Sometimes I just feel like I am at the mercy of everything that is going on around me. I am like a little boat out in the middle of the ocean and I know I am moving and my sails are hoisted up, but my rudder is not in the ocean and the wind is taking me wherever the hell it wants to it and I feel powerless to dictate my direction. Sound familiar?
We often go through big changes in our lives, which we do not always feel equipped to deal with and feel like we are that rudderless boat out in the middle of the ocean or like a puppet on a string, at the mercy of those around us who pull our strings at their discretion.
I was recently reading an article in Thrive Global written by Amy Cuddy (of whom I am a big fan). Amy notes that a change is often accompanied by a self-perceived loss of power and strength and followed by feelings of insecurity, anxiety, discouragement, and defeat. Then come the physical manifestations of powerlessness along with loss of confidence and ambition.
Amy explains that this depleted state, which can result from a small setback or even just the normal life changes we all go through, convinces us that we lack the power to control the situations we’re in. Then, opportunities take on the aspect of threats to be avoided, and feelings of fear further reinforce our sense of powerlessness, keeping us locked in an exhausting cycle.
Social psychologist Dacher Keltner and his colleagues shed light on how this cycle works: they propose that power activates a psychological and behavioral approach system. When we feel powerful, we feel free — in control, unthreatened, and safe. As a result, we are attuned to opportunities more than threats. We feel positive and optimistic, and our behaviour is largely unrestricted by social pressures.
On the other hand, powerlessness activates a psychological and behavioural inhibition system, the “equivalent to an alarm- threat system.” We are more attuned to threats than to opportunities. We feel generally anxious and pessimistic, and we’re susceptible to social pressures that inhibit us and make our behaviour unrepresentative of our sincere selves.
When we’re deciding whether or not to do something — ask a person out on a date, raise a hand in class, even volunteer to help a person in need — we focus on one of two things: either the possible benefits of the action (e.g., a new relationship, expressing ourselves, or the gratification of having helped someone) or the possible costs of the action (e.g., having our hearts broken, sounding foolish, or looking foolish). If we are focused on the potential benefits, we’re likely to take the action, thereby approaching the positive. If we are focused on the potential costs, we’re likely not to act, thereby avoiding the possible dangers.
Power affects our thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and even physiology in fundamental ways that directly facilitate or obstruct our presence, our performance, and the very course of our lives. When we feel powerless, we cannot be present. In a way, presence is power — a special kind of power that we confer on ourselves.
How the lack of power distorts and disfigures us is important to understand. Equally critical is knowing how the possession of power — a certain kind of power — can reveal our truest selves. Amy mentions what Howard Thurman, the author and civil rights leader, wrote on the subject: “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”
So…Are you going to pull your own strings or are you going to let someone else pull them for you?
So following those sentiments from Amy – here are 5 ways that you can start pulling your own strings.
1) Starfish up.
Your posture sends messages to your brain that tell you how to feel. If you need to feel confident, you want your posture to send your brain that message. We actually take cues from what our bodies are telling us, and the way we hold our bodies actually affects how powerful we feel and how powerfully we behave. What is your body language telling you: - I can’t do it. I feel so helpless. I am worthless. – or is your body language saying - I am totally in charge. I CAN do this! I’m on top of the world.
2) Be Yourself – Everyone Else Is Taken
Stop trying to think about what everyone else would do in this situation and think about what YOU are going to do. What are YOUR options? What are YOUR strengths? What are YOUR choices?
3) Check your baggage.
Consider your own self-doubt and what is adding weight to the baggage that you carry around with you every day. Stop before you react. Understand what’s in your way. What are you saying to yourself that’s getting in your way? What are others saying to you that’s getting in your way?
4) Disarm your critic.
We have all got this little guy that sits on our shoulder and sometimes will whisper in our ears as to why we can’t. Ask yourself the price of believing in these criticisms and consider affirming your worth to counter the critic. Take accountability, get back above the line and reframe so you can challenge your ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts).
“Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are always listening”.
5) Begin With The End In Mind
Think about what you can achieve and what the successful outcome will actually look like. Really describe it to yourself and SEE all the possibilities that this new and improved future can hold for you. Really focus on the benefits from being in control and moving forward and let this vision guide you toward empowerment.
So if you want to start pulling your own strings and build your mental toughness, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.