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Controlling Your Destiny

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.

Question Mark 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:

  • What can you do today to make things just a little better?
  • What are three things about your life that you like?
  • Where in the world did that missing sock go?

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?

What was the best part of your day- copy As you go about your work and your life, start noticing situations where a  good question could influence your or someone else’s day toward the  positive.

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?

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Dancing with Passionate Self Care – II

Because the Law of Attraction says, “You get more of what you focus on,” a critically important component of Passionate Self Care is focus.  If you want to train yourself to recognize where your focus is, start by listening to conversations around you. What is the focus of each? Now look at the people holding those conversations. Are they a match to what they’re focused on?

Never is this so clear as when you listen to the elderly. Those who are having lengthy conversations about their aches and pains and pills and surgeries are the ones who are in the worst shape.

The ones who are talking about their gardens, pets, hobbies or grandchildren are vibrant and healthy.  They may have aches and pains but they don’t dwell on them. Because of that, their aches and pains are manageable.

Sullen teens are obsessed with how unfair life is and how ridiculous adults and their rules are. Well-adjusted teens are focused on sports, music, school, or sharing cool new trends with each other.

What are you and your friends focused on? Start listening to your words – those that come out of your mouth or those you type into email messages and texts. Will the recipient of your words be happy to hear from you or inwardly groan?

We all agree that we don’t like to be around negative people but many of us who express that sentiment ARE the negative ones people don’t like to be around. And we don’t even know it. How can that be? How is it that we can be primarily focused on the negative and unaware of it? It’s because it’s become a socially accepted habit.

The news media consistently focuses on the worst events. When we broadcast our own personal news, we seem somehow embarrassed to share what’s going well in our lives. Doctors are trained to look for what’s wrong versus ways for us to stay healthy. Managers, until recently, have been trained to focus on employees’ weaknesses instead of their strengths.

There’s a new trend in management I would like you to steal for your Passionate Self Care. It’s called Appreciative Inquiry. An example of how it’s being applied will help clarify what it is:

The traditional style of conducting an employee’s performance review consists of 10-15 minutes focus on what an employee does well (employees refer to this as “buttering us up for the kill”), with the balance of the meeting focused on everything the employee needs to improve. In other words, the manager mainly focuses on what’s NOT working versus what IS.

A manager who practices Appreciative Inquiry would flip the time. She would spend 10-15 minutes focused on what an employee needs to improve and the rest of the meeting on everything the employee does well and how to leverage those skills. This manager focuses on what IS working instead of what’s NOT.

When I talk about this in my workshops, people get very excited, “Yes, that’s what my supervisor needs to do.” They stop in their tracks when I tell them it works both ways. “What do you mean?” they ask.

If you want your supervisor to focus on what you’re doing well, you must also focus on what you are doing well. You can’t expect to attract a supervisor (or a mate, friend, or child for that matter) who focuses on your good qualities if you are continually focused on your failings. Remember, you get what you focus on. That includes getting people in your life who agree with your self-assessment.

Appreciative Inquiry is the daily practice of looking for what you like about a person, place or thing (and that includes you). As you begin to focus on what you appreciate, you’ll begin to attract more of that into your life.

Appreciation is a feeling that can only attract good things to you. As you begin this practice of appreciating your friends, your community, your house, your children, your health, your family, and on and on and on, you will begin to feel more energetic and more vibrant. The Law of Attraction says it can be no other way.

I can’t think of anything more important to Passionate Self Care than using Appreciative Inquiry in all that you do. Try it. You’ll see.

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Dancing With Negative Relatives

On Thursday many of us will gather around a food-laden table with family and friends, presumably to celebrate those things in our life for which we are thankful.

If you are envisioning this with dread because one or more relatives or friends ruin it for you every year, then read on. There are some things you can do about it.

I am no stranger to annoying relatives. I have some and I have been one and probably still am. My siblings could regale you with tales of Thanksgivings past when I tried to control everything including seating arrangements lighting, timing and injecting a “no TV during dinner rule.” Can you say “controlling?”  It wasn’t even my house!

My family of origin-if this photo could talk!

Of course the flip side of that was how annoying they were when they resisted my brilliant suggestions.  Some of them teased, others got mean and the worst were those who merely dismissed me.  They ruined the holiday for me!

Ah, excuse me.  Who ruined it?  Mirror, mirror on the wall…

What follows are a few things I’ve learned from both sides of this equation:

You get what you expect. If you are already anticipating the day with a sinking heart and an ache in the pit of your stomach, you’re in trouble.  Sit down today and rewrite the script.  I mean that literally.  Sit down with pen and paper and write a story in third person with you as the hero/heroine. In your story everything turns out for the best. Example, “Even though she saw her brother roll his eyes when she asked if they could each say something they were thankful for, it didn’t bother her.  She knew she couldn’t control what he thought.

Instead of anticipating problems, why not anticipate a day where the usual triggers don’t bother you at all?  You’ll be amazed at how well this works.

Memorize the serenity prayer. Even if you’re not spiritual or religious, this works as an affirmation:  Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (like people), the courage to change the things I can (like not letting others get to you), and the wisdom to know the difference.

Pick your battles. If Uncle Joe is drunk and he always gets insulting when he’s drunk, is that the time to give him a lesson in etiquette?  Probably not.  Instead of being hurt or angry, why not see him as someone who is (a) very troubled and (b) incapable of hurting you without your permission.

Don’t sucker punch.  Families are often too blunt with each other. If you need to tell a family member something that might sting, use this method:  “There’s something I need to say to you and it might upset you. That’s not my intention.” This method is so effective! Instead of hitting your sister with something she wasn’t expecting, you give her a warning. This allows her a bit of time to steel herself. I can promise you that whatever she conjures up in her head will be infinitely worse than what you finally say.

Cynical/negative people really care. My father was pretty grouchy. He didn’t think the glass was half full or half empty—he wanted to know what was in it and who put it there?  (Did I mention he was also suspicious?) After decades of observation (mine—he wasn’t committed) I realized that Dad was passionately negative because he really cared about the issues he complained about. He also felt powerless. Roz and Ben Zander wrote about this in The Art of Possibility, “A cynic is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again.”

SO, if you have a relative that gets all worked up this year, instead of trying to calm him down or just ignoring him (which as you know will only inspire him to repeat his points only more loudly), try saying, “You really care about this issue, don’t you?”  It may not stop him forever but he’ll be so shocked that you get it that it may stop him for a breath or two. If nothing else, you’ll score points.

Respond, versus react. What is ultimately true is that the only person you are able to control, Thanksgiving or not, is you.  So you can choose to react (which puts the person who pushed your button in charge of your emotions) or you can respond (which puts you firmly in charge).

I once heard a psychologist explain it best.  When you react, the small child inside you is controlling you. When you respond, your adult is at the helm.  Even if you’re the only “adult” present on Thursday isn’t that preferable?  Think how peacefully you’ll be able to sleep that night! (Added bonus:  no apologies to make!)

John McEnroe's Inner Child Reacting

Please know that one of the things I am very grateful for this Thanksgiving is the privilege it is to be able to “talk” with you via this blog.  I love it when you talk back so please feel free to write with kudos, criticisms or topic suggestions.

Have a happy!

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