Working on Self

When things are going well in our lives, everyone is happy, people get along well, and there are no conflicts because everything seems to be working well. When things get challenging (because life is difficult), our response is what determines our true character. It is what separates the proactive people from the reactive ones. More often than not, during these difficult situations, we tend to find fault with others or blame them for our situations or ourselves when we face problems in our lives regardless of whether its their fault or not.

When things are not going our way, it’s easy to point fingers at others and blame them for our difficult/problematic situations. This could be a minor everyday situation or it could be a major event in life.

During these difficult times, we may find ourselves complaining, criticizing, condemning, and being cynical. We might talk negatively about people in their absence, which is the antithesis of building trust. What we forget is that none of these activities will help improve our quality of life. Even though we might feel “better” in the moment because we have gotten it out of our “system”, so to speak, that moment is short-lived and we’ll quickly return to feeling regretful about it (more on this below).

For instance, we might have an annoying boss at work, but talking negatively about them (in their absence) won’t improve our situation one bit. We are not doing ourselves any favors; we are only making our situation worse and are reducing our influence in our network. The only way to influence them is by working on ourselves.

Regardless of what other people do, only we control our response and reaction, and that determines our character and integrity. In any situation (especially difficult/conflicting), it is always our response that hurts us more than the situation itself.

To give you another example, in times of conflicts (especially in our interpersonal relationships), we blame our partners for what they said or did in the past. We let our egos get in the way of our relationships, and the moment we start pointing finger at others, we have crossed over from being proactive to reactive. At that point, it’s not about us any more because we’ve made it about the other person and what they should have said or done in the past. We forget that our response is our choice and our responsiblity. Also, note that blaming the other person does not abdicate us of our responsibility.

Another example: during times of poor market conditions, we may act helpless and reactive. We may blame the market for our poor business performance, but we forget that the market is what it is. We can’t change it. At the same time, we are not doing ourselves any favors by complaining about it. The question becomes: what are we going to do despite the poor market conditions? Focus on that answer. Blaming the market for poor conditions is simply our excuse for not doing the work. It’s easy to abdicate ourselves of responsibility that way.

All this to say that we need to work on ourselves to improve our situation. We can’t expect others to change. Whenever we think the problem is “out there”, that thought itself is the problem. The problem is never out there, but within. Only by working on ourselves (instead of worrying about our situation) are we able to influence our situation. We only have full control over ourselves.

Here are some ways to improve ourselves and, ultimately, our situations:

In any situation, we always focus on what we can do. We can either change things or accept them and move on. Understand the difference between the two. Either way, complaining about things is not an option. This reminds me of the Mark Twain quote, which I paraphrase, “everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it”.

Any time we find ourselves complaining about what others are doing and what they should be doing instead, stop immediately. The problem is us, not them. For instance, if you think people are calling you too frequently, the problem is not them but you. You’ve not clarified with them what they should be doing and what is considered acceptable. Even if you did, it’s possible that they might still call you. Regardless, you need to learn to stop making other peoples’ problems your own. Remember, you can’t change others, but you can teach them how to “behave” with you.

For instance, when you’re having problems in your relationships, you have to go back to your self. What can you do to improve your relationship/situation? What can you do to be a better partner, friend, colleague, etc.? There is always something you can do to improve any situation. Hopefully, the other person will see your positive intention (and action) and respond likewise. Even if they don’t, you ought to know better. Your response cannot be dependent on their response.

Never argue for other people’s weaknesses or for your own. When you make a mistake, admit it, correct it, and learn from it — immediately. Furthermore, learn to look at others’ weaknesses with compassion. Focus on making their weaknesses irrelevant by compensating them with your strengths. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. That is a choice only proactive people can make.

While reactive people focus their efforts on the weaknesses of other people, the problems in the environment, and the circumstances over which they have no control, proactive people focus their efforts on things they can change. They also choose to see the good in any situation, and that is a choice only they can make.

It’s hard to practice proaction in difficult situations, but it’s precisely the time that we need to practice it the most. Remember, it’s not about what others are doing (or not doing), but our chosen response to any situation that matters most. Our ability to make choices can never be taken away; it can only be surrendered. As Covey says, it is we, who are responsible for our own effectiveness, our own happiness, and ultimately for most of our circumstances.

Another thing we can do in our everyday situations is learn to pause before our responses. Remember, our response is not dependent on others’ response, especially when others are being reactive. We know better because we are a person of high character and integrity.

There are times in our relationships when we are hurt by things other people say. In those instances, the best thing we can do is listen to them, understand them, and empathize with them. We need to be at peace with ourselves because it’s likely that it’s more about them than us. We also need to learn to extend ourselves to take the “pain”, forgive the other person, and move on.

Regardless of the case, when you realize that the problem is always within, you start looking at things differently. You stop blaming others for things. Instead, you forgive them (in your mind) and move on. You become proactive and realize that no matter what the other person does, your response is always your choice and responsibility, and because you’re a person of integrity, you know better than to react to others. You always focus on what you can do to improve the situation at hand. If/when there’s nothing you can do, you accept it and move on. Either way, you’re not complaining. You also pick your battles — not every situation is worth fighting for or delving deeper into. You know better than that.

The problem, so to speak, is never “out there”, but always within. Thinking that the problem is out there is precisely the problem. No matter what our situation, we always come back to self. That is a choice only proactive people can make. You can either do something about the situation in your life or you can accept it and move on. Stop wasting your time and energy on people and things that drain you. It’s pointless arguing with people who have no authority or who can’t do anything for you.

We need to work on ourselves to improve our situation with others because that is all we have full control over. We can’t change others (nor should we try). That is the only way of influencing our situation and network in the long term.

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