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Paths to Personal Power
by Dr. Beverly Potter

Burnout victims experience a sense of powerlessness at work and feel helpless to change it.  Feeling emotionally and professionally impotent, motivation dwindles, which leads to poor performance, decreased self-confidence,  increased conflicts, and chronic stress - all of which cycle back to further dampen motivation. Immobilization is the result.

When you feel you have no control over events in your life, motivation to continue performing decreases and burnout results.

The burnout victim is physically able to work and enjoy doing so. It's not a matter of ability to perform. Interest is gone, enjoyment is empty, life is drudgery. The burnout victim is inoperable - a sophisticated computer unplugged, with the energy source turned off. Burnout is a malaise of the spirit.

What is Personal Power?

Personal power, the capability to influence the world around you in the ways you desire, is the opposite of helplessness, which causes burnout. Personal power is empowering and combats burnout. Personal power is a feeling of I-Can-Do -- a belief that you can act to control your work. While we have little control over other people, we do have control over ourselves - something we tend to forget when we're feeling helpless. We can move, walk, decide, choose, look at things from different perspectives, set goals, and learn skills. Numerous capabilities lie dormant in each person, waiting to be developed. As we develop our capabilities, we gain a sense of mastery and control.
Personal power is a feeling of I-Can-Do --
a belief that you can act to control your work.
A Sense of Control
The experience of mastery changes everything. Because striving for mastery focuses your attention on areas in which you are skilled, a sense of confidence and being in command of yourself develops. Building personal power comes from developing your capabilities, your powers. It means learning how to get what you need. To the extent you are able to do this, you are powerful. You feel in command.  You become a winner because you can make a plan of action and carry it out.  You refuel yourself with a sense of accomplishment
Personal power, skills that render you in control of yourself and what happens to you, insulates you from the negative effects of many work situations.
Making the decision to take command and direct your life is the first and most difficult step to developing personal power.  It is here that you may become ambivalent.  Rebelling against control may be so much a part of you that when you attempt to take command of yourself, you rebel blindly.  This can start a pattern of self-punishment, which reaffirms fears of being controlled.


PATH 1: Managing Yourself

Effective self-management requires knowledge and skill.  You probably acquired your self-managing skills informally, from parents and teachers.  Consequently, you may not manage yourself effectively.  Properly done, self-management increases your personal power because you can create situations in which you can give yourself the "wins" you need to sustain high motivation.
PATH 2: Managing Stress
It is important to know how your body and psyche function and which situations trigger your stress responses. This understanding can be used to raise and lower your tension level as needed.  Personal power comes in knowing that, although you may not like the difficult situations, you CAN handle them.  Such feelings enable you to rise to the occasion and to handle difficulties skillfully rather than by avoiding problem situations.
PATH 3: Building a Support System
A strong social support system made up of family, friends and co-workers help buffer you against the negative effects of stress.  People with strong social support systems tend to be healthier and live longer.  It's vitally important that you take active measures to build and maintain your support system.
PATH 4: Developing Skills
Inevitably, you will encounter situations requiring skills you've not yet developed.  Personal power comes from knowing how to arrange learning situations for yourself.  When you know how to acquire the skills you need, you'll have confidence to tackle new challenges and handle the unexpected.
PATH 5: Modifying Your Job
Almost every job has some leeway for tailoring it to better fit your work style.  Jobs are elastic, not fixed. The ability to mesh a job to your style increases feelings of potency and enjoyment of work.
PATH 6: Changing Jobs
Sometimes the best solution is to change jobs.  Too often, however, burnout victims quit an unsatisfactory job without analyzing the source of dissatisfaction or exploring what is needed, and grab the next job that comes along.  Sometimes the new job is as bad as, or even worse, than the old one.  Personal power comes in knowing what you need in a job and how to go out and get it.
PATH 7: Managing Your Thoughts
Sometimes your emotions may seem out of your control.  If so, you may be a victim of runaway thinking and not knowing how to curb your thoughts, you respond to every red flag waved before you.  Personal power comes in knowing how to empty your mind of negative chatter so that you can focus on the moment and the challenges at hand.
PATH 8: Developing Detached Concern
Detached concern is a higher-order level of mental control in which personal power is gained by letting go.  This is particularly important for those who work with people having serious or even impossible problems.  It is the attachment to your notions of how things ought to be than can imprison you and make you feel helpless.  As with the Chinese finger puzzle, it's only when you stop pulling and instead push your fingers further into the holder that you can break loose.

Copyright 1994: Beverly A. Potter, From "Finding a Path with a Heart: How to Go from Burnout to Bliss" by Dr. Beverly Potter, RONIN.  This file may be downloaded for individual use.  Any other transmission or reprinting requires permission of the author or publisher.  All Rights Reserved.

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