By Debra LeClair Psy.D.
Walking the line between realism and optimism is huge when it comes to building empowerment. In contrast, negativity tends to keep us in a fear-based mode of living. How hard is it to move forward when you feel scared all the time? From fear comes excuses and from excuses comes the feeling of being stuck or that things can’t change—which translates to a feeling of powerlessness.
When feeling a loss of power, the mind often operates in protective mode— this means it may only take in some of the information it gets to make judgments and decisions. We often do this because the whole picture can be overwhelming, especially if it points to doing something out of our comfort zone. It may feel safer to focus on just the reasons that say we shouldn’t even try. The mind does this because the avoidance of pain is one of its primary functions.
But, if you were an objective observer looking in, would you advise making decisions based on incomplete or possibly incorrect information? Hopefully not, but that’s what we do—sometimes automatically. One example of this process is the thought, “ I can’t start a business because I won’t be able to get enough money because the economy is bad”. Here the mind is trying to prevent taking too big a chance, which includes being disappointed. But what is this decision really being based on? In this case, asking yourself basic questions such as, “Do I really know this is true?” followed by, “ How can I find out what the reality actually is?” can help you take a more productive path both mentally and emotionally. Its important to make the distinction here that asking and answering these questions do not commit you to taking the bigger risk, they just open up possibilities.
So how do you make the leap from feeling shut down to feeling empowered? Here are a few steps that might prove helpful:
1) Recognize that there is a part of your mind that is looking to protect you—by maintaining status quo. You can think of it as one part of your mind operating under the adage, “ The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t”. Just being aware of that can help you to look more objectively at the thoughts you are having about a situation to see if they are truly serving you or not.
2) Along those same lines, don’t believe everything you tell yourself. Allow yourself to explore what is really going on by questioning any self- judgment that arises. For instance, “ I can’t get a promotion—I don’t have what it takes” as a statement can be challenged to see if it really is the truth. “ Is it true that I really don’t have what it takes?” “ Can I gain/learn/access what it takes?” “ What are my options to start the process?”
3) Break down the dilemmas. “ What it takes” is very abstract—it’s a great idea to talk or write out exactly what it is that you would need to move forward. Its easy to forget that you don’t need to have it all acquired and figured out before you even start moving in the direction of creating a positive outcome.