When you think about influence, what comes to mind?
Many of you think of influential people as those who are in high-level positions—at work, in politics, at church, and in your community. Sometimes it seems you need lots of money to wield influence. (It certainly doesn’t hurt.)
Or do you think of influence as the ability to control circumstances? If you are influential, you wield greater control. BINGO! Influence does give you more control over circumstances.
Why am I so passionate about finding the most effective ways to impact circumstances? Primarily because there was a long period of my life during which I felt out of control; I felt like a victim. It felt awful. When you are a victim, you lack the ability to do something about what’s happening to you.
When did you have a similar time in your life?
At the heart of what we all want is control over our own destinies. If you ever wonder why some homeless people are adamant about staying on the streets versus accepting shelter when it’s offered, it is often because they are determined to control their own destinies.
Controlling one’s own destiny is why I am so crazy about the power of questions. Without a doubt, the easiest and most impactful way to increase your influence has to do with asking the right questions—of others and of yourself.
When I was feeling victimized, I often wondered, “Why me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” Here’s the problem with questions like that. When you ask your mind a question, it will answer you! So you can imagine the kinds of negative answers I was given in response to those questions.
I wish I had known some alternative questions:
I have a similar wish about my work as a manager and as a parent. Instead of giving others instructions and suggestions, I wish I had asked questions that empowered them. I see now that my team and my children wanted control over their destinies and that too often I robbed them of that. Maybe they couldn’t control the things required of them (we all have rules and laws we have to follow) but certainly they deserved to have some influence over how they performed their assignments.
You needn’t be in charge of others to influence them. You have daily opportunities to influence. In fact, you already do—the question is are you influencing in a positive direction or a negative one?
Here’s an example: instead of asking, “How was your day?” ask, “What was the best part of your day?” This is a particularly good question to pose at the dinner table with your family but it can be used in other situations as well. However you utilize it, the conversation will turn in a wonderful direction. I’d love to hear from you after you do this. What were the results?
You may remember a very popular series of books and programs by the late Dr Richard Carlson called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. While well intended, it is an approach to life I don’t necessarily agree with. Let me tell you why.
As a species, human beings have proven to be extraordinarily well equipped to handle catastrophe. We somehow survive life-challenging illness, war, financial ruin, the deaths of loved ones…the list is endless. BUT get a flat tire on the freeway and we fall apart.
One time I was sitting in a 12-step meeting and a woman was sharing about her financial troubles. She said, “It got so bad I almost had to cancel my cable TV!” She seemed perplexed when the rest of us laughed. To her, that would indeed have been a catastrophe.
One of the ways I am supporting my life partner through his cancer journey is to prepare nutritious meals. For some of you, that would be no big deal. That’s because you are cooks, something I am decidedly not.
So I was turning this relatively minor logistic into a big deal and it was causing me a lot of stress. What I finally did was sit down and figure out how to do it more easily. I now keep a list of things I need so that when I go grocery shopping, I don’t forget anything (thus avoiding exasperation and extra trips). I plan our meals for the week. When I get onions and garlic, I chop them all at once and keep the ingredients in the fridge to use when I need them again. Simple things but I am here to tell you, when I start to prepare a meal and everything I need is ready to throw into the pan, I grin from ear to ear (and feel smug, let’s not forget that particular small joy).
Seemingly these examples support Dr. Carlson’s philosophy of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Shouldn’t my 12-step friend and I simply lighten up? Would that we could. I think our inability to not sweat these small things point to something very different. If we don’t practice Passionate Self-Care by making sure the smaller details of life are taken care of then we very quickly turn life into a catastrophe.
What I have come to understand is that when you have things in your life you have no control over (cancer, not having enough money, etc.) it is perfectly natural to let small things upset you. You can either learn to turn a blind eye or you can set things up so the small things are under control.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to make sure the logistics of your life run as smoothly as possible. Over the years, as I have gotten increasingly better at this, I’ve noticed that my emotional wellbeing has increased. Here are a few examples designed to get you thinking:
Assignment: Look into your own life and figure out the things that are causing you the most stress. Use your creative mind to figure out how to head these stressors off at the pass. Write me and let me know some ways you have done this or will in the future.
In the long run, the most important word in the term Passionate Self-Care is self. Both the good news and the bad is that it’s all up to you.