Personal Power: Use it or Lose it (Part 2)

What are you measuring?

What are you measuring?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us” – Marianne Williamson , Founder of the Peace Alliance

What are your personal metrics? In other words, what cues do you use to decide whether you feel good, happy or satisfied?

In the past, my yardstick measured affirmation from others (attention, compliments, or affection) as my litmus test for feeling good. If others were interested in me or attended to me, then I felt good. If not, I wondered what was wrong with me. One of the many problems with this iceberg belief is that how I felt each day depended on others. Also, this belief subconsciously assumed a zero-sum gain: if someone else got attention, it meant that they were more deserving than I was, and there was less love for me. Harold Kushner, author of How Good Do We Have to Be? states that this belief is really what the Bible refers to as original sin.

This mindset is reminiscent of the hedonic treadmill. The hedonic treadmill refers to the never-ending need to have stuff that is nicer than the last. We get a short burst of pleasure from some treat, gift or luxury, but that soon wears off and the next gift has to be even nicer. All that luxury actually has us feeling worse in the end. Though the attention may not necessarily need to get better each time, using material goods and affirmation as our yardsticks creates emotional downward spirals if we must look outward for our sense of well-being.

Negative emotions themselves are also potentially downward spirals. Focusing on blame, criticism, judgment (whether of self or others), fear, resentment, and anger are degenerative and creates more negative emotion. Emotions can develop a life of their own, potentially consuming us and those around us.   The more I ruminate or complain to others, the more those emotions grow, making it harder recover. When I’m consumed by negative emotion, my problem solving ability and productivity plummet. Treating others well becomes nearly impossible.   To the degree that I’m infecting others with my negativity, I am also impairing their ability to do their job or to cultivate their own positive emotions or relationships. I’m a real sweetheart, aren’t I?

Positive emotions have the opposite effect. Joy, gratitude, curiosity, interest, amusement, love, contentment, and forgiveness are generative and synergistic. We feel there is ample good feeling to share and we plant that positive emotion growing in others. When I’m filled with positive emotion, I feel creative and generous and I want to share it with those around me.

But sometimes that positive emotion just feels inaccessible. We’re too busy. We’re too stressed. We’re too angry. You can’t imagine how I’m treated here!

Here’s where our personal power comes into play. Though you may not be able to control how you feel, you can manage your feelings. If you manage (or fail to manage) your feelings in a manner that feeds negative emotion, then your power becomes degenerative as you create that downward spiral in yourself and others. The opposite is true too; if you notice and feed your positive emotion, you grow your positive power for you and those around you.

It is indeed a fearsome and awesome power. Think about the power of Gandhi or Mother Teresa, and how their inner world transformed the world. Think about the power of Hitler, and his inner world on the course of history. We are no different. We can either manage our feelings to produce Light, or we can succumb and create Darkness. Our decision to manage our power and Light is always there, whether we choose to acknowledge and own it, or not.

In the first blog on personal power, I shared my Aha moments when I discovered my personal power. I think all of these realizations are related to using perspective to find the Light.  Instead of seeking affirmation, now my personal yardstick involves how well I am managing these positive and negative emotions. Did I notice, nurture, savor and share my positive emotion? Did I steer negative feelings into constructive action, improved perspective or personal growth? Staying focused on positive emotion allows me to feel good all day, but also to perform at my best in all of my roles and relationships. Now that’s a powerful yardstick.