In his book On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders, Viennese psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl wrote the following:
“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.”
Image from Wikipedia
This was a man who recognised the power of positive thought even in the face of immeasurable hardship. As a Jewish man in Austria in the early 1940s, Frankl and his family were subjected to unimaginable levels of persecution and torment, both mentally and physically. However, it was through these horrendous experiences that Frankl was able to achieve a greater understanding of how the human mind responds to such negative stimuli.
In the years following World War II Frankl became one of the most respected scientists in his field, and his life-story has become an inspiration to many. Frankl’s story is emblematic of the power of self-reinforcement and of positive thinking; not only did the man research and pioneer this school of thought in the field of existential psychiatry, but he also put it into practice in his own life during one of history’s darkest periods.
Viktor E. Frankl. Image from Wikipedia
Of course Frankl is right; we may receive unpleasant stimuli from the outside world, but our response stems from us. It is up to us to choose an effective and positive response.
Taking Control of our Reactions
If we are driving in traffic and someone cuts us off, our natural primal reaction may be to rant and rave and lash out, but this only succeeds in raising the blood pressure and bringing you into a potentially ugly – and possibly illegal – confrontation. If we are feeling repressed at work, we might feel inclined to go with the flow and simply accept this as fact; but this will only lower our self-esteem even further.
Everyday situations such as driving in heavy traffic can make staying positive difficult. Image from Wikipedia
You might say that choosing to fight the tide of our natural responses and react in another way is easier said than done. Well yes, but then most things are, and there are some effective techniques we can use to manage our responses to negative stimuli and take positive steps forward.
Putting things into proportion is a good place to start. If you meet a problem or a setback, think about how much this problem is going to matter in two months time, or even two weeks time! More often than not, it’s not going to matter that much, and viewing things in this way can make the tasks you face in life rather more manageable, as well as enabling you to prioritise more effectively.
Instilling some order into your life can also help in this respect. Try sitting down and committing your worries and your hopes to paper, this will allow you to quantify the positive and negative factors in your life and create a plan for how to move forward. Rationalising your problems in this way makes positive thought and action more effective.
Taking control of your “self-talk” is also vital. Self-talk is the interior monologue that manifests in your thoughts, it helps you to rationalise and to deal with the world around you. Left unchecked, self-talk continues automatically, and can wear you down with constant negativity.
Turning negative thoughts into positive thoughts is vital to better emotional wellbeing. Image from Wikipedia
The key is to try to take control. If you feel yourself thinking “I did that wrong, I should have done it better”, pause for a moment and actively think of a more positive way to phrase this in your mind, for example “I did A well but B did not work, next time I will try C”. Getting into the habit of this kind of positive thought construction will radically change your responses and will make your life more efficient and effective.
Possible Physical Benefits
Obviously, applying the above techniques can have a marked effect on your mentality, but you might be surprised to learn that they can also benefit your physical health. In the past people have used such positive reinforcement techniques to battle cancer and debilitating injury, but the ‘mind-over-matter’ properties of positive thinking can have more far-reaching physical benefits.
Image from Pixabay
Studies have found links between positive thinking and a reduction in instances of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems, possibly due to the comparatively low levels of stress that come with reacting positively to negative stimuli. These mental techniques have also been shown to boost immunity against a wide range of illnesses, including the common cold.
Take inspiration from Viktor Frankl, take control of your mental responses and eradicate the negativity from your life. The effects just might astound you.