Today, I wanted to write about something that’s not only fundamental to running a business that feels rewarding to you, or to creating meaningful experiences for your clients. Something that is also crucial to working towards living a more fulfilling life – our freedom to choose how we see things, and our ability to decide how we react to the circumstances around us.
‘Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.’
― Viktor E. Frankl
You might have come across the wisdom of Viktor Frankl before. He was a holocaust survivor and a psychiatrist who has helped countless of people find more joy and meaning in their lives through the books he has written. The biggest lesson he has passed on to others is this: we very rarely get to choose our circumstances, the only thing we are free to choose is our reaction – and therein lies the key to happiness. We don’t have to accept our reflexes, but rather learn to recognise a certain space within our thoughts before we act. We can nurture that space, help it grow, and make use of it in any situation we come across. That way we are free of both internal and external pressures. And that brings us close to inner happiness.
We don’t have to accept our reflexes, but rather learn to recognise a certain space within our thoughts before we act. We can nurture that space, help it grow, and make use of it in any situation we come across. That way we are free of both internal and external pressures. And that brings us close to inner happiness.
Most of us luckily never need to test our resolve to choosing hopeful thoughts at a concentration camp, but we can take Frankl’s lead by learning to recognise that space within our own thoughts as often as we can. Instead of reacting, we can start responding.
Here are some of the ways you can practice recognising and growing that space.
Think about the person you would like to be
If you struggle with, for example, always feeling unsure when you are meeting new clients and you let your nervousness hinder your communication, spend time visualising how you’d ideally react. Think about an ideal version of you, and how they would handle situations that trigger your unwanted responses. For example, think of a version of you who has no anxiety about meeting new people, no judgment about who they might be, one that listens and serves their clients with patience, and you will more likely have a more positive experience than if you turn up to the meeting dreading how it will go. Take time to develop a clear vision of your ideal self and remember it when faced with difficult moments.
Try to figure out the cause of your reactions
There’s most likely a reason behind the way you react. It can be helpful, and freeing, to recognise the origins of your reactions. For example, you might have had lots of pressure put on you to perform in school, so certain situations might trigger an anxiety about not feeling like you’re living up to the expectations set by others, or you might have been the unpopular kid, so over the years you developed a suspicion for every new encounter. What ever the origin may be, realise that it probably doesn’t apply to a situation in front of you right now, and let go of it.
Observe the outcome of your reactions
Pay attention to the real-life consequences of your reactions. If you fully acknowledge the negative affects of your reactions, you’ll be more motivated to work harder on changing your pattern of reaction. Recognising that your unfounded fears about meeting new clients hold you back from truly shining will help you move towards different ways of reacting.
Imagine a better response
Visualise a better way to deal with situations. Imagine yourself responding in a more constructive manner, and what the consequences could be. Imagine what it would feel like to response in a way that would move you towards experiencing life in a way that you’d want to ideally experience it. You could imagine yourself responding calmly and confidently to a situation, and moving on towards a solution that propels you forward, instead of stalling you.
Be compassionate towards yourself
Personal change takes effort and time. Changing your perspective is like a slow stretch of a muscle that will eventually start working independently. Be patient with yourself, and show yourself some compassion. Being critical of yourself when you catch yourself falling into old patterns only undermines your efforts. Be supportive of yourself like you would be to a child or a student or a good friend trying to develop a new skill.
Learn new skills
You might need to dig deeper into certain areas of your thinking, and learn specific new skills in order to make changes. For example, you may need to learn how to be more assertive, or perhaps build new tools to deal with social anxiety, learn new ways to relax or interact better. Only by recognising the areas that trigger your unhelpful reactions can you start developing skills to combat them.
Trust your strengths
While being aware of the weaknesses in your thinking, and the reactions that strip joy out of life, trusting and working towards your strengths will instil you with a hopeful and positive attitude. So often we concentrate only on working on our weaknesses, but if we can properly harness our strengths we’ll be in a much more confident place that encourages further growth. Plus, when we’re feeling strong and confident we tend to be far less reactionary, but instead allow ourselves to leverage that mental space for positive responses to whatever life, or our business, throws at us.
If you want to be further inspired by the thoughts of Victor Fankl you can find a great collection of quotes here.