Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

Is Your Thinking Above or Below the Line?

“Everything can be taken from a man 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.”

Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

In Psychiatrist’s Viktor Frankl memoir “Man’s Search For Meaning”, Frankl describes life in four different Nazi death camps including Auschwitz, during WW2. Frankl survived, while his family lost their lives.

Based upon his experiences there and later treating patients, Frankl argued that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to experience it, cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.

Our primary driver is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we find personally meaningful.

In those concentration camps, Frankl noticed that it was the men who comforted others and who gave away their last piece of bread who survived the longest – proof that everything can be taken away from us except the ability to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances.

It’s not what happens to you that matters – it’s about how you respond.

The sort of person the concentration camp prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not of camp influences alone.

So, Frankl chose the meaning he put on what he saw and went through while in the camps, even though he experienced the most awful atrocities.

Nelson Mandela had a similar experience – 27 years imprisoned, mostly under tortuous conditions in a tiny cell with nothing more than a bucket and some straw.

However, Mandela did not allow his ill-treatment to control his behaviour. Instead, he used reflective thinking, contemplation, and meditation to sharpen his mind.

There have been many words written on this subject now – how after significant events, our brains can create a new normal – what we never thought we could cope with – we can, and we can learn to thrive in our new world.

These outcomes are based upon how our brain processes these events, the meaning we choose to put on them, and the action we take to move forward in our lives. Simply put, it’s our  choices that we make to move through events – we can’t change the event itself, only our responses, our  thinking and behaviour, the story we tells ourselves – which creates our outcomes.

Above and Below

the Line

One of the most common thinking and behaviour models I teach my clients is Above and Below the Line (also known as Cause and Effect or Results v Reasons).

It is so powerful in its simplicity and can be used personally as well as being implemented in any business at any level.

Simply imagine a horizontal line – this represents choice. I always imagine the water line in the ocean.

If you are operating above the line, you take ownership, are responsible for your actions and accountable for your outcomes.

You are positive, curious and open. You make ‘things’ happen. You are swimming in calm peaceful water in the beautiful sunshine.

If you are operating below the line you blame others, make excuses and are in denial. You are closed and negative. Events ‘happen’ to you. The waves come crashing over you, and you are stuck beneath the water.

It is easy to give in to the impact of the world around us and blame others, whether it’s  from a traumatic event, or simple everyday events that don’t go “our way”.

This then becomes the story we tell ourselves – about why we are not achieving the outcomes we want. We blame others, become the victim, make excuses, judge, have fear of failure, become stuck and procrastinate – just to name a few. Sound familiar?

It’s much easier to be at effect or below the line. You can sit there comfortably for years. It is nice and safe there. Nothing changes. Ever. Not the problems nor the outcomes.

“I’d do it but………”

Sound familiar? 

What different actions can you take?

Start taking action to take you forward in the direction you want to go to become the person you want to be.

This model is applicable in every area of our lives, from our career to our home life and community.

Imagine you are at work and display overwhelm regularly or behave in an unprofessional manner, when under pressure. Imagine you take this overwhelm home and react and blame others for the way you are feeling.

Your family and teams will see that as the benchmark of excellence.

However, if you are calm, in control and professional at all times, taking responsibility and being accountable for your successes and challenges, you will be modelling excellence and be above the line.

The simplicity of this model enables you to visually track where you and others are at all times.

Body and verbal language, thinking and feeling are all key indicators of whether someone is above or below the line.

You can then manage yourself and others differently depending on where the thinking and behaviour sits.

By learning to lead and manage yourself above the line, you can support others by having open and honest conversations with them, you can work towards moving them above the line.

For those already above the line, you can lead by inspiration, bringing out the best in them and possibly achieving results far greater than expectations.

This in turn will greatly impact the success of you, your family, your teams, your business and your life.

Your Turn

Let’s do an exercise together and see what happens.

Download the workbook from the ‘Materials’ tab at the top of this page.

Think of one area of your life you would like to be different.

Write down how you want it to be in an ideal world.

Now, with that in mind, what stories have you told yourself up until now?

Why can’t you have it the way you want it?

Why can’t you achieve it?

Why can’t you just make it happen?

What’s in your way?

Now, here’s the fun bit. If you stop telling yourself that same story, what would you tell yourself instead that would nurture and support you?

That would serve you and take you in the direction you want to go?

Are you ready? Really ready? Are you committed to change?

Yes, then let’s explore how you can create the reality that you want for you.

Up Next

Your Wheel Of Life


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