LIFE can change in the blink of an eye. Since I spoke last week about the importance of cultivating realistic optimism – especially during these times – I have had several messages asking about it. What does this even mean? And does it really work?

Well, I guess it is the ability to acknowledge your situation, to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

How to temper your optimism with a dose of reality.

One example is Admiral Jim Stockdale. Stockdale spent eight years in a prisoner of war camp during the Vietnam War. He could be tortured at any time and had no idea whether he would ever get out of the camp. In other words, he had absolutely no control of what might happen to him. The only thing he could control was his mind.

To survive in a situation like this is beyond belief. To have the mental strength to face each day, always holding on to the hope that he would get out alive and return home, is something we can all learn from.

When he was asked who didn’t make it, he replied: the optimists.

But surely, I hear you ask, staying optimistic would give us the best chance to get through any situation especially one has hard as a POW camp?

Not exactly. I quickly learned this lesson in 2016 – when I was lying paralysed. Holding on to the notion that I would move only set me up for a massive psychological crash a year later that resulted in me not wanting to live anymore.

I had been optimistic alright – OVER-optimistic.

This is where realistic optimism comes in. Or as it is known in psychology, the Stockdale Paradox.

It tells you to accept your situation by facing the facts – no matter how brutal they may be.

You must balance optimism with a sense of realism and hold on to the absolute faith and hope that you will pull through no matter what.

So when I mentioned about trying to cultivate realistic optimism, what I really want to do is encourage you to become more familiar with the characteristic of hope.

Hope can fuel our minds and bodies to face any reality that life may throw at us. It is one of the key weapons in our armoury as we set about tackling life’s obstacles.

Stockdale had an abundance of hope to survive his own challenges. He managed to cultivate realistic optimism through hope to help him get through the worst ordeals any human could face.

Closer to home, there is someone who has become a friend of mine as a result of that changing moment, that moment when you realise your life will never go back to normal. His name is Ed Jackson and he is a former professional rugby player who displays all the characteristics of hope and realistic optimism. He has a great understanding of how important this mindset is when faced with uncertain challenges in life.

Ed was left paralysed

from the neck down after he dived into a swimming pool

in April 2017.

In a blink of an eye, his life would never be the same.

Ed and I share a mutual friend, Dave Inman, who has nursed me back from several operations at his family home in Bath where he also looks after some of the Bath rugby players.

Dave sent Ed a video of me whilst he was lying in hospital, I guess to show that there is hope.

Now we are both lucky that our spinal injuries are incomplete so with enough rehabilitation and the right mind set we both had the chance to make some sort of recovery. After three years Ed and I finally chatted on the phone this week to share our experiences of these life changing moments.

What was obvious to me is Ed is a merit finder, always searching for solutions and ways in which he can push forward.

We can all learn from Ed’s approach to his spinal injury during current times. How would you approach a life-changing situation like going from a healthy rugby player to being paralysed?

Ask yourself if you are a merit finder or a fault finder. Where do you place your focus? Do you find yourself currently finding faults in everything? Or are you cultivating your hope on the person you want to be on the other side of Covid-19?