Central PA Medicine Summer2020 - 28

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The
Stockdale
Paradox
A Helpful Approach
to Persevering in the
Age of COVID-19
By DR. RICH RAYNER,
Co-Founder of Aspire Health
Concepts, Inc.

Not another article about
COVID-19, right?
Well, yes, but hopefully this will go beyond the facts and figures
with which we have been inundated. The basics of the physical
aspect of Coronavirus infection are pretty much known by all.
But there are many levels to this challenge, not the least of which
is how we're adjusting emotionally to the changes that have been
thrust upon us. Even if the actual virus has not invaded our
home or family personally, the widespread effects of protecting
ourselves from it have been felt by everyone. Not since World
War II have we had a situation of such global enormity. So let's
look at an approach to prolonged suffering that proved helpful
to some who applied it in some pretty dire circumstances.
I first heard about the Stockdale Paradox when reading Jim
Collins' book Good to Great in the early 2000s. It's named after
a decorated Navy veteran, Admiral James Stockdale, who was
imprisoned in Vietnam for 7 years. During that time he was
repeatedly and brutally tortured. He watched fellow prisoners
suffer along with him. Some made it, many did not. Stockdale

28 Summer 2020 Central PA Medicine

attributes his survival to this: balancing reality with an optimistic mindset.
He found that prisoners tended to try to deal with their
situation in basically 2 ways. Some took a totally optimistic
approach. They tended to put a timeline or time marker on
their situation. "We're going to be out by ____." (Insert:
Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc.). As these dates
would come and go without their release, failure to meet their
self-prescribed deadline led to increased despair, driving them
deeper into depression. Eventually they lost the will to go on
and died in the camp.
Alternately, Stockdale and those who chose to think like him
shared this psychological path instead: They embraced the facts,
letting their inward voice acknowledge that their situation was
awful, and the harshness of the torture undeniable. However,
they also chose to balance that with the optimistic voice that
told them they will eventually prevail. Without a made up
deadline they had the freedom to simply hope and pursue
that goal without having to stumble over additional failure of
unmet expectations.
It seems to me that we hear only the optimistic voices today.
It strikes me that there is almost a fear that if we step on the
snowy edge of "something is awful" that an avalanche of despair
will be set off. Perhaps it's a sign of desperation that we think
we can just wish away the bad stuff. Slap a rainbow on it and
all will be good. The danger here is that failure to listen to the
message screaming from deep inside may result in foolish acts,
or a complete lack of acting, that will further prolong the bad
stuff and lead to worse despair. The other mistake would be
to simply give in only to the awful, and after naming it, never
press on towards the hopeful end.
Politicians, community leaders and business owners obviously
need to offer proposals and plans for some goals when dealing
with the sweeping effects of COVID-19 on the culture. Will
we be able to open things back up May 1st? May 8th? After
the entire summer of 2020? The data is crucial for decision
makers. For the rest of us we can take Admiral Stockdale's advice
and bolster our own emotions by not putting our hopes on a
particular date when we can start living fully again. Rather, we
can honestly acknowledge that this pandemic is really awful, but
that we will overcome it. With time and with hope.
About the Author: Dr. Richard Rayner is an experienced
family medicine and urgent care provider who leads Aspire's
concierge medicine practice, AspirePRIME, located in Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania. Dr. Rayner cares for a wide range of patients from
newborns to geriatrics, helping them through disease prevention,
treating chronic conditions, as well as addressing acute illnesses.
He can be reached at rrayner@aspirebetter.com.


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Central PA Medicine Summer2020

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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/CPMSummer2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/CPMSpring2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/CPMWinter2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/CPMFall19
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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/CPMWinter19
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/CPMFall18
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/Summer2018
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/CPMSpring18
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/CPMWinter18
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/Fall2017
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/CentralPAMedicine_Summer17
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/CentralPAMedicine_Spring17
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/CPAMed/CentralPAMedicine_Feb2017
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