Stockdale Paradox – Resilience, Not Optimism, Helps you Succeed
One is often faced with situations that seem impossible. Some snake oil selling “Positive Thinking” experts almost suggest to avoid to even see the difficulties in the eye. But is that the right way to handle things?
In an interesting story related by Vice Admiral James Stockdale to Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, Stockdale tells of how he and fellow prisoners were held up in the so-called Hanoi Hilton. Stockdale had created a way for the prisoners to interact with each other so their morale and sense of being alone and isolated could be reduced.
Stockdale shared his secret of how he survived and came through that entire captivity and torture. It was his ability to never lose faith in the end of the story!
When asked who all could not survive the ordeal? And why? And, Stockdale said – the Optimists. The Optimists who told themselves that they will be out by end of the year or Christmas or some such milestone. They all died of broken heart. His timeless wisdom:
“You must never ever ever confuse, on the one hand, the need for absolute, unwavering faith that you can prevail despite those constraints with, on the other hand, the need for the discipline to begin by confronting the brutal facts, whatever they are. We’re not getting out of here by Christmas.”
Dreams and optimism is great and fine. But losing touch with reality and hard facts is damning!
This is called the Stockdale Paradox.
In the end, it is not optimism that succeeds, but resilience.
“I am in trouble”, is one way to look at things. “I see no trouble, things are great” is another way to look at things. “I am in trouble, but I will prevail in the end!” is the way of resilience.