Current Reality or Desired Future (Which one influences you more?)

Musing for:

Current Reality or Desired Future

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins introduced us to what he called the Stockdale paradox, named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, a Vietnam prisoner of war who survived more than twenty instances of torture over an eight year imprisonment.

Put simply, the paradox that helped him survive was his ability to never lose faith that he would prevail in the end while at the same time confronting the most brutal facts of his current reality.

But there’s a tension between those two sides of the paradox that needs some attention. I was sharing this recently in a conversation with someone who had started to make a habit of simply tolerating their current situation. They weren’t really happy where they were, but they also weren’t putting much energy into changing anything.

Here’s an exercise I learned from my friend and executive coach, Dennis Hooper, and I shared it as I coached this other individual.

Imagine the two parts of the paradox as your two thumbs. Your left thumb represents your current reality. Your right thumb represents your desired future.

Now, imagine a giant elastic rubber band between the two thumbs.

If you retain in your mind a compelling vision of your desired future, your right thumb is anchored, and the tension of the elastic draws your left thumb towards it. This represents the way you are drawn to repeatedly take concrete actions that are likely to change your reality to be more like your vision.

If, on the other hand, you keep your focus on your current reality by complaining and defending your limitations, that’s like anchoring your left thumb. The tension of the elastic pulls on your right thumb, and your vision for the future shrinks to become more like your current reality.

Finally, if you ignore your current reality entirely and focus on a delusional future vision, the elastic band can break. Your desires remain nothing but a dream with no power to draw you to action. That doesn’t mean the dream is unreachable; it just means you may need to set a more realistic vision first. Then, when you’ve changed your current reality to meet that vision, you can stretch again to set a more ambitious goal.

So if you’re tired of tolerating being stuck in an unfulfilling, dead-end position, be honest about your current reality, envision a clear and realistic picture of a desired future, and keep your attention anchored on achieving that future.

…and repeat for as long as you want to keep growing.

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