The Key to Personal Effectiveness

by Stephen Mills on July 20, 2011

What if there was one thing you could do to dramatically increase your effectiveness both personally and professionally?  I believe there is.  It’s an extremely simple concept, but not so easy to implement, because it is simply not ingrained in our habitual behavior.  Our modern culture has mostly eliminated it from our mindset.  Implementing it on a consistent basis requires some audacity and commitment that most people simply will not choose to develop.  Regardless, I believe virtually everyone can improve their personal effectiveness if they are willing to develop this one habit to a much greater degree.

I highlighted the word “you” in the first sentence above for a reason.  The whole idea is simply to ask yourself in any situation in which you are dissatisfied, frustrated, less than pleased, or whatever the following question:

What can *I* do to improve/advance this without asking anyone’s permission and without requiring cooperation from anyone else?

This is often referred to as “sphere of control” in contrast to “sphere of influence” which requires you to influence others to get things done.  What I don’t like about the typical formulation is that it assumes an existing “sphere of control” that is fixed and causes many people to accept those existing boundaries.  See the following graphic for an illustration of the concept.


In contrast I would ask that you push those boundaries outward to a much large circle. From my own personal experience and the observation of others who act similarly, I believe our spheres of control can be greatly expanded.  All it takes is the above mentioned audacity as well as some creative thought.  Even if the boundary seems mostly fixed in a particular situation, you can often find ways inside those boundaries to take action for yourself.  There are probably several avenues of action that you simply haven’t considered.

There are times you can’t actively control the situation and in those cases you need to do something else.  There is one thing you can almost always do no matter what. No matter how helpless you may seem in the face of circumstances (e.g. a serious health problem with no relief), you can reframe your response to it.  Even if there is nothing else, there is great power in that alone. However, most of the time there is much more you can actively do to progress your own situation if you only have the courage to take hold of the situation and act for yourself.

People tend to focus the vast majority of their energy on looking at others or circumstances to blame and wallow in their feelings of helplessness to change anything.  The mass media overwhelms us with what somebody else is doing to screw things up for us. It’s an endless stream of messages blaming somebody for something somebody else doesn’t like. That, along with much of the rest of our culture, teaches us is that we are helpless and our situation is someone else’s fault. We are socialized to believe that we are not personally responsible but instead the victim of circumstance.  Instead of focusing upon what we can do, we fuss about what others are doing to us.

When I was a very young adult I stumbled across a wonderful book that is now out of print and very expensive – Harry Browne’s classic How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World: A Handbook for Personal Liberty.  He gives a lot of specific advice in that book but what I took away from it and still treasure 30 years later is not the specific ideas he advocated.  What stuck with me all these years is the principle that regardless of what chains others attempt to put on you, you can do things your own way if you simply choose to do so.  It takes guts but if you choose to be the boss of you, I think you will find yourself a lot happier and effective person.  It has been well established by research that subjective well-being increases with feelings of greater personal autonomy.

The question is easy; the concept is simple and basic.  However, the implementation it is not easy and the habit is hard to develop.  We have become trapped inside our own and our culture’s assumptions about our power to act on our own behalf.  We are intimidated by spouses, friends, family, colleagues, bosses, and governments.  I’ve empowered myself most of my life and have gotten away with it.  It frustrates other people because they are not used to it.  They are used to people playing by the rules they impose.

Spouses or other family members are especially good at guilting you into doing what they want and if you don’t then you must be an awful person.  Why? Because you refuse to play by the rules.  Whose rules?  Why theirs of course.  People in relationships are always full of ideas about what some other can do to make their life better.  They seem to forget about the things that are in their total control – what they themselves can do to make their own life better.

If you will simply empower yourself to advance your agenda and stop waiting, complaining, or depending upon others, you will go a long, long way towards increasing your effectiveness. I simply cannot emphasize that enough. It’s not enough to just accept it or say that it is obvious or old news, which in a way it is. You have to actually act upon it. Therein lies the difference between those who accept it intellectually and those who actually do something that makes a difference in their own lives.


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler July 24, 2011 at 4:54 am

This post is true. Sometimes we think that others are best than us. But I don’t say that we have to do brags but instead a way to believe in yourself that you can do more than you know.
Tyler´s last blog post car insurance


Anita July 25, 2011 at 12:28 pm

What a great post Stephan. This is so true.
You’ve convinced me to read the book “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World”. I was a bit surprised by how expensive it was on amazon but I just saw you can buy the ebook version on Harry’s website 🙂

Have a good day,
Anita´s last blog post ..Small kitchen design secrets from the pros


Clark Minn July 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm

I also agree with this post…You stressed out some great points that are very inspiring…We have to be who we are!!
Clark Minn´s last blog post ..How to Lose Belly Fat After Pregnancy


Nick W July 28, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Hi Stephen. If the average person were to take this advice, and like you said – take action, they would be able to effect a considerable amount of positive change. My new motto that is related to this idea is – “life takes work”.
Nick W´s last blog post ..The House Attempts To Stop The EPA On Water Pollution Issues


Ryan Eisenhower July 30, 2011 at 11:52 am

Hey Stephen, I agree with your points. I think the biggest challenge we face in this world is trying to deprogram ourselves from a lot of the things we were taught as kids. This world is a hierarchy system designed to use many and serve a few. As sad as that statement is, it applies throughout the history of time. However, I believe if your motivated enough, and you have the persistance you can succcessfully deprogram yourself and live the life that would make you most happy.
Ryan Eisenhower´s last blog post ..The Rich Get Richer And The Poor Get Poorer


Lorie July 31, 2011 at 10:37 am

Hello Stephen,

As i started to read the article i was agree with you.It happen to me that i need to decide one thing that can change who i am and now i am very thankful that i choose that path because i learn a lot from my past and i consider my self if anything trail will come i am sure i ca manage it well.
Lorie´s last blog post ..The Art Of Budgeting for Students


Suteki August 4, 2011 at 3:22 am

So much great information that I never would have found on my own. Thanks!
Suteki´s last blog post ..Consume Tips for Heartburn Relief


Ron August 8, 2011 at 5:11 am

I really like your post. The key to personal effectiveness is within us. We are the ones who are responsible for our actions and decisions in life. If we know how to control our emotions and ourselves then we are very effective but if we go beyond our limitations then we are out of self-control.
Ron´s last blog post ..Man Boobs and Alcohol


melody August 15, 2011 at 9:58 am

Yeah, I agree with you Stephen, you brought out some great points here..Thanks for sharing..
melody´s last blog post ..Car Insurance Comparison Sites


Cher Shives August 18, 2011 at 9:12 pm

There are a lot of things I have learned in this post…
Cher Shives´s last blog post ..The Best Indicator for Forex


Andrew | Self Help Products September 5, 2011 at 4:49 am

Hey Stephen. Yes I have been guilty in the past of letting people push me around. But as time goes on I’m learning to stand up for myself and be more assertive.

If it’s done in the right way, it can be effective without alienating yourself from other people… be fair, firm and friendly usually works.
Andrew | Self Help Products´s last blog post ..Stress Relief Exercise To Give You Peace Of Mind


alainadrew@appsforiphoneipad September 19, 2011 at 11:35 am

Hi Stephen, I totally agree with what you have written. You have to be the one who will control your life. Know your limitations, and have your goals. But of course, never forget to sometimes listen to the voice of others and think things over if what they just said will be a great help to you as well. Balance everything and surely you can live your life to the fullest. Thank you for sharing this post…
alainadrew@appsforiphoneipad´s last blog post ..How to Make Apps for iPhone Users: Before You Get Started


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