Focus on Things You Can Control: The Wisdom of Victor Frankl, MD

Victor Frankl, MD, a Nazi concentration camp survivor and the author of Man’s Search for Meaning said, “Everything can be taken from [an individual] 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.” To put Dr. Frankl’s statement another way, you often can’t control what happens to you, but you can choose your response. There are countless things in your practice that you have little control over (i.e. your clients, evidence, opposing counsel, judges, juries, the law). The overall lesson I take from Dr. Frankl is to focus on things that you can control or at least manage: your thoughts, actions, words, and your attitude. 

Relatedly, Dr. Frankl noted, “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.” I equate this with the idea of mindfulness. By paying attention to your feelings, thoughts and sensations in the present moment, you can choose a response that is different than the habitual responses that are not working for you individually or in relationships. A simple technique I recommend you apply throughout your day is the acronym STOP (Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed). This will help you short circuit automatic behaviours and more intentionally choose responses to events. 

Michael Kahn
Michael Kahn, M.Ed.,JD joined LAPBC in 2019.