America once again celebrated its independence this week, so I decided to base this week’s post on the same topic. Just as a sovereign nation becoming independent of foreign rule is something to be celebrated, each of us individually must also strive for and indeed celebrate our independence. Although we all sooner or later find ourselves declaring our independence from those who raised us, as we develop the ability to care for ourselves, our success and fulfillment in life is often hindered because we remain dependent on hidden factors that rob us of our right to exercise “the last of the human freedoms” as Victor Frankl put it. This freedom, he said, was “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” no matter what was happening.
One way that I explain this in my leadership development discussions is that Transformative Leaders have their “ABC’s” in order. They choose their Attitude, which then influences their Behavior and ultimately creates their desired Circumstances (A > B > C), as opposed to the default mode of letting their Circumstances dictate their Behavior, which will then determine their Attitude (C > B > A). In this way, Transformative Leaders refuse to be at the mercy of their circumstances, and instead of playing the victim, create the world they want to see rather than the default one they find themselves presented with.
Dr. Stephen R. Covey explains in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that “proactive people use the margin of freedom to make choices that best apply their values.” In other words, to truly be proactive, one must choose one’s response to the circumstances, rather than simply react based on the emotions involved in the situation. While this is a perfectly reasonable argument, practicing such proactive mindset and behavior requires an understanding of the forces that derail our progress in developing the habit of being proactive.
In today’s post, I’d like to propose eight factors that one must be aware of, and consciously declare our independence from to design and live our best lives:
1. The need for certainty – Nothing transformative has ever been achieved by calculating everything ahead of time to ensure success beyond a shadow of a doubt. If you already know exactly how to achieve your goal and you feel success is certain, then you are probably pursuing a change, not a transformation. This is not to say there is anything wrong with analyzing the situation and strategizing on the best path forward, but don’t let the legitimate activity of doing your due diligence turn into analysis paralysis. Has your need for certainty held you back from taking a bold step in the direction of making something extraordinary happen? If so, you must declare your independence from this need to experience a breakthrough.
2. The need to be right – There is no question that there is a certain satisfaction in being right, but our need to win every argument, no matter how gratifying it may feel for a moment, eventually causes others to hold back on offering us honest feedback or information that may be vital to our success. Would others around you characterize you as someone who has an excessive need to be right? If so, you must let go of your dependence on this need in a visible and noticeable way.
3. The need for approval – I am a huge advocate of collaboration and practicing interdependence, as opposed to just being the proverbial bull in a china shop, operating without any care or concern for how others around us feel or think. However, I believe there is a difference between exercising a healthy dose of empathy and being so concerned about making sure that every move is popular or accepted by everyone. The former empowers you and others to work together toward a common vision, but the latter sets you up to be hesitant to fully express your views and to be all in with taking bold actions that carry some amount of social risk. Has your need to be in touch with others’ feelings and opinions crossed the line into the need to be liked and approved of by everyone? If so, this dependency is keeping you from living your best life and you must let it go.
4. Your expectations of how much progress you should have made by now – We live in a world where we expect instant gratification. We lead a sedentary lifestyle for years and wonder why we are unhealthy, and then we go on a diet or exercise for two weeks and wonder why we haven’t lost 10 pounds yet! Worthwhile goals often take time to achieve and our need to see immediate results often derails the very effort that will keep us on track to eventually achieve those goals. As someone once put it, “The longer you are willing to practice, the sooner you will see results.” Have you given up on pursuing a worthy goal simply because you were disappointed with the short-term results? If so, give up your dependence on your expectations and stay the course on your commitments.
5. Past successes – The rapid rate of change in just about every aspect of our lives requires us to constantly adapt. What worked yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow. Celebrate your past successes and learn from them, but don’t expect that they will automatically translate into future successes. Success isn’t like a car, where you just press the gas once and go as far as you want. Rather, success is kind of like a bicycle, in that, if you want to keep moving forward, you have to keep pedaling, and if you stop pedaling, you stop moving. Have you been hoping that your past successes will continue to bear fruit without any effort on your part to improve the way you approach your personal and professional pursuits? If that is you, please consider that what got you here will not get you to where you want to go, and let go of your dependence on your past successes as the key to achieving future ones.
6. Past failures – Failures are inevitable parts of any transformative journey. If you haven’t failed, then you haven’t tried. If you are up to something worthwhile, sooner and later you will experience failure, and it is up to you to decide what you do with it. Learning from it and incorporating the lessons in your future decisions is wise, but crossing the line and making your failures mean something about you and allowing them to make you overly cautious and hesitant will keep you from living your best life. Are you using your past failures as an excuse for inaction? If that is you, it is time to extract the legitimate lessons from the past and declare yourself independent of the rest of the baggage you have been carrying.
7. Fatalism – While it is prudent to carefully consider one’s shortcomings in creating a winning strategy, our views of our limitations are often distorted and overly exaggerated by our belief in some genetic, psychological, or environmental determinism. In other words, our limiting thoughts about what we are capable of achieving based on the traits we believe we inherited or the way we were raised, or the limitations that our circumstances place on us. The end result of this fatalism is that we end up creating self-fulfilling prophecies of vicious cycles that we don’t believe we can ever escape from, and we trap ourselves in a prison that exists only in our minds. Remember that, as Henry Ford put it, “If you think you can or you can’t, you are right.” If you have made assumptions about what is possible and what you deserve or could accomplish, it is time you examine these assumptions with the help of a coach or a confidant and declare yourself independent of these self-fulfilling prophecies that no longer serve you.
8. Things outside of one’s circle of influence – The time and energy we spend thinking and talking about things that are outside of our control keep us from focusing on the few things we actually can do to influence those things we do have control over. This is not to say you should just accept the status quo, but rather channel your efforts into the few things you can do to influence those priorities. As Shakespeare put it, “Things without all remedy are to be without regard.” Have you been complaining and getting frustrated about things that are outside of your control? If so, it is time to declare your independence from your complaints and step back and strategize about the few things you can do to influence the decision makers.
I hope that you will identify a few of the above factors that have been causing you to react—as opposed to be proactive—in the direction of designing and living an extraordinary life. Go to work on practicing your own independence, so you can think and act in a way that serves you and the people who will benefit from your relentless pursuit of your worthy goals.
About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.
As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!
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