The power problem

There's a power problem in self development circles. The problem is this: powerful experiences (experiences that make a strong impact on you) are not always experiences that give you power (the ability to do something or to influence others to do something). In the heat of an experience, it is too easy to believe that feeling power is the same as having power. It's not.

What does give you power? It begins with purpose. People who know what they are trying to accomplish have more power than people who don't know what they want. That seems obvious. What is less obvious is that people may know what they want in a given situation without necessarily knowing what they want in other situations. Purpose is less a thing and more a process of continually evaluating your situation against your values and deciding on how your big-picture goals guide your behaviour over and over again.
© Can Stock Photo / alphaspirit
Next, power requires skill: people who have developed a skill have more power (they can do more under more conditions) in the context where that skill is appropriate. Power is not  general: it is context-driven. You have power when you know you can do what needs to be done. That means you need to develop power over time by practicing a skill or a skillset until you know it so well that it becomes flexible and reliable.

Finally, power usually requires empathy. This doesn't mean that it involves being nice to people (although that would be great). It means that the power to make things happen often involves being able to predict what other people will do. The shortest route to accurate predictions is empathy, the ability to understand what other people are feeling, since those feelings are drivers of behaviour. Empathy allows you to identify the people who have the motivation and resourcefulness to get the results that serve your purpose.

If you want to feel powerful, you can simply remember a time when you had an experience that gave you an adrenaline rush. Your body will instantly feel the boost that comes with adrenaline and you will feel powerful. But the behaviours fuelled by an adrenaline rush are mostly limited to fast, strong physical behaviours. That might not be what you need to lead a meeting or negotiate chores with your children. There are many situations where raw, physical energy is of limited use.

If you want to be powerful, you need to practice knowing what you want, having the skill to make it happen, and having the empathy to engage others so that you can use their strengths to supplement your own and get the results you want.


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