Simple ways of discovering the hidden, inner drivers that twist and control your life

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When someone asks any of us to make a decision, we bring all our prejudices, opinions, likes, dislikes, fears, hopes, antagonisms, and bits of knowledge along. The human mind is like a committee—and a pretty bad tempered and cantankerous one too! Like all committees, the mind has some members who have greater clout than others. They hog the floor and shout twice as loudly as the next person. They get together and rig the committee elections so they’ll hold all the power. And once they have a taste of power, like politicians the world over you won’t easily part them from it.

The only way to break the stranglehold of our habitual behaviors and opinions is to take charge and ignore the baseless fears and anxieties they will erect to try to get their way. Until you do, your life is being run for you, whether the outcome is what you want or no.

Here are four steps that will always transform your day:

  • Stay alert and make sure you make all choices that matter consciously and in the way that best fits your hopes and dreams. The more deliberately you choose your actions, words, and opinions, the more influence you will have over your life at work and everywhere else.
  • Work to know yourself and then act on that knowledge: the two most basic steps in discovering and realizing your potential. Discover everything about yourself that you can. What do you do best? What gives you most pleasure? What matters to you most? What makes you feel worst? Act on what you find. The only sure way to change anything is to change what is causing it to be the way it is.
  • Be clear that every choice—large or small—is an opportunity to change. Every decision contains the possibility of altering the future. If you ignore chances to influence your life, you must put up with whatever comes along.
  • Don’t let your fears control you. Don’t imagine so many problems that you become distracted and stressed. Instead, look carefully at one option at a time. Follow it through and see where it leads. Then take another option and do the same, directing your attention where you want it to go. If you don’t let your fears make you confused, you can stay focused on positive possibilities and avoid anxiety and stress.

Here’s what to do instead:

  • Take time to uncover the unconscious patterns in your life. Everyone displays certain automatic, recurring patterns of behavior. They are usually the behaviors that other people think of as “typically you.” Most will have become so automatic and habitual that you may not even be aware of them, yet they govern perhaps half (or more) of your actions. Discover what they are and replace them with conscious choices. That will immediately give you more positive influence over your life.
  • Work out what part you are playing in any situation that you don’t enjoy. Once you see how you’re contributing to each negative situation, you’ll know a good part of what you need to change to alter the outcome. It’s easy to make the comfortable assumption that most of your problems are caused by external events or other people. It’s also almost certain to be untrue.
  • Take some time to decide clearly and specifically what you want from your life at work and outside it. Set firm intentions to make the changes you want. Focus on them with complete concentration. Don’t let anything else get in the way.
  • Use every opportunity to move towards your goals. Don’t just let your attention wander wherever it likes. If you direct your attention consciously and deliberately, you can focus it where it will do most good. Never allow important choices to happen without careful and conscious thought.

Here’s a simple exercise to get you started.

  • Ask yourself if you’re totally happy about your life. If you are not, note down—now—two or three things you want to change.
  • Consider each, in turn, and plan what you can do to change them. Find as many ways as you can to get back in charge of your own destiny. You will need a wide choice, since some will not work and others won’t turn out as well as you wish.
  • Make a start. Don’t wait. Pick an area to change and a set of plans to use. Jump right in. If those plans don’t work, try others. Keep going until you make the changes you want and are happy with them. Then pick the next area for change and do the same.

Take your time. Think! Make careful, rational choices. Do what you can see is best for you, regardless of any attempts to control your behavior from outside. It’s your life, and you’re accountable for it. You can’t avoid that, however much you wriggle. Life is uncertain and you have to deal with it as best you can. It’s up to you whether you do that well or badly . . . or give up altogether and drift along like a jellyfish.

Have you noticed how many people around you behave like jellyfish—drifting through life at the mercy of chance currents? And how many of them sting too, if you brush up against them? Don’t blame them. That sting is just caused by their misery at their situation, which they wrongly believe they cannot change. You know better.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to find a more way of working and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, and its companion site Slower Living. His recent articles on similar topics include How many precious moments are you wasting? and Are you in danger of using work pressures as an excuse?. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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