Difficult situations: Getting unstuck

All of us will, from time-to-time, find ourselves in a difficult situation. Often when we get into a tough spot we find ourselves stuck. It often takes a great deal of energy and attention to extract yourself from a difficult situation. Sometimes you can find yourself wondering whether it’s worth the effort. Counselors tell us that change only happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. In the world of our emotions, it seems, we’re all economists who engage in a cost/benefit analysis.

I read an interesting post linked from Lifehacker. Niall Doherty explores how the Stockdale Paradox can help us overcome difficult situations. The term refers to mental strategy employed by Admiral James Stockdale while a prisoner of war (during the Vietnam conflict). Stockdale held in tension two things: (1) a realistic appraisal of his present situation and (2) an unfaltering hope that he would overcome the ordeal. Jim Collins unpacks the paradox in Good to Great:

You must retain hope that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties….And, at the same time…You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

There are twin dangers when confronting a difficult situation. The first is unbridled optimism. The second is unbridled pessimism. 

David Allen quotes Yvon Chouinard in Getting Things Done:

There’s no difference between a pessimist who says, “Oh, it’s hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything,” and an optimist who says, “Don’t bother doing anything, it’s going to turn out fine anyway.” Either way, nothing happens.


I think that pretty much sums it up. Lying to yourself might make you feel better for a little while, but in the end it will destroy you. When things don’t turn out fine because you didn’t apply yourself to addressing the problem in a realistic way, you will come one step closer to losing hope.

It’s far better to admit to yourself that things are not as you would wish–you’re in a tough spot. Admit it. Own it. Then, apply yourself to reasonable plan to extract yourself from it.



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