Prisoners of Our Thoughts 3rd Edition

Viktor Frankl's Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work

Alex Pattakos (Author) | Elaine Dundon (Author) | Stephen R. Covey (Foreword by)

Publication date: 01/09/2017

Bestseller over 110,000+ copies sold

Prisoners of Our Thoughts
  • Shows how the work of one of the greatest thinkers of modern times can help us find deeper, richer meaning in our lives

  • Features new and updated stories, new applications, new exercises, and a new chapter entitled "The Meaning Difference"

  • Demonstrates critical links between a personal sense of meaning and happiness, resiliency, engagement, and health

World-renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning was named by the Library of Congress as one of the ten most influential books of the 20th century. Dr. Frankl's personal story of finding a reason to live in the most horrendous of circumstances-Nazi concentration camps-has inspired millions.

In his international bestseller, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, Dr. Alex Pattakos-who was urged by Frankl to write this book-shows how Frankl's philosophy and approach can help readers find meaning in every moment of their lives. This revised and updated second edition features new stories and examples of people who have applied the principles in the book or who exemplify them; new practical exercises and applications; and a new chapter, "The Meaning Difference." This new chapter summarizes research demonstrating the critical role of meaning in improving the quality of people's lives, increasing happiness, and promoting health and wellness.

Drawing on the entire body of Frankl's work, which includes over thirty books, Pattakos elaborates seven "Core Principles" and demonstrates how they can be applied to everyday life and work in the 21st century. These meaning-focused principles include the ultimate freedom to choose our attitude no matter the situation, the idea most closely associated with Frankl-but his ageless wisdom goes well beyond this. Pattakos applies each of the seven principles to various situations, enabling readers to relate personally to the principle and learn when and how to use it. By making Frankl's seminal thought accessible and relevant to a wide audience, Prisoners of Our Thoughts opens up new opportunities for finding personal meaning through living an authentic life.

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Overview

  • Shows how the work of one of the greatest thinkers of modern times can help us find deeper, richer meaning in our lives

  • Features new and updated stories, new applications, new exercises, and a new chapter entitled "The Meaning Difference"

  • Demonstrates critical links between a personal sense of meaning and happiness, resiliency, engagement, and health

World-renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning was named by the Library of Congress as one of the ten most influential books of the 20th century. Dr. Frankl's personal story of finding a reason to live in the most horrendous of circumstances-Nazi concentration camps-has inspired millions.

In his international bestseller, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, Dr. Alex Pattakos-who was urged by Frankl to write this book-shows how Frankl's philosophy and approach can help readers find meaning in every moment of their lives. This revised and updated second edition features new stories and examples of people who have applied the principles in the book or who exemplify them; new practical exercises and applications; and a new chapter, "The Meaning Difference." This new chapter summarizes research demonstrating the critical role of meaning in improving the quality of people's lives, increasing happiness, and promoting health and wellness.

Drawing on the entire body of Frankl's work, which includes over thirty books, Pattakos elaborates seven "Core Principles" and demonstrates how they can be applied to everyday life and work in the 21st century. These meaning-focused principles include the ultimate freedom to choose our attitude no matter the situation, the idea most closely associated with Frankl-but his ageless wisdom goes well beyond this. Pattakos applies each of the seven principles to various situations, enabling readers to relate personally to the principle and learn when and how to use it. By making Frankl's seminal thought accessible and relevant to a wide audience, Prisoners of Our Thoughts opens up new opportunities for finding personal meaning through living an authentic life.

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Meet the Authors & Other Product Contributors


Visit Author Page - Alex Pattakos

Alex Pattakos, Ph.D., affectionately nicknamed “Dr. Meaning”, is the co-founder of the Global Meaning Institute. He is passionate about helping people realize their full potential by finding authentic meaning in their lives and work. His unique background includes being a former therapist and mental health administrator, a political campaign organizer and community/ economic development policy planner, a full time professor of public and business administration, a consultant with the White House under three presidents on health, education, and human services policy, as well as being an advisor to the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. With his interest in exploring new and meaningful solutions, Alex was also one of the initial faculty evaluators for the Innovations in American Government Awards Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Alex is the co-author of two books on Meaning: the award-winning The OPA! Way and best-selling book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts (available in 22 languages). Now as co-founder of the Global Meaning Institute, Alex is focused on advising and speaking about MEANINGology® and how to bring Meaning to work, the workplace, and into everyday life.



Visit Author Page - Elaine Dundon

Elaine Dundon, MBA, is the cofounder of the Global Meaning Institute. She is passionate about helping people find meaning in their personal and work lives, as well as helping organizations create meaning-centered workplaces to deliver products and services that truly make a meaningful difference. She began her career in brand management at Procter & Gamble. A thought leader in the field of personal and organizational innovation, she authored the best-selling book The Seeds of Innovation and created the groundbreaking course on innovation management at the University of Toronto. Her work evolved to the human side of innovation, incorporating meaning, leadership, philosophy, and metaphysics to help people and organizations reach their full potential.



Foreword by Stephen R. Covey

Stephen R. Covey was the author of several books, including the iconic bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He passed away in 2012.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Stephen R. Covey

Preface to the Second Edition

Chapter 1: Life Doesn't Just Happen to Us

Chapter 2: Viktor Frankl's Lifework and Legacy

Chapter 3: Labyrinths of Meaning

Chapter 4: Exercise the Freedom to Choose Your Attitue

Chapter 5: Realize Your Will to Meaning

Chapter 6: Detect the Meaning of Life's Moments

Chapter 7: Don't Work Against Yourself

Chapter 8: Look at Yourself from a Distance

Chapter 9: Shift Your Focus of Attention

Chapter 10: Extend Beyond Yourself

Chapter 11: Living and Working with Meaning

Chapter 12: The Meaning Difference

Notes

References

Acknowledgments

Index

About the Author

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Excerpt

Prisoners of Our Thoughts

1
Life Doesn’t Just Happen to Us

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. 1

Every day Vita delivers my mail — cheerfully. It’s her trademark attitude. One day, in lousy weather, I heard her whistling as she went about making her deliveries. Instinctively I shouted out to her, “Thank you for doing such a great job.” She stopped dead in her tracks with surprise. “Thank you,” she said. “Wow, I’m not accustomed to hearing such words. I really appreciate it.”

I wanted to know more. “How do you stay so positive and upbeat about delivering mail every day?” I asked her.

“I don’t just deliver mail,” she said. “I see myself helping to connect people to other people. I help build the community. Besides, people depend on me and I don’t want to let them down.” Her response was enthusiastic and proud.

Vita’s attitude about her work reflected the words inscribed on the General Post Office building in New York City: “Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” The Greek historian Herodotus wrote these words in the fifth century BC. The ancient delivery of messages from one person to another is at the very heart of our Information Age, yet these days it’s the phrase “going postal” that we’re more likely to recognize.

Fair or unfair, “going postal” has become the symbol of all the negativity a job has to offer: boredom, repetitiveness, exposure to the elements, dangerous dogs, irritated customers, and a kind of automated behavior that ultimately inspires an explosion of pent-up rage — a killing spree, retaliation against all the suffered injustice of the job.

What threatens contemporary man is the alleged meaninglessness of his life, or, as I call it, the existential vacuum within him. And when does this vacuum open up, when does this so often latent vacuum become manifest? In the state of boredom. 2

No matter what our opinions might be about the stature of any career or profession, it is the person doing the job that gives the job meaning. Vita is proof that those ancient words of Herodotus are alive and well in the twenty-first century.

But Vita’s attitude goes beyond the “swift completion of her appointed rounds” (to paraphrase Herodotus). She experiences her work as serving a higher purpose. Her attitude about her job and its drudgery goes far beyond an exercise in positive thinking. Vita sees her mail delivery responsibility as a personal, life-saving mission, one that could be fulfilled only by her. She knows she is depended on, perhaps even by people who feel disdain for her work, and it means something. She brings meaning to her job, and in turn, her work becomes meaningful.

I am convinced that, in the final analysis, there is no situation that does not contain within it the seed of a meaning. 3

Why is it that some people, like Vita my mail carrier, experience their work — even mundane work — with passion and commitment? Why do some people have an easier time dealing with complex and challenging situations at work and in life? Why do some people deal more easily with change? Why do some people find meaning and fulfillment in their work and everyday life, while others do not? There are no simple answers to these complex questions; but there are meaningful answers. That is the goal of this book: to illuminate the search for meaning as a path to meaning, both in our work and in our lives outside work.

This Book Is About True Freedom

We are by nature creatures of habit. Searching for a life that is both predictable and within our comfort zone, we rely on routine and, for the most part, learned thinking patterns. In effect, we create pathways in our minds in much the same way that a path is beaten through a grass field from repeated use. And because these patterns are automatic, we may believe these habitual ways of thinking and behaving to be beyond our control. Life, it seems, just happens to us. Not only do we rationalize our responses to life but we also fall prey to forces that limit our potential as human beings. By viewing ourselves as relatively powerless and driven by our instincts, the possibility that we create, or at least cocreate, our own reality becomes difficult to grasp. Instead, we lock ourselves inside our own mental prisons. We lose sight of our own natural potential and that of others.

Each of us has his own inner concentration camp … we must deal with, with forgiveness and patience — as full human beings; as we are and what we will become. 4

The ways in which we hold ourselves “prisoners of our thoughts” are well documented in the work of many writers and thinkers who explore the landscape of our psychospiritual lives. Physician Deepak Chopra, in the audiotape of his book Unconditional Life, says “We erect and build a prison, and the tragedy is that we cannot even see the walls of this prison.” 5

Yet we can reshape our patterns of thinking. Through our own search for meaning, we can unfreeze ourselves from our limited perspective, find the key, and unlock the door of our metaphorical prison cell.

Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who suffered through imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, found meaning in spite of — and because of — the suffering all around him. His life’s work resulted in the therapeutic approach called Logotherapy, which paved the way for us to know meaning as a foundation of our existence. Frankl is quick to say, however, that such traumatic suffering is not a prerequisite for finding meaning in our lives. He means that whenever we suffer — no matter what the severity of our suffering is — we have the ability to find meaning in the situation. Choosing to do so is the path to a meaningful life.

This book explores seven core principles that I have derived from Frankl’s voluminous body of work:

1. We are free to choose our attitude toward everything that happens to us.

2. We can realize our will to meaning by making a conscious, authentic commitment to meaningful values and goals.

3. We can find meaning in all of life’s moments.

4. We can learn to see how we work against ourselves and can learn to avoid thwarting our intentions.

5. We can look at ourselves from a distance to gain insight and perspective as well as to laugh at ourselves.

6. We can shift our focus of attention when we are coping with difficult situations.

7. We can reach out beyond ourselves and make a differ ence in the world

These seven principles, which I believe form the foundation of Frankl’s thinking and approach, are available to us anytime, all the time. They can lead us to meaning, to freedom, and to deep connection to our own lives and to the lives of others in our local and global communities.

Viewing life as inherently meaningful and with unlimited potential requires a shift in consciousness. It also requires responsible action on our part for, as Frankl points out, the potential for meaning that exists in each moment of life can only be searched for and detected by each of us individually. This responsibility, he says, is “to be actualized by each of us at any time, even in the most miserable situations and literally up to the last breath of ourselves.” 6

Frankl walked this path completely. By living a life with meaning right to his last breath, he showed us how his philosophy and therapeutic approach were grounded in practice. His personal experiences throughout his long life, both as a survivor of the Nazi death camps and as a revered and respected thought leader, illuminate the unlimited potential of a human being. His life gives us rich and ample evidence that the keys to freedom from life’s prison cells — real and imagined — are within, and within reach.

Whether we choose this path of liberation is a decision that only we as individuals can make and for which only we can be held responsible. When we search out and discover the authentic meaning of our existence and our experiences, we discover that life doesn’t happen to us. We happen to life; and we make it meaningful.

Humanizing Work

A meaningful life includes meaningful work. Let’s face it, most people spend at least half of their waking lives “at work” or working in some way. Yet where do most people look to find meaning in their life? The usual answer is in their personal life — in their relationships or their religious or spiritual practice. But what about their job? Can people find true meaning at work?

The transformation of work in the twenty-first century is, in many respects, a call for humanity — a new consciousness that suggests more than simply trying to strike a balance between our work and personal lives. It is a call to honor our individuality and fully engage our human spirit at work — wherever that may be. While this idea of empowering workers in body, mind, and spirit is not new, actually putting it to work is new. In some ways, technological advances have redesigned work to better accommodate human factors. What we need now is a way to elevate the human spirit at work and to integrate in a positive, meaningful way this spiritual dimension of work with our everyday life.

One of the goals of this book is to bring meaning to work and, quite frankly, to do for the domain of work what Frankl as a psychiatrist was able to do for psychotherapy. His unique approach is internationally recognized as a system of humanistic psychotherapy, and Frankl himself has been referred to by some people as the founder of humanistic medicine and psychiatry as well as of existential analysis. Logotherapy, in short, seeks to make us aware of our freedom of response to all aspects of our destiny. This humanistic view of psychotherapy helps clients to find concrete meaning in their lives. As a therapeutic system, it strengthens trust in the unconditional meaningfulness of life and the dignity of the person. By applying this philosophy to work and the workplace, we can more deeply humanize our working lives and bring deeper meaning to work itself. In turn, by bringing deeper meaning to our working lives, we can more deeply humanize and enrich the meaning of our personal — that is, nonworking — lives.

From the perspective of Logotherapy, we can find unconditional meaning in our work situations and experience the unconditional value of our colleagues as unique human beings as we do with our family members and close friends. This is not an easy task, but when we celebrate our differences as cheerfully as we celebrate our similarities, the result is a powerful synergy at work and in the workplace. Best-selling author Stephen R. Covey, who has also been influenced by Frankl’s teachings, has observed that “difference is the beginning of synergy.” 7 When business leaders and managers on all levels bring this awareness to work, they are the catalysts for profound changes in the workplace — changes that enhance everyone’s ability to search for and find meaning, on the job, at home, and within our entire human experience.

Unconditional meaning, however, is paralleled by the unconditional value of each and every person. It is that which warrants the indelible quality of the dignity of man. Just as life remains potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable, so too does the value of each and every person stay with him or her. 8

Detecting Your Path

Of course, being fully human and living an authentic life at home, at play, and at work are formidable challenges. They involve a willingness to embark down a path of self-discovery, drawing heavily upon what Frankl refers to as our “will to meaning” — that is, our inherent capacity to continually search for meaning under all circumstances. This human quest for meaning in every moment creates a path of discernment that runs through all aspects of our lives. This quest, this path is of course a process, not a product, for during our lifetime there is no final destination where everything comes to rest. This book offers guideposts along the way.

In chapter 2, Viktor Frankl’s Lifework and Legacy, we look briefly into the life and work of Dr. Frankl. As a mentor and author, he had a profound impact on my way of thinking and dramatically influenced my work and personal life. As the founder of Logotherapy, he brought powerful insights and compassion to the therapeutic world, leaving a legacy of wisdom that only increases over time.

The many pathways to meaning are explored in chapter 3, Labyrinths of Meaning, which also refers to the seven core principles of Frankl’s work introduced earlier. Each of these life-meaning principles is then more deeply explored in individual chapters: Exercise the Freedom to Choose Your Attitude (chapter 4), Realize Your Will to Meaning (chapter 5), Detect the Meaning of Life’s Moments (chapter 6), Don’t Work Against Yourself (chapter 7), Look at Yourself from a Distance (chapter 8), Shift Your Focus of Attention (chapter 9), and Extend Beyond Yourself (chapter 10).

One may say that instincts are transmitted through the genes, and values are transmitted through traditions, but that meanings, being unique, are a matter of personal discovery. 9

Chapter 4, Exercise the Freedom to Choose Your Attitude, examines the logotherapeutic concept of freedom of will. This concept is best described by Frankl’s famous quote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Everything can be taken from a man but … the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.” 10 The key ingredient here is the responsibility for choosing our attitude, which lies solely and soundly with the self.

Chapter 5, Realize Your Will to Meaning, explores Frankl’s concept of our will to meaning and how we bring our values to life at work. Logotherapy, according to Frankl, “considers man as a being whose main concern consists of fulfilling a meaning and in actualizing values, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts.” 11 Giving meaning to work, in this context, means more than simply completing a task to receive a tangible reward, such as money, influence, status, or prestige. By committing to values and goals that might appear intangible but are nonetheless real and meaningful, we honor our deepest needs, just as we seek to do in our personal lives.

The fundamental presumption is that only as individuals can we answer for our own lives, detecting in them each moment’s meaning and weaving our own unique tapestry of existence. Chapter 6, Detect the Meaning of Life’s Moments, goes farther — into the realm of ultimate meaning, or super-meaning. Frankl’s holistic views on the importance of our intuitive capacity for love and conscience offer great insight into how meaning reveals itself in everyday life and at work. Frankl has written: “Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. … The salvation of man is through love and in love.” 12 Yet our ability to weave love into our lives, especially into our work lives, is not only sadly limited but also suspect in today’s measurable and impersonal world of work.

Sometimes our most fervent desires and intentions are thwarted by our obsession with outcomes. In chapter 7, Don’t Work Against Yourself, the technique known as paradoxical intention is examined and applied to work and everyday life situations. Frankl calls this form of self-sabotage hyperintention. The tendency to micromanage the work of others, for example, may create hyperintensive stress, performance anxiety, or even covert or overt actions of sabotage that can end up creating the opposite of the result sought by a manager. (A similar result also has been observed in cases where well-meaning parents, under the guise of parental guidance, try to micromanage their teenagers, who are predisposed to being contrarian!) Sometimes focusing too closely on a problem can keep us from seeing the solution. Likewise, becoming fixated on a particular outcome often gets in the way of our best intentions.

Chapter 8, Look at Yourself from a Distance, focuses on the notion of self-detachment and how, among other things, it can help us to lighten up and not sweat the small stuff. Frankl observed, “Only man owns the capacity to detach himself from himself. To look at himself out of some perspective or distance.” 13 This capacity includes that uniquely human trait known as a sense of humor. Frankl noted that “no animal is capable of laughing, least of all laughing at itself or about itself.” 14 A dose of self-detachment frees us to be more receptive to the universe of opportunities in our lives.

When Viktor Frankl was a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps, in order to cope with stress, suffering, and conflict, he learned to deflect his attention away from the painful situation to other, more appealing circumstances. In chapter 9, Shift Your Focus of Attention, we explore this skill and how it can be effectively used in the workplace and outside work.

Self-transcendence is explored in chapter 10, Extend Beyond Yourself. This principle goes far beyond shifting the focus of attention from one thing to another. It takes us into the spiritual realm of ultimate meaning, where we see how our lives connect seamlessly to the lives of others. We see how being of service, no matter what the scale, is where our deepest meaning is realized. And we learn how to effectively manifest the human spirit in our personal and work lives by relating and being directed to something greater than ourselves.

In chapter 11, Living and Working with Meaning, I weave my own views into Frankl’s lessons so that they can be integrated into daily work and life, bringing personal and ultimate meaning to all the moments of our lives. In this connection, I use one of Frankl’s methods of meaning analysis as a frame of reference for examining the extent to which our lives, including our work lives, are focused on meaning.

Finally, chapter 12, The Meaning Difference®, summarizes both qualitative and quantitative research demonstrating the critical role of meaning in improving the quality of people’s lives, increasing happiness, and promoting health and wellness. The links between a personal sense of meaning and happiness, resilience, engagement, and health are examined, and the determining influence of the human quest for meaning on these quality-of-life factors is underscored for its existential value. Here we also get a glimpse at what trends related to the search for meaning loom on the horizon and what they portend for the future of the human race.

So, let’s first take a look at Dr. Frankl’s lifework, explore more fully the foundations of his meaning-centered approach, and see how we can apply his groundbreaking philosophy to work, workplace issues, and our personal lives.


Meaning Moment

Recall a situation in which you felt especially negative about your job or career. Perhaps you just didn’t like the work you were doing, or maybe you disliked your supervisor, boss, or co-workers (this may even be your situation today). Alternatively, recall a situation in your personal life, such as a relationship or family matter, about which you felt especially negative. Did you view yourself as a victim of circumstances that were outside your control, or did you feel responsible in some way for creating the situation and therefore feel ultimately responsible for dealing with it? What, if anything, did you do about it? As you think about the situation now, what did you learn from it? What could you have done differently?

image

Meaning Question: What can you do to make your life or your current work/job more meaningful?

FOR FURTHER REFLECTION

Ask yourself honestly, Am I a prisoner of my thoughts? Do I hold other people, including co-workers, family members, or friends, prisoners of my thoughts?


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Endorsements

"This landmark book underscores how the search for meaning is intimately related to and positively influences health improvement at all levels. Reading Prisoners or Our Thoughts is an insightful prescription for promoting health and wellness!"

-- Kenneth R. Pelletier, PhD, MD, Professor, University of Arizona and University of California, San Francisco Schools of Medicine; Chairman, American Health Association; and author of The Best Alternative Medicine

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