We have a strong tendency to find fault in others - to find fault in the situation, the system. True, some of these accusations may have their merit, but by operating at the level where everything that is wrong is external, we are missing out on great opportunities to develop internally.
To function more effectively simply requires a shift in how one approaches the world.
For example, rather than asking, "Why won't so and so change their attitude? It really is cramping my style and putting everyone around the office in a shitty mood!" - a simple shift becomes much more effective:
"In what ways can I change my behavior and attitude to possibly influence, motivate, and/or inspire so and so that might help put them in a more effective mood or mindset?"
This simple change in perspective takes one from a cycle of helplessness to a place of empowerment.
The Externally Focused Cycle of Helplessness
"This needs to change, but I don't need to! "
We cannot realistically expect someone or something to change if we do not first put in effort on our end to help facilitate this change. If we are not willing to alter our own behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs in conjunction with that which we wish alter, then attempting to influence others becomes nearly futile. Instead, we get caught up in a cycle of helplessness, which leads only to stress, frustration, and anger in ourselves and others:
- First, you hope and wait for the other person, situation, or system to change. Waiting and waiting, you suddenly feel a sense of helplessness. You lose power over the situation, thus increasing the level of your own stress, frustration, and anger.
- Second, you then decide to take action. You put effort in communicating the reasons that the person, situation, or system should change, and you may even act to facilitate this change. However, the other person whom you are trying to change and influence sees that you, Mr. or Mrs. High and Mighty, are not proposing to change in any way. This immediately elicits defensiveness and frustration towards you - thus increasing their level of stress, frustration, and anger. Furthermore, now they are out to get you by being stubborn as hell and as unchanging as possible.
- After your efforts to change the target person or group fails, you get even more stressed, angry, and frustrated. Life. sucks.
Prioritizing Self-Management & Development
Buddhist monks often isolated themselves in the Tibetan mountains for months, years, and even decades to cultivate their attentional skills and increase their emotional balance. These monks went on "retreat" in order to more deeply work on themselves so that when they returned from their caves or mountaintop they lived, breathed, and spoke as a true example of what their practices espouse. In other words, they believed that one could not fully (or without harm) teach others the ways of emotional and attentional balance if they had not mastered these skills themselves. The best teacher is one who fully lives and acts in concert with what he teaches.
Talk about priotizing self-learning and self-management.
Living in a cave, meditating 10 hours a day for 10 years may not be feasible for many of us. But I found this example to be quite inspiring.
How can we possibly begin to change others for the better when we do not take the time to change ourselves? Before we can begin to initiate change in our systems and ways of working and interacting, we need to prioritize taking an honest look at ourselves objectively, honestly, and without judgment.
Before placing the entire blame on something or someone external, next time take a few minutes for reflective practice and ask these questions of yourself,
- "What thoughts, emotions, and feelings am I experiencing right now, in this present moment?"
- "Are these effective or ineffective? Constructive or desctructive?
- "In what ways might I shift my thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors to be more effective and constructive?"
- "What might I do right now to be helpful to myself, to the situation, and to others?"
- "How might I serve as a positive role model and act in alignment with my values?"
Incorporating these reflective questions throughout the day is a powerful first step towards creating positive change in yourself and others.
(Bonus points if you utilize personal technology to ping you throughout the day to reflect on these questions! If you have an Android, try our PACO -where you can create little mindfulness reminders for yourself.)