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Flavius Victor

The Stockdale Principal for Quitters

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The Stockdale Principal for Quitters

By: Gi Kea



I think I know how you feel. You quit and you're waiting for it to get better. You're waiting for a day—one specific day—when the pain of it all will be over. You're waiting for that one day that you have determined in your mind that it will be easier. That one day when the craves will disappear. When the fog will lift. When you'll stop being irritable. When you start being productive at work. When you stop being short with your wife and kids. That one day…you're just waiting…


Perhaps you quit yesterday and you've read that the nicotine will be out of your body in 48 hours. Now you're thinking that if you can just make it till tomorrow, it will all be better. Perhaps you posted "Day 7" this morning and you're holding on for dear life because somebody told you that it all got better for them at Day 8. Maybe you're posting in the 30's today, and wondering why the fog is still so heavy when other people told you that it should be gone by day 21. Maybe you're in the 70's and teetering on the edge of a cave because everyone in your group seems to be doing fine and you thought that by Day 50, everything would be back to normal.


Maybe you're watching the January guys cross the HOF line this month and thinking to yourself that if you can just make it to Day 100, it will all be better. I'm here to tell you that this might be the most subtly destructive pattern of thinking you could ever enter into. I'm writing this before I post roll today to plead with you to rid your mind from this thinking if you want your quit to survive.


In his excellent book Good To Great, management consultant Jim Collins shares an anecdote that proved to be perhaps the most powerful force in my battle against smokeless tobacco. In fact, Collins' anecdote didn't just get me across the HOF line, I have returned to it many times throughout my first six months free from smokeless tobacco—and I suspect I will return to it again.


On pages 83-87 of his book, Collins recounts the story of Admiral Jim Stockdale. Stockdale was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the "Hanoi Hilton" POW camp during the Vietnam War. "Tortured over twenty times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner's rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again" (Collins, 83-4). You can read Stockdale's own account of the horrors he endured in the book he co-authors with his wife, In Love and War.


When Collins had the opportunity to interview Stockdale, he asked him how he was able to endure such atrocities without knowing his ultimate fate. Stockdale responded, "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…" (Collins, 85).


When asked who didn't survive the "Hanoi Hilton," Stockdale offered a perplexing response—"Oh, that's easy," he said. "The optimists." Permit me to quote Stockdale's answer at length, as Collins recounts it:



"The Optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.


Another long pause, and more walking. Then he turned to me and said, "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."


To this day, I carry a mental image of Stockdale admonishing the optimists: "We're not getting out by Christmas; deal with it!" (Collins, 85).



The Stockdale Principle for Quitters is simple—stop waiting for that one day—whatever it is you have set in your brain when you think it is going to be better, easier, "back to normal." I have been a member of this community for a relatively short time, but I have seen a number of people give up on their quits for the same reason that Stockdale's fellow prisoners died in the "Hanoi Hilton"—they got tired of the disappointments when their "appointed day" didn't pan out to be what they hoped.


Anchor your hope today on the fact that you will win your war against smokeless tobacco. You will "get better." Life will be normal again. However, I plead with you—stop fantasizing about some day you have appointed when you think it will get better. The fact is, it might not.


The only way to survive this war is to, like Stockdale, never doubt that you will prevail in the end. And, unlike "The Optimists," stop saying that you'll prevail by ________.


One day at a time my friends. "No Tobacco Today!"


Fighting the war with you,


Gi Kea

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