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Want to Succeed Against Incredible Odds? 7 Things to Learn From the Navy SEALs

It’s no surprise that Navy SEALs got the call in Thailand. Here’s how they organized the rescue of the Wild Boars–and how they had the humility to ask for help.

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BY Bill Murphy Jr. - 10 Jul 2018

Want to Succeed Against Incredible Odds? 7 Things to Learn From the Navy SEALs

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The world is focused with gratitude on the incredible underwater rescue of 12 youth soccer players and their 25-year-old coach from a submerged cave in Thailand.

The lead divers who found the team were expert civilian cave divers from Great Britain, whose story is amazing on their own. But it's also no surprise that the whole operation was overseen by the Thai Navy SEALs.

The Thai Navy SEALs trace their history back 50 years, when they were established with the assistance of the precursor of the U.S. Navy SEALs. (There are also U.S. Navy SEAL-inspired units in other countries, including South Korea and the Philippines.)

With the incredible news this morning that all the members of the team and their coach have been rescued, here are seven key, Navy SEAL-inspired tenets to keep in mind to tackle any supposedly impossible challenge

1. Refuse to believe.

This is the opposite of what you'd think, right? That believing leads to achieving?

In this case, it was about refusing to believe it was an impossible mission, as many others were saying, or even that it would be a success if even some of the boys were rescued.

2. Self-sacrifice.

Near the top of this list, we need to recognize that one retired Thai Navy SEAL gave his life in this effort. Everyone involved risked it happening to them, too.

Saman Kunan was 38 years old, an avid trail runner and cycler. He's being hailed as a national hero in Thailand.

3. Physical toughness

We heard a lot about potential technological rescues. Would it be possible to drill down and reach the boys? Even Elon Musk showed up with a quickly built mini-submarine.

But in the end, it came down to tough, physically fit people who made the grueling multi-hour underwater journey, over and over. I can't help but see a connection back to the original World War II frogmen, who sometimes went into battle with just swim trunks, flippers, a mask, and a knife.

4. Mental toughness

I've never been anywhere near Navy SEAL training. People who've been through it say that while physical toughness is important, mental toughness is far more crucial.

Admiral Bill McRaven, the Navy SEAL who commanded the operation to get Osama bin Laden, talks about how some of the toughest SEALs he knew were a group of physically small men called "the munchkin crew," who simply "out paddled, out-ran, and out swam all the other boat crews."

5. Training, training, training

You've heard about U.S. Navy SEAL training. Other countries that have their own SEAL-inspired forces have similarly insane regimens. It all goes back to sweating on the training field to minimize bleeding on the battlefield.

It's easier to believe things are possible when you've done similar things in training before.

6. Tactical patience

There's a big difference between inaction and what we might call "tactical patience." The former leads to failure, but the latter can lead to success.

The example here would be the decision not to try to wait out the monsoon season for months to get the boys out (as had been suggested), but instead to bring the boys out in small groups over a matter of days.

7. Practice humility

The Thai Navy SEALs were the first to try to make it into the cave, and they've coordinated the rescue. But they also demonstrated something else: the humility to step back and ask for help from a group of foreign civilians, who had special skills the SEALs didn't.

The world now knows the names John Volanthen and Rick Stanton--an IT specialist and a retired firefighter by trade--who have been described as "the best cave divers on the planet, nicknamed the "'A-team.'"

As former Navy SEAL and author Leif Babin puts it: "No leader has it all figured out. You can't rely on yourself. You've got to rely on other people, so you've got to ask for help, you've got to empower the team, and you've got to accept constructive criticism."

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