or uncertainty hold you back from making decisions.

9. Good Etiquette

Proper etiquette is a lost art in the modern world, but is something that is very important in the military.

These are some of the small yet important things the military teaches:

  • Being tidy and well groomed
  • Being well dressed and appropriately dressed for the occasion
  • Being punctual
  • Making eye contact
  • Showing respect to superiors
  • Greeting others in passing
  • Conducting oneself appropriately during formal dining

These things aren't important to most young men, but they should be. In the military they are necessary traits for both personal discipline and the smooth functioning of the organization.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

Think about etiquette and make an effort to learn and apply the basic rules. It's not a set of snobby aristocratic rules, but rather the evolved forms of good social conduct.

Any aspiring gentleman needs to understand basic etiquette.

10. How To Keep Fit

how to keep fit

Part and parcel of life in the military is maintaining high standards of physical fitness.

Obviously soldiers need to be fit in order to do their job properly. However that is just one part of the focus on fitness.

More importantly physical fitness used as a tool to teach recruits to push through their mental barriers. It is used to show them that they can go farther than they ever thought possible and that they can push through the pain and through the desire to give up.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

Don't just treat your workouts as a physical exertion, treat them as a mental workout as well. Challenge yourself and push your body and mind to new limits.

This will yield greater physical results as well as developing mental strength and character.

If you don't have the self discipline to push yourself then find a training partner or join a group class like Cross Fit.

11. How To Work Under Stress

Life in the military brings a high level of stress. You are often in unfamiliar or unfavorable conditions, often running low on food or sleep and you have to make quick decisions. You are often far from home, away from loved ones and workinging long hours under significant pressure.

Yet you learn to live consistently out of your comfort zone and operate effectively and efficiently despite all the stressors. You learn to tune out the distractions and focus at the task at hand.

Civilian problems by comparison can seem trivial. In my first job out of the Navy, during a tough period when a lot of colleagues were stressed, I remember telling my boss, "I don't mind, at least in this job I get to go home and sleep in my own bed every night."

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

When life gets tough, as it inevitably will, try not to complain. Remember there is always someone doing it tougher than you.

Human beings have an amazing ability to expand their capacity to cope when they are required. Just ask any first time parent.

Absorb the pressure, remain grounded and perform your duties effectively.

12. Practical Skills

Life in the military provides you with an array of useful and practical skills.

These include firearms training, bushcraft and survival skills, seamanship and mechanical skills right down to how to iron a shirt and polish boots.

Some will be trade specific skills and others will be general things that everybody learns.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

If your parents didn't teach you something and you haven't picked it up in your civilian career then make an effort to get out there and learn it.

Want to fire a gun? Go down to your local gun range.

Want to get outdoor skills? Then join a hiking group.

The military gives you a lot of practical life skills, but they aren't the only place you can learn these things.

13. How To Form Good Habits

During basic training certain habits will be drilled into you. Things like waking up early, making your bed, doing your domestic chores and showering twice a day.

It won't take long for them to become habitual because they are forced on you. But later on, even when no one is checking up on you, you will maintain these basic habits throughout your career and possibly even into civilian life.

However it's not just those certain desirable military habits that you pick up. What you learn is how to make a habit stick.

I've always been into personal development and habit formation but during college I had a real hard time making my habits stick. I just lacked the discipline.

However after joining the Navy I have rarely had a problem. If I want to embed a habit I just stick to it for 30 days and the habit stays. Military training gave me the discipline I needed to be able to see through that initial period of habit formation.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

Even if you lack military training you can develop the discipline in order to successfully instill new habits.

You need to be very deliberate in your behavior and rigorous in sticking to your program, but it can be done.

Learning how to form habits is a key life skill and allows you to develop numerous positive traits and attributes in key areas such as fitness, nutrition, career, business and spirituality.

14. Loyalty

In the military you are expected to show loyalty to your country, your unit, your superiors and your mates.

This instills in you an ability to stay committed even during times of adversity and stress. You give your loyalty to others and you know that they give it to you.

You are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the collective and you give your all to make sure the collective succeeds.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

There are plenty of situations in life that demand loyalty and the need to think of the team before you think of yourself.

In your work, in your relationships and in sports teams you are expected to be loyal and committed. Selling out the team for your own personal gain is frowned upon at best and gets you fired, dumped or kicked out at worst.

It is important in life to think of number one. But it's also important to know when to put number one aside.

15. Minimalism

The military teaches you to be streamlined. While it can be guilty of having a top heavy bureacracy, in the field it practices strict minimalism.

You pack light and only carry the essentials. You focus on what's important and you cut the fluff.

Anything that you don't need will only weigh you down and must be discarded. You learn to live with only the basics but you treasure every item that you have, for each thing you carry has a crucial purpose.

How You Can Apply This In Your Own Life

Minimalism is a philosophy that advocates simplifying your life by reducing the number of unimportant things that clutter it.

Can you reduce the number of physical possessions you own? If there is anything that you don't actually use but it clutters up your house then get rid of it.

Go over your weekly schedule. Are you overcommitted? Could you simplify your life by reducing your committments and only focusing on what is important?

Look at your friendships. Do you have a large number of shallow friendships? Would you be better off by focusing on a smaller number of high quality friendships?


Military service is a great way to embed some very important life skills and habits. The military needs its people to be able to be highly functional under stress, as well as live together in close quarters, so they must be regimented and well drilled.

However you don't need to join the military in order to take on these habits and skills in your own life. You can learn them on your own.

However if you haven't picked them up through your parents, your schooling or your job then you need to make a conscious effort to instill these habits and skills to make them stick.

Image credits: DVIDSHUB, thinkpublic, Sam JR