Keeping Your Personal Power

1409846027000-186534921The other day I was listening to Joel Osteen and he was talking about not giving up your power. It reminded me of a group lesson I used to teach my high school students a couple of years ago about not giving their power away. In this sense, many of the high school kids I was working with were labeled “troubled kids”, and while many of them had various problems, one main issue they had was allowing other people to push their buttons, causing them to react and get into trouble over and over again. They were allowing other students in essence to control them.

What exactly does it mean to not give your power away?

It means to not allow other people or even events that happen throughout the day, to steal your joy, your positivity, your happiness. It also means to not allow other people to control your emotions or cause you to act out.

It’s really easy in life to be reactive. We could be having a good day and all it takes is for someone to  make a rude remark or throw some other negative event into our day and then we are no longer having a good day. We are no longer happy and smiling, but instead we are fixated on that one negative event. We have let someone or something take our power away. Our power to be happy, our power to be the master of our emotions, actions and therefore consequences.

Many of us give our power away all the time without even realizing it. We think something or someone else made us mad, sad or ruined our day without realizing that we gave them the power to do so. Our emotions can be so overpowering that we don’t realize the thoughts that actually caused us to have those negative feelings and it’s those thoughts that we have power over if not anything else.

Our thoughts are one of the first places most of us give our power away.

We have negative self-talk that many of us just except as being true when in reality, it’s often just garbage. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough, we’re too ugly, too fat, weren’t born with the right genes, we’ll never be happy… the list can go on and on. First of all, if you believe all the negative self-talk, they tend to come true and become self-fulfilling prophecies. Second, they make us feel like crap and rob us of our natural power to feel good and be awesome people. Third and perhaps most importantly, they usually aren’t true. We have to challenge those negative thoughts instead of just accepting them. When you catch yourself having negative self-talk, ask yourself is it true? How do I know it is true? Negative thoughts and negative self-talk will do nothing but rob you of your power to control your life and have the life you want and deserve.

Another way we give away our power is through our actions or lack of actions.

Sometimes we are too afraid of making a decision, too afraid of change.  We don’t set goals. We sabotage ourselves. Sometimes we are waiting for something or someone instead of going out and doing it ourselves. I used to have a friend who was very educated, but he had trouble finding a job because he was always waiting for someone (usually family and friends) to find a job for him. He wanted them to find a place that was hiring, find out about the job, sometimes even get him the application. Needless to say he was unemployed for a very long time because he was waiting on someone else to do the things he could do for himself. He was giving away his power to be employed.

Lastly, perception is a major way many of us give away our power.

We give away our power by the way we look at things and perceive the world.  Many people see themselves as victims and that things are always done to them, that other people are in control of their lives, holding them back, causing their problems. If you perceive the world in this way then you are giving away your power and not taking personal responsibility for your life. Many people don’t understand that we choose how we perceive the world and we can look at it from different angles and viewpoints. Many of us have a default way that we perceive the world, but if that default way is holding us back and robbing us of our personal power, then we need to try a different perspective.

Take for example, if I go for a job interview and I don’t get the job, my default perspective might be “The guy interviewing me just didn’t like me. If I were a woman he would have probably hired me.” That’s giving away my power and making me feel like crap. I can change that perspective to something good and say, “I didn’t get the job, but at least I got an interview and I did my best, next time I’m sure I’ll get the job.” Or it could be a little more indifferent such as, “I didn’t get the job, guess it wasn’t meant for me. I’ll keep applying for other positions.”

The outcome doesn’t change. I didn’t get the job. However, my perspective changed and therefore how I felt about it changed from crappy, to positive, to indifferent. When I gave away my power with a negative perspective I felt worst then when I kept my power with good or indifferent perspectives.

There’s a saying that says, if you can’t change something then change the way you think about it. I have subscribed to that philosophy for a long time and trust me when I say it’s helped me stay positive and stay in control of my thoughts, feelings and actions.

When we give our power away we are allowing other people, events, circumstances, etc. to control how we feel and react. We are the captain of our ships and therefore are more control of our lives than we sometimes realize.  When we take our personal power back we get out of the passenger seat and back in the drivers seat of our lives.

Absolute Yes: How To Learn To Say No To The Things You Really Want To Say No To

unnamedMaking decisions can be very hard to do. Making tough decisions can be even harder and even anxiety provoking, which is why many people end up either in bad decisions, a place of ambivalence or living with more angst than necessary.

Many people are so afraid of making tough decisions that they simply don’t. Unconsciously many of these people will put themselves into positions (i.e., being homeless, being institutionalized, exceptional religiously preoccupied, joining the military, being taken care of by government assistance) so that they don’t have to make many decisions.

One way to make decision making easier is to develop a principle called absolute yes.

The principle is simple. Say no to anything unless it is an absolute yes.  That means if not every part of you, mind body and soul, is not saying yes, than the answer is no, at least for now.

Many of us, besides finding it hard to make a decision, end up saying yes when we really mean no. Sometimes this causes us to end up in undesirable situations all because we didn’t follow through with our true answer.

When you start to use the absolute yes principle, you will see it demands commitment to the truth. It forces us to know ourselves, the little games we play, the excuse, justifications and stories we tell ourselves.  We will start to re-examine situations where we are tempted to sell ourselves short, give our power over to someone else or sabotage our own happiness and success.

It will help us to see through the glitz and temptation that often makes us say yes because we want to be respected and loved, when inside we really want to say no.

Think about it. Many people say yes to having sex, getting married, to having kids when they really want to say no.  Everyone has things that tempt them to say yes; from the sexy bad guy you know will only drain you emotionally, to that second piece of cake or that new red Mustang 5.0 you really can’t afford, but really want.

Saying no to anything unless it is an absolute yes means we have to take a step back from these temptations, put some emotional distance between our desires and what is actually best for us. That is why it is a discipline and a practice which takes time, commitment, especially commitment to personal mastery.

An absolute yes means that there is no doubt and while we may not know what is going to happen next, we take responsibility for our decision and there is no one else to blame for our choice.

Just because something isn’t an absolute yes now doesn’t mean that it will be a no forever. We may require more time, more information, or more insight before our no turns into an absolute yes.

This reflection, gathering information and putting some space between our emotions are all essential parts of effective decision making skills.

Taking an absolute yes approach to making a decision will reduce the amount of stress involved as well as help us to say no to the things we really don’t want to say yes to and say an absolute yes to the things we do. We’ll spend less times doing things we truly don’t want to do and more times really living the life we want to live.

For a more colorful take on Absolute Yes (and a very good read), check out Fuck Yes or Fuck No by Mark Manson.

Setting Expectations And Rules For Your Teen

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As I thought about this post, I watched as four young teens, approximately 13 years of age, two boys and two girls, stood on the corner flirting for a second night past 10pm on a school night.

I started thinking that sooner or later, one or both of those young girls is bound to end up pregnant, and then I started thinking, where are there parents and why are they allowing their young teens to be out so late on a school night unsupervised.

Then I started thinking that there are probably no set rules or expectations in these teens households.

They are probably being raised with inconsistent and even contradictory messages. Yet, when one of these young girls ends up pregnant, their parents will be shocked and angry that these young teens “disappointed them”.

Rules and Expectations

Rules and expectations are two different things that together help guide your teen as they navigate through the murky waters of adolescence.

Expectations help you define the standards of behavior you expect from your teen such as being responsible and making responsible decisions.

Rules on the other hand help to bring your expectations to reality such as requiring your teen to finish their chores before going out with friends. Rules and the consequences of those rules help your child with both understanding your expectations and learning self-control.

As always with teens, communication is key. I am always amazed at parents who come to me disappointed in their teens behavior when they never actually sat down with their teen and discussed their expectations in the first place.

The teenager may have had some idea about how their parents felt about certain issues, but without a clear understanding of what the parents expect, they leave a gray area and teenagers typically don’t do well with gray areas. They like to know exactly where you stand.

Sitting down and speaking with your teenager about your expectations also opens up the door to talk about risky behaviors.

Clearly defined expectations about limits for risk-taking behavior helps your teen be prepared for temptations and challenges that will face them when confronted with risky decisions towards things such as alcohol, drugs and sex.

When you lay down clear expectations, you are letting your teenager know that they are responsible for their behavior.

This discussion also allows for you to hear what and how your teen thinks about certain issues and also gives you the opportunity to help them think more realistically.

A lot of teens think “this can’t happen to me” or that they are immune to many of the perils we as adults know are out there.   Talking to your teen will give you the opportunity to educate them on the possible consequences of their decisions and behaviors.

No matter how clear you think you have made your expectations, your teen may still feel unclear about them. Rules help to enforce your expectations.

Many parents are unsure about how to set rules and what rules are needed. Here is a good starting point.

Besides rules regarding substance use and other risky behaviors, you also want rules regarding:

  • curfew
  • unsupervised time
  • homework
  • chores
  • driving
  • cell phones
  • internet use
  • use of other media such as movies, television and video games

Naturally, most teens are going to try to push back against rules, but teens do want and expect limitations and boundaries.

Be respectful, listen to your teen and explain your reasons for having the rules you do. Some parents feel like they don’t have to explain any rules they set to their children, but children tend to follow rules better when they at least understand, even if they don’t agree with them.

Other tips include:

  • Focus on setting rules for safety based more on guidance than power, control or punishment.
  • Don’t be overly intrusive or restrictive, but still be firm.
  • Give your teen an opportunity to negotiate some of the rules, but remember that you have the final say
  • Be very specific when it comes to substance use. Such as letting your teen know that they are not allowed to use alcohol, tobacco, prescription medication or any other illicit drug at all.
  • You should set very fixed rules regarding health and safety, and then negotiate with your teen about other rules.
  • Be flexible with those other rules (outside of health and safety) and willing to renegotiate as your teen shows maturity and responsibility.

Along with clear rules and expectations, there should also be clear consequences for breaking the rules.

Consequences help teens slow down and think before they make a risky decision and also provides them with the perfect excuse to tell their friends if peer pressure is an issue.

Tips for setting consequences:

  • Consequences should be something the parent can follow through with consistently in order to be effective. Many parents are very inconsistent with following through with consequences which teens pick up on and it makes it more likely that they will disobey your rules. 
  • Consequences should be logical, and more about teaching than about punishing or retaliation.
  • Remember that consequences can be positive. Praise your teen when they are doing something right, when they are following the rules and they are more likely to continue.
  • Award your teen with special privileges or  some other type of award for following the rules.

Without rules and expectations, many teens are lost and parents feel as if they have out of control or disrespectful kids when in reality, the child never learned the rules, expectations or the consequences of breaking those rules and expectations.