When we feel powerless, it doesn’t feel good, and our automatic reaction is to try and take control of something, anything, which tends not to end well. As Mohandas Gandhi said “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” That starts with us.
Things happen in our life that we can’t control in the moment - people die, relationships break up, jobs get made redundant. Each and every day, in our various relationships, we experience moments where we don’t feel as though we have a choice: going to work when you’re feeling under the weather because someone else had already called in sick, making the kids’ lunches because your partner has left for work without doing it, going to a meeting that feels like a waste of time because your boss has made it clear it’s not optional; the list is endless.
Then there’s the interactions with people that upset us. We tend to take things very personally and attribute the worst possible reasons for people’s motives, when in actual fact, most of the time it will have very little to do with us.
One day last week I dropped my daughter and niece off at their daycare. Usually they go in and hang their bags beside each others, but my niece wanted to hang hers on its own that day, which really upset my daughter. Callie (let’s call her that) felt powerless in a situation where her cousin kept moving her bag every time she put hers next to it. The story playing in Callie’s head was “My cousin doesn’t want to be friends anymore, she doesn’t like me. I don’t want to be here if I’m not wanted.” And so the upset began.
Of course, for my niece, the story was quite different, and it’s hard to know exactly what her reasons were (4 year olds are pretty good at talking, but not usually at explaining the psychology behind all their actions). What I do know is it had nothing to do with wanting to be friends or not. She quite cheerily told me she still wanted Callie as her friend, and then stood there waiting to play while Callie was getting all upset (empathy is only developing at this stage!).
Callie doesn’t go to that daycare every day but her cousin does, so perhaps she’s just being independent so she doesn’t create a routine that causes her to miss Callie when she’s not there. Perhaps it has nothing at all to do with Callie, and she’s feeling powerless over another issue, maybe she didn’t get her choice of breakfast that morning or wanted to play with some toys that had to stay at home, there are endless possibilities.
I use an example of 4 year olds here, but I’ve seen many examples of this – and I’ll confess I’ve also been party to many – in the workplace, which show just as little empathy. All too often we attribute motives to others’ behaviour based on the stories in our own head, which are based on our values, beliefs and circumstances, not theirs.
So what can you do in situations where you are starting to feel powerless? Let’s keep it simple, if you think about the many ways you can feel, let’s put them into two buckets, bad and good. We all know fear, anxiety, impatience, resentment, anger, frustration, grief and doubt feel bad; and that peace, calm, patience, commitment, allowing, acceptance, happiness and confidence feel good. Driving those feelings tends to be the extent of power we think we have in any situation. Your aim is to feel good, when you feel good, you maintain a more healthy perspective and maintain a sense of power within.
Our degree of acceptance or resistance to the present moment will determine how we feel about it. Erkhart Tolle teaches us the “Power of Now”, the futility of resisting ‘what is’. Living in the present moment, accepting whatever arises, isn’t the same as being a victim or a doormat. It’s about not giving away power and feeling bad about something you cannot change. If you’re feeling bad, it’s time to change the stories playing in your head.
In fact, try and catch those stories as fast as you can. Abraham-Hicks teaches us that 17 seconds is all it takes for a thought to catch momentum; soon you have a whole story, an epilogue, going on in your head. Stop! Think big picture here, you want to feel good; you want to keep your power within.
Start to generalize your thoughts, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and start attributing their behavior to some other motives that depersonalize it for you. Go and do something that makes you feel good, whether it’s sticking on your iPod for a rendition of Pharrell William’s “Happy” and walking round the block, or getting up to get into the groove, do something, anything (healthy!).
Lift yourself up. It’s not about moral high ground, it’s about perspective. We tend to get embroiled in the detail of our own lives and see ourselves as very separate from others. When, in reality, we are all connected and our actions affect many beyond our reach or knowing. What if your life has a much bigger purpose than the one you see today, and the things that are happening are happening for a reason? That is why you often hear expressions like “hindsight is a wonderful thing”, “what’s for you won’t go by you” and “all’s well that ends well”.
If you feel bad, make it your mission to feel good. Give people a break, and give yourself a break. Put a stop to those stories created in your mind, instead, surrender to your inner knowing - that is where you’ll find your power.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/51643976@N02/5834991471">Her smile 23/52</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>
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