ARTICLE: The Freedom Formula

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“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” Victor Frankl

freedomOne of the things I love most about coaching others is when they really get that creating more of what they want in their lives doesn’t have to be complicated. Nine times out of ten those light bulb moments follow on from a simple realisation that there is nothing wrong with them after all; it is just that what they have been doing (or thinking) up until that point has been misaligned with the kind of results they want experience.

This takes the attention away from them feeling as though they are the problem and somehow need to be ‘fixed’, and towards an honest curiosity about the law of cause and effect. The look of relief on their faces when it finally dawns on them that the fact they do not have everything they want isn’t to do with them being a bad, undeserving or unlovable person is really quite heart warming :o)

The reason so few people are readily willing to accept this is because we have been conditioned to believe that we live in an ‘outside – in’ world, where the cause of all our feelings (good or bad) lies in whatever happens to be going on around us at the time, and to what extent we are approved of by other people. In a nutshell we still believe we are ‘Stimulus / Response” creatures.

However, the one thing that really separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom is that we have evolved to be ‘self aware’. Simply put, this means we have the ability to have thoughts about our thoughts:

Example: We might have a fabulous idea for a new invention that everyone will want, but then shoot ourselves down when we realise that we are just being stupid and that no one would take us seriously!

It also means that we have feelings about our feelings:

Example: We might lose our cool in front of others and then feel embarrassed about it later.

This unique state of being self aware is very important because it is fundamental to our ability to direct our lives in any way we wish… as long as we understand how to make the most of it!!

Victor Frankl, creator of Logotherapy and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning”, explained that the reason he was able to survive the horrendous mental and emotional ordeal of being incarcerated at Auschwitz during the Holocaust was because he firmly understood that between stimulus and response there is always a space. It is in this space that we have the freedom to choose our reactions and attitudes towards anything. But most of us are so used to reacting without thinking that we fail to recognise that this space exists. It is not a fault; it is just conditioning.

So what can we do to utilise the value of this space? One of the most intuitive ways that I know of is in understanding the formula:

E (Event) + R (Response) = 0 (Outcome)

The quality of the OUTCOME we get to experience in relation to, well… anything, is always the result of the actual EVENT itself plus our own unique REPSONSE to it. And like all good formula’s we can apply numbers to demonstrate the point:

Let’s say the EVENT is worth 2 and the RESPONSE you give is also with a 2. That means the quality of the OUTCOME you experience has to be a 4. Simple!

But what if you hate 4’s? What if a 4 means that you have to feel like a victim? What if a 4 creates tension between you and others? What if a 4 makes you ill with stress?

What if what you really wanted was to experience a 10? Well then we would have to go back and review the components of the formula. If we did that we would soon realise that, actually, there is not always a lot we can do about the EVENT; that is usually out of our control (particularly when it has already happened!!). So that just leaves us with our RESPONSE. If we know the EVENT is a 2 and we are looking for an OUTCOME of 10, then our RESPONSE is going to have to be an 8.

Perhaps an 8 response is not letting the rain ruin your family picnic by bringing the fun of the outdoors indoors into your living room, rather than cancelling the event and getting frustrated when your disappointed children get upset.

Perhaps an 8 response is forgiving someone that hurt you rather than holding onto the resentment or planning their comeuppance.

Of course there are occasions when the primitive part of our brains kick in with the fight or flight response before the logical reasoning faculty of our higher brain has a chance to work its magic. But even when our unconscious reactions starts to take us somewhere we don’t want to go, that state of automatic defence need only last a moment until we remember who’s really driving the bus!! Then, the first step is to just stop and recognise you have an opportunity to ask yourself some questions:

How could I respond to this?

What are my options?

From the options available to me, what seems the wisest or kindest way for me to take it from here?

 


HOMEWORK


1 – Think of a recent situation in which your reaction to an event (or another person) may have contributed to a less than desirable outcome.

2 – Then grab a piece of paper and write the headings EVENT, RESPONSE and OUTCOME across the top.

3 – Use the headings to guide you in writing out the situation as you experienced it, making sure you separate the facts of the event from the way you emotionally filtered it at the time:

EXAMPLE 1:

EVENT = John said he was too busy to come to my party.

RESPONSE = I took it really personally and was hurt that my party wasn’t a priority for John. I vowed to give John the silent treatment and not invite him to any more of my social events… so there!!!

OUTCOME = There is now a very uncomfortable feeling between John and me, and I’ve heard that John feels really bad and doesn’t understand what he has done to upset me so much.

EXAMPLE 2:

EVENT = My computer crashed which meant I couldn’t get on with the work I was planning to do.

RESPONSE = I got really frustrated and started to rant about how technology is the bane of my life, if only it was like the good old days when things were simple and our lives were not ruled by robots!!!

OUTCOME = I got so worked up I needed to get out and go for a walk to clear my head, which wasted even more time.

4 – Now, think of at least three other (more productive) responses that you could have given in relation to that event. For each alternative response use your imagination to run a movie of how the outcome may have turned out more favourably for you.

5 – Having mentally rehearsed the cause and effect of your different response options, decide which feels right for you and make a commitment to follow that strategy for similar situations in the future.


Take great care. Namaste.

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