Dear Brilliant Creative One,
“Everything happens for a reason” has become a popular and oft-repeated phrase, one which we hear employed particularly when someone is experiencing seemingly unavoidable suffering or adversity. We lose someone we love, experience financial ruin or get a poor health diagnosis and in response to the ensuing loss of equilibrium, we reach for relief in the form of release saying, “Everything happens for a reason.”
However, the meaning for our suffering rarely makes itself clear and our disquiet usually lingers, albeit in the corners of our hearts and minds. This quiet, little bit of disorientation and panic affects our ability to succeed in our efforts in a big way. Reversing this mis-application of metaphysics to stay on a path to abundance and joy, requires a shift in understanding: the meaning in our experiences, indeed in our whole lives, isn’t a fact waiting to be discovered; meaning is a personal decision. Meaning isn’t found in understanding the facts in our lives. Meaning is found in choosing our behavior.
Are you busy, but not sure why?
Consistently experiencing mediocre results?
Is it sometimes hard to motivate yourself to do what you “should” do for your business, your body, your spirit or your loved ones?
Does activity sometimes feel circular, as though what you’re doing isn’t really going anywhere?
Want to be inspired?
Want to actually love what you’re doing, even when it’s hard?
This blog post is for you.
And if it isn’t…it’s for someone you know. Please read, share, and then tell us what you think!
The Meaning of Your Life
Dr. Viktor Frankl, who suffered the horrors of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, knew something about enduring meaningless suffering and as a result, developed a therapeutic philosophy which he deemed “logotherapy”. The basis of this therapy viewed the search for meaning (as opposed to pleasure or power) as our primary drive. He, like Nietzsche, believed that those “who have a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Frankl didn’t necessarily believe that the extraordinary events and circumstances in his life happened for a reason. But he did believe that he could endure and even flourish under the most dire conditions if he could find a purpose for his suffering – a reason to endure the seemingly unbearable, that would ultimately make the inexplicable horrors of the concentration camps a meaningful one. In his case, he continually set his focus on how his personal experience with tragedy and loss could help him help others cope with loss, grief, and other adversities that they felt were, perhaps, insurmountable. In short, Frankl didn’t try to discover the cosmic and ultimately unknowable reason for the (advent) of the Holocaust. He reacted by finding a way to transcend the circumstances by trying to discover the personal reasons that his suffering might be valuable, particularly to others.
Frankl’s work on logotherapy has been life changing for me and countless others. It is not only a tool for dealing with catastrophe, but a sound philosophy for managing the day to day life in a healthy and productive way. Setting aside the debate about whether or not finding meaning (as opposed to attaining pleasure or power) is indeed our primary goal, let us consider for a moment how we might approach life from a meaning-centric focus, and how this perspective/approach can help us lead a more rich and satisfying life.
Firstly, logotherapy (logos, in this case translates as “meaning,” so logotherapy literally translates as “meaning-therapy”) does not view happiness or success as something at which one can aim. Traditional therapies tend to focus on trying to alleviate human suffering and neurosis by uncovering the traumas and unconscious motivations of the past, and often assume that if these can be addressed, understood in context and “healed”, a human being will then become happy. While there is no doubt that this approach has value, logotherapy takes the view that happiness is not found in the calm of equilibrium, but rather in the tension that is created by striving for something that matters. Frankl would argue that if we are aiming at happiness, we are aiming at the wrong thing. He would say that we cannot try to be happy anymore than we can try to laugh. We must have a reason to laugh. Likewise, we must have a reason to live. If we do, happiness ensues.
In my last blog post I shared a short story I wrote called, “Quicksand and The Tug,’ in which I shared the 5 Secrets to a Making Good on the Promise of Your Life, which I had observed and codified in the first twelve years of my coaching practice. I noticed what worked for my clients to cause a deep experience of satisfaction and happiness. The fourth of these secrets was: “Decide what is meaningful to you (based on curiosity, hunger and instinct).” Research over the past 20 years confirms my observation that when we choose a “why” (or a purpose) for our actions, our experience in the moment and looking back on our lives, is more likely to be one of satisfaction.
An example of a logotherapeutic technique from Frankl’s own experience is as follows: a man lost his wife, whom he loved dearly. He suffered with depression for two years following her death. Frankl confronted him with a question, “What would have happened…if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?” “Oh,” (the man) said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Frankl replied, “You see…such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who spared her this suffering – to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.” Once there was a purpose to ascribe to his loss, the man was able to move beyond his paralyzing depression almost immediately, and to experience joy moving forward.
Much of the current thinking on happiness and success focuses on the self, and pop-psychology is constantly rolling out new ways to unblock the self in order to attain the things we desire. Logotherapy demands that we transcend the self, suggesting that the greater meaning for which we strive, can only be achieved in relation to others. Indeed, Frankl’s suggestion that, “(statue of responsibility”), moves the act of deciding a meaning for one’s life from a possibility or opportunity, to that of a requirement, in order to attain happiness.
In 26 years working as a coach, I have observed that one cannot build a rewarding and successful business, one that brings wealth and time and choice and ease (these are the key reasons my clients say they created their businesses in the first place), unless one bases one’s business on what I call the “Crosshair of Commerce” – the intersection of Need and Solution. In other words, in order to own a business that serves us really well, we need to look beyond our own desires, and focus on a broader hunger or need in the world, one that our product or service solves.
However, this is not to suggest that finding meaning in one’s life is somehow dependent on being altruistic. Indeed, logotherapy notes there are 3 ways…
Additionally, Frankl argued that aiming at one’s own happiness, as opposed to aiming at a purpose beyond one’s self alone, makes happiness impossible to achieve. This concept, which Frankl called, “hypertension,” is key to removing the root problem underlying much of the RESISTANCE to SUCCESS that is evident in our personal and professional lives, and I’ve discovered in the last decade of business coaching, that it applies to success in business as well. When we “hyper-intend” something we strive for it so specifically and single-mindedly that we actually push it away. The thing we desire in most cases, can only come as a by-product of a quest for something else. We cannot laugh by trying to laugh. Laughter is a by-product of humor. We cannot have amazing sexual relations with our partners by trying to have great sex. A great sex life is a by-product of a number of other relationship factors, all focusing on the union, the other and not simply ourselves.
The concept of hyper-intentionality can be applied broadly to achieve business success. For example, we coach our clients to have a flexible mindset, teaching them to be “completely committed and entirely unattached”. We also apply the hyper-intentionality concept even more specifically to help our clients in the day-to-day running of their businesses. Using a ridiculously simple (but nonetheless useful) phrase I created, “There’s a way; there’s another way…and there’s another way!” We support our clients to release attachments when working towards their business goals; this allows them to achieve an ongoing ease and avoid pushing success away. These two mantras capture the essence of Frankl’s concept, usher our clients away from the pit of hyper-intentionality, and invariably producing results when they are least expecting them.
Clients approach me wanting to increase their bottom line, bring in more business, have healthier, more successful relationships and leave their marks on the world. In every case, I and my coaches navigate around the usual desire to get going and set some goals, instead using a unique inquiry process to draw the client’s attention first to what they really value, what matters to them most, what they find meaningful and what they want their lives to be about beyond themselves. Only then do we build the business, or form a execution plan for their project. What’s more, when client’s focus is set this way, they are stronger in the face of the inevitable roadblocks, and often the results are dramatic. Indeed, with a logotherapeutic focus on meaning, many of the issues people initially approach me with seem to dissolve as if by magic. Directed by their choice of meaning, they have renewed energy, increased levels of creativity, and a new level of decision-making ability. Oddly, with a focus off of self-centric objectives and outcomes, much of what had eluded them for years comes to them automatically.
Also interesting is that when the shift to meaning-driven focus has occurred, the tangible results that do start to show up become less important to our clients. In other words, as their hyper-intentioned focus on the things relaxes and they actively want things less, the more easily these things seem to come! This is the flip side of the hyper-intention concept; Frankl refers to this as “paradoxical intention”: the less focused we become on having a particular thing, the easier it is to attain it.
For more on this highly effective philosophy, I recommend reading Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. It is an easy, quick read, but this short book will quite possibly change your life.
To your success,
Creative Successful Entrepreneurs
Riot for Joy!
P.S. If life lacks luster, your drive is waning or you find yourself hungry for your next challenge, an abiding and exciting sense of meaning to your days, and the opportunity to Make Good on the Promise of Your Life, I invite you to investigate The Promise Circle (Forming now. Limited membership).