“If we’re able to acknowledge that we respond differently when we’re in an emotional state of mind compared to a logical state of mind, that’s ¾ of the battle” — Eric Rittmeyer
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Rittmeyer
Eric is a former US Marine and an expert in the fields of mental toughness and emotional intelligence. He’s been a professional speaker for the past decade and is a regular guest on television outlets including Fox, CNN, NBC, and ABC. Eric’s also the author of the recently published book “The Emotional Marine — 68 Mental Toughness and Emotional Intelligence Secrets To Make Anyone Instantly Like You”. He speaks to audiences all over the country, teaching executives and sales professionals how to overcome the limits brought on by fear and emotions, and replace them with clear, concise critical thinking that gets results.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
Thanks, Chris! I grew up in Baltimore, MD with my grandparents and I was definitely NOT a good student. I went to school and did what I had to do, but I really showed up every day so I could play football and lacrosse. My grades reflected my “lack of desire” to be in school. I knew from a very young age that I didn’t want to go to college, but I really had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. By the time I got into the 11th grade, I realized that I really had only one other option if I wasn’t going to college — the military. Once I decided on joining, there was very little thought that went into which branch I’d select. I was all in for the Marine Corps. So I joined when I was 17 and shipped out to Parris Island 1 month after high school graduation.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
After getting out of the Marine Corps in 1996, I went right into the mortgage industry. In 2006, I founded my own reverse mortgage company and helped seniors to use their home’s equity to age in place. For the last decade, I’ve been training sales teams on what I call “Psychological Performance Training.” I’m a mental toughness and emotional intelligence expert and I do lots of television interviews on how to improve our lives by learning emotional control. I’m very fortunate to get lots of positive feedback from people all across the country about how my message has changed their lives. It still blows my mind how our educational system provides no training on emotional intelligence. We’re taught to memorize and regurgitate, but no one ever teaches us how to regulate our emotions and/or how to acknowledge when we’re reacting to a situation emotionally as opposed to logically. Helping people to discover their “triggers” and opening their mind to objective reality about beliefs they currently have is the best part of what I do daily.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
After graduating Parris Island and going through all of my schooling, I ended up getting stationed with the 3rd MAW in Tustin, CA. I was the aide to the CO of the base and spent the bulk of my time flying with him in the CH46 and CH53 helicopters. I spent two years there in southern CA, and took the USS San Bernardino to Hawaii, Guam, Peleliu, Palau, and Kwajalein. My last year was spent in Okinawa, Japan with the 3rd Forced Service Support Group on Camp Foster. I left there and was honorably discharged from Camp Pendleton, CA in 1996.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
While stationed in Japan I was fortunate to serve with a Marine by the name of Gunny G. He was hardcore and always held me and the rest of his Marines accountable for all of our actions. I was assigned as Platoon Sergeant during my final few months of serving with Gunny G and was having a difficult time with some of the Marines in my platoon. While talking with him about dealing with the issues he squats down with his cigarette (like he always did) and said “Dog, you do whatever you feel is best for your Marines and if you fall flat on your face and totally mess up, I got your back.” He always supported his Marines and only ever got upset when the same mistake was made twice.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
The one main term that sticks with me to this day is a phrase we use all the time in the Corps — Improvise, Adapt, Overcome. Those three words have helped me in my business life more than anything else. Our entire nation can benefit from those same words. When we’re faced with an obstacle — improvise, adapt, and overcome. There’s no time for excuses. There’s a mission that needs to be completed.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I obviously served with lots of amazing leaders that helped shape me into the Marine/Father/Businessperson I am today, but my Commanding Officer, Colonel Parker definitely had the largest influence on my life. He was an amazing role model and was the epitome of a US Marine. He constantly supported me and gave me the confidence I needed to step out of my comfort zone and be the best I could be. His lessons have stuck with me for the last 25+ years.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
A crisis is any situation that causes intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. We all deal with crises throughout our lives. They might be fairly minor like not having a sitter for our children when a last-minute plan changes or they might be severe like handling a major life-threatening health condition for a family member. This is where my expertise in mental toughness really comes into play. As with any situation that causes us pain/discomfort; it’s not what happens TO us that’s most important. It’s how we RESPOND to what happens that’s most significant.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
The most important thing we all need to do (regardless of our job title) is to realize that while we have zero control over the things that happen to us, we do have 100% control over what happens within us. In times of crisis what’s most important is to not direct our mental energy towards the things we have no control over. Instead, we should remain laser-focused on finding ways to get through the current situation as carefully as possible.
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
I think the first thing is to accept the fact that issues will arise. While no one likes to be put in uncomfortable scenarios, it’s in this state of “discomfort” that we really grow and learn how to overcome obstacles. The second piece is to make certain to keep our emotions in check and to truly analyze our thoughts to make sure we’re using them to best serve our interests. While crisis situations are never fun, it’s critical to accept the fact they’re going to happen and we should remember that through the worst adversities come opportunities.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
It’s all about remaining mentally tough. Our initial reaction to any situation is always going to be an emotional one. If we’re able to acknowledge that we respond differently when we’re in an emotional state of mind compared to a logical state of mind, that’s ¾ of the battle. Maintaining 100% control over our emotions allows us to handle stressful situations with a clear mind and the ability to solve problems using objective reality.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Some people will probably get angry with me for saying this, but I’d have to say Tom Brady. He’s really the prime example of how to remain calm when under extreme pressure. I reference the Super Bowl where they beat the Falcons in overtime. This is hard to believe, but Tom and the Patriots trailed that whole entire game. They didn’t have the lead for 1 second. The ability to push through scenarios like that and still accomplish the mission is what separates the average from the world-class.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.
When faced with any type of crisis, the ability to keep our emotions under control is critical. This allows us to think logically and be better capable to make rational decisions. That being said there are a few things I’d recommend to help people survive rough situations.
1) Learn how to compartmentalize — This is the ability to keep our thoughts apart from each other. It’s preventing our thoughts, feelings and actions on one situation from bleeding over into other parts of our life.
2) No allowing your emotions to be hijacked — We have total control of our thoughts. Preventing people and/or events from taking over our emotional wellbeing is dangerous.
3) Learning to operate from objective reality — Objective reality is the ability to view things for what they truly are; without any emotional interference. By asking yourself critical thinking questions, you’ll be better equipped to properly assess potential threats based on facts instead of feelings.
4) Learning to remain calm in volatile situations — Mentally tough people work hard to develop a state of “mental preparedness” that they can call on anytime things get crazy. They hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
5) Learning the difference between emotional and logic thinking — Emotion and logic are inversely related. As one goes up, the other goes down. Acknowledging which one your thought processes are in is important to fully understand the reasoning for your responses to stressful situations.
Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My message is really simple, and I’ll take a quote from one of the most emotionally intelligent people to ever live — Mr. Rogers. “We can use our words to heal a broken world.” We’ve lost the ability to accept an opposing point of view, which translates into people disliking each other merely because they don’t agree. As humans, we’re all hardwired the same way, we’re just different variations of the same core psychological blueprint. It’s time to get back to loving our neighbor again. We all need that.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I would have to say Dan Crenshaw. He is a US Representative in Texas and a former US Navy SEAL. Dan is an amazing example of how to use critical thinking to formulate thoughts and beliefs. He always remains composed and he’s outstanding at taking difficult concepts and breaking them down to very easily understandable.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you! My website is www.MentalToughnessSpeaker.com, and I’m all over social media under Eric Rittmeyer.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.