Some of our important choices have a time line. If we delay a decision, the opportunity is gone forever. Sometimes our doubts keep us from making a choice that involves change. Thus an opportunity may be missed. - James E. Faust
Too often in life, something happens and we blame other people for us not being happy or satisfied or fulfilled. So the point is, we all have choices, and we make the choice to accept people or situations or to not accept situations. - Tom Brady
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. - Neil Peart
Have you ever noticed what the most pressed button on an elevator is? By deduction and observation of the wear around each button, we can often determine that the “door close” button is the most pressed one.
Ironically, in most elevator systems, especially high traffic ones, the “door close” button is ignored, the elevator being controlled by a master control system that determines when the door will close regardless of your intentions and desires.
Along the same lines, have you ever noticed people who enter an elevator car and press a floor that is already lit or press a floor button multiple times in rapid succession. They somehow believe, consciously or unconsciously, that multiple presses or presses with force behind them indicate priority or perhaps a reminder in case the elevator car somehow forgot the first request for the specific floor.
Elevator Usage Note: Subsequent presses of the same button are also ignored.
Meanwhile, the “door open” button does work on your command. However, if you hold it too long or press it too often, an alarm will sound because you have abused your privilege to tell the elevator car that you have a desire for something beyond its own intention and purpose. Ignore the alarm and security will ask you over the intercom if you are ok. Ignore that call and …. well … see my PS at the end of this post for an amusing story.
I am reminded of this as I entertain regulators from two countries this week. They want to make sure that technology that my colleagues and I have crafted will not be exported to nefarious countries or parties of evil intent. As I left the building yesterday and replayed the events of the day, the elevator ride reminded me of what is inside and outside of our control, when we make choices in alignment with intentions and what happens after our choices are made.
Later that evening, I gave a quick skim over my social media feed to see how people were preparing for 2017.
Sadly, much of it was a repeat of their 2016 intentions, their 2015 intentions, their 2010 intentions … you get the picture. A sampling looks like this:
“This year, I will lose weight, be more fit, drink less, quit smoking, spend less time on social media, find my purpose, travel more, prepare for retirement better, cease poisonous relationships, do more for people …..”
The list is promising but sadly, disappointing, nauseating and frustrating (the latter two coming from listening to someone for the 5th, 10th or 20th year in row lecturing you how THIS year WILL be different, no matter what you say to the contrary).
Meanwhile, their thoughts, words and actions on the last day of December and the last day of the subsequent January will be the same for many of them, with the gap in between the two days representing “the New Year’s resolution” that they immerse themselves in but which inevitably loses momentum and is placed on a shelf, only to be dusted off, embraced, promoted and relived next year at the same time.
Despite the numerous research that exists proving that raw New Year’s resolutions don’t work, people go about resetting their enthusiasm for living by setting goals that are wonderful in theory but have no basis in reality because their brain is still working on flawed wiring, unsubstantiated intentions, lousy personal beliefs, absent goals and the like. Imagine how those same people would react if they realized that constantly inventing new goals without changing their beliefs and execution was actually killing them. (Author note: An interesting article on the science of keeping and breaking New Year's Resolutions can be found here: Popular Science: Why Your Brain Makes New Year's Resolutions Impossible to Keep.)
This phenomenon is known as the Stockdale Paradox, named after Admiral James Stockdale. In the book Good to Great, Admiral Stockdale describes his experiences as a POW in Vietnam:
The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking United States military office in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of 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. He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken, while fighting an internal war against his captors and their attempts to use the prisoners for propaganda. At one point, he beat himself with a stool and cut himself with a razor, deliberately disfiguring himself, so that he could not be put on videotape as an example of a “well-treated prisoner.” He exchanged secret intelligence information with his wife through their letters, knowing that discovery would mean more torture and perhaps death. He instituted rules that would help people to deal with torture (no one can resist torture indefinitely, so he created a step-wise system–-after x minutes, you can say certain things–-that gave the men milestones to survive toward). He instituted an elaborate internal communications system to reduce the sense of isolation that their captors tried to create, which used a five-by-five matrix of tap codes for alpha characters. (Tap-tap equals the letter a, tap-pause-tap-tap equals the letter b, tap-tap-pause-tap equals the letter f, and so forth, for twenty-five letters, c doubling in for k.) At one point, during an imposed silence, the prisoners mopped and swept the central yard using the code, swish-swashing out “We love you” to Stockdale, on the third anniversary of his being shot down. After his release, Stockdale became the first three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
How on earth did he deal with it when he was actually there and did not know the end of the story?”
“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” he said, when I asked him. “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.”
Finally I asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”
“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused given what he’d said earlier.
“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. 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.”
Too many people are preparing for 2017 in the same way they prepared for previous years, with an optimism that things will be better “just because” and without facing the realities of their situation and in some cases, their own poor execution.
For too many people, blind optimism without addressing the realities that created their current situation are going to create more disappointment. They are constantly reliving the Stockdale Paradox but they don’t believe it or call you a naysayer, pessimist or non-supporter because you see things more objectively than they do.
The Bottom Line
Optimism is an important part of Life. Without it, it is difficult to move forward with any sense of hope and intention.
However, blind optimism, optimism that doesn’t address the realities of one’s present situation and execution is not optimism.
It is blind ignorance.
And while people who love to immerse themselves in blind optimism regard objective people like me as pessimists, the reality is that if you want to get somewhere new in your Life, you have to know where you stand and how you got there if you want to make any progress at all.
After all, if you want to travel to NYC, your options and the effort required to exercise your options are much different if you start off in New Jersey, California or Australia.
So as you prepare for 2017, make sure that your thoughts, words and actions are in congruence and are in fact working together to create a different year than the one you feel disappointed in.
Also make sure that they are grounded in reality of where you are.
Otherwise, you are merely banging on the buttons of an elevator and feeling frustrated that such actions are not getting you where you want to go as fast as you want to get there.
You deserve a strong 2017.
Do your thoughts, words and actions demonstrate that you believe you deserve it?
If you've always struggled with New Year's Resolutions, besides all the fluffy stuff you read every year that builds up a false euphoric orgasm of intention that fades into disappointment or abysmal failure, check out this article: Popular Science: Why Your Brain Makes New Year's Resolutions Impossible to Keep. It matters if you care about how successful your intentions will be.
In service and servanthood – create a great 2017, because merely having one is too passive an experience.
PS In my early days on Wall St., there were two colleagues (married but not to each other) who had feelings for each other. One day while riding in the elevator, then found themselves overwhelmed with a feeling of amorousness for each other and looking to extend their magical moment, they pressed the emergency button to stop the car.
As they engaged in a moment of passion which involved removing their clothing, they ignored reality when the security guard asked them over the intercom if they were ok.
They ignored the reality that the security guard could see them via the camera in the elevator car.
However, they couldn’t ignore reality when firemen forced the elevator door open and found them in the heat of passion.
A month or so later, I was walking by an emergency exit on the 25th floor of our building when I heard what I thought were sounds of someone in difficulty. It turned out to be the same couple locked in the throes of passion once again. They had jammed the door open with a small piece of wood, knowing that in a secure facility, doors for emergency exits could not be opened from the outside. With a grunt of amusement, I kicked the little piece of wood out of the door and allowed it to close. I’m sure the walk down 25 floors was a nice cool-down for them when they were done.
Reality doesn’t have emotion and doesn’t care what you think about it.
It just exists.
Denying it doesn’t make Life any better nor will it bend to our will just because that is what we want.
It takes a change in thought, word and action to produce the change we want and even then, the Universe / God / Fate / Whatever-You-Believe-In may have other thoughts in mind.
But accepting that is better than blind optimism, otherwise the light at the end of the tunnel may in fact be a train.
You deserve better than that.
When you acknowledge and believe that and understand what it takes to put that belief into practice, your Life will change for the better.
Otherwise you may end up proving that there is no difference between blind optimism and recklessness, especially to the objective observer.