Psychologist Victor Frankl once wrote the words, “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.” He knew better than many. He survived imprisonment in a concentration map. He’d been a published author for decades but I only discovered Frankl the day I read his 1997 obituary in the newspaper.
Reading his book, Man’s Search for Meaning became one of the major turning points in my life. It further solidified some of the things my mind instinctively knew. I don’t know why but writing about Frankl made me recall a cross-country training session I completed some 30 long years ago.
We were sent out by the coach to do an 8 mile uphill loop. It meant running through parts of the city, up through a National Park and downhill most of the way. A great run. The last half was a downhill descent, although the climb to the middle of the run was difficult, yet you eventually made up with a good tempo to the end. I went up with the running team but on the way back one of the slowest runners decided to quit. I stayed back with him.
He decided he wasn’t going to run anymore, wasn’t going to walk anymore and so on the sidewalk he sat. I was stuck and stunned. I didn’t know how to get him to move. No manner of begging, ridicule, or encouragement would get him to stand up. He didn’t care but I certainly knew that my father did. It was getting late and dark and I would have to explain to him why I wasn’t on the city bus coming home.
He was on the ground in tears. I didn’t know what personal frustrations were causing this doubt but I wasn’t going to abandon him. I told him we could make it but he didn’t move. Out of my anger and my frustration I cursed him out and told him to get on my back.
He looked at me in disbelief. We must have looked like an odd pair, one 16-year-old boy giving another 16-year-old a piggy-back. Too mad and desperate to get home. I don’t recall how long I walked for but after a while he calmed down and said he could walk on his own. Our walk turned into a jog, our jog turned into a run and soon we ended up where we belonged. The sky was black. I received a good chewing out from my father but I was home.
Let’s be clear here. Is the GAME ever over? Is it? It NEVER is.
- Your attitude is your choice not the choice of others. Frankl watched as men gave up their will to live. The prisoners usually gave away their belongings, isolated themselves away from the group and quietly let their life ebb out of them. The ones that chose to live had a better chance of surviving. If that meant eating soup with hair, rat droppings or saw dust in it to gain strength, they would eat it rather than turn their noses up at the fare.
- Let your attitude become mechanical. Choosing every day to take on hardship in a positive way allows a positive attitude to become a habit. The literal problem doesn’t go away, but the belief that it was ever a problem does. Frankl noted how the prisoner work crews cleared the roads during harsh winters and without wearing shoes on their feet. Daily life was a painful chore. No one knew if it was their day to die at the hands of the Nazis. But Frankl made a choice to get through the day no matter what the circumstance was. A positive attitude gives you energy. Frankl’s positive attitude gave him the fighting chance to survive the brutality of internment. Construct your habit to be a productive machine that works to your advantage.
- See the big picture. Don’t get tunnel vision. Having a bad attitude can fool you into thinking there isn’t a solution and so you are more apt to quit at something. Having a good attitude opens your mind to possibilities. You regard failures as opportunities and as blessings. You aren’t dwelling on problems because you’re looking the solutions. Solutions get you to that goal. “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” Frankl.
- Associate with winners. Do you think negative self-talk will get you anywhere? Remember Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh? Negative thinking can lead you straight into a corner and not out of one.
Listen, no article is really good unless you include awesome pop culture in it. How about the 1986 movie Aliens by James Cameron? It had some pretty funny dialogue in it. Remember the hilarious conversation between Private Hudson and Ripley (played by the always excellent, late Bill Paxton and Sigourney Weaver) when their ride off the planet crashes?
Ripley: How long after we’re declared overdue can we expect a rescue?
Hicks: [pause] Seventeen days.
Hudson: Seventeen *days?* Hey man, I don’t wanna rain on your parade, but we’re not gonna last seventeen *hours!* Those things are gonna come in here just like they did before. And they’re gonna come in here…
Hudson: …and they’re gonna come in here AND THEY’RE GONNA GET US!
Ripley: Hudson! This little girl survived longer than that with no weapons and no training.
[Ripley looks at the child named Newt]
[Newt apes a salute]
Hudson: Why don’t you put her in charge?
Ripley: You better just start dealing with it, Hudson! Listen to me! Hudson, just deal with it, because we need you and I’m sick of your (expletive)
Hudson’s ready to give up. He is freaking out. “Game over man” is all he can say until Ripley get’s him out of that negative loop he’s trapped in. Ripley is a very tough officer and she is not going to deal with Hudson’s whining. Don’t let the negative attitude of others get in the way of your mission. Their bad attitude can influence the way you think and feel if you let it.
You don’t have to be a professor of higher learning and adult education to know well enough the power of common sense. Winners succeed because of their mental attitude. Losers lose because they chose to lose. Everyone has tough times. Frankl knew well enough to condition his mind to seek ways out of difficulty.
My cross-country team-mate was fully capable of making it home but he talked himself out of doing so. He said his feet hurt too much or that he was too tired. The last half of run was all downhill but he told himself it was impossible. I still remember his name, still remember the day, and will always believe that it is you and you alone that decides on what can be achieved or not.
pic from www.geektyrant.com