How Do You Want Your Story to Go ?

The Jewish psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl famously wrote in his book about the psychology of everyday life within a concentration camp, Man’s Search for Meaning:

“There is a gap between stimulus and response, and in this gap lies all our freedom”

Put another way – we cannot always control what happens to us, but we can strive to control how we respond.

Frankl wrote that those who couldn’t find anything positive in their circumstances, quickly lost hope and gave in – which always proved fatal for those in the camps. Those who could cling to something positive, no matter how small – even just a slight improvement in the weather, avoiding injury during the day’s work, or a tiny morsel of food, stood more chance of making it through another day.

When facing challenges – from the trivial to the profound, we fundamentally have two choices available to us:

- We can respond negatively – feeling sorry for ourselves, letting the world ‘grind us down’, adding to our sense of anger, resentment, regret, disapointment and ultimately unhappiness.

- Or we can respond positively – accepting things as they are but not letting them overpower us, ‘rising to the challenge’, picking ourselves up and ‘making the most of it’.

Which we tend to choose is influenced of course by our personality and experience, which collectively tend to give us all our individual ’default settings’. Our emotional ‘default setting’ might make us more inclined to tend towards anger, distrust or resentment, or alternatively, we might be one of those lucky individuals who tend towards  gratitude, enthusiasm and joy.

In many situations we might all find ourselves confronting another emotional ‘default setting’: FEAR.

I don’t want to knock fear too much – it’s what stops us running through fast moving traffic and trying to pet rabid dogs, but as with many of our emotions, in our modern complex lives, it can all too often work against us – forming a barrier which prevents us from doing what we want, standing up for what we believe, or simply pushing our comfort zones from time to time.

It’s a topic full of cliches, but there’s no getting away from it – if we want to have richer, fuller, more meaningful and enjoyable lives, we will first have to summon-up the courage. Our fears can be tremendously limiting – stopping and trapping us; not just fear of physical harm or pain, but fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, fear of disappointment and fear of failure.

We all feel fear, but we need to learn to control it, and where necessary ignore it and just ‘do it anyway‘.

If this all sounds like tremendously annoying ‘be all you can be‘, ‘how to achieve anything you want‘ self-help mumbo jumbo, it might be you’ve missed the point . . . It’s not just about how we strive for the pinnicles of life, it’s also about how we lift ourselves out of the gutter !

Managing to see obstacles as challenges to be overcome, rather than insurmountable dead-ends, is how we rouse ourselves out of depression, how we gradually come to terms with tragedy, grief and loss, how we continue to live life every day despite illness, injury, or infirmity, and how we manage to keep smiling and encouraging others, even when we’ve not got much left in ‘the tank’ ourselves.

Tess Marshall, blogger on Bold Life, writes that ‘the difference between someone who fails and someone who succeeds is the courage to act, repeatedly’. She’s not talking about scaling Everest or managing hostile business takeovers, but as a young mother of four under four year olds, battling on against exhaustion and depression, taking it just one day at a time.

There is a lot we can do to help ourselves get control of our fears and negative emotions – focusing more on the present moment rather than the future and past, trying to reframe possible failure or rejection in a more positive way, analyze our fears – many are at least partly irrational, and not least by taking things in small steps.

Another option is to try and ‘catch some courage’ of someone else. Bravery, like laughter, is contagious. Most scary things seem less scary faced together with others, or at least with the support of a friend.

Failing that there are endless examples and stories of inspiring individuals amazingly overcoming difficulties and tragedy.

The two examples below are two of the most inspiring I’ve seen on the internet – if you’re having a rough time at the moment, perhaps a bit scared of the future, or struggling with a particular difficult decision, perhaps they may inspire you !

“Sometimes courage is simply saying ‘I will try again tomorrow’ “

 Mary Anne Radmacher-Hershey


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Photo by Natalie Lucier, via Flickr

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