Soldiers don’t have the luxury for tactics that “should” work “in theory.” Survival tends to separate the bullshit from the effective.
In 2006, Leif Babin had to navigate a team of soldiers through six sniper-manned and booby-trapped blocks in Ramadi. Pushing forward meant exposing the team to a potentially lethal attack that could come from any direction. Time spent deliberating only gave their enemies an opportunity to assemble and fortify position. They had to move.
We are fortunate to rarely, if ever, find ourselves in mortal danger. Yet our stresses and responsibilities accumulate, and in quiet moments - perhaps shortly after turning out the lights at the end of the day - we feel overwhelmed by obligations real and imaginary. Cynical people (usually behind a keyboard) will trivialize these as “first world problems”, but the truth is our body's stress response doesn’t differentiate much between a looming bear and a looming deadline.
We task ourselves with not just maintaining, but advancing our careers, finances, family and social relationships…. and if we have time for it enjoying a hobby or improving our health and fitness. We call it “juggling”: everything in the air, fearing a moment's rest or distraction will create a complete collapse.
Threats from all directions, and yet, we have to move.
Babin split his team into two groups, let’s call them “A” and “B”. He tasked Group-A with training their weapons on every window, alley, and rooftop, watching for ambush. While Group-A watched, Group-B rushed ahead halfway down the block. Then, roles switched: Group-B watched for threats while Group-A moved up to the their position.
This tactic is called Cover and Move.
Block by block, each group alternated between pushing forward and staying put to provide cover for their squadmates. In this way, they slowly and securely advanced through danger and back to base.
Like many combat principles, Cover and Move is simple enough for anyone to understand, yet profoundly extensible to almost any challenging and complex environment.
Cover and Move is a game-changer. It works everywhere. It can help you split up daily responsibilities with a partner, or effectively advance key projects at your job. It can also help you take on and crush your nutrition and fitness goals.
You knew I’d bring it around to food, didn’t you?
You can incorporate the principle of Cover and Move in your nutrition goals in a few ways:
- Honest priorities: It might not be the right time to take on a big hairy change in your diet habits. Are you getting hammered by a new role at work? Are you resolving a difficult situation with friends or family? Are you rarely getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night? For the time being it makes sense to pause your diet goals and let your current eating habits provide COVER while other important parts of life MOVE forward. Then, when you have a handle on the new job or you’ve made changes to get the sleep you need, those can provide COVER while you MOVE your nutrition forward with more challenging adjustments. We want to improve all facets of our life, but the most successful people will de-prioritize improvement in some areas so they can put their full attention on others. The key idea is to be intentional about alternating those areas over time. Don’t be that person who can “never” change their nutrition habits because something else is “always” more important.
- Social support: Don’t go at it alone. Creating any significant change requires the support of people you trust. Assemble your Group-B: the people who can provide cover in your vulnerable spots so you can move ahead. For example, you might dislike cooking. Don’t let that stop you from making diet changes. Find ways to delegate that responsibility to your Group-B. Perhaps you can order from restaurants you trust (Chipotle, I will always ❤️ you), or sign up for a meal service, or find easy recipes on forums like https://www.reddit.com/r/MealPrepSunday/. Friends and communities can cover for the parts of change you aren’t comfortable with yet. One last thing: this is cover AND move. You have both roles. When you master new eating habits, pay it forward by providing support to friends and community with what you’ve learned so they can move forward too.
- Coaching: Working with a good nutrition coach is like hiring the ultimate Group-B. A coach will help you plan your route, watch your back, and provide cover for the habits that you find challenging or mystifying so that you can move forward confidently and effectively. The intention behind coaching is not only to get you there, but to develop the tools and tactics you'll need to provide your own cover for the rest of your life.
When you take on a new project or responsibility, one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is “what is going to provide cover so that I can be successful here?” Don’t make the mistake of thinking that pushing everything forward at once will be faster. Shit will happen (this is be the first rule of combat). Building cover, in the form of honest priorities, community, and coaching can make all the difference.
If you want to read more about Cover and Move, as well as other effective combat principles applied to life, check out Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.