Most people are seeking ways to feel empowered in their lives. It’s a fundamental human wish, and it sometimes feels unattainable. So much of what happens to us and around us is out of our control. And feeling out of control leads to all sorts of issues. So how do we become empowered and how do we live our lives with an empowered sense of self?
In Psychological terms, we talk about Locus of Control which is the way people perceive their influence over the world. There are two perceptions, external, and internal locus of control.
If you have an internal locus, you might be focused more on what you have control over, like what you say, what you think, and what you do. This mindset doesn’t always feel good, yet it is the path to empowerment.
How you feel about what’s happened or is happening to you is impacted by where you focus your locus of control.
It can be challenging to recognize our part in how we are responding to the things happening to us. And, most of us tend to have places in our lives that we live in an external locus of control, the “outside-in” approach.
If we have an external focus, we might be more focused on who or what is responsible for what has happened or is happening to us in the outside world. Can you say, “victim mindset”? They are doing XYZ to me. If we are coming from an external locus of control, it’s emotionally easy to get swept along with external events. It sounds like: “You made me feel bad,” “They pissed me off,” “You never help, I have to do everything,” etc. We are looking for who is a fault and whom we will blame for the way that we are experiencing the situation. And, remember, we extrapolate out from this perspective, and it touches how we experience the world at large. We are at the mercy of external events, and they move our emotions hither and yon. We swing from one feeling to the next; this is good, that’s bad. When something is said or done to us, we feel we are at the mercy of external event happening to us. It is a focus on things that we are powerless to control. External locus of control is a focus on what the other person, or event, outside of myself, says, thinks and does.
Conversely, an internal locus of control means you are working from an “inside-out” mindset. You choose to focus on what you say, think, and do. From this perspective, if the world said or did something we don’t like, and our feelings got hurt, or we got mad, we are still focused on where our power is. We use our emotions to help us decide what actions we need to take, like create a boundary, march in the streets, let someone go, or speak our truth. Fundamentally we recognize that our emotions are our own.
The internal focus can be painfully hard to do in the real world. It is especially hard if you don’t like what is happening in a situation. It is far easier to feel like we are internally motivated when things are positive, example: “I made a pie, when I shared it with my friends, everyone raved about how wonderful it was… I feel great for sharing it.” And, I may feel good for sharing it, but I might also feel good because people liked the pie, and that might make me feel good about myself. If they had hated my pie, I might have felt terrible and quickly switched to external locus, “OMG! Those ungrateful people, I can’t believe I made a pie for them!” “They were so mean to me!”
This response doesn’t sound empowering to me. How does it seem to you? Maybe it’s time to change your focus.
Five Steps to Living an Empowered Life
- Decide you want to feel Empowered. Empowerment, by its very definition, is the authority or power we give to something. If we are providing power to external events, we often feel helpless and hopeless. If we shift our attention to what we can control, what we say, think and do. We move the power and authority to ourselves. That’s the very definition of “self-empowered.”
- Work on Courageous Self Trust. Mia Angelou said, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues. Without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” It takes courage to learn to trust yourself. When you sit in a quiet place and breathe into your body, you can feel when your head, heart, and gut are in alignment with a situation. When your body is calm and settled, your empowered choices come from inside of you and fit with the kind person you want to be. The more you work your courage muscle and learn to trust yourself, the more natural this process becomes.
- Let go of other peoples’ opinions of you. Another way of thinking about this comes from Judy Ford, “Your opinion of me is none of my business.” If my focus is on my internal locus of control, I am more concerned with my opinion of myself. Which, after all, I have more power to change, adjust, or correct, if I don’t like it. The willingness to call ourselves out on our bullshit builds off of the prior two steps. When we decide to be empowered and trust ourselves, it’s easier to let go of other peoples’ opinions.
- Embrace Wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is one of my most treasured concepts. Wabi-sabi is a worldview that embraces the idea that there is beauty in imperfection. That nothing and no one is perfect and that it is through self-acceptance and the recognition that life is imperfect and impermanent, we can let go of suffering. When we can relax into the notion that we do not have to be perfect, we are set free. Who we are is a work in progress and our only job is to grow ourselves into a better version of ourselves continually. As we learn, we transform; the journey is the joy.
- Hold Yourself with Compassion. One issue we need to acknowledge is that when looking at our internal locus, what can show up is our negative internal narrative. When we focus on what we say, think and do, it’s important to recognize that the “inner critic” can show up and sound entirely believable. When you begin to hear a critical voice about you, your ability, and who you are, that is the inner critic. Fear often underlies and generates the negative narrative. There is another voice inside each of us, the voice of reason or the “wise voice”. Being able to recognize that the difference between the voices is essential. The voice of reason may show up critically; only it will show up in looking at pro’s and con’s, looking at the bigger picture, brainstorming about solutions or ways of moving forward. We all have negative narratives, and being willing to hold ourselves with compassion when our fears get sparked helps to push through to the other side.
Self-empowerment, self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-love are each about learning to shift to the internal locus of control. We are less likely to have our ships crash against life’s rocks. We start to believe in our internal value and develop a deep trust in our inner knowing.
Let’s quickly go back to that pie we shared with our friends. Let’s say we made a pie, and no one liked it, but this doesn’t define us. We can take the information and learn a new pie recipe. We can decide maybe we prefer to buy a pie. Maybe we decide to try our recipe out on different people and get more feedback. Or, instead of making a pie, it’s salad in the future. The choice is ours to make. The more awareness we have about where we are choosing to focus our attention, the more empowered we are to make decisions that resonate authentically.
And, for myself, I prefer the empowerment of an Internal Locus of Control.