What one thing would you change in your life if you thought you could?
Would you shake off a self-destructive or expensive habit? Conquer a shortcoming that leaves you embarrassed or insecure? Transform an aggravating or frustrating relationship?
Those situations may leave you feeling powerless, as if they will never change… but what if you aren’t powerless? If you could change that situation, would you do it?
Knowledge is power. Often attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, this phrase has unlimited application.
Knowledge provided by Hubble’s telescope allows scientists to discover new worlds. Information about DNA invites doctors to see links and find cures. Data captured by security cameras makes it easier to identify and prosecute criminals.
Knowledge is power, but is it also true that a lack of knowledge implies a lack of power? Political leaders throughout history believe it does.
In Hitler’s Germany, books were confiscated and burned. In present day China, information about the June 4, 1989, uprising in Tiananmen Square is still suppressed. The presence of fact checkers in U.S. Presidential politics supports the belief that manipulated or limited knowledge affects the outcome of elections.
So knowledge is power on a large scale in science, law enforcement, and politics. But what happens on a smaller scale when we make it personal? Is what we discover when looking inward instead of outward still powerful? If it is, how do we find that knowledge, and how can we use it?
Self-knowledge is Power
For decades we have known the impact of self-esteem on mental health and maturity. While I embrace the need for each of us to see ourselves clearly and to accept what we find when we look in the mirror, we may have gone too far.
To protect young or fragile egos, we often take self-awareness only as far as acknowledgment. We see our flaws and accept them: I am who I am. Or perhaps we blame others for what we find: I am my mother’s daughter. Either option fails to help us take the next all important step: from self-awareness to self-leadership.
Granted, some limitations must be accepted. For me, that might be my freckles and short stature. But others, like my impatience, short temper, or fear of failure, have been accepted (or allowed) for far too long.
What do you need to accept about yourself and what would you prefer to change?
Harness Your Power
Last month in What’s Behind That? I offered one way to develop self-awareness, the foundational element of Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ). The next step is putting that information to work, or harnessing the power of self-knowledge to lead yourself in a good direction. Let’s consider three ways to apply self-leadership: personally, professionally, and relationally. In each area we’ll ask these questions:
- What can you learn?
- How might you use that information?
- What is the cost of doing nothing?
What can you learn: Consider a habit or behavior that you’d like to change. Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and environment when you catch yourself in that same old pattern. When you are tempted, angry, or uncomfortable ask: why am I feeling this way? What else is going on? Investigate. Notice.
Using what you learn: How can you plan to avoid those conditions in the future? For example, you may realize:
- That you need more sleep to perform at your best
- That you get hangry 4 hours after breakfast
- That you tend to put off and occasionally forget to pay bills.
With this knowledge you can plan ahead and avoid problems:
- Check the calendar in the evening and go to bed earlier if tomorrow is a busy day.
- Pack a snack and schedule meetings after lunch instead of before.
- Automate paying as many bills as possible to avoid late fees.
This is not rocket science. It’s a simple step that we often fail to take. What do you know about your habits, patterns, and physical needs? How can you use that information to plan ahead? Keeping a journal may help you recognize subtle patterns.
The cost of doing nothing: Repeatedly fighting the same old battles. Less confidence, more unnecessary frustration.
Personal knowledge gives you power to create a more comfortable life.
What can you learn: In your professional life, becoming self-aware includes identifying strengths, weaknesses, leadership and learning styles, and more. This type of knowledge is found in personality assessments, performance reviews, or peer feedback.
Using what you learn: Delegate or communicate when tasks don’t fit you well, or seek additional training for the skills you lack. Read or listen to books on leadership, productivity, or communication. As you change and grow, make a habit of asking for feedback so you can continue to improve.
Don’t wait for an annual review. Be proactive.
The cost of doing nothing: Underperforming or changing jobs. More stress, less confidence and satisfaction.
Personal knowledge provides power to boost your career.
What can you learn: Consider a relationship that you’d like to improve. Where is it weak? What patterns do you notice in the way you communicate? How do you handle disagreements? How honestly can you share your thoughts? Online personality assessments can be useful in understanding differences. Counseling may help you discover and heal the root of these patterns.
Using what you learn: Adjust your approach and assumptions. If your communication skills are weak, learn how to share deeply and listen supportively. Prepare in advance for difficult conversations. Establish boundaries. Stay calm and engaged. Coaches can help you pick up and practice these skills.
For too long my husband and I limped through our marriage and struggled to talk, fighting about or trying to ignore our differences. Those challenges weakened and nearly broke our relationship. Today we can speak freely. We accept, respect, and love each other. We used online assessments, self-help books, counseling, coaching, and prayer. The knowledge we gained from those tools gave us the power to repair and rebuild.
How can you create healthier, more fulfilling relationships?
The cost of doing nothing: Weak or broken marriages. Avoiding rather than enjoying family. Shallow friendships.
Personal knowledge enables you to communicate and strengthen relationships.
Power for a Better Life
Knowledge is power, self-knowledge is powerful, and avoiding the inner journey of self-discovery comes at a price.
It’s your choice. You are not powerless.
What one thing will you change to create a better life?
Next month: To judge, tolerate, accept, or love? That is the question.