[April 29, 2016] In the study of military history a special area only recently receiving attention is the survival of Prisoners of War (POW). From the Revolutionary War through Vietnam, U.S. Army researchers discovered a number of patterns that was the key to POW survival; the more mentally and physically resilient, the higher the survival rate. Resilience was the key.
While this area of study may not generate much interest in the morbid subject matter, it goes to the heart of how people have historically been affected by and survive torture, starvation, psychological torment, and suffering too gruesome to contemplate.
Question … what can we do then, to learn from those who have experienced such conditions? What can they add to our base of knowledge about how to make a person stronger, more flexible, and resistant to combat or other extreme emergency? How do the toughest people summon the willpower to keep going?
Here are a few things that we have learned from history on how to enhance resilience in leaders and, not surprisingly, in anyone:
- Concentrate on the positive and optimistic side of things, but also be realistic
- Know your priorities and focus on those things that are important
- Understand, think about, and face your fears
- Stay physically, spiritually, and mentally fit
- Work hard at being flexible and adaptable
- Have a sense of humor
- Understand that what you do is meaningful
- Keep your life as simple as possible
- Develop a strong network
- Expand a mindset of growth and self-improvement
What know that building resilience is a time-consuming activity that requires energy and concentrated effort. Struggles and setbacks will occur, so expect it and learn that this is part of growth and self-improvement. It should be noted, however, that there is no specific formula for everyone to improve on their resilience; everyone is different.
During the Korean War the allied POWs died at a rate greater than in any other war, except the U.S. Civil War. The reason was that senior leaders had not properly prepared their soldiers for war with a determined and well-armed enemy. A mindset of peaceful coexistence and “occupation” resulted in a lack of discipline and a lack of strong leadership. More POW deaths were the end result.
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