To live a powerful life you must take responsibility for your life.
Now, you might think that you are a very responsible person but listen to this. You can be so busy taking responsibility for everyone and everything that you neglect to take responsibility for yourself. Your energy is centered on others and you overlook what you are doing, or not doing in your own life.
If you have taken on so many responsibilities that you have no time or energy to take care of yourself, then your life is out of control. If you feel angry, exhausted, resentful, and bitter, and you think it’s everyone else’s fault, then you are in trouble. You have given up the responsibility that is yours to practice personal leadership in your own life.
If you want to live a powerful life, you must accept that the present state of your life is your responsibility. If you are waiting for someone else to solve your problems, to take care of you, to give you what you need, or to make you happy, you will wait a lifetime – your lifetime.
Some people will go to great extremes to avoid responsibility for their behavior and the problems in their life. The usual methods of avoiding responsibility include blaming others, feeling like a victim, ignoring the situation, procrastinating, using drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, or some other addiction to numb emotional pain, or simply forgetting about the problem and hoping it will go away. Others try to escape by getting lost in time-wasting distractions, or by excessively sleeping or working. All of these evasive tactics usually create a host of other problems such as difficult or destructive relationships, an unhealthy lifestyle, or physical or emotional illness.
Human nature is such that we unconsciously take the path of least resistance. It seems easier to get angry and blame the other person, to avoid or deny the problem, or to throw up our hands and stay stuck or feel helpless. This path may seem easier, but it leads to misery. When we eventually get fed up with feeling miserable and not getting what we really want, we are forced to look for ways to break the old patterns and to improve our life. We finally see that our life is our fault and if we want it to change, we have to do something different.
Here’s how you can live a powerful life. First, choose how you will look at life’s problems. My mother always says that life is one darn thing after another, and she’s right. Contrary to what many people think, this is not a bad thing. Problems have value because they give your life texture, richness, and meaning. They help you to develop and strengthen your character. Problems can force you to become flexible, to open up your mind, and to look for new ways to do things. Problems can also teach you to be humble as you discover that your old ways are sometimes wrong, and that you need to change.
You can choose to view your problems as roadblocks or you can see your problems as an opportunity to learn. To live powerfully, you must decide that you will always be a student of life and that the world around you is your classroom. View each problem a lesson, as a stepping-stone leading you towards greater personal responsibility, maturity and self-improvement. After awhile, you will come to value your problems as much as you value your successful outcomes. All of the great masters were once students who decided to let their experience be their teacher.
Second, to live powerfully means recognizing that you are making choices every minute of every day. You choose how you look, what you say, what you do, what you think, and how you feel. Where you are right now in your life is the result of a series of choices you have made. If you are unhappy with where you are, don’t look around for someone to blame. Look in the mirror. The power to determine the course of your life belongs to you in this moment, and in the next moment, and the next.
Next, change the way you think about yourself. Choose to love and approve of yourself just as you are right now. Do not criticize yourself for any of the past choices you have made. You cannot change the past. Decide that you will not waste your emotional energy or destroy your self-esteem by being stuck in the past, or by living a life of guilt or regret. Let the past go; it is done. Learning from your personal history and moving beyond it from this point in time is the best that anyone can do. Choose to do your best and you will begin to live your best life.
Learn to trust yourself so that you can discover what you really want. Sit quietly with yourself and listen to your inner voice. This calm voice comes from deep within you and is often felt in the area of the heart or the solar plexus. It takes time and practice to access this inner knowing and to know what you really want. Be patient and be prepared to go through a process of trial and error.
Try to silence the chatter in your mind. If you listen only to your rational mind, most of your choices will be based on what you think you “should” do or on what you think will please others. When you know what you really want, you can then use your rational mind to understand and accept the consequences of your choice.
Realize that there are consequences for every choice, that you will live with the consequences of your choices, and that your choices will impact those people close to you. This is what it means to be responsible – being aware of the choices you are making and fully accepting the consequences of those choices. Even if you choose to do what someone else wants you to do, it is still your choice. If you choose to stay silent or to please others, don’t blame them because your needs are not met.
Next, pay attention to what happens as you make your choice and follow through on it. Pay attention to the results in terms of your own emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. If you don’t like how you feel or what happens to you, then make a different choice.
Finally, choose to be assertive. Be careful with the language you use. Words like “should”, “can’t”, or “you” indicate that you are placing the responsibility elsewhere. Communicate verbally by using word like “I”, “will”, or “can”. These are powerful words because they express your intentions.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t make idle threats to try to control others. Don’t act like you are helpless to try to make others give you what you want. It takes self-awareness, honesty, and courage to speak about who you are and what you want.
To be powerful you have to do more than just say what you want. You must knowingly put your words and behavior together. This is called integrity. By putting your words and behavior together, you are deliberately activating your personal power and initiative. If you express your intention and then fail to act, you will be living your life halfheartedly, and there is no power in that.
As you follow through with your words and your behavior, do so with full awareness that your behavior is the only behavior that you can change. You must respect the right of others to be where they are; they are making their own choices. Like you, they will live with the consequences of their choices.
Your life is your responsibility. Accept the power that is yours to live each day with an open mind and an open heart. Choose to learn from your experience. Make the effort to live with purpose and with integrity. Be humble enough to admit that you can be wrong and flexible enough to be willing to change. Realize that when you give your power away to others, you squander the gift that is your life.
Shirley Vandersteen, Ph. D., R. Psych.