“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
– Marianne Williamson.
This article is all about helping you to take back your power by living in a more conscious, connected and creative way. By using our 4A’s method- awareness, acceptance, accountability, action- we help you to start to become aware of feelings of disempowerment; recognise language and actions that imply that you might be stepping into a victim role; take charge of your reactions; and consciously respond to situations in a way that best serves you. We don’t exaggerate when we say it can completely transform your experience of life. There are many things in life we can’t control: notably other people’s responses and behaviours. So, let’s start taking charge of what we can control: our response to the world. Take back your personal power and start playing the game of life…. your way.
Let’s imagine you just broke the record for highest sales targets in a year. Not only that, you’ve made more money in a month than the entire team made last year. Your boss calls you into his office. You presume it’s got something to do with a promotion or pay rise so you smile to yourself as you enter the room. As you sit down, your boss briefly congratulates you on your incredible sales results. He then segues on to your pay package going forward. Your base rate will stay the same and your commission will be cut by half. “What? … I made more money in a month than our sector made in a year?” “Yes” your boss replies, “and you’re also taking home more money than anyone else on the team. The commission structure is simply not serving the needs of the company.” You feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. In spite of all of your hard work and success you’re going to be the one that loses out. And you feel completely powerless in the situation. Or are you…?
This is a true example that comes from a long-term coaching client, who we’ll call ‘Sally’ for the purposes of this article. Upon leaving the office Sally felt completely powerless to change her situation. As we like to say at 4D, it felt like the world was “happening” to her.
Think of a situation in your own life, work or personal, in which you feel like you are a victim of someone or something. Join us as we walk through the 4A’s for taking back your personal power, so that you can “happen” to the world, in whatever situation the world throws at you.
“I also came to realise that if people could make me angry they could control me. Why should I give someone else such power over my life?”
– Ben Carson.
For the first few days Sally spiralled through many emotions varying from anger to grief, ruminating over unhelpful thoughts that caused her distress. This emotional rollercoaster and feeling of “stuckness” left her feeing exhausted and sick. Becoming curious about your responses during challenging situations can help you to reduce suffering, sickness and stress. In Buddhism this is called the ‘second arrow’. The first arrow that hits you is the situation outside of yourself and is something that often you can’t control. The second arrow that follows is the turmoil you create for yourself, and is a direct result of your response to the situation. Take Sally’s situation for example: the first arrow comes when she realises her hard work is being rewarded with a pay cut. The second arrow- the suffering- comes when she tortures herself by asking “why me?” and staying stuck in a loop of “it’s not fair.” It’s so tempting and human to respond like this, however it also prevents us from moving forward.
We’d encourage you to give yourself time to feel and be with the pain and disappointment of the first arrow as grieving and feeling the feels is part of the process. At the same time, stay curious to the second arrow ‘stories’ of suffering that you might be adding on top of the situation.
Think back to the situation you picked for yourself. What stories are you telling yourself about what happened, how you were treated and what it says about you? These automatic thoughts give us insight into our default modes of operating. If we become more conscious of these default responses, by getting curious about our own experience, we can start to see how these patterns show up in our lives. Becoming aware of these deeply ingrained patterns gives us the power to shift away from second arrow behaviour, and enables us to re-shape them into a different, more constructive response.
Here are 2 ways of becoming more aware of unconscious stories and thought patterns:
Journal what’s going on in the mind. Journaling is an excellent outlet for processing emotions and helps to increase self-awareness. University of Texas psychologist James Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, acting as a stress management tool, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. His research also suggests that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. If journaling doesn’t appeal why not dictate into your phone when on a walk or do a mind map on a flip-chart. There are loads of ways of doing this, so get creative! One way could be to divide a piece of paper into six sections… Life, love, money, work, family and hobbies or passions and journal or draw in each box.
2. Automatic Writing
Access your unconscious thoughts by allowing your pen to lead the way. The rules are as follows: pick a topic, set a timer for one minute and then keep your pen moving across the page (or your hands typing) until the time runs out. Try to write as quickly as possible! To quote Deborah Frances-White, author of The Guilty Feminist: “This method is a great way to establish your fears and low self-esteem points […] The scary thing about using this approach is that it may uncover your secret fears and insecurities. But while they stay hidden, you can never really confront them.” This exercise will make you aware of the automatic thoughts that are controlling you, and only then will you be able to take conscious control and focus on shifting them.
“Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; It means understanding something is what it is, and that there’s got to be a way through it.”
– Michael J Fox
An important step in taking back your power is accepting what you can’t change. An expression that really resonates for us is “Resistance to what is, is the cause of all of our suffering.” Initially, Sally felt powerless to change her situation. She couldn’t force her boss to change his decision (legally or otherwise) because of several factors including the fact that it was his company and she’d been hired as an independent contractor. If she could go back in time she’d be sure to get the proper paperwork in place, as opposed to relying on word-of-mouth agreements and good old-fashioned ‘trust.’ But she couldn’t go back in time and she couldn’t move forward if she didn’t accept what is. Railing against the unfairness of the decision, keeps Sally stuck in her role of victim.
In your situation, is there some reality that you are pushing against that it’s time to accept? Consider the concept of radical acceptance, defined as “completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and with your mind.” This idea of accepting an unchangeable reality, brings to mind the Serenity prayer: “God grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” What can you accept in your situation that helps move you forward in your journey from victim to creator?
Accountability adds momentum and drive to stages 1 and 2. This third step keeps us moving forward and enables us to keep learning and developing as human beings. We do this through curiosity and inquiry, in order to challenge limiting beliefs and unhelpful stories. A key question to ask yourself when you reach this stage is: What is my responsibility in bringing this situation to life? Stay self-reflective and curious about your own experience. What can you take from this experience that may help you in the future?
When Sally took ownership of her own mistakes, she was able let go, learn from and build on the situation. After reflecting on the situation, she was able to recognise the value in being upfront and clear around issues involving money. As opposed to continually blaming herself about the issue, she accepted ‘what is’, held herself accountable and built on the situation by creating new behaviours. The key difference between self-blame and accountability is that the former keeps you fixed, and the latter invites forward movement.
Next time you catch yourself in what Mark Manson, author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***”, describes as a ‘thought tornado” try to notice when you use words like “ever” “always” “never”. In Sally’s case this might look like “I never get what I deserve” or “No matter what I do, I always end up the loser.” These words are often signs that we are in a cycle of self-blame. Once you become aware of this negative self-talk, you can start to challenge these thoughts. One way of doing this is by using Byron Katie’s 4 questions: 1. Is it true? 2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? 3. What happens when you believe that thought? 4. (And our favourite!) Who would you be without that thought? Katie encourages students to view this work as “a meditation practice. It’s like diving into yourself. Contemplate the questions, one at a time. Drop down into the depths of yourself, listen, and wait. The answer will meet your question.”
Victim status can be seductive and keeps us from taking responsibility for our own blocks. Often a victim story garners support and care-taking from others. Taking accountability for your part in bringing the situation to life, moves you away from victim status. “This unfairly happened to me, caused me a lot of pain and I’m powerless over it” becomes “what can I learn from this, how can I grow from this, and what can I do going forward to create a situation that better meets my needs.”
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.”
– George Bernard Shaw
What are you going to do? What are your action steps and when are you going to do them by? It doesn’t matter if these are tiny changes or big transformations: this step is about becoming the creator of your own life. However big or small the step forward, letting go of your focus on someone else and focusing on yourself and your own path forward promotes a sense of well-being.
Sally now describes the event as “the making of her” and considers it an unexpected silver lining. By using the 4A’s Sally was able to create a better situation for herself at work by taking responsibility for her part and convincing her boss going forward to put her compensation plan in writing. Interestingly, over time, Sally took even more control of her life and ultimately left that position to start her own business. We are pleased to say she is thriving!
Often when things don’t go our way, it can be an opportunity to make important changes in our lives. We’ve all had that experience in which we realise we never would have become the person we are if the event that seemed so painful at the time hadn’t happened. In your situation, what action steps can you take now that will start you on the path of becoming the creator of your life?
At 4D we’re passionate about firing up the intentional dimension, what we call the 4th dimension. In our 4D model, which is the underpinning of all of our work at 4D, we talk about human beings as often operating in 3 dimensions, our physical dimension, emotional dimension and intellectual dimension. When the 4th dimension comes online, we start to ask “is this actually my intention,” “Is this the impact I want to have” “what do I really want to do?” You start to make choices that drive your 3 dimensions as opposed to your 3 dimensions driving you. After the meeting with her boss, Sally’s three-dimensional autopilot reaction was feeling physically anxious, emotionally angry and disappointed, and thinking that she was a victim who had been treated unfairly and had no power to change it. The 4A’s process we’ve offered you, brings your 4th dimension, that intentional dimension, online so that you can take control back around how you respond to life events. It’s the difference between the world happening to you and you happening to the world. We often use a quote attributed to Viktor Frankl, a Psychiatrist who lived through the Holocaust: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
The Freedom to Choose
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
Next time you feel powerless, stop for a moment and take yourself through the 4A’s of taking back personal power: 1. Become aware of the stories playing out. 2. Ask yourself, is there a reality here I must accept in order to integrate and transcend? 3. Hold yourself accountable for your part in bringing the situation to life. Be conscious of the stories and language you’ve been using so that you can move from victim to creator. 4. Finally, ask what’s possible? What can I do to help the situation? Create an action point for taking back your personal power in any situation. What is in your control? And how can you change it? The choice is yours.