Up until recently, I had no idea who Admiral Jim Stockdale was and had never heard of the Stockdale Paradox before. But now that I have heard of Admiral Stockdale and his Paradox, I can’t stop thinking about it. More importantly, I can’t stop thinking about you and how it applies to your current situation.
Allow me to introduce Admiral Stockdale to you, through the words of Jim Collins and his book Good to Great, from which this excerpt was taken:
The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking United States military office in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over twenty times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again. He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken, while fighting an internal war against his captors and their attempts to use the prisoners for propaganda. At one point, he beat himself with a stool and cut himself with a razor, deliberately disfiguring himself, so that he could not be put on videotape as an example of a “well-treated prisoner.” He exchanged secret intelligence information with his wife through their letters, knowing that discovery would mean more torture and perhaps death. He instituted rules that would help people to deal with torture (no one can resist torture indefinitely, so he created a step-wise system–-after x minutes, you can say certain things–-that gave the men milestones to survive toward). He instituted an elaborate internal communications system to reduce the sense of isolation that their captors tried to create, which used a five-by-five matrix of tap codes for alpha characters. (Tap-tap equals the letter a, tap-pause-tap-tap equals the letter b, tap-tap-pause-tap equals the letter f, and so forth, for twenty-five letters, c doubling in for k.) At one point, during an imposed silence, the prisoners mopped and swept the central yard using the code, swish-swashing out “We love you” to Stockdale, on the third anniversary of his being shot down. After his release, Stockdale became the first three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
How on earth did he deal with it when he was actually there and did not know the end of the story?”
“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” he said, when I asked him. “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.”
Finally I asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”
“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused given what he’d said earlier.
“The optimists. Oh, 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.”
Let that sink in for a second, folks. The Stockdale Paradox states that you have to have faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
Herniated disc? Yes…but you will prevail.
Degenerative hip? Yes…but you will prevail.
Torn meniscus in your knee? Yes…but you will prevail.
Chronic, debilitating migraines? Yes…but you will prevail.
I don’t know when you’ll prevail, and I would caution you against setting a timeline…but you will prevail. Stay the course. Trust the system. Believe in your body’s innate, amazing, remarkable ability to heal itself…and you will prevail.
Perhaps. But, perhaps not.
That’s not for either of us to say. It is our job, however, to confront the brutal facts yet retain faith that you will prevail in the end.
If you’re looking to start the process, contact us now to start the process! I don’t know when your journey will end, but I do know that it can start today.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on the Stockdale Paradox?
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If you're like many of our clients, you suffer from headaches on a regular basis. Some clients get them a few times a month while others suffer from them on a daily basis. Some are linked to allergies, others are migraines, and some are kid-related. AmIRight...?!?
Yet regardless of the type and regardless of the timing, you know how debilitating they can be. Clients who suffer from migraines can be out of commission for days at a time, a scenario that doesn’t exactly lend itself to a high level of productivity. The key with headaches is to determine why you have them. As usual, we want to get to the source of the pain, rather than just treating the pain itself. For a lot of you, I’m sure the treatment is medication. Most of you pop an Advil, maybe an Excedrin, or…better yet…Excedrin Migraine! What about those of you who carry around Imitrex in your purse or backpack just in case you get a really bad one? Think about this: When your car is making a “clunking” noise, simply turning the music up louder so that you don’t hear the noise isn’t going to fix the problem. The same is true with that headache. We can’t pop an Excedrin simply to “mute” the headache pain. We have to address the underlying problem…just like you would do with your car.
Headaches are caused by a misalignment of your upper back, shoulders and head. When your shoulders and upper back are rounded forward (like most of ours are), your head naturally follows. If you could see yourself from the side view, you’d notice that your ear is sitting in front of the middle of your shoulder. In case you didn’t know, this isn’t a functional position. Because of your rounded upper back and forward shoulder position, your lungs are being compressed and your heart is being compressed. Bottom line–your respiratory and circulatory systems are completely compromised.
Yet your body, with its perfect design, knows that despite the position that your upper back, shoulders and head are in, it still needs to get blood and oxygen to your brain in order to keep you alive. However, with your body being in the position it’s in, getting blood and oxygen to your brain becomes a difficult task. It is like trying to navigate a four-lane highway in Los Angeles where three lanes are under construction–sure, everyone is getting from Point A to Point B, but not very efficiently.
As a result, the capillaries, the tiny vessels that know they must get blood to the brain and facilitate the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, expand in an attempt to push their way through from Point A to Point B. They are essentially bulldozing their way through traffic, and it’s that expansion of the capillaries that causes the headache pain. The capillaries are expanding out of necessity, because they know they have to keep you alive!
So…what’s the solution? Change your upper back, shoulder and head position and you’ll eliminate your headaches once and for all. If you reestablish a direct route from Point A to Point B, there will no longer be a need for the capillaries to expand, and you'll be much more comfortable!
QUESTION: How have headaches impacted your life?