Choose Love When Fear Calls
What we do—including what we think—is influenced by our attitudes and outlook about ourselves and life. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said, “Between a stimulus and a response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. The last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”4
Although at age 12 I had not heard of Viktor Frankl, in the months after my father died I learned the lesson he describes. I could choose how I felt about my life at any time. But then the grief from his loss and my fears for my family would wash over me, and it would get me down.
I learned another important lesson at that time. Sitting with Deloris Waterman and my mother and listening to them talk about my potential and about what life could hold for me, I felt loved and cherished. I felt the same while I was working because I was good at what I did and I was successful. This success helped to balance out the other negative things going on around me when I was being bullied or looked down on at school because of my background.
And so you have love on the one hand, and fear on the other. If you ground yourself in love, you see the world in one way. If you let fear guide you, you see the world another way.
Frankl went on to say later, “... I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.” What he is talking about is your ability to look at any situation from a sense of love and appreciation, or at least from empathy rather than fear or loathing.
Two Operating Models: Love and Fear
I believe there are really only two operating models for how you perceive the world, and let’s be clear about this: How you see the world determines both the way you feel about the world around you and the way you behave in response. Like Frankl, I think one of these operating models is love. The other is fear. (See Figure 1-1.) Choosing your operating model—yes, I said choosing your operating model—will ground you either in positive and good feelings or negative and distrustful feelings as you experience life.
Figure 1-1 The Love-Versus-Fear Continuum
If you choose love as your operating model, you will perceive the world as a good place and people as generally good by nature. You treat yourself and others well and expect to be treated well by others; you trust others unless they demonstrate untrustworthiness; and you work toward win-wins in your life and in business. You care more about getting things done and doing things the best way you can and less about being right. Likewise, you care less about your ego. You respect other people and their choices and don’t take things personally or too seriously. You find joy in many things, have sad moments, and are resilient when things get tough. And when things get tough enough to knock you down, you don’t stay down long.
If your operating model is fear, then you will either be scared to try new things, which will hold you back, or you will feel angry you are not getting what you want while others are. You look at the lack of things rather than appreciate what you have. You are suspicious of others, think the world is unfair, and believe that you can do nothing to change your circumstances.
It’s easy to feel fear. The most primitive part of our brain is hardwired to react to the unknown with fear because in the past this trait helped us survive as a species. We haven’t lost that survival instinct. It is natural for people to fear anything that is unfamiliar, but it does not need to rule your behavior.
Fear is not an operating model you want to choose. Of course, you sometimes must operate from fear for short intervals, when you must do something risky or when something makes you uncomfortable, but you never want to live there. Operating from a position of fear can create a death spiral if you stay there for long periods of time. It is hard to be positive or hopeful when you are in fear because your ability to think realistically shuts down and you imagine all the worst things that could happen. A prolonged negative point of view can freeze you in place and immobilize you.5
Most of us try to live in the operating model of love. We are born with the ability to get enjoyment from socializing with others and from new experiences. We also are born with the capacity to give and receive, to laugh and find joy and beauty everywhere it exists.
Stay Out of the Bubble, Stay Off Autopilot
Although many people want to operate from a position of love and respect, they sometimes find themselves blinded by their own perspective or self-focused thoughts. We tend to get distracted by our thoughts and immediate needs and to hyper-focus on our own point of view. This self-centered focus can put our thoughts and emotions in a bubble. When you operate from your own bubble, you are not perceiving the world around you; your mind is working in overdrive and creating doubts and fear, or even giving you the wrong information. In the end, this cripples your ability to be successful.
Living in a bubble of fear or negativity happens to everyone from time to time. But fear does not have to be your operating model. The important thing is to choose your operating model and stay within it as much as you can.
Most of the time, we live on autopilot. When we engage in everyday life, we rely on habits and we react to things without considering every decision. If I didn’t have my morning routine, I would be lost. At the same time, when it comes to big decisions and important events, I stop and think, plan carefully, and choose to be proactive rather than reactive. For the important things in my life, I make sure I have the space between stimulus and response that Frankl talks about.
But underlying it all, I have an operating model that underpins my habits and routines. That operating model is love.
It’s important to understand that we can choose our operating model. If we don’t consciously choose an operating model, our unconscious processes will choose one for us, and it will probably be fear.