Last week, we posited that the only true way to become empowered is to become self-empowered. If ever there were a time where we need large numbers of self-empowered people, this may be it.
As is the case with many important elements of improvement, empowerment is one of those terms that has been hijacked by any number of people and in the process has become watered down, misused, abused and otherwise become meaningless.
In much the same was as "positive thinking" has become synonymous with fluffy psychobabble, so too has empowerment. However, we needn't allow misuse to allow a powerful and important bit of reality to fall into disuse or to be tarred with the cynicism of the critic without a cause.
I know someone who has been largely out of work for several years, going way back before the current economic train wreck went off the rails. This person has a positive attitude about improving her condition, but doesn't do much in the way of positive action.
There's a huge and powerful difference between positive thinking and taking positive action. My mentor and teacher pointed out the distinction with the following notion: some people will sit in their room, creating positive images and affirmations about wanting a new car. However, they never leave their room. If you sit in your room and create all those positive images about the new car, about the only way it can show up is to come crashing through the walls.
If you want the positive improvement, or in this case the new car, you may have to do a whole heck of a lot more than sit around and think positive thoughts about it showing up. As my mentor would say, you may have to get up off your duff and do something about it. You know, like get actively involved.
The self-empowerment game is one of those "get actively involved games." However, while there are any number of things I might be able to do to improve my lot in life, many will require cooperation or support from others.
So, how do you generate the kind of cooperation or support that may be necessary to bring about meaningful change in your own set of circumstances?
We have previously pointed out the fallacy of trying to complain your way to improvement. Paradoxically, one of the biggest problems with complaints, and by extension, those who offer the complaints, is that they may actually be right! There are people and circumstances out there that can and do make things difficult for many of us.
Last week, we began pointing out a way to begin making some headway in terms of improving circumstances. The advice I offered was to think about improving your life circumstances starting with a set of three simple questions:
- What personal issues, circumstances or life experiences would you like to see changed?
- What could you do to make some measure of difference that requires no one's permission other than your own?
- What could you do to make some measure of difference that requires someone else's permission, approval, cooperation or support? Whose?
The suggestion was that you actually write out your answers to these three questions and then spend the next week or so focusing on question #2 before even thinking about tackling #3.
Why would focusing on question #2 make much of a difference? There are two basic bits of practical reality here: if you start by asking yourself what difference you could make all on your own, you are likely to find quite a few things that you could do that don't require anyone else's permission, approval cooperation or support. It's just up to you.
If you can find even a couple of relatively minor improvements that you could make all on your own, wouldn't it make sense to at least make those minor improvements? After all, if you can only make a small improvement, at least you will have the benefit of improvement. Kind of seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it?
Of course, the real no-brainers out there will criticize this common sense approach to fixing what you can, pointing out that a few small steps won't fix the world. True enough, but at least it will get you on the path to improvement. If you can make things better for yourself, all on your own, why wouldn't you want to do that?
Once you have taken those small self-improvement steps that are yours to take, you may find yourself in a better position to influence someone whose permission, approval, cooperation or support you need to make things even better.
Let's imagine that you can see ways to improve your current job, but your boss or another group don't get it. You could hang out complaining about how ineffective or difficult the other person or group is and you might even be right.
If instead, you employ the three questions noted above, you may be able to identify how the job could be improved in two phases: what you can do on your own, and what you could do with cooperation or support.
Imagine taking the first steps, improving what you can on your own. Doing so will make some amount of difference, small perhaps, but at least you will have the benefit of the improvement.
Now imagine going to your boss or the other group and discussing what could be done to make things even better. You then get to point out two groups of activity that could lead to improvement, indicating what you have already done on your own. From there, you can talk about what else could be done that requires cooperation or support from your boss or the other group.
Your boss or the other group may hear your suggestions in a very different light - rather than listening to complaints about what doesn't work, they get to hear from someone who was willing to take the initiative to make things better on their own.
Imagine the reverse scenario: Would you be more likely to be influenced by the person who simply bitches and moans about how awful things are or the person who identified improvements, and did what they could on their own before coming to you?
Obviously, a few small steps won't be enough to change everything, but even small improvements are worth taking. And, along the way, you may discover more ability that you knew you possessed to make things better. Could that be all bad?
I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.