Anxiety is a universal human experience, with everyone facing moments of fear, doubt, and uncertainty in their lives. But how can we move beyond these feelings and find purpose and meaning even in the most challenging times? Enter logotherapy, pioneered by Viktor Frankl, based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find meaning in life.
If you've never read, Man's Search for Meaning, by Frankl, who wrote it and crafted logotherapy while in the Concentration Camps of the Second World War, please do. An idea can be life changing, it can alter one's course in life with a simple shift in how we see things, and if we're able to see our struggles not as curses but as blessings with hidden meaning, we will struggle better, and inevitably live better.
Let's discuss how to shift your mind with Frankl's philosophy.
Logotherapy derives from the Greek word "logos," which denotes "meaning." It asserts that our primary drive isn't pleasure, as Freud suggested, but rather the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful. Viktor Frankl, the founder of this therapeutic approach, was a neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor. His experiences in the Concentration Camps led him to observe that those who found a sense of purpose, even in the direst circumstances, were more resilient to suffering.
[Note: another wonderful book to read on this topic is Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot]
"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." - Viktor Frankl
Applying Logotherapy to Anxiety: Warrior not Worrier
1. Finding Meaning: According to Frankl, once an individual discovers a reason to live, they can cope with almost any "how." When dealing with anxiety, it's essential to redirect focus from the source of fear and instead, concentrate on finding purpose and meaning. Ask yourself: "What can this situation teach me? How can I grow from this? Where is the lesson here? How will this make me a better man, leader, businessman, and so forth?"
Every struggle has the opportunity to make us better. When we grow from our struggles we become, as Nassim Taleb put it, Antifragile. A man who grows from turmoil rather than being defeated by it, is a man that cannot be destroyed. Be that man.
"Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose." - Viktor Frankl
2. Freedom of Choice: No matter the external situation, Frankl believed in the human capacity to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances. Even in anxiety, there's a choice to be made – to succumb to it or to find meaning despite it.
It's similar to Stoicism in that we do not get to choose our external events or surroundings, but we can always choose how we view them, and how we react to them.
"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
3. Facing Suffering Head-On: Frankl observed that avoiding suffering and existential vacuum could exacerbate feelings of meaninglessness and, by extension, anxiety. By confronting and making sense of our suffering, we can find a deeper sense of purpose.
Don't pleasure-seek as avoidance of your problems. That is, don't ignore the struggle by seeking pleasure as a band-aid. Dive in. Dig deep. Face it.
"In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning." - Viktor Frankl
4. Detachment: Detachment is the capability to look objectively at a situation. By seeing our anxiety from an external perspective, we can better analyze our feelings and understand that they do not define us.
If you're able to achieve this detachment from not just anxiety and emotions, but from desires and wants, you can see what's truly important, and what's really going on, you can see truth, and from truth, you can live well, endure all, and make better decisions.
"An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior." - Viktor Frankl
5. Focusing on Others: One of the hallmarks of Frankl's philosophy is the idea that by focusing on serving others, we can transcend our problems and find true meaning. Engaging in selfless acts can provide an immediate sense of purpose and alleviate feelings of anxiety.
Look at the most disturbed and depressed and what you'll also see are the most self-absorbed. We live life as a single player game. However, when we constantly focus on ourselves, our problems become all-encompassing.
Look outward to help others with their problems and you gain perspective and solutions over yours.
"For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best." - Viktor Frankl
There is meaning in our suffering, there are lessons and rewards, we ought not to avoid these moments - and that's what they inevitably are, moments, they end - because these are what make us better.
Don't wish for fewer struggles, pray to be the man who can endure greater ones.