The Choice is Yours

May 01, 2020

In 1946, Victor Frankl published the book, “Man’s Search For Meaning”. This detailed his life and observations surviving the Holocaust and Nazi concentration camps. It’s a bone-chilling read and one I would recommend to you if you haven’t read it.

Frankl told story after story of not just the terror of what these people faced but the changes in psychological state as these ghastly experiences played out. The moral of the book is that Frankl observed that most that were fortunate enough to make it through had a will to survive that others didn’t. It’s not as simple as saying this is the only reason people survived (some were just fortunate to not have their number called) but it’s fair to say that those with the will to survive had a greater likelihood of survival.

In talking about choices, he mentions some of the prisoners who walked around and comforted others, many giving away their last piece of bread. Frankl says this, “They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that 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.”

Think about that for a second. It’s a choice.

This is much easier said than done. That being said, it’s one of the most powerful choices we can make.

Dr. John Leach from the University of Portsmouth has studied this as well. He’s studied POW’s from World War II, Vietnam and the Korean War. In fact, in the Korean War medical officers coined the term “give-up-itis” or GUI. They described it as an environment when someone develops extreme levels of apathy, lack of hope and, eventually, relinquishes the will to live, which leads to death. The crazy thing is, there was no obvious sign of a physical cause of death.

Dr. Leach’s study identifies five stages someone experiences through GUI. First, is social withdrawal. They can still think but motivation drops. Second, is “profound apathy” or “colossal inertia”. The third stage is called “aboulia” which is a psychiatric term that means loss of willpower and acting decisively becomes an immense challenge. At this stage, someone may stop talking or even performing basic tasks like bathing or showering. Leach calls the fourth stage “akinesia”, where someone realizes their nearing the end. Pain may go away here. Same with hunger and thirst. And, finally, the last stage right before death makes it seem like the person is miraculously recovered. This is false, unfortunately, as the person is relinquishing life at this point and death follows shortly after.

Ok, so I know this sounds a bit morbid and I want to provide more context and a path to staying the course when you’re in a bad state. The thing is, even if you’re not experiencing these extreme states that both Frankl and Leach talk about (concentration camps or wars), as humans we often go through seasons of suffering. If you’re experiencing that now, I’m truly sorry for this. There is hope, though, as we’ve learned from these gentlemen.

My experience in sports, business and life is this – suffering in some capacity is common. And, if we can change our perspective on this and take action to combat this, some great things can happen. There’s an old saying that stress combined with rest leads to growth.

Let me give you a few ideas on how you can make the right “choice”, especially right now:

  1. You’re normal – First off, it’s a normal process to suffer. Depending on the significance of your suffering, this can be different for everyone. If you’ve lost a loved one, you know this better than anyone. Grief is normal and is a process. Just know that you’re not alone.
  2. Own the suffering – Everyone is going through some type of suffering when it comes to the current environment. Of course, differing levels, but I think it’s safe to say everyone is being challenged right now. If you’re struggling, that’s okay. Again, it’s normal. Be careful though as this can snowball. The moment you acknowledge it and own it is a powerful one.
  3. Adapt – Ok, so if you’ve owned it, now it’s the choice part. We need to adapt. If you’re constantly glued to the latest news or staying up late binge-watching bad shows, take a few minutes to think about if that’s serving you and your families, coworkers, etc. If you don’t like what’s your reflecting about, commit to making a change. This could be getting to be earlier tonight or turning off the news.
  4. Be proactive and intentional – This doesn’t just happen. It takes some work. If you want to surround yourself with positive influences, great. But, you have to do the work to make that happen. Some ideas – find an inspirational movie or show…buy a book that fills you up…reach out to someone to check in…find a charity you can donate to.
  5. Serve – The greatest antidote to depression and apathy is to put your energy into someone else. As someone who’s struggled at times with this, I know the moment I take the focus off of myself is magic. It doesn’t matter what it is, figure out a way to be of value and contribute.
  6. Move – I can’t stress this enough. The ability to get out and move is paramount to combating a season of suffering. It’s amazing what a nice sweat can do for your mind, body and soul.
  7. Purpose – Hope is a dangerous thing (to channel my inner Shawshank). Having a purpose and hope that’s bigger than you and bigger than any challenging time is something that will keep you going. My friend Kary likes to say this – “when you know your why, you know your way.” This is true here.
  8. Prayer and Stillness – Don’t underestimate the power of prayer. My morning “chair time” is sacred time for me and a foundational habit that I can’t live without. Regardless of your belief from a spiritual perspective, consistent quiet time is a game-changer. Seek stillness as much as you can. This can be as simple as taking a five minute walk outside (if you’re daring, don’t take your phone with you).
  9. Surround yourself with the right people – Negativity can breed negativity. I recommend you do an audit on who your surrounding yourself with. If your “crew” isn’t encouraging you and a positive influence, maybe it’s time to make an adjustment?

We’re all in our own seasons of suffering. Maybe that’s not right now for you. If that’s the case, great. I imagine you’ve been there or will be there, though, at some point. My encouragement to you is to not give up. Don’t run away from it. We can take this advice from Dr. Frankl and we can learn from Dr. Leach’s five stages of give-up-itis We all have the power to make this choice. We can accept it. Acknowledge it. And, dare I say, leverage it for bigger and better things. Remember, the choice is yours. What choice are you going to make?

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this. Please feel free to leave a comment!


  • “Man’s Search for Meaning”- Victor Frankl (1946)
  • Dr. John Leach, University of Portsmouth, Psychogenic Death: Why Do Healthy People Give Up on Life? (2018)
  • “It Takes What it Takes” – Trevor Moawad (2020)


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