“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”– Dr. Viktor Frankl
There are a lot of excellent self-help books out there these days. So many, in fact, that it is often difficult to figure out which one or another might be helpful to suggest when someone you love is suffering. I recently came across an unusual book, written not by a psychotherapist or neuroscientist, but by an MBA from Stanford who founded the second largest boutique hotel company in America.
This book will appeal to twenty and thirty-something dot-commers, men who like the short version, engineer-types of any age and gender, and all the other anti-touchy-feely folks you know who need some help wading through painful emotions (even if they don’t think so).
The story behind this book is compelling. Chip Conley was a powerful CEO in Silicon Valley who appeared to have it all. Then the bubble burst in the economy and Conley lost five colleagues and friends to suicide in a few short years. In 2008, without warning and for no apparent medical reason, his heart stopped. This got his attention in a big way, and he began to seek out answers about how to alleviate his suffering from the field of psychology.
What worked for his kind of mind was to tackle emotions the way a CEO or project manager would confront a problem in business. Conley started to come up with mathematical formulas for happiness that he could use as reminders and concrete tools to change his negative thoughts into more productive ones.
Take two minutes to watch the cartoon about Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness and Success. In a quick, creative way, Conley describes how there is logic to be found in emotions and how life can be enriched by becoming more emotionally fluent.
One of the first people Conley discovered in his personal quest was the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who, after surviving a Nazi prison camp, elucidated the existential truths he learned in the classic book written in 1946, Man’s Search for Meaning. Conley came up with the equation to summarize Frankl’s wisdom: DESPAIR=SUFFERING minus MEANING.
In order to reduce your suffering, Conley reasoned, find more meaning in your life.
Another equation to help deal with agitation and worry about the future: ANXIETY=UNCERTAINTY X POWERLESSNESS. The solution to this one? Figure out what parts of your life you are certain about (such as your skills or your resources) and what things in your life you have the power to change (such as your use of your time, your way of thinking, your social network). If you focus your efforts on the things you can control, your anxiety will decrease.
None of this is rocket science but I found it both interesting and exciting to see how advances in the field of emotional intelligence are being applied in business. If you are someone who prefers the longer version of the story, check out Conley’s eighteen minute version in a lecture given last year at Stanford.
Before he got into emotional equations, Conley published the 2007 bestseller Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow, where he describes how he created an enlightened business model by focusing on his employees’, customers’, and investors’ highest needs. It worked. Business bloggers have touted both of Conley’s books as great for strengthening leadership skills even for those who hate self-help books. Not a bad endorsement.
Joyful woman photo available from Shutterstock.