INSTANT SURVIVAL TIP: The Stockdale Paradox

By John A. Heatherly, Author of The Survival Template

photo by marksontok

Coined by Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, the term “The Stockdale Paradox” has come to describe then mentality of one of the toughest survivors to be studied, Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale.

Admiral Stockdale spent seven years in the Hoa Lo Prison in Vietnam, where he endured and survived unspeakable conditions.  Years later he was asked how he coped during such dark, tortuous times.  His answer:  “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.”  It is interesting that he CHOSE to make captivity “the defining event” of his life.  His disciplined mind was able to frame the experience to his advantage.

When asked, “Who did not survive?” he responded,  “They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart … This is a very important lesson. 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.”

The Stockdale Paradox (faith that you will prevail + discipline to confront the most brutal facts of current reality) can be practiced and developed BEFORE times get dark.  It is a mental perspective that can be powerfully effective, and is a gift from Admiral Stockdale that we all can make use of.

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© Copyright 2012 The Survival Mom, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Survival Mom
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John's exploration of wilderness survival includes coursework at Tom Brown Jr.’s TrackerSchool, military service as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (S.E.R.E.) Instructor, and the study of leadership as an Officer. He is the author of THE SURVIVAL TEMPLATE and THE CAVE AND THE SEA, A NOVEL which can be found at http://JohnAHeatherly.com/.

(5) Readers Comments

  1. What an awesome post!! He was a hero and a great example of the true character and spirit that made this country great and free. Today I see so many spoiled and ungrateful people, I have to wonder how any of them can make it through the unavoidable, long-lasting, incredibly tough times we are about to face. I fear they will be continually expecting things to “get back to normal” and will die of disappointment as Admiral Stockdale mentioned. We will have to be faithful enduring warriors: spiritually, physically, and mentally.

  2. Thank you, Steven. I agree completely!

  3. That is excellent. It actually helps me with something I’m dealing with today. Thank you for posting.

  4. Sandy – you are welcome. His story inspires me as well. Also, the correspondence between Stockdale and his wife during the war is pretty amazing. In Love and War is the name of their book.

  5. I am old enough to remember Vietnam – a newly married young woman fortunate enough that her husband was considered to be in a vital industry and did not have to go and fight. He had also just completed a four-year tour of duty as a U.S. Marine. During that time Sybil Stockdale arose at a particularly early hour each – something like three a.m. – and every day to pray for strength for her husband and his fellow prisoners of war over on the other side of the world at the hour she calculated they would begin being tortured and interrogated by the enemy. I have always remembered that and have admired them both so much.

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