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The Secret to Mental Toughness in Uncertainty

We often hear that the optimist is the one who will succeed regardless of the circumstances. Could this in fact be wrong? Check out what Admiral Stockdale discovered while in the Hanoi Hilton.

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How you finish is often determined by how you think
How you finish is often determined by how you think

We often hear that the optimist is the one who will succeed regardless of the circumstances. Could this in fact be wrong?

The renowned researcher and bestselling author of Good to Great and Built to Last, Jim Collins, shared an interview he had with Admiral Jim Stockdale and his experience in Vietnam.

Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest-ranking military officer in the Hanoi Hilton. He was there for seven years, from 1968 to 1974. He was tortured over twenty times. And by his own account, Stockdale came out of the prison camp even stronger than he went in.  

Surely it was his optimism that got him through that experience. Or was it?

If you’ve not watched the Stockdale Paradox video, I encourage you to do so – because it just might help some of you get through this election.

Misplaced faith is a true emotional killer, often leading to depression and loss of hope. Some experienced these feelings the last presidential election and others will likely experience them this election if they do not flip the script on their thinking.

As Jim read through the Admiral’s experience, he expressed, “How did he not let those oppressive circumstances beat him down? How did he not get depressed?”

So, he asked him.

“Well, you have to understand, it was never depressing. Because despite all those circumstances, I never ever wavered in my absolute faith that not only would I prevail—get out of this—but I would also prevail by turning it into the defining event of my life that would make me a stronger and better person.”

After the shock of his answer wore off, Jim asked him who did not do as well. The Admiral’s response was again, revealing.

He said, “Oh, it’s easy. I can tell you who didn’t make it out. It was the optimists.”

He went on, “The optimists. Yes. They were the ones who always said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ Christmas would come and it would go. And there would be another Christmas. And they died of a broken heart.” (It will all be better after the election…)

He went on to share, “This is what I learned from those years in the prison camp, where all those constraints just were oppressive. 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.”

Our circumstances do not have to define us. This election doesn’t have to define you. You will prevail if you choose to. This can be your opportunity to develop mental toughness.

And regardless of who wins this election, be committed to becoming a stronger and better person.  

If you are interested in developing a post-election mindset that helps you thrive in times of uncertainty, visit www.thevucaprinciple.com. Mike Schindler is an award-winning author, the national podcast host of The Military Wire/VISION2020 and an effective trainer who has been featured in USA Today, CBS Radio, Entrepreneur Radio, the Lars Larson Show, the Boston Globe, Q13 FOX, Yahoo Finance, and others. A U.S. Navy veteran, Mike is known throughout the US as a subject matter expert on leadership development, government relations, and veteran transition issues.

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