The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 25 Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.

Today’s pages (p131-136) conclude the second part of Man’s Search for Meaning, ‘Logotherapy in a Nutshell’.

Viktor Frankl writes that ‘[e]very age has its own collective neurosis’ and believes that the mass neurosis of the present time is ‘a private and personal form of nihilism’.

Frankl warns against the danger of teaching that man is ‘nothing but’ the result of his biological and social conditions.

As a professor in two fields, neurology and psychiatry, I am fully aware of the extent to which man is subject to biological, psychological and sociological conditions. But in addition to being a professor in two fields I am a survivor of four camps … and as such I also bear witness to the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable.

The power of such testimony is hard to contend with. Frankl believes that man is ‘ultimately self-determining’.

Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. … Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.

To illustrate his argument, Frankl tells a short anecdote about the ‘satanic’ Dr. J., ‘the mass murderer of Steinhof’ who later, imprisoned in Russia, proved himself to be ‘the best comrade you can imagine’, who ‘lived up to the highest conceivable moral standard’. As Frankl writes, ‘How can we dare to predict the behaviour of man?’

However, for Frankl, such self-determinative freedom is only part of the story – and, indeed, the lesser part.

Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

It is our responsibility, ‘within the limits of endowment and environment’, to take free decisions and make of our lives what we will.

Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.

To Do List Bankruptcy Last night something snapped. I woke up at 3 a.m. silently screaming into my duvet.

The problem with a successful summer is that it can cause an overenthusiasm of doings.

A month living and working in Greece was exactly what I needed to get a fresh perspective on my life and work in the UK. Ideas for new ventures spilled easily from my split skull and they all, fatefully, found a spot on my Doings list.

None of this summer shower of ideas were bad, what is bad is that I can only work on three things at a time. Only three tasks on a given day, only three jobs in a given week, only three projects in a given month. And I already had three things that I was working on.

So what happened to this summer’s Trojan horse of ideas and ventures? It swelled and, bloated, filled my brain with to do list rot: a constant reminder that I wasn’t able to back up my ideas with action.

Last night something snapped. I woke up at 3 a.m. silently screaming into my duvet.

What’s amusing is that my subconscious speaks to my conscious in the only metaphorical language we both understand: football.

Last night, in my dream, I was watching a football match – some sort of two-legged European knock-out fixture. Liverpool (my team) had won the away leg quite handsomely by three goals to nil. It couldn’t have gone better: a wonderful lead to take into the second game at Anfield.

Unfortunately, the highlights package of my dream/nightmare started in the 72nd minute, just as the opposing team’s striker Andrej Kramaric was bending the ball into the far corner for 4-0 against Liverpool.

My horrifying silent scream was the realisation that, even if Liverpool were to get one goal back, we’d still be knocked out on the away goals rule.

Something had to be done, so I woke myself up and hastily scribbling down a metaphorical interpretation in my notebook.

Three aspects of the metaphor stuck out:

  1. The ‘away leg’ went fantastically well, just as my ‘away summer’ went fantastically well.
  2. But now I’m back playing ‘at home’ and, just like the Liverpool defence, I’m horribly overwhelmed.
  3. Luckily, there is one chink of light in the nightmare: it’s only the 72nd minute. There are still 18 minutes of normal time to play and, as unlikely as a comeback would be, it’s not impossible. Stranger things have happened – like when Liverpool were 1-3 down with less than 25 minutes to go at Anfield against Dortmund in the 2016 Europa League quarter-final second leg and ended up winning 4-3 to progress to the semi-finals.

Having noted these useful metaphorical parallels between my dream world and my real world, I wrote down a list of actions I could take to dramatically reduce my feeling of overwhelm. It amounted to declaring To Do List Bankruptcy.

First thing this morning, I archived the dozens of notes on ideas and ventures that had been building up, hauntingly unactioned in my daily workbook. Then I copied my myriad lists into my Spark! file for review in 3 months’ time (a great idea from writer Steven Johnson) and I cleared out my email inbox.

Emptiness. For the first time since I got back from Greece, a clear desk and a clear mind.

Then I wrote down the three things that I would aim to accomplish today. Finally, I used a Stoic meditation to visualise how this day would pan out, including how I would respond if, and inevitably when my best laid plans ran into trouble.

Then, feeling much better, I had breakfast. And sat down to write this blog post to you.

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 24 'The neurotic who learns to laugh at himself may be on the way to self-management, perhaps to cure.'

Today’s pages (p125-131) address the logotherapeutic treatment of anticipatory anxiety, the excessive anxiety we all sometimes feel in anticipation of a particular event or circumstance.

Viktor Frankl observes that ‘anticipatory anxiety … produces precisely that of which the patient is afraid’. When one is particularly anxious about blushing when faced with a large crowd, one is more prone to blushing in that situation. Continue readingThe Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 24 ‘The neurotic who learns to laugh at himself may be on the way to self-management, perhaps to cure.’

Lessons from 10 Years of Hashimoto’s Hypothroidism I couldn't find happiness by following a FODMAP diet, testing myself for diabetes, or taking Magnesium and Vitamin E for adrenal support. It was both harder and easier than that.

It’s been 10 years since I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism. 10 years of taking two little white pills every single day in an effort to regulate what my body can no longer.

Those 10 years have been filled with a full 10 years of life: finishing a masters degree, cycling around a country or two (or half a dozen), self-publishing a smattering of books, teaching English to refugees, writing and producing an hour-long play, turning that into a radio series or two.

But every day, throughout it all, I’ve been taking those two little white pills. There is nothing I’ve done more consistently, so I think it’s fair to say I have some experience in this field.

So wherever you find yourself on your hypothyroid adventure, I hope these words give you some encouragement, and perhaps you’ll share your experiences with me, either by email or in the comments below! Continue readingLessons from 10 Years of Hashimoto’s Hypothroidism I couldn’t find happiness by following a FODMAP diet, testing myself for diabetes, or taking Magnesium and Vitamin E for adrenal support. It was both harder and easier than that.

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 23 'Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.'

Today’s pages (p119-125) begin, strangely enough, with something of a lament for the loss of clergymen as a professional resource for treating a loss of meaning in life. Today, instead, people turn to psychiatrists (and are frequently mistreated for neurosis, is Frankl’s implication).

After making the point that life’s duration has no bearing on its relative meaning, Frankl turns to the troublesome (for a scientific mind) metaphysics of what he calls ‘super-meaning’. He begins by posing a reasonable question:

Are you sure that the human world is a terminal point in the evolution of the cosmos? Is it not conceivable that there is still another dimension, a world beyond man’s world; a world in which the question of an ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer?

Continue readingThe Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 23 ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.’