I’ve seen a few people go through the one year anniversary of their injury and have a really hard time. But why
So this is where working on our mental strength and how we think about things can really help.
Humans constantly search for meaning
I was very struck by the parallels in the incredible books from Viktor Frankl ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and Jim & Sybil Stockdale’s book ‘In Love and War’. Both of them were clear that the people who died in the inhumane imprisonments were the optimists. Both suggest that the people who set timeframes that they could not control (‘we’ll be out by Christmas’), suffered from a broken heart when things did not turn out this way. This, combined with their physical frailty from their terrible treatment, meant that they succumbed quicker.
As well as being very humbled by the accounts, I was struck by the story of Jim Stockdale. His full name was James Bond Stockdale and he was a United States Navy vice admiral and aviator. Commander Stockdale was the senior naval officer held captive in Hanoi, North Vietnam for over seven years after being shot down in 1965. He personally suffered terrible torture, but led his men to ensure that as many as possible made it home. Meanwhile his wife actively and tirelessly campaigned through the international channels for their release.
What we as injured athletes can learn from the ‘Stockdale Paradox’
In the business book ‘Good to Great’ the author, Jim Collins, interviewed Commander Stockdale about his experiences in Vietnam and coined ‘the Stockdale Paradox’. This is:
“Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time, confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
As athletes we are often good at each of these at different times, but combining them together and holding them side-by-side through the highs and lows is really hard. Yet important. And even more important when we are injured.
Back to setting deadlines
At one level setting deadlines for reviewing progress and rethinking is helpful. It can make us confront the brutal facts – that the current treatment or rehabilitation is not working as well expected and we need to explore and evaluate new approaches. But if the deadline leads us into a tailspin of losing hope in the eventual destination – a loss of faith that we can and will prevail – then it is not serving us well.
So we need to recognise the human tendency for each of us and our families and friends to think along the lines of anniversaries. But to use these as checkpoints on the journey, not destinations.
I have to leave the final words to Jim Stockdale and hope that his wisdom lifts and buoys you:
“I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.
“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”