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Freedom of response; the last of the human freedoms


If you can choose your response, to any given situation, you are essentially free from influence.

This powerful, influence-free position sounds impossible to reach. It sounds like a superhero quality.

However, all it takes is one decision. One decision to take responsibility over your response to life’s situations and instead of playing the “victim” role, of reactivity you play the “leader” role, of proactivity.

The freedom of response

Jewish, Psychiatrist Victor Frankl imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, wrote profound material on human response, which he titled ‘the last of the human freedoms’. Frankl found, that despite the horrors he had endured, his basic identity was intact – he still held the freedom to choose how his life experiences were going to shape him – this was the freedom of response.

In a much more diluted form, it’s not difficult to see how taking responsibility, over our responses, is life changing. We move the power from external circumstances to ourselves. For example, our own irritation toward a colleagues competitiveness could be changed to empathy – empathy is far less burdensome to our minds and additionally, may allow us to find a resolution to our perceived problem.

Enacting your freedom of response

It is surprisingly straightforward to develop your ability to choose your responses: all it takes is a simple decision and commitment to implement, intentional change in your life. There are however, a few habits that enhance your ability to choose your responses;


Taking responsibility is fundamentally enhanced with mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches you to observe the space between stimulus and response. By operating in the “space” you are more objective and deliberate when you choose your response. Am I clouded by emotion? Do I feel anger or am I hurt?

2.Listen to your inner dialogue

Many of us feel helpless to external circumstances – this mindset is not conducive to freedom of choice over response. Helpless dialogue sounds like this

“They make me so angry” as opposed to “I’m not going to put too much energy into my reaction over them”.

“I have to” or “I choose to”

Being aware and changing the way you speak to yourself can enable you to choose your response more efficiently and not feel helpless.

3. Be aware of where you focus your time and energy

This is from Steven Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Effective People. We all have a ‘circle of concern’  – the things we care about –  for example (traffic, appearance, what he or she said) –  and then a smaller ‘circle of influence’ – the matters within our concerns that we have actual control over.

Choosing an appropriate response to any given situation is all about understanding what you do and don’t have control over. Ideally, anything you do have control over, you want to respond in the most valuable manner and anything outside of your control you need to learn and practice, to accept.

When you are proactive and responsible, you focus your efforts and attentions in your circle of influence.

4. Be true to yourself

This postcard caption has two valuable benefits

  1. Making any real change in your life requires commitment. Don’t read this, practice it for one day and then go back to being an emotional landmine. The idea is – stick to it and show yourself you mean business. The harder you try to focus your daily habits on being self aware – the easier it will become to have clarity over your reactions and more deeper – what you want out of life.
  2. Develop your personal integrity. Choosing your response, requires you to dig deep into your values and decide what you will and won’t stand for. For example, your toxic co-worker, are they insecure requiring empathy or are they harmful requiring hardline boundary setting and/or distance. How can you make any of these decisions without having a good idea of your values?