One of the most important things for good mental and emotional health is to feel as though you have some control in your life. We all want to feel like we can improve our lives, our relationships, and our careers by putting in some effort. If it seems that we have no control in our lives, helplessness and depression soon follow. Yet, even in the most difficult times in our lives, if we identify ways that we can enact control (even in a small amount), we can feel empowered and hopeful.
So, what is one to do when the thing you most want seems out of your control? I want my coworkers to be friendly to me. I want to work in a cooperative environment instead of a competitive one. I want my work to be appreciated. I want my significant other to recognize the effort I am putting in to our relationship. I want my kids to say please and thank you. And so on. Waiting for someone or something else to provide the essential element you desire can be frustrating. On top of this, expecting others to act first and simply waiting for them to respond can breed resentment and anger.
One of the best ways to change this dynamic is to give the essential element that you wish to receive. If I want my coworkers to be friendly toward me (something I cannot control), I can decide to be friendly to them first and consistently. If my workplace environment could use some lightheartedness, I can try to bring the comedic element. If I am feeling unappreciated by my significant other, I can decide to communicate my appreciation for them without expecting it in return. Instead of waiting to be lifted up, I can use my words and actions to lift others up.
This will do a few things:
- Increase your sense of control: By choosing to act (and not wait for others to act), you remind yourself that you have power. You can change your situation and influence others.
- Help to put things in perspective: When we recognize what it is that we want from others, and recognize how we can positively influence others around us, many times our desires seem less important than the contribution we can make to those around us.
- Shift from passive to active: Hoping and waiting for others to make a change to our environments or relationships is a passive stance. Finding ways to bring about the change you desire is an active stance. Being in an active stance can help you see other areas of your work and personal life where you can have a positive effect.
- Desperation is replaced with assertiveness: When we are passively waiting for others to meet our needs, desperation can start to creep in if we are waiting for a while, or if our needs are significant. Assuming an active role in our relationships with others will increase our assertiveness, can improve our communications, and diminish our feelings of desperation.
- Being an example sets a tone: A tone in the environment (at work or in your personal relationships) is set by those who exemplify that tone. A change in the tone can start when just one person exemplifies that change.
- Reveal a bigger picture: Despite the importance of the essential elements you desire in your work and relationships, putting your desires on hold to help others will allow you to see how everyone’s needs and everyone’s abilities to help each other all fit into a bigger picture. Your role in your community becomes clearer. Your needs and desires become clearer. Your ability to influence others becomes clearer.
Every work environment and relationship is different; therefore, each situation will require a specific response. In some instances, when the dynamics are dangerous or abusive, the best example you can be to others is to model good boundaries. This might involve leaving that environment all together, instead of attempting to change it internally. Evaluate your situation, ask trusted friends for advice, and make the best decision for your situation.
Shawn Healy, PhD