IMPRISONED in Auschwitz during World War II, Viktor Frankl was no stranger to suffering. Observing the differences in prisoners at the camp, Frankl stated:
“A man who let himself decline because he could not see any future goal found himself occupied with retrospective thoughts. … the tendency there was to look into the past, to help make the present, with all its horrors, less real. But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist. Regarding our “provisional existence” as unreal was in itself an important factor in causing the prisoners to lose their hold on life; everything in a way became pointless. Such people forgot that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself. Instead of taking the camp’s difficulties as a test of their inner strength, they did not take their life seriously and despised it as something of no consequence. They preferred to close their eyes and to live in the past. Life for such people became meaningless.”
To Frankl, the ability to live in the present was a strength that allowed him not only to endure Auschwitz but a strength that provided meaning to all human life. An attention to present allowed one to find, even in moments of blinding suffering, a chance to improve, and the chance to test oneself and a chance come out on top.
And if there’s one thing to take away from this article it’s this: If this guy could manage it in Auschwitz, what excuse do you have?*
Frankl’s premise is simple – Life is something to be endured. Day in and day out. But it is in enduring that life, and spotting the opportunities that you can build a life that is better than the one you have.
To Frankl, this was called spiritual growth. It was called meaning.* It’s what I tend to call confidence, but if I’m honest, no word really does that trick. But if we need a working definition, let’s go with:
Changing our ability to deal with uncomfortable circumstances head-on, to endure them, and to come out capable of mastering them.
In Frankl’s case, this ‘uncomfortable circumstance’ was surviving a death camp. But in our own lives, it’s going to be far less extreme. Maybe you’re broke, financially irresponsible and having to borrow money off your parents. Maybe you’re lazy, ill-disciplined, and watching your dreams slip away in a dead-end job. Maybe you’re terrified of women sexually inexperienced and never had a date.
No matter what it is, if you’re in a bad place and looking for a way to get out, this article is for you.
FINDING THE THING
The mechanism that gets you through uncomfortable circumstances is what I described above. You can call it spirituality, meaning, confidence, whatever – but that basic idea is that this ‘thing’ inside you is what will get you from the shitty side of life to the better side.
No, not that Thing.
Note that I said inside. Not outside. Nothing external can bring you what you want. Not fame, money, power, nothing. Only your own ability to deal with life can help you.
And there’s a reason I bring this up – it’s because we usually call this ‘thing’ success. You’ve heard it before – he’s successful with money, he’s successful at work, he’s successful with women. In our culture, instead of anything inside, it’s the success that counts, and very little else.
I see countless articles on success littered around the internet, and all of them involve modeling the talents and abilities of those who have what we want – i.e. success. We are told to plan our lives so that we know where we’re going and can stick to our compass and in 5 years time be cashing our millions as the next Ron Jeremy.
But if you really sit down and consider how someone becomes successful, it is not by emulating the ways in which a successful person acts, it is rather by emulating how they transformed themselves into a successful person – the actions they take over a long period of time that changed them into someone who lives a successful life.
In other words, you find the ‘thing’. This is the principle that success relies on.*
And if success is the result of thousands of tiny imperceptible actions, compounded upon one another over a span of many years; then it stands to reason that the single most important thing you can do to ensure success is to learn to perceive the actions you need to take and then take them. I.e. the opportunities that Frankl spoke of.
The question is how do we perceive them.
THE POWER OF PRESENCE
You probably have a goal, a desire of how you want your uncomfortable circumstance to be. And if you think of your goal it is usually orbiting around two things:
- What you materially want (i.e riches, fame, power, sex)
- Who you want to be (i.e driven, hard-working, charismatic, seductive)
The allure lying in the fact that these are all attractive to us from a viewpoint of our own enjoyment of life; as well as often being the traits and material rewards that we lack in life. The problem with this kind of thinking, however, is that it causes us to think of our goals only as an endpoint. A result that has determined and changed how we are now. But it is precisely the opposite of that which is true. It is not the result that will determine and change how we are now, but it is the change that happens now that will determine the result.
Let me say that again:
It is the change that happens now that will determine the result.
The key words there being:
Change and happens now.
Instead of thinking about what it is we want to be in 5, 10, 15 years from now; when we instead hold that idea loosely and focus our attention on the change that exists day by day that will guide us to this point, then we will naturally adjust the course of our lives so that we will, more likely than not, arrive there.
Because if you want to be rich, there are opportunities every day to get you closer to that. I.e learning a new skill, changing your spending habits, investing your savings, and not buying expensive lunches because you’re addicted to salt, sugar, and constipation.
If you want to be hard-working, there are opportunities every day to get you closer to that. I.e training yourself to focus by not multitasking, devoting time to specific work, increasing the amount of time worked, and not masturbating your willpower away.
If you want to be seductive, there are opportunities every day to get you closer to that. I.e learning to hold eye contact. Trying to find something new and interesting about someone you know. Saying something, anything (and I mean anything!) to the girl you find cute, instead of walking away thinking you’re a loser and she was probably mean anyway.
Because any of these small actions are the opportunities that can change the reality of your life. From poor to rich, lazy to industrious, kiss-less to Lothario – the opportunities are there. The challenges are there for you to take on.
You just have to spot them. You just have to pay attention. And you just have to take them on. That’s where you find the ‘thing’ inside you that will get you through.
This isn’t an act of will or something that requires much training. In fact, you often just have to ask yourself one question and the answers start to fall into place.
“How can I improve my life today?”
And then, you just have to do it.
*This, of course, doesn’t extend to my readers currently housed in Gulags.
*If you want an expanded take on this. Check out Frankl’s book “Man’s Search For Meaning.” Tolstoy’s “Confession” also offers a similar, but refreshing perspective.
*This is exactly what Aristotle used to harp on about.
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