Wright Foundation | February 8, 2022

What’s More Hopeful Than Living with Optimism? Living with Intention

Hope and optimism aren’t enough to get us through difficult times. Here’s why living with intention is so crucial. 

Hope and optimism aren't enough to get us through difficult times. Here's why living with intention is so crucial.

Admiral James B. Stockdale was tortured and starved in Hanoi for eight years as a POW. After his experience, reporters asked him how he survived: “I can’t tell you exactly how I survived, but I can tell you that the people who didn’t survive were the optimists.”

It was the people who thought they’d be saved by Christmas, then spring, then summer, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas again, always hoping for their rescue, that became broken down by disappointment. As Stockdale said, “They died of a broken heart.”

So how do we live without optimism in challenging times?

We live with intention instead.

The difference? Mindset and approach—we keep the end game present at all times.

Never Lose Faith in the End of the Story

In his book, From Good to Great, author James Collins writes about the Stockdale paradox, explaining that:

“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.”

Suppose you think facing the brutal facts means being resigned to what’s going on. In that case, the Stockdale paradox reveals that it’s the opposite. Even in the direst of situations, we can find a sense of purpose IF that is our mindset.

Clinging to the idea that one moment, one person, or one outcome can complete us is a sure way to lose faith in the end of the story. We must find the meaning within ourselves.

Even in the worst of circumstances, we can be led to growth. We can choose this moment. And then the next. And the next. And the next.

Until, before you know it, we’re living with intention.

What’s So Great About Living with Intention?

Living with intention requires us to take risks. It requires that we be present with our lives in new ways. As a result, it drives results in our career, our relationships, and more.

Living with intention means we understand the power of our “No” as well as our “Yes.” Saying “No” tells us that we’re willing to stand up for ourselves. To do what’s right for us, even in the face of rejection.

But just how difficult can it be to speak your truth in the moment? Read on.

We All Just Want to Belong

In 1951, Solomon Asch conducted a well-known conformity experiment. He told the participants it was a “visual perception test.” The participants didn’t know that the other participants they were taking the test with were actors.

The test? Visually assess lines to see which two matched in length. The correct answer was obvious, and the rest of the responses were wrong.

When presented with the first few lines, everyone would choose the obvious answer. However, after a few turns, the actors began to select the wrong answer. At first, the participants would go against the crowd and choose the correct answer. But as the experiment went on, their resolve waned.

Eventually, 75% WOULD CHANGE THEIR RESPONSE to match what the rest of the room said—even though they knew it was wrong. Even more shockingly, half of the 75% would eventually perceive the wrong answer as correct—they would actually see the wrong line length!

THAT’S how difficult it can be to speak your truth in the moment.

We all want to belong. We all want to please others. But when we compromise our deeper truths for the sake of conformity, it has a high cost. 

Expanding our social and emotional intelligence, helps us learn to get along—without needing to agree with everyone in all situations. To respectfully disagree AND express our true feelings.

Living with the intention to become the fullest, most authentic version of ourselves lets us belong and connect. It lets us live satisfied and successful lives without compromise. It lets us contribute to a world that works for everyone.

But Will You Still Like Me?

Deep within us lies a fear of rejection. So much so that we spend more time avoiding rejection, than choosing our true intention. And while that fear of rejection helps us learn to interact socially—we also have to learn to make choices that are authentic to our lives.

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.”

– James Collins

If we want success, we have to become like Admiral Stockdale. We have to choose to live with the intention of not only surviving but thriving. 

In the Year of More, we challenge our students to start asking for things with the intent to get them. Our students are often amazed at how setting the intention that they WILL get what they ask for can really drive the results. Once they realize the power of intention, they often start asking for bigger and bigger things!

Take a few minutes today to look at how YOU can live with intention in every moment. Approach tough situations with a sense of purpose. Look at each challenge as an opportunity.

Instead of asking “How am I going to get through this?” ask: “What do I need to do to make this the best experience that’s ever happened to me?”

And then watch yourself THRIVE.

Want more ideas and opportunities to learn? Check out our upcoming events. You can also explore our webinars and presentations on leadership, relationships, self-discovery, and more on Wright Now. We offer an array of classes to help you get ahead in your career, boost your relationships, and discover yourself. Learn more today, so you can go forth and ignite your world!

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.