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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