Thursday Health Thoughts: The Stockdale Principle

May 16, 2013

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I recently was told about the "Stockdale Principle" by some dear friends. To be truthful it has been incredibly freeing and encouraging. I hope that it encourages all of you who are going through a difficult health crisis or a difficult time at all.

 Admiral Jim Stockdale- who was the highest ranking US officer in the Hanoi Prison Camp during the Vietnam war survived being tortured over 20 times during 8 years in prison. During this time he had no prisoners rights, no set release date, and no certainty he would make it out alive to meet his wife again. When asked who didn't make it out of the prison camp he had the following to say:

"Oh, that's easy" he said. "The optimists."

"The optimists were the ones who said, "we're going to be out by Christmas." And Christmas would come and Christmas would go. They then would say "we're going to be out for Easter". And Easter would come and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And [over time] 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."

This lesson has been so incredibly wonderful as I am sure, like myself, so many of you can relate. I know for myself that I have done the optimist way this past year. It is almost unbelievable to me that a year ago as I was leaving (today) to chaperon my final senior trip what my perceptions of this year would look like to the reality of what this year was. To be frank I had the exact same responses as the optimists above. I was convinced that by the end of the summer my body would be "free" to go on with my original plans. When that was not the case I was then prepared that by Thanksgiving I would be "free" and "feeling better" to go on. Without going through each major date that I had in my mind (Christmas, New Years, Birthday, etc.) suffice it to say that when each date that I had put in my mind as "the end" of this difficult health journey would come and go without progress (and sometimes worsening symptoms) and I would truly become incredibly discouraged (with lots of tears). Having these dates come and go would almost strip me of the thin line of hope that I had put in my mind.

Now, I do believe that being optimistic is very important to our health. At the same time though as Admiral Stockdale states there is a delicate balance that must be achieved and remembered. We must have the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your current reality. Hold onto your faith that you will prevail in the end but face your reality with courage. To those of you that are struggling with a variety of crisis' and find yourselves in a variety of different prisons hold on to courage. While a year ago I might not have known the difficult days, the incredible physical pain, the heartache of loosing supposed friends, and the heart-wrenching knowledge of falling more in love with precious Savior that has at times been incredibly silent, I also had no idea the joy that only comes from knowing deep soul pain, the unconditional love of amazing members of family and friends, and the sweet presence of God's love that transcends all silence.

May you be blessed by the love and hope of faith while you confront with courage the brutal facts of your reality.

{All of the information regarding the Stockdale principle was taken from a variety of different sources.}


  1. Great story! I'll continue to pray for you and your journey.

  2. Oh, Rebecca... this is so ME! I keep saying maybe THIS is my last Mother's Day, Christmas, Easter, Halloween without at least a pregnant belly. It may be a little different in our case because we have to set dates that we will move on to XYZ if ABC hasn't seen results, but the holidays hurt so much! Sending hugs and prayers, friend.

  3. Wow, incredible story. Sending you love and hugs, sweet girl!

  4. Great story! I am a new follower from the blog hop :)