I’ve been advised to persist all of my life. Hard work and a never-give-up attitude are the ingredients for success.
Yet for everyone who champions willpower and determination, there is a counterpart declaring, “I should have done something else.” Almost everyone I know harbors a number of personal and career regrets. Many an opportunity is missed when under the spell of persistence.
Therefore, I’m going to take a risk and tell you that there are times when a goal or an entire vision should be scrapped. This mandate may sound counter to the motivational concepts popular today. I believe in the power of goals. I also believe that if the wind is about to topple your ship, it’s time to change course. And when your child begs for attention, your ulcers scream for Mylanta, and everyone is telling you to give it a rest, heed the signals. A change of heart can save your heart, emotionally and physically.
How do you know when to dig in your heels or take flight? The Energy Allocation Exercise will help you make decisions. You can use it when facing a major issue or when you find yourself frustrated by a particular person or situation. Remember, moving on isn’t always a matter of giving up. Rather, it’s making conscious choices as to how to best divvy up your most precious resources — time, stamina, and the ability to create.
Step 1. Divide a sheet of paper in half. Label the left side “Can’t Control” and the right, “Can Control.” Now think about the specific goal you’re struggling to achieve.
Step 2. Under “Can’t Control,” list the aspects of the situation that you’re unable to change. Be honest with yourself. If the person’s mind you are trying to alter or the people guarding the policy you’re trying to revise haven’t budged in months, it’s safe to say you’re wasting your time.
Step 3. In the “Can Control” column, list the aspects that are within your power to affect. Include yourself–your willingness to deal with the situation, your mindset and attitude, and the emotions that you need to feel so you can shift out of complaining and into action. Include everything within your “response-ability.”
Also, reconsider the items listed in the first column. Maybe these people and situations are not within your power to change. However, is there anything you can do to influence them? Can you ask someone to attend a meeting so you can participate in a critical discussion or make a phone call to someone in power to suggest a policy revision? Can you ask someone to have lunch with you, to take a moment to listen to your ideas? If the person you are struggling with got a phone call from you where you said, “I’m sorry,” would anything change? If you could say or do anything that would have a positive effect on the situation, add these items to your “Can Control” column.
Step 4. Return to column one, your “Can’t Control” list. How much energy do you put into these items, including complaining or worrying about them? These are your Dead Horses. You need to quit putting energy into what you can’t control. I see so many people screaming at the agents at the airport when they can’t make the plane arrive any sooner. If you put any energy into what you can’t control, you are “kicking a dead horse” and banging your head against the wall unnecessarily. You can kick your dead horses all you want, but they won’t budge. It may take time to bury a dead horse, but you’ll feel better when it’s over.
Are there any items you can release? Can you let go of the need to change something that you have no control over? Place a check mark next to each item you want to detach from your thoughts. How can you release what you can’t control, which means freeing it from your mind? This doesn’t mean giving up. When you can finally let your manager’s insensitive remarks roll off your back and accept your spouse’s preference for getting ready at the last minute, you’ve disengaged from the struggle. Quit banging your head against the wall. Open your arms and let the difficulty fly away. The energy you’ll liberate can then be better placed.
Please don’t think that I’m saying it’s easy to abandon a cause. Letting go of something that you’ve deemed important is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. However, trying to ride a dead horse in the name of justice can sometimes mean losing ground in a relationship or negatively affecting your career advancement. Heed the wisdom of George Bernard Shaw who said, “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
Step 5. Review the right column, your “Can Control” list. Which of these items are you working on now? Are there any you can commit to doing or beginning today? Place a check mark next to each item you will activate immediately. This is where you should expend your energy. Few excuses justify inaction in this column. If you feel trapped or helpless, direct your energy to where you can take charge.
Do you know why you’re not doing something you can do? When you don’t choose to change what you can, you’re susceptible to becoming a victim subject to the control of others. There’s a Yiddish proverb that says, “No choice is a choice too.” Inaction is a choice. When you ask yourself why you aren’t making the changes that are within your control, listen carefully to your answers. In the Bible, Job said, “Whe
n I defend myself, my own mouth defeats me.” Few excuses justify procrastination.
It only takes five minutes of bravery today to be stronger than you were yesterday. Many people who feel trapped or helpless would feel better if they took the first step, no matter how small it is, to change. Check the items off your Can’t Control List and set goals, intentions and steps to focus on what you Can Control.
Complete the Energy Allocation Exercise regularly. Over time you should find a greater sense of inner power with less anger and frustration. A healthy supply of energy is needed for success.