Tim Ferris, a podcaster, author and blogger with a ridiculously large following has interviewed some of the highest achievers in the world. This may depend on how you measure achievement of course but entrepreneurs, athletes, personal development experts religious figures surely must rate highly for most people. In one of his books he notes a pattern when he asks people about a book that they would give away to inspire others and Viktor Frankl’s biographical, philosophical and psychological work comes up again and again.
Frankl was a holocaust survivor who describes his experiences and how he came through the other side. He explains his view of the “decent men” and “indecent men”; those on both sides that displayed moral or immoral behaviour, such as his fellow prisoners who became “kapos”, informing on and hurting others for personal gain or better treatment by the guards. The horrors of the camp are no doubt hard to listen to but this is a book with a positive message.
Frankl was a psychologist who after release personally and professionally analysed his fellow survivors. He noted the stages that people go through upon internment – those of shock, apathy and depersonalisation. He also described in detail the process by which they all recovered. The first is depersonalisation in which the shock of freedom requires an adjustment, which the body undertakes before the mind, showing in revenues appetites and lengthy sleeps. The second is deformation in which the pressure on the mind is released which can create catastrophic changes, like any change in pressure when not valved gradually balanced. Finally, there is the bitterness during which the inevitable questions about why humanity, or indeed God, let such terrible atrocities occur.
At the heart of all this is an important message from which Frankl created his therapy programme, known as logotherapy.
He who has a why can bear almost any how.Friedrich Nietzsche
Frankl agreed with the great, dark and, for some strange reason, controversial German philosopher that if a person can find a central meaning in their life; that thing that can drive them, inspire them, keep them striving, then there are almost no circumstances that can’t be survived. Once meaning is gone, once we lose sight of what is important to us or feel that no outcome can be worth the pain of the journey, then you are left with nothing but suffering. We see this clearly in people in horrendous external circumstances but also those with depression or other personality disorders. It can be very severe or it can creep up on any of us on a day to day basis.
Frankl’s logotherapy has you immerse yourself in the thing that drives you. It could be getting back to a loved one, living in a specific circumstance, achieving a personal life goal, anything that you can set long term sights on. Once you bury yourself deeply in imaginary success you can let it drive each action, from the mundane, yet no less painful, day to day actions of life that can sometimes feel like a terrible struggle or whether its the big, brave actions that are needed to defeat the demons and claim the prize.
This book is a great work of history and philosophy which performs so many functions on a number of levels. I learned about the experiences of the holocaust, I learned about human spirit and the power of a central philosophy and I learned about one of the first major positive psychology movements of the 20th century. Not bad for a fairly short book and definitely worth investing a little time in.
WHO SHOULD READ: People that have ever struggled to get through difficult times because it just seems so pointless to try
BEST BIT: The practical tasks and quizzes that force you to be less passive in your reading and have you start taking action from the moment you pick up the book to a point way beyond when you’ve finished reading it