How we choose to react to our circumstances defines us
Viktor Frankl was a neurologist, psychiatrist, and a Holocaust survivor. He spent three years in concentration camps and lost most of his family, including his wife, there. He suffered intolerable abuse, starvation, freezing cold, and exhausting physical labour. He lost everything, including a manuscript he was working on.
With every reason to give up, he continued to have a positive outlook and find meaning in the suffering. One of his theories was man could withstand nearly anything if there was a reason for it – a ‘why’ – behind it.
After Frankl was released, he published several books, writing about his experiences and what he learned from them. In one of my favourite quotes, Frankl states, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
He went on to explain, “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.”
Regardless of the situation we find ourselves in, we can choose how we respond to it. Even if we cannot change the situation itself, we can choose to change how we look at it and how we respond to it.
“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” –Jim Rohn
When we choose to rise above our circumstances or our environment, we find the ultimate freedom in personal growth and development.
Stephen R. Covey talked about this concept in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the book, Covey explained that when we choose our response based on values, we are proactive. When we choose our response based on emotions or feelings – we are reactive.
Viktor Frankl certainly didn’t feel like rising above his circumstances. He certainly could have blamed many people for his suffering. Instead, he responded to his situation based on his values – choosing to be proactive, grow his personal strength of character, and rise above his circumstances to be positive.
In one of the best examples I have seen of someone choosing to be proactive, he chose to share his thoughts about learning from one’s hardships, and overcoming them. He recorded his observations on tiny scraps of paper and hid them, so he could keep writing. Those scraps later became a book, Man’s Search For Meaning, after his release.
When we choose our response based on values – we are proactive. When we choose, our response based on emotions or feelings – we are reactive.
The proactive person will rise above his or her situation, take personal responsibility, and choose to be proactive by developing their character. The reactive person will blame anything and anyone else for their circumstances and choose to do nothing.
Often, we don’t feel like being proactive. When the server gets your order wrong at a restaurant and your steak is well done instead of medium rare, how will you respond?
A response based on your feelings of frustration and disappointment would cause you to blame the server, blame the restaurant, get angry, and become demanding. A response based on your values (assuming you value people) would cause you to assure the server you understand mistakes happen and politely let the restaurant correct the mistake.
Easier said than done? You bet. But, we all have two choices when it comes to dealing with change. We can be proactive, respond based on our values, and choose personal growth; or, we can be reactive, respond based on emotions and feelings, and choose to abdicate our personal responsibility for growth.
Here are three reasons why we should always seek to be proactive when responding to change:
1. Being proactive will help you manage your emotions.
Your happiness is not dependent on your circumstances. That doesn’t mean you aren’t striving to improve, but it does mean you can learn to be grateful for what you have.
2. Being proactive will allow you to stand out as someone who is a leader or who has leadership potential.
Those around you will realise you have good character and take responsibility for yourself and your growth. You will shine because not everyone can embrace change.
3. Being proactive will help equip you to meet the challenges of change and turn them into opportunities.
Changes are not something to be afraid of but rather something to be hopeful about because there is potential for something better.
Ria co-founded Top Story Leadership, a consulting company offering keynote speaking, leadership training, and coaching. They work with organisations to unleash leadership potential by taking the complex and making it simple. Raised on an isolated farm in Alabama, Ria suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her father since she was 12. At 10, she escaped her home without a job, a car, or even a high school diploma and learned to not only to survive, but also to thrive. She shares her story to inspire hope and teach others how to apply the same success and leadership principles she applied.
Reposted with permission on Leaderonomics.com