In his final 30 seconds of freedom on September 9th, 1965 as James Bond Stockdale's parachute opened and he descended into the Vietnamese village that would be the site of his capture, he thought to himself: “I'm leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.” Stockdale studied philosophy as a graduate student at Stanford, specifically the teachings of the ancient Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus. Everything that Stockdale knew about stoicism would be put to the test as he spent 7.5 years in the “Hanoi Hilton,” the infamous Vietnamese prison where he was subjected to torture, leg irons, and solitary confinement. Stockdale's experience has much to teach us about flattening the curve of our mental health that appears to be spiking at the moment with a third of Americans reporting signs of clinical depression and/or anxiety and many filling new prescriptions for anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications. The focus of this week's 5-Minute Recharge newsletter is on non-medicinal strategies that have endured for over 2,000 years, ways of thinking and behaving that will help you deal with the stresses of a chaotic world. Let's get started!ONE QUOTE FROM A GOOD FELLA“What I look forward to in the future is carrying with me what I have been forced to learn in these circumstances. It is the essential. The people you love.”– Director Martin Scorsese, from his home-made short film about his pandemic experience
Gabrielle Pierce's dad built a commencement stage on the family's driveway to celebrate her graduation with a ceremony that featured a procession, invocation, national anthem, welcome, another song, a commencement address, and the conferring of her degree in Public Health Science for Epidemiology. Congratulations, Gabrielle!THREE STOIC IDEAS #1 THE STOCKDALE PARADOX The most important practice in stoic philosophy is to distinguish what we can control from what we can't control. James Stockdale noted that the prisoners of war who didn't make it would pin their hopes on being rescued by a certain date, such as Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving. When these occasions would come and go and come and go again, those who thought they could predict the timing of their freedom lost hope. We may similarly be hoping for a treatment or a cure for Covid-19 by a particular date or we may simply declare we've had enough with social distancing and sheltering in place and are willing to take our chances with contagion. The Stoics would caution us against trying to impose our will on a virus, and would advise us to limit our circle of concern to making well-informed daily choices that safeguard our health and the health of those we love.
“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 reality.”– The Stockdale Paradox that asks you to remain optimistic about what you can control without giving in to unrealistic optimism about what is beyond your control#2 PUSH-UPS IN LEG IRONS James Stockdale soon realized that taking control of what he could control involved imposing some kind of order on his confinement. Doing 300 pushups a day in a tiny cell with leg irons was his way of taking charge and organizing his life. Being the architect of your pandemic life by designing a daily routine has become a recurring recommendation in our newsletter since the pandemic took hold, and making physical activity a key element of that routine is something Addie reiterated in her most recent resilience webinar. A new study of exercise and mental health during the pandemic found that people who were able to remain physically active were less depressed and more resilient that those whose activity levels declined. Jacob Meyer, a lead author of the study, appeared to be channeling Epictetus when he said that there is one thing we have control over right now: we can get up and move. Rather than leave movement to chance or whim–trust us: you will never feel like getting off the couch and working up a sweat–try to schedule exercise so that it has a chance to take root in your life and become automatic.
“It became obvious after a while of living alone that if you didn't want to become an animal, you had to organize your life in some way.” – James Stockdale#3 PLAY YOUR PART WELL Back home in the United States, Sybil Stockdale was struggling. It was her first Christmas Eve alone with her four children and she didn't know if her husband James was alive or dead. Epictetus reminds us that we're all actors placed into roles that we haven't chosen, and it is our business to act our parts well. Sybil Stockdale couldn't control her circumstances, but she could control her attitude about her situation and how she played her part at home. What part have you been assigned in the Covid-19 pandemic, and how can you play your part well?
“I gave myself a talking to and said, 'You must treat this like a business, that you're in the business of making memories for little boys, and we're going to do this as well as we possibly can.' That helped a lot.” – Sybil Stockdale ***********************************The Fast Five
1. For Whom the Alarm Clock Tolls - The Happiness Lab
2. Lynne talks about the importance of Acts of Friendship - The Social
3. If You Feel Like You're Regressing, You're Not Alone - Harvard Business Review
4. The Lost Art of Breathing - NPR
5. The Best Commencement Speeches of 2020 - Forbes***********************************YOUR 5-MINUTE RECHARGE CHALLENGE
YOUR PANDEMIC MOTTO
“My mindset was we are the masters of our fate, throw out the book and write your own.”– James Stockdale
Who better than James Stockdale to give us our 5-Minute Recharge Challenge? As the leader among prisoners, Stockdale devised the acronym BACK US as his motto, acknowledging the role of the Hoa Lo prison (Vietnamese for “fiery furnace”) as a propaganda factory, and vowing not to produce anything his captors could use.
Don't Bow in public
Stay off the Air
Admit no Crimes
Never Kiss them goodbye
Unity over Self
Your turn. Take a few minutes to create a motto that will enable you to play your part well (see Idea #3). Think about your role and your mission during the pandemic and summon the words that will help you to play your part well. Fortunately none of us are in leg irons a Vietnamese prison, but we're all in a stressful situation and could benefit from some self-generated inspiration to help us control what we can control and become a little more stoic.
“In short, what the Stoics say is work with what you have control of and you'll have your hands full.” ― James Stockdale
Wishing you a safe, healthy and happy week ahead,
Lynne & Addie