The Stockdale Paradox is a psychological state analysis inspired by the events of Admiral Jim Stockdale, a US military officer held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. The Stockdale Paradox is the psychological proposition given to the dilemma in which there is always the belief that the outcome will be perfect against the current challenges while facing the harsh realities with realistic optimism.
Stockdale was tortured repeatedly by his captors during the Vietnam War, and he never had much reason to believe that he would escape the prison camp and that he would one day return home to see his wife again. Still, Stockdale never lost faith during his ordeal.
What is The Stockdale Paradox?
“I never doubted that not only would I get out of here, but that I would eventually win and make this experience the defining event of my life.
But as the process went on, Stockdale began to experience a paradox as a result of his impressions and experiences.
Stockdale noted that while he has an extraordinary belief in the unknowable, those who don’t get out alive are always the most optimistic of their fellow prisoner.
“They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going out by Christmas. Christmas would come and they would stay again Christmas. Then they would say, ‘We’re going out on Easter. And Easter would come, and at Easter, they would stay again. And then it would be Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. This cycle continued and people who were always optimistic never came out.
What the optimists failed to do was face the reality of their situation. They opted for the ostrich approach, burying their heads in the sand and hoping the difficulties would go away.
This self-deception may have made their job easier in the short run, but they had great disappointment on their hands when they finally had to face reality.
Stockdale approached challenges with a very different mindset: he put aside optimism and accepted the reality of his situation.
Stockdale knew he was in hell, but instead of burying his head in the sand, he stepped in, doing everything he could to lift his spirits and prolong the lives of his fellow prisoners.
“No matter the difficulties, you must maintain faith that you will prevail in the end.
And at the same time…
Whatever happens, you have to face the harshest realities of your current reality.”
After escaping the camp, Jim Stockdale stated that those who faced the process and remained strong and accepted the facts had a higher rate of survival from the camp than unrealistic optimists.