The Stockdale Paradox - Balancing Realism And Optimism In Tough Times Is Key To Survival

What Is The Stockdale Paradox?


The Stockdale Paradox is named after the late James Stockdale, former vice presidential candidate, naval commander and prisoner of war during the American-Vietnam war.

It became well known having been featured in author and business guru Jim Collins’ book “Good To Great” following extensive interviews between Collins and Stockdale exploring how Stockdale survived 8 years of imprisonment and torture.

Collins’ specific focus was to identify the principles that underpinned Stockdale’s survival and emergence at the end of the war as not only unbroken but as source of practical inspiration.

Balancing realism and optimism in a dire situation is a key to survival and success

What the Stockdale Paradox means is that in times of prolonged and seemingly never-ending hardship, set-backs, suffering and distress we need to maintain optimism that we will survive and pull through, and yet at the same time balance that with a total realism and practicality about the harsh present realities.

In Stockdale’s own words:

"You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

Paraphrased to its core:

Hope for the best, but acknowledge and prepare for the worst

Such paradoxical thinking is one of the defining philosophies of many who have made it through severe hardship and eventually reached their goals.

BUT, this paradox contradicts the law of attraction and so much of the output of the self-help industry.

Suffering IS an integral part of the human condition . It is as though there is an inbuilt design flaw that ensures that we all suffer at some point, one way or another.

Right now at time of writing we are all suffering in some way as we come to terms with the aftermath of the Covid pandemic.








Coping With The Attrition Factor


Many, maybe most, of us are capable of coping with challenges and difficulties in the short to medium term.

But in my experience once a challenging situation drags on beyond the one year mark we start to flag, and after two years – with no end in sight – it gets really tough.

This is what I call the attrition factor.

It is this point that we need to develop the Stockdale Paradox and take it to the next level.

This means that in addition to maintaining a hope for the future and a pragmatic realism about the present you need to do 3 further things:


(1) Find a way of dealing with the emotional side of your pragmatic realism.

There are times when there is nothing more we can do to alleviate the situation. In these circumstances we have two powerful options: we can resist it or we can accept it.

# The biggest key to all this is to behave and respond in ways that may be completely alien to us by allowing and cultivating a very deep acceptance of what is happening and acknowledging that we are not in control of circumstances and - counter cultural and counter intuitive as this sounds - to go with the flow.

# The more we can surrender to the flow then the more we automatically become aligned to a far greater dimension of our consciousness than we may have ever previously experienced - this really is the key

# It is this alignment with the flow that is the dynamic that will pull us through this difficult situation and it is this alignment that is the source of our self-motivation through and beyond present difficult circumstances

# Whether we realise it or not, whether we accept it or not, there is always a spiritual dynamic at work in these situations


(2) Recognise and understand that you are not your thoughts

Our thoughts can drive us crazy, especially in these difficult situations that drag on, and on…

We don’t have complete control over our instinctive emotions, they’re largely involuntary and that’s part of being human. What we do have, though, is control over how we choose to respond to those feelings.

The key to this lies in understanding that:

What matters is not the content of your thoughts but your relationship with your thoughts

See here for practical guidance in dealing with your thoughts and here for further practical support in living with your thoughts.


(3) Transform your “dead time” into “alive time”

In Alive Time vs Dead Time – I asked the question:

“When you can’t work because you have no work, when you feel stuck and can see no way out of this situation, when you don’t even know if there is an end of the tunnel, what do you do with your time?”

In difficult times like these, we can choose to just doss around and feel impatient, resentful, or angry.

Or we can we can exercise control over our use of this time figure a way to solve a problem, reach a goal, or help someone else with these things.

Dead time can be revived and transformed and used to our and others long term benefit. We can use this time to emerge from this overall situation a better and more resourceful person.


“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Admiral James Stockton






Return to: Reflections & Experiences

Contact me






Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Reflections & Experiences.



Zen-Tools.Net



English Chinese (Traditional) Russian French German Italian Spanish Vietnamese


LATEST ARTICLES

  1. Recognising Limbo As A Stage Of Transition

    Limbo is transformed when you use it as an opportunity to do what you've long needed to do. Limbo is a situation in which nothing happens or changes for a long period of time, and it is difficult to m…

    Read More

  2. On Becoming The Ferryman

    The art of living is knowing how to make use of suffering. The traditional life of The Ferryman is all about transporting passengers from one side of a river or estuary to the other. He is needed wher…

    Read More

  3. Things Of The Spirit

    We are more than our bodies, and belong to more than just this earth. True wisdom lies in seeing the bigger picture, and fully living in a world that we know experientially to be intimately interconne…

    Read More

  4. Mind Games & How To Free Yourself From Them

    Don't give 100 percent of your attention to the external world and to your mind. Keep some within. This morning was the beginning of a not-so-good day. I sat down first thing with my early morning cup…

    Read More

  5. Just Do It - A Call To Action And Getting Started

    "Just Do It" has been popularised by Nike who have had it as a trademark since 1988 and like all successful promotional ideas it is one of those phrases that can mean whatever you want it to mean. In…

    Read More

  6. Self Dialogue - Dealing With Your Many Selves

    The key to effective self dialogue is to have tools, techniques and resources that work with all levels of your mind. This simple self-facilitated technique - or practice - that I am going to share wi…

    Read More

  7. The Transformative Power Of Acceptance

    There is one word in amongst the 400,000 words on this site that does have the power to change you and to transform your life - if you choose to act upon it. That word is acceptance. The power of acc…

    Read More

  8. Stop Thinking

    Discover The Benefits Of Having Space In Your Mind Can you stop thinking? According to Zen Buddhist priest Shunmyo Masuno the art of not thinking about anything is not easy to achieve. Even practising…

    Read More

  9. Are You Waiting For Change?

    Where does the change take place, what do you have to do, and when does it happen? I used to wait for things to change “out there”. I was continually scouring the landscape looking for evidence of cha…

    Read More

  10. Walking The Talk

    Don't explain your philosophy. Embody it! The world of self-improvement, self-help and personal development is full of people making money out of their websites and blogs, it is a multi-billion dollar…

    Read More

  11. Seeing Is Believing - Or Is It?

    The ego has a very clear idea of how things ought to be. When reality doesn’t match that image and expectation the result is frustration and pain. Letting go and dropping the “How?” is hard for the eg…

    Read More

  12. The Power Of Gratitude

    Gratitude releases you from your attachment and stuckness to negative feelings, and it automatically generates a positive energy within you. As with mindfulness, gratitude can occur spontaneously but…

    Read More

  13. Energy Of Life - The 4 Keys

    We live in a universe of energy - literally and not just metaphorically. The energy of life is the source from which all form and substance is created. From here on, everything I say can only be expe…

    Read More

  14. How To Stay Connected To Your True Source Of Power

    "Your ego's desire to be in control, your ego usurping the role of your higher self, disconnects you from your true source of power." A stone of help is a constant reminder to stay connected to your…

    Read More

  15. Dying To Self - To Gain All Give All

    "If You Want To Be Given Everything - Give Everything Up". “Tao Te Ching” Your ego is essential and does a wonderful job of running things for you and marshalling your mental and emotional resources t…

    Read More





The Balanced Life



The Balanced Toolkit



3 Keys Solutions


Get new posts by email:



Support This Site