4 of my 5 children have been in the Navy. Through them, I’ve had the honor of learning some things about the training process of the Navy SEALS. As I’ve gathered information, I’m surprised how some of the challenges experienced by my business-owner client mirror the challenges faced by SEAL candidates. This article was shared by a friend and tell the story of one of these challenges very well… MHS
The No. 1 Lesson from Navy SEALs: ‘Don’t Quit in Anticipation of Future Failure’
May 07, 2014 By James Citrin
I had the opportunity recently to meet with Admiral Eric T. Olson, U.S. Navy (Retired), who had reached the pinnacle of leadership in the United States military. After a career as a U.S. Navy SEAL*, he served as the Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) from 2007 to 2011. He was the first Navy SEAL and naval officer ever to be appointed to be SOCOM’s commander where he had overall responsibility for the most elite units of the U.S. military, including the Army Rangers and Special Forces, the Navy SEALs, and their special operations counterparts in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps.
Following his distinguished career in public service, he has moved into the private sector and brings his worldwide experience to the boards of Under Armour and Iridium Communications. In our conversation Admiral Olson shared some insights from Navy SEAL training that are powerfully applicable to anyone in their career, from a 20-something trying to get on the right path, to a mid-career professional striving to accelerate progress, to a top-executive attempting to navigate an organization to success.
The headline is as simple as it is profound. “If you want to make it through Navy SEAL training,” Admiral Olson shared, “don’t quit.”
Let me elaborate. Here’s the question I posed to the Admiral: “Among the group of super high achievers who comprise the U.S. Navy SEALs, what is it about those that make it through the demanding training and thrive compared to those who don’t make the cut?”
First he explained the attributes, which while important, aren’t inherently different from any other discussion of success. The standout SEALs are driven, have focus, always want to be better, are problem solvers who look at things from different angles… But the light bulb went on when Admiral Olson talked about a study that the SEALs did a few years ago to try and understand this very question. The Navy knew well that most of the qualified and motivated candidates who started the SEAL training didn’t finish. Most quit and they wanted to know when and why.
It turned out that the vast majority didn’t quit when they were out braving the cold, wet or otherwise inhospitable conditions. They didn’t quit in the middle of the demanding and stressful exercises. Most quit over breakfast or lunch. They quit in anticipation of the difficult conditions to come. They self-eliminated, not because they didn’t have the abilities to perform the tasks, but because they feared that the coming challenges would be too difficult and they would then fail (and fail in front of their classmates).
So the Navy then studied the backgrounds of those who made it through and they found some other curious factors that combine to help predict success. They found that the SEAL candidates who were competitive water polo players or wrestlers (in that order) at the high school or collegiate levels had the highest potential to successfully complete the rigorous six-month training program. But they also learned that the competitive athletes who also excelled as chess players were three times as likely to graduate as those who didn’t play chess.
“Chess players are always thinking two or three moves ahead,” Admiral Olson explained. “They are not concerned with the current predicament, they are less emotional, less knee-jerky, and are always thinking about longer term problem solving. Put another way, chess players don’t quit over breakfast or lunch.”
“I know it sounds flip,” Admiral Olson said. “But the key message to SEAL candidates is don’t quit. Don’t quit in anticipation of future failure. Decide now to not quit, decide to keep going with the confidence that you can do more than you think you can do, despite the pain, cold, heat, sand and fatigue that you will inevitably face.”
Of course, if you are in a specialized military operation with lives at risk, that’s when you want to be sure the selection and training process did in fact weed out those who wouldn’t be able to handle the situation. For the rest of us the message is clear. Use our power of choice to decide that we can make it through even the most challenging times… and you know what? We will probably be right. Or to quote Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
Well, sound familiar?