Locus of control, proactivity vs reactivity, or as I call it, circle of concern vs influence. Depending on where you direct your attention determines if we feel like creators - a free humans that feel in charge of their life, or if we feel like a victim waiting for another "accident" to happen.
Me as a cynic
The year 2008 was definitely not my year. I won't be elaborating the reason that triggered my bad mood. The bottom line is, that I found myself in the mindset, where I believed everything was against me. And the longer I stayed in this mindset, the more I believed it was the truth and me, as a very special person, was one of few people that saw this true reality. I believed that the life was trying to hurt me and was constantly finding new evidence it was true! I was testing the power of a self-fulfilling prophecy, however I had no idea about this concept then.
"Of course it must be raining today, just when I wanted to wear the white trousers!"
"Of course the client cancels my appointment on Friday afternoon so I've been sitting here in the office for no reason!"
"Great, the seminar is held in the hotel I hate!"
Honestly, when I look back, I don't know how people put up with me then and I am very grateful that they didn't lose their faith in me. And may be I am hoping they don't remember this era. Because I do and know that I could barely put up with myself.
If you have ever met a negative person, may be you were wondering if they were aware of their pessimism.
From my own experience, I think the person suspects it, however they believe they have a good reason for their attitude. I knew that I was complaining often, however when my that time boyfriend implied anything about my crankiness, I thought "he just doesn't get it, because he hasn't endured what I have and nothing bad is happening to him. I am just not lucky! If only the other people understood how I feel!"
I had a few glimmers when the words "enough of this mood" crossed my mind. This mindset was definitely becoming part of my temperament and I started to be tired of it. However, something was stopping me from the change. I think it was my ego. This is a massive trap of self-pity - it tastes bittersweet - we know it's toxic, but it gives us a feeling like we have endured something big, a feeling that we are special and misunderstood.
Either way my "thirst for life" started to affect my relationship and that set off my inner alarm. I knew enough was enough.
In the meantime, I bought the book 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey and I also went to a weekend seminar on this topic. I'll be honest, it didn't work in one day as some miracle medicine. I had been forming my negative thinking and shaping my brain this way for an about half a year, so it took I while for me to get my brain in the right shape.
The moment when it clicks
I had two big a-ha moments during reading this book.
One of them is not much related with today's topic and it's the mindset, that it's quite a good idea to match our actions to our dreams, instead of matching our dreams to our actions.
Tá druhá myšlienka tiež súvisela s proaktivitou a bola o okruhu záujmu (circle of concern) a okruhu vplyvu (circle of influence). S tým, že na čo sa sústredíme, to rastie. A toto veľmi súviselo s mojím paranoidným stavom, kedy som bola v neustálom očkávaní toho, “čo sa zase pos…”.
Circle of concern
A lot of different things can concern us. Our relationships, work, where we will go on holidays, the weather, the next elections results, celebrities gossips, whether people like us, whether we will be able to loose five kilos till the summer and when the pandemic's gonna end. I think the most concerning to us is a behaviour of other people that has nothing to do with us.
Question - how many of these things can we influence?
If most of the things we care about are people and events in the circle of concern, sooner or later we'll start to feel like victims.
If all we think about is politics (and we are not active politicians), next weekend weather, whether your colleagues likes you, whether the guy from yesterday's date will call you, pretty much all you think about is outside of your control. We are missing the centre, home, a place where we can just chill.
Yes, we can vote, be fake with our colleagues and pretend we care about the same things as our date does, however it won't change the fact, the final results is not in our hands. It is NOT. If people don't like us, they just don't. If someone's not into us, he is not, we can pretend whatever we want. And if enough people think that having an idiot / sociopath / fascist (whatever the folks from your native country prefer) as a leader of the country, you can affect the elections with your vote, but that's it.
Not being able to fully affect the result of the things in your circle of concern is not the only issue. There is another one, much more mentally and emotionally damaging. This damage is caused by the wasted energy and it's the feeling of futility, frustration and hopelessness.
"I can't change things, there's no point trying."
"There's no point to go vote."
"Why even try?"
"I don't care."
There's something happening here, something what makes everything even worse. Our CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE is getting SMALLER.
May be you're asking what to do with this. If it's not good to focus on stuff int he circle of concern, what to focus on instead?
Circle of influence
I have three good news for you:
- Despite the fact we can't change if people like us, when the pandemic's gonna end or other things we can still influence so much.
- The more we focus on things that we can influence, the less we are affected by things from the circle of concern.
- And there is another bonus: the more we work on things that are in our control, the bigger our circle of influence is, the more freedom we feel. I'll give you an example soon.
How do we know that we are staring into the "wrong" circle?
Sometimes it's not that straightforward, we're just being very reactive, or as I call it "radioactive" all day for some reason. Sometime we have the victim mindset in one area, for example work, however we are proactive in our relationships.
Here are some signals that can help you become cautious:
- you often complain, either about work, partner, friends, health, or money
- you've been feeling stressed for a long time
- you use words as "must", "should", "can't" instead of "want", "decide", "will", "plan", "can", "I am not feeling this" / "no"
- you repeatedly feel hopelessness, apathy and resignation
- you gossip about people often
- you're prone to running away from your present reality, you dream about change, but doing nothing for it, you're surviving for weekends that you spend in front of TV or in the bars
- you feel fear often - you're worried about your future, about money, about what's gonna happen if they change your boss - any change can be destabilising for you. Sometimes you feel fear for no reason.
What can we control?
- How we feel and our health - by how we eat, sleep and exercise
- Our relationships with other people - not if people like us, but how we approach people around us
- Our relationship with ourselves - how do we appreciate and respect ourselves?
- How and with whom we spend our time
- Our mind - how do we feed it - with news? (circle of concern), gossip ? (circle of concern) or by literature and inspiring conversations?
- Our career or business - not by climbing the ladder, by chasing promotions or money (circle of concern), however by improving our skills and ideas (great ideas are not that prone to show up in on minds buried with news and endless phone scrolling).
Example from the real life
I got the idea for this article last night when I woke up for a second, however I got a confirmation of this principle this morning when I coached my client.
Wanted to talk about her low confidence she feels during the company meetings. She works for a big corporation and feels great with clients, she is helpful and confident. However, when she's having a meeting with colleagues, she doesn't know what to say and when she does know, she is reluctant to voice it.
I found curious that she perceive the situation where she has nothing to say as an issue.
I asked her why she thought it is necessary to say something on these meetings. She answered that she wanted to show that she's confident and a potential to be a leader.
'It seems like she wants to control that the colleagues and managers think', crossed my mind.
A asked her further questions about her experience, knowledge and what she can offer as a manager. And what the actual goal is?
- to say something to prove she knows her stuff?
- or to add something valuable to the discussion to help the company?
Then she got to the conclusion, that instead of stressing herself about impressing someone (what she can't decide anyways), she will focus on what's in her control - to be helpful and prepared for every meeting.
And now picture this woman during the next meeting, picture the change.
She won't be going there to impress, and creating pressure on herself. She will come prepared so she can help. If a question or an idea pops up on her mind, she won't be thinking about possible embarrassment. She will be focused on helping the team and the company. That's a completely different energy.
The irony? Because she gets rid of the fear and pressure coming from the effort to control the outcome, it is more likely she will be approaching the preparation and meetings in a more proactive way and she might even get the promotion quicker. SHE WILL EXPAND HER CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE.
May be you're thinking about situations from your own life.
I want to earn more money, however I don't ask myself how I can get better in what I am doing.
I complain about the politics, or about what's happening somewhere on the other side of the world, instead of focusing on my exercise routine, relationships or my own development.
May be we complain about our work, but don't check if there are some job offers that could be more suitable for us.
I am not saying this from a position of a "better person". I am saying all of those above, because I've been through those. And I still stumble sometimes.
What helps me to stay in my circle of influence?
To thing in the context of circle of influence vs concern can feel a bit strange the beginning but it's worthwhile.
Here are some tips that can help.
1) Control the inflow of news from media, don't let media to control you
It doesn't matter the source of the media we're talking about now.
Cancelling the TV cable more that 10 years ago was one of the best decisions on my journey to be come a happier person.
It was quite funny and interesting when I went to a family of friends gathering at someone's house and the TV was on in the background. I realised that nothing really new had happened. The tv presenters were talking about the same stuff, about bickering between politics just the subject of their "discussions" were different.
This attitude of mine was a bit extreme and I adjusted it a bit since then. To stop following news is very liberating, however it makes us ignorants. It's important to be aware of issues of the society and the world. However, we have to be picky when it comes to timing and quality.
Currently, I try to check news max once a week - if a topic is important enough, it stays in the headlines for a while. I decided to ignore some topics, ehm covid, and trying to to avoid politics. Politicians used to make me too angry.
2) Social media - great servants, bad masters
Another thing I do is that I delete instagram and facebook from my phone now and then. When I do so, I get to enjoy these platforms from my laptop only when I am too tired to do anything else. I get this sort of "break" when it feels like I use the apps mindlessly, when I sort of open them without thinking, going there with no purpose. The break always helps me to come back to normal.
It's also a good idea to check who you follow - if there are accounts that regularly make you feel bad and like your life is not cool enough, may be it's time to let go.
On the other hand, there are so many great accounts that are funny and inspiring.
Overall, limiting my time on these apps has an interesting effect on me. I get more ideas, my mind is less scattered as it normally is. I also feel more content (doesn't that sound right Instagram?).
I read more and create more, may be you have noticed. I also kiss the dog more. Because I am more present and also nobody can forbid me to do that. Ok, that was a bit random, just checking if you're still reading.
Of course I use these apps, especially if I want to share a beauty of some place. I suspect it will happen again in couple of days. I had to delete it for now, because anytime I got stuck with some idea, project or issue at work, my hand automatically grabbed the phone and the scrolling started.
Movement is not that much related to this topic, I always moved, even in my "victim" mind state.
On the other hand I must mention it, because it's so important for the right mindset. Personally, it helped me to build a confidence in my professional life. Not because it made me look better, but because it gave me a discipline and the inner sense that I can rely on myself. If you can rely on yourself, things outside of your control can't upset you that much anymore.
4) People around you
Quotes about surrounding yourself with positive people and bla bla are very trendy now. However, let's be realistic. Sometimes we can't choose, for example with our colleagues.
And sometimes, our friends or partners fall in the trap of self-pity and negativity and it doesn't matter we should discard them from our friends list. Personally, I am very glad it wasn't done to me. It's the other way around - if people around us doesn't behave we would like them to, it's a great opportunity to practice our ability to focus on our own circle of influence - instead of trying to change other people, we focus on ourselves. To keep our good mood, whatever other people are doing.
The main thing I want to say, it's good to have at least few people which whom we can share our passions. So we know there's someone, may be just that one person that can support no matter what, can give us a constructive feedback with the intention to help us achieve our goals. The more people like this, the better.
Who is this person? Are you talking to them often enough?
5) Keep discovering your passions and hobbies
I say "keep discovering" not "discover". It's not something you can do it in one day. This "search" can sometimes make you feel frustrated. You start of something and you find out it's not for you. However, I can guarantee that once you discover your cup of tee, it will be worthwhile. For me, it's writing. Sometimes I write stuff, that I don't like, but when leaving the laptop, feeling better anyways.
And it feels even better, if I think it's good enough for it's being published.
And in case, that someone is pleased or inspired, that's a next level (I don't do it because of that of course, that's a circle of concern, correct)?
And that's it for today. This topic has always been important, but I have a strong feeling it's even more important now than ever. The world's events are kicking our asses, so to create peace within ourselves first can be a pleasant change.