Dr. Viktor Frankl … and Me

Dr. Viktor Frankl … and Me

I never met Dr. Frankl, but I am deeply inspired by his philosophy and his classic work, “Man’s Search For Meaning” (1959). When I need inspiration and a better perspective on my own life’s challenges, remembering, and sometimes rereading that book usually does the trick for me. It has been known to snap me out of quite a few self-pity-parties!

Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1997) was born in Vienna. He was a brilliant neurologist and psychologist who was an inmate in several Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau, during World War II. His wife, mother and brother, also imprisoned for being Jewish, did not survive. His father had died earlier when they were all deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in 1942.

After three years in the camps, he was able to return to Austria, where he wrote the book that became “Man’s Search For Meaning” – the original title translated as “Saying Yes to Life in Spite of Everything: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp.”

He taught the importance of finding meaning in life, even when experiencing extreme suffering and adversity, which of course, he most certainly did.

I often quote Dr. Frankl in my workshops and lectures. My favorites are these two from “Man’s Search For Meaning”:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

When I face my own challenges, imagining a conversation with Dr. Frankl helps me gain a more rational, realistic and empowering perspective.

For example: I was having some work done on my car. While I was in the waiting area, a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years walked in.

“How are you Jerry,” she asked.

I was poised to answer that question by complaining about the expense of an unexpected car repair. But before I spoke, Dr. Frankl popped into my awareness and I thought, “what if Viktor Frankl appeared before me and asked the same question?” Would I be kvetching about a $250 bill, or telling him how grateful I am for the privileges and blessings I’m so fortunate to have? If I choose the latter, I’d probably feel a lot better! So, why would I choose the former? I wouldn’t. It’s just a habit. My “habit” would have “chosen” for me.

Conjuring up the mental image of a respected hero, especially someone who navigated horrific circumstances, might make it a little easier to wait in a long line at the ice cream shop … or cope with an unexpected bill … or respond to an event that is more inconvenience than tragedy.

Cognitive psychology calls this type of exaggeration “magnification.” I’ve also heard it called “awfulizing” and “catastrophising.”

So …”Don’t make mountains out of molehills!”
And maybe, your heroes can help with that!

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One response to this post.

  1. Brilliant post. With a little practice, choosing your own attitude is truly possible… even at the auto shop! I certainly have moments where I lose focus and throw a self-pity party, but it’s reminders like this that help me be more mindful about choosing my responses. Thanks.

    Reply

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