…everything can be taken from us but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance – to choose one’s own way.
– Victor Frankl
A healthy life starts with healthy thinking
As Victor Frankl points out in his seminal work, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, our most fundamental freedom is our ability to choose our attitude and our response to any given situation.
I believe that “responsible choice” is one of the most powerful thought patterns or mindsets that enables a healthy approach to life. How can we use the idea of responsible choice to live a more fulfilled, engaged and conscious life?
The importance of self-awareness
Key to responsible choice is self-awareness. If you are “fully present in the moment”, paying attention to what is happening internally and externally, you will become more aware you are of your inner world. You’ll be in a better position to make choices in alignment with your personal values and aspirations.
It’s similar to the importance of physical balance for athletes: balance creates a strong foundation and enables flexibility, focus, and the generation of incredible power. In the same way, developing one’s ability to pay attention to one’s inner and outer worlds actually elicits inner balance, focus, and increases self-awareness. The more aware you are, the more you can observe your own thoughts and not just be consumed by or lost in them.
Blamefulness – Responsible Choice – Self-Importance
Responsible choice is the integration and application of two key principles:
- Knowing that we are able to choose a response in any situation
- Focusing on what we can influence, versus what we can’t control
The mindset of responsible choice promotes optimism and humility, as well as developing accountability and the ability to make positive change. Blamefulness and self-importance are shadow mindsets that disempower, create a lack of self-esteem and unconscious behaviour. Let’s look at each mindset:
The mindset of blamefulness only acknowledges factors outside of your control when you are faced with a problem. It leads to disempowerment, resentment, and resignation. “There is nothing I could have done. It’s not my fault! It’s their problem! They didn’t give me the report on time” – these are all expressions encompassing the attitude of blamefulness.
Taking all the responsibility and believing you are the sole cause of anything that happens is like blamefulness, directed at oneself and is equally destructive, leading to shame and guilt: “It’s all my fault. I should have realized that. I’m so stupid!” are examples that reflect self-importance.
Situations can be broken down into multiple factors. For example, if I’m late for a meeting, I can focus on external factors: “My assistant always schedules me back-to-back meetings with not enough transit time” or I can focus on the part I played: “I didn’t consider the different locations of these meetings when I asked her to set them up.” One perspective focuses on what someone else did that I cannot directly control. The other focuses on what I did, my lack of attention, over which I do have control.
The mindset of responsible choice is based upon your freedom to choose how you want to behave in any situation. There is a moment between stimulus and response that enables free choice. When explaining why I was late, I don’t deny that the meetings were scheduled back-to-back. I also acknowledge that I wasn’t paying attention to the transit times required. By owning up to my contribution to the situation, I am able to learn and see what I can do to produce a better result in the future.
Once you have adopted the mindset of responsible choice, it will lead you to accountability, empowerment, and action. This mindset invites you into the present moment where you can make choices that increase the likelihood of positive outcomes. It enables you to realize that in any situation, no matter how challenging, there is always something you can do to make a difference.
The Ultimate Freedom
The ultimate freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude, mindset, and way we behave. A skilful, conscious individual develops the ability to consistently choose mindsets that align action with personal values. During these challenging times, we need to cultivate our inner being and awareness as well as express ourselves with good will that inspires others. There’s one thing that will really help: responsible choice.