Whether I am working with a leader in a large corporation or a small business owner the issue of too many priorities is a constant. Leaders and teams in organizations of all sizes feel like their lives are out of control – both personally and professionally.
This sense of lacking control causes stress, energy drain and paralysis. It leads to an inability to concentrate, problem solve or execute on strategies – not to mention a lack of happiness. In fact, several studies have linked happiness to a sense of control over one’s circumstances.
The truth of the matter is there is much in our lives that is outside our control or even our influence. And only a few things that are truly within our control – namely our thoughts, reactions and actions. The bottom line is, our sense of control is largely determined by where we focus.
Here is a process that I use to helps teams and leaders I coach to regain a sense of control and regain their ability to problem solve, innovate and create new and better solutions.
1. Label the emotion. When you feel out of control, label the emotion that you are feeling. Emotions reside in the primitive part of our brain that does not have language. Giving the emotion a label engages our executive brain – the part of our brain that can communicate and problem solve.
2. Acknowledge what is crummy about the situation. Or as my friend, colleague and fellow Plaid For Women Blogger Rebecca Liston says, “Acknowledge the suckage.” The trick here is to acknowledge what stinks without getting sucked into the abyss. This means allowing yourself (or your team) only a limited amount of time focusing here. When I work with leaders and their teams I have them spend about five minutes writing down everything that concerns them or they don’t like about a situation. Once an exhaustive list has been developed, I ask them to take the piece of paper, fold it up neatly and tuck it away somewhere. I don’t have people wad up the piece of paper and throw it away because the issues and concerns are real. It is not realistic to completely discard them. However, it is not resourceful to focus our attention here. Taking the time to acknowledge and put on paper the negative aspects of the situation releases our brain to focus elsewhere. It is as if our brain feels like it has been heard.
3. Get very clear on your goal or desired outcome. What specifically is it that you want or that you are trying to accomplish? Being clear on what you want is a critical aspect of regaining your sense of control.
4. Identify what you can influence or control. On a separate piece of paper write down those things that are under your control or within your influence. Author Stephen Covey referred to this as your Circle of Influence. This is where it is most beneficial to focus our attention.
5. Maintain a focus on the present. Whether the present is an hour, a day, a week or a month will vary by situation. The goal is to stay grounded in the here and now. Projecting potential negative outcomes too far into the future is not resourceful. What we are talking about here is the age-old adage, “Take one day at a time.”
6. Identify specific action steps. What are the specific actions that you can take right now to move you towards your goal or desired outcome?
I often tell people blinders (the kind horses wear) are a beautiful thing. You can use metaphorical blinders to keep your focus on those things you can control or influence, while placing those issues, concerns or problems that are outside your Circle of Influence out of view.