Survival Objectives and The Stockdale Paradox
“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.”
“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.”
– Vice Admiral James Stockdale
Vice Admiral James Stockdale (Excerpted from The Survival Template)
In 1965, he (Admiral Stockdale) ejected from his aircraft over North Vietnam and was taken captive. For the next seven years he was held in the Hoa Lo prison, where the conditions were brutally inhumane. He was tortured on a regular basis. During captivity he went to great extremes to avoid divulging classified information and being used as propaganda by the enemy.
During this ordeal, Stockdale maintained the belief he would prevail over his captors and eventually return home. His mentality has been described as “The Stockdale Paradox”* as he balanced his faith in the outcome with a practical discipline for dealing with the horrible conditions surrounding him. In his 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.”
Stockdale’s mindset should be emulated when creating objectives for the long-term. He resolved to believe in the desired outcome and disciplined his mind to deal with his current problems. He watched other prisoners lose faith when their release from captivity was repeatedly delayed and chose to survive daily while adhering to his goal.
Stories of heroes like James Stockdale tend to put things into perspective. Most of us are fortunate to live freely in conditions that are far more favorable than those experienced by Stockdale. His example is one to be revered.
Consider the experience of Stockdale when creating a list of personal objectives for the next year. Contrast these objectives with previous lists. Are the Day One, One Month, and Six Months records consistent with intentions for the next 12 months? If so, that is great, and if not, do not spend time reworking the previous exercises. Soon you will refine all of these notions in a concise way.
-Finish three more classes
-Run a 1/2 marathon
-Secure office space for new business
-Convert the blog into a business webpage
-Finish reading The Dark Tower series by King
-Lose two inches around the waist
End of Excerpt
* The Stockdale Paradox – Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. Harper-Collins, 2001
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