How to keep hope in dire circumstances

While captive for more than seven years in the infamous Há ”?? a Lò prison, known as the“ Hanoi Hilton, ”in Vietnam, US Navy Admiral James Stockdale was tortured more than 20 times. .

Enduring some of the most difficult conditions a human could face, Stockdale led his fellow military detainees as prisoners of war with a thought-provoking process that combined open-eyed realism with the hope that circumstances would eventually improve. .

Keeping realism and idealism together is essential for surviving any serious situation, whether it’s imprisonment, depression or a pandemic, said author and management consultant Jim Collins, who told the Stockdale story in the popular 2001 business book “Good to excellent. “

In the book, Collins recounted a walk with Stockdale on the Stanford University campus decades after the officer returned from Vietnam. Stockdale had embarked on an academic career focused on the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece.

Who was least likely to survive prison and torture?

“Oh, it’s easy,” Stockdale said. “The optimists.” It was the prisoners who naively thought they would be out by Christmas, coming and going. Then they would place their hopes in Easter, to be thwarted again.

“They died of a broken heart,” Stockdale told Collins.

As many face vacations in the shadow of the pandemic – many having lost loved ones and separated from friends and family, Stockdale’s insights are valuable to navigate over the next few months.

“The brutal facts are the brutal facts,” Collins told CNN. “We won’t be out of this by Christmas either.”

The Stockdale paradox

Collins crystallized this concept as the Stockdale Paradox, asserting that resilience in dire circumstances requires retaining “the faith that you will eventually triumph, no matter what the hardships.” At the same time, you must face “the most brutal facts of your present reality, whatever they are”.

For many, that means acknowledging how widespread and deadly the pandemic is while believing that vaccines will eventually be widely available and we will get there.

One of the best ways to seek prospects, Collins explained, is to build on reading past crises and contextualize that moment as just part of the arc of a longer life.

“This is a great time to read biographies and stories. Others have endured longer and harder. And it shows that we can endure longer and harder,” he said.

These stories could include how US President Abraham Lincoln battled depression before leading the nation through Civil War and US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt struggling with his own polio before navigating the Great Depression and World War II. . Author Doris Kearns Goodwin covers presidents and their crises in the 2018 book “Leadership: in times of turbulence. “

You can also pick up a book like “Long March to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela, in which the South African Nobel laureate recounts his life campaigning against apartheid and spending nearly three decades in prison before being sent to prison. become president of a more inclusive South Africa.

“Anyone could benefit from zooming out,” Collins said, adding that reading works such as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s memoirs on World War II could help allay our own doubts about human capacity for courage. .

“There are other Stockdale movements that we are going through,” he said.

Stay resilient in tough times

By maintaining hope for a post-pandemic future, you can harness the principles of brain science, including the notion that we can nurture and water our sense of hope in practical ways.

“Everything your brain does is in the service of regulating your body,” said Lisa Feldman Barrett, professor of psychology at Northeastern University in Boston and author of “Seven and a half lessons on the brain. “

Connect socially: If you can’t get together with loved ones while on vacation, start by reminding yourself that there are ways beyond meeting in person to feel connected to others.

It could be over the phone or video chat, or it could be handwritten letters or thank you cards, but reach out to others. “You can change anyone’s neurochemistry in the world with just three little words,” she said. A simple “I love you” can go a long way.

Simulate: Just as Stockdale built resilience in Vietnam by never losing sight of the ‘end of history’ as he put it, we can tap into the brain’s ability to hope through the power of the imagination.

We can find solace in taking a moment to remember the smell of hot chocolate next to an ice rink or the laughter of a grandfather or the crisp winter air at an ice rink. Christmas passed.

“We have this amazing brain that can mentally time travel,” she said. “The past, present and future are intertwined in the brain.”

These memories trigger some of the same positive effects as the real experience. And the same goes for imagining a rally in the future when the public health crisis has subsided.

Shift your attention and savor: While this year has been a time of great loss, there are still many unique little moments that are worth cherishing.

“The present is an ever-changing thing,” Barrett said. “You may decide to focus on some aspects of attention and ignore others.”

In doing so, you are essentially changing your context. Despite what may be going on in the world, you can consciously bring your attention to the precise feel of your leg as it rests against a chair leg.

“Your brain is constantly predicting. By changing your context, you change the way your brain reacts in the present moment,” Barrett said.

Spend holidays

The fact that we are all isolated in one way or another has helped reduce the stigma of discussions about loneliness, said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Provo, in Utah.

Loneliness is a public health concern, as evidenced by measures like the UK’s decision to appoint a minister of solitude.

Some 22% of people living in the United States always or often feel lonely or isolated, according to a 2018 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Economist.

Although data for all of 2020 is not yet available, quarantines and lockdowns designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus are a risk factor for loneliness, she noted.

Gallup was loneliness tracking weekly throughout the pandemic, showing the percentage of Americans feeling lonely has remained in their 20s since March, peaking at 27% in August.

Acknowledging that we are together in a sense of isolation is key to alleviating the sense of vulnerability that might arise when contacting someone new, explained Holt-Lunstad. Don’t be afraid to take the first step to make someone else feel loved, she said.

Showing gratitude to someone else is one of the best ways to start a chain of positivity and create a kind of “upward spiral” that helps us orient ourselves towards a greater connection.

“You don’t have to be in the same room as someone to tell them you love them,” Collins said. “Who in your life haven’t you said you love?” Now is a good time to tell them.

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