Stoicism and the Single Plane Swing

By Paul Monahan –  GGA Performance Mindset Coach.

James Stockdale was one of the greatest military heroes our country has ever produced.

As a Navy pilot and commander, he flew over 200 combat missions during three separate deployments in Vietnam and became one of the most decorated Navy pilots ever.

But his most significant achievement came after September 9, 1965, the day he was taken prisoner after being shot down over North Vietnam.

As the highest-ranking Naval officer to serve as a prisoner during the war, Commander Stockdale’s leadership among the POW population was legendary. And he was credited with saving the lives of hundreds of American POWs over the course of his eight-year captivity.

(If you ever want to be inspired by someone’s capacity to influence others in positive ways, read Stockdale’s essay Courage Under Fire.)

Years after the war ended, Stockdale was asked about how he managed to cope with the challenges of being a prisoner under such horrific conditions. (Stockdale and others – including a young aviator named John McCain – were routinely beaten and tortured.)

He explained that he never lost faith that things would turn out ok. He believed that he would prevail. And that, he would be a better person for having persevered through the struggle.

But here is the exciting part:

When asked about his impressions of those who did not make it out of the prisons.. the soldiers, sailors and airmen who perhaps lost the will to go on… Stockdale said it was the optimists who struggled the most:

“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.”

Good to Great author James Collins described this as the Stockdale Paradox.

Stockdale also was quoted as saying:

“This is a fundamental 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.”

It turns out Commander Stockdale had studied Stoicism while in graduate school. One of the critical tenets of stoicism is that happiness in life comes from acceptance of each moment as it is. I love Stockdale’s perspective (and Stoicism) when it comes to the human development process…and also when it comes to the Single Plane Swing.

The challenges we face as we learn to play this game of golf at a higher level are not as grim, nor the stakes as high as those faced by American POWs…not even close.

But the human psychological dynamics are similar. We can learn a lot from Stockdale’s experiences…and apply much of it to the process of both learning the Single Plane Swing and playing this game at a higher level.

The Single Plane Swing journey – in fact, any endeavor of change or transformation – is one which requires both FAITH and DISCIPLINE. The faith to know that you will prevail. And the discipline to forge ahead even when you experience the challenge and setbacks.

What does that look like for those learning the Single Plane Swing?

When you trust in the process of replicating the Moe Norman swing model that Todd and Tim teach. When you hold the belief that if you study it, work at it, get feedback, and repeat the cycle enough times, your swing WILL improve, and you will get the results you are looking.

You don’t need to put a timeline on your development. You don’t need to be an optimist. Just DO the work and trust that you will make progress.

So, let go of your story about WHEN you will “arrive.” Know that you WILL get one day. (Or that “arriving” may not be the point after all!) That’s enough.

And when you feel like you have plateaued or regressed, have the discipline to accept the moments as they come to you – or as Stockdale might say: “…confront the most brutal facts of your current reality “– and STAY IN THE GAME. Don’t ever quit.

You know how to do this. You’ve done this all your life – and you have produced a ton of success because of it.

Now apply it to your golf game.

Have faith. Be disciplined. Stay in the game. You will prevail.

Paul Monahan, PCC is a Peak-Performance coach, member of the International Coach Federation and a certified CORE Performance Dynamics Specialist. He resides in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife Paula and is the proud dad to three young men. (And he is also on the Single Plane Swing journey.) Do you have a question for Paul? Complete the form below:


Paul Monahan

Paul Monahan

Paul Monahan is an International Coach Federation (ICF) - credentialed coach working in the arena of human potential. Paul’s clients are leaders, executives, athletes and musicians who are serious about transforming how they perform in critical moments. His experiences in leadership and development over a highly-successful 25-year corporate career have created powerful context and understanding for the leaders and executives he coaches. Additionally, his passions and experiences in sports and music have uniquely positioned Paul to profoundly impact his clients in those areas as well.

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