When it’s out of your control, trust the coping strategy of a master

It’s human nature to look in the mirror and compare ourselves to the images our culture throws at us every day. Being young, successful, body beautiful and wealthy are what our society thrives on, reminding us of what we should aspire to be. And so, we invest in expensive products, clothes, gym memberships, degrees, makeup, youth enhancements and the like grasping to experience what these images project – happiness. Yet the U.S. remains the most depressed and overmedicated nation in the world.

When we look outside ourselves for acceptance and don’t find it we reach for control as a lever of hope. A plethora of industries are happy to take your money to feed your need to belong among ‘the pretty people’ yet after you buy the Prada handbag, MBA, Rolex watch and Mercedes as a solution to the void you feel and the initial thrill subsides you are still left with the same feeling of not being enough. More purchases of the same only leave the hole emptier. So, then we start trying to control things, people, and situations with expectations masquerading as healthy goals. This makes for more unhappiness and very poor leadership because while goals are strategic, expectations are emotional and if unmet leave us frustrated, angry and defeated.

Next, you throw your energy even more intensely into your work because you are an achiever and working harder always paid off in the past. But the stress is affecting your peace, relationships, effectiveness and sleep. I call this cycle the treadmill to nowhere.

Everything I read and study regarding how to break free of this cycle of exhaustion points profoundly to a Master who successfully dealt with oppression far greater than not having his dream job. The work of Viktor E. Frankl sheds poetic wisdom on the shadows of unmet expectations. Frankl was a Viennese neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor.

In 1942, Frankl, his wife, and his parents were deported to the Nazi Theresienstadt Ghetto. There Frankl worked as a general practitioner in a clinic. When his skills in psychiatry were noticed, he was assigned to the psychiatric care ward, establishing a unit to help camp newcomers to overcome shock and grief. Later he set up a suicide watch.

Frankl’s concentration camp experience led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, and thus, a reason to continue living. Frankl became one of the key figures in existential therapy and a prominent source of inspiration for humanistic psychologists.

“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,” said Frankl.

On October 19, 1944, close to the end of the War, Frankl and his wife Tilly were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was moved to a camp affiliated with Dachau, where he spent five months working as a slave laborer and then as a physician until April 27, 1945, when the camp was liberated by American soldiers. Frankl’s mother Elsa and brother Walter were murdered at Auschwitz. His wife was moved to Bergen-Belsen, where she, too, was murdered.

“Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds,” wrote Frankl. “But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of Man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when Man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position Man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.”

A man who had lost everything found meaning in love and choice. Frankl’s most well-known quote is my favorite quote of all time and, for me, shows the value of vulnerability in even the most severe oppression.

“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.”

Viktor Frankl had much time to contemplate how to transform desolation into a will to thrive. His eloquent wisdom inspired this simple coach to create the PAUSE Café Strategy to help clients move past self-doubt to innovation in the theme she learned from this Master. The next time a situation trips your emotions into a fight-or-flight response where you feel threatened, overwhelmed or angry try this practice to find the ‘space’ Frankl references.

The Pause Café strategy

P – Pause and take a deep breath.

A – Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?”

U – Untangle the difference between ‘assumptions’ and ‘the truth.’

S – Step back and allow the pin-hole view of the world to be broader.

E – Extend empathy to yourself. “May I be gentle with myself in this moment.” Then extend empathy to others.

For a free tip sheet on the Pause Café Strategy click here.

The truth is you have infinitely more choices than you think. Wishing you a Pause Café moment today. You are enough.

Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is an executive coach and corporate CEO who helps busy leaders get off the treadmill to nowhere to be more effective, earn more, be more calm and enjoy connected relationships with the people who matter while it still matters. Watch her FREE Master Class training on Three Things to Transform Your Life and Career Right Now at www.MaryLeeGannon.com