“[…] everything can be taken from a man but one last thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
I first read this quote a few years ago. I had bought myself a book called, ‘Water Off a Duck’s Back: How to Deal with Frustrating Situations, Awkward, Exasperating and Manipulative People and… Keep Smiling!’ by Jon Lavelle. I bought this book because I had a boss at the time that I found awkward, exasperating, and definitely manipulative so this book seemed quite a find! The book was okay, but it was Viktor Frankl’s quote that the book referenced which set me on a path to a new way of thinking.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with his work, Viktor Frankl was an Austrian Psychiatrist who survived imprisonment in concentration camps during WWII. The above quote is from his book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ (I really suggest you read it) and it concentrates on mapping the different stages of the prisoners’ mental states whilst being held in camps. In his book, Frankl talks of the men in his hut, who despite losing everything – possessions, family, health, physical freedom and who had faced daily and relentless degradation, continued to comfort others and share what little food they had.
Frankl’s quote resonated with me above everything else I read in Lavelle’s book. The idea that you could choose your attitude when confronted with adversity was a revelation to me (I feel a little embarrassed by this admission now), surely people make you feel a certain with how they treat you? In the situation I faced with my boss at the time, my emotions would range on a daily basis from anger, to anxiety, to depression and she was making me feel that way with how she treated me. At least that’s was I believed up until the point at which I read Frankl’s words; according to him I could choose my attitude and what better authority could I read those words from? It seemed easier said than done to me but I was determined to find out how I could learn to choose my reactions in a way that was more healthy for me.
It has been a journey learning to live Frankl’s philosophy. In response to the situation with my boss at the time, I decided to take Maya Angelou’s advise first which is, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” I changed my situation and left my job as a teacher and undertook training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT teaches us that we are responsible for our emotions; not events or other people’s behaviour but our own beliefs that we can change with support and practice. So that’s was I do now, as a cognitive behavioural coach, I help people to take personal responsibility and change their attitude and at the same time, I have learnt to change mine.