Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Your Personal Power

Art by June Dudley

Zander on Personal Power

Drape a cape on a small child and he/she is instantly transformed into a superhero -- but what would it take for the grown-up you to feel powerful? The answer I’m looking for doesn’t involve something that you put on yourself, like a custom suit or a pair of Jimmy Choo heels, but rather something you pull from deep within -- personal power. Wielded over others, power often is mishandled and frequently abused, but personal power is something else entirely. It is totally life-enhancing -- people with it make more money, have more good friends, get wonderful jobs and, in general, practice welcome control over their lives. And it isn’t always all about them, either -- people with personal power do much for the greater good of the world, including making others’ lives better.

Clearly this is something worth developing, but many people aren’t certain as to what personal power is or how to find it within themselves. In fact, many good people see themselves as having virtually no power at all. According to Lauren Zander, our regular life coach contributor, they are absolutely wrong about that. "I have never met anyone who does not have personal power in some area or another," she says flatly.

In case you’re not sure where your personal power may lie, it’s actually quite straightforward, Zander said. It’s in anything and everything that you do well. Whether managing money, being a parent or friend or manager, even giving parties, if you’ve figured out how to do something really well, you’ve created power for yourself in the sense that you feel certainty in yourself and enjoy being the master of something -- your way.

Far more of a challenge is to learn how to cultivate power in other, more difficult areas of your life, the places where you wish you performed better but don’t. Zander believes this is integral to our journey through life, she told me. "The whole experience of life is having problems and figuring out what to do about them -- it is how we learn and grow."

What’s Your Kryptonite?

Just like kryptonite is the mythical radioactive ore that disabled Superman’s powers (supposedly created when Superman’s native planet Krypton exploded), we all have vulnerabilities that weaken us and block us in certain ways. We mortals are especially affected by anything that makes us feel awkward or inept, and we allow this insecurity to have power over us by using it to make excuses. Many of us react to our own "kryptonite" by blaming it for our lack of action... we’ll make up explanations such as "I really can’t help it" or "This is just how I am." Then, it seems natural to simply say, "Why bother trying?"

Boiled down to its essence, this "lack of power" really is just a series of repetitious negative thoughts... but these thoughts create very real deficits in our lives -- friends who aren’t that caring... a job that’s not so great... a flabby body... and, eventually, dissatisfaction with life, Zander says. But wait -- there’s a secret weapon hidden inside: Zander points out that you can use the very same pattern of repetitious thoughts and actions, but turn them into positive statements to build successes that add to your power.

Zap! Pow! Bam! Powerful Moves

The first step toward unmasking your new, more powerful self is to make a firm decision to change in a given area, giving yourself what Zander calls "a threshold kick" -- summoning enough energy to get yourself into motion by declaring the way you want to be powerful. You don’t have to declare it out loud, but by stating it to yourself (or others) you are clear about what you want to do or be. But beware -- you may encounter an impediment when you try this, as it may well bring on a confrontation with what lurks at the core of your kryptonite, and that is fear. We all hold fears about ourselves -- such as not being appealing or deserving -- that block our progress, but we tend to keep them hidden, even from ourselves.

When challenged by some happenstance, this previously unacknowledged fear won’t necessarily smack you in the face -- it’s craftier than that. It may take the form of a subtle discomfort, such as telling yourself, I can’t because I’m not going to be good enough... or I’m too tired... or I’m not the type to push myself. Whatever happens, do not ignore this! If you can isolate and then identify this fear that keeps you from being a more powerful person, you are on your way to real change. Here are some questions that Zander suggests asking yourself...
  • Does your fear lie in a belief about yourself... such as being too old to become an artist, too plain-looking to succeed in a relationship, not smart enough to have your own business?
  • Are you afraid that your life will not, and in fact cannot, change? Are past failures keeping you from working to change your life in the here and now?
  • Is there something you believe about people, the world or life (e.g., men are untrustworthy, women are selfish or the economy will never improve) that keeps you stuck?
  • Are there old hurts and rejections that you hang onto, either out of fear that you will be hurt again (and so must live behind a wall!) or because you find a certain acidic satisfaction out of nurturing the anger?
Once you get through the process of unearthing what it is that you are afraid of, you can evaluate it more objectively. (Note: You may need the help of a friend, therapist or coach.) You may find that your fears are completely unfounded and/or that there are ways to move past them and find solutions that will work for you. Once you do this, all it takes to create success -- to find more power -- is practice and discipline. (Hey, I never said it didn’t take effort!)

Be a Superhero

You can start today on the path to more personal power by selecting one area of life in which you want to improve. Clearly define your goals for it, and make them measurable so that you can better evaluate your progress. Tell people in your life what you are up to so they can cheer you on and, very important, so they can hold you accountable to your commitment. Don’t be shy about asking someone who is good at what you’re trying to do for suggestions and guidance -- people are almost always happy to help.

By all means, enjoy the journey and keep your attitude positive and cheerful. In doing this, you will no doubt intrigue and inspire others and will discover that your personal power is indeed helping make your corner of the world a better and happier place.

Lauren Zander, cofounder and chairman, The Handel Group, New York City.

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