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Our lives are the sum of the choices we make. When you are presented with the opportunity to choose, choose thoughtfully.

The Power of Control

It's not what happens to us. It's how we react to it.

One of the most powerful theories of human performance is a model developed by Albert Ellis, founder of the Albert Ellis Institute. He proposed, based on the observations of such influential thinkers as the philosopher Epictetus (who said, "Men are not influenced by things, but by their thoughts about things"), that our emotional state isn't determined as much by what happens to us as it is by how we react to what happens to us. He also proposed that there are more constructive and less constructive reactions. To "awfulize" things, or say they shouldn't be the way they are and become anxious or depressed as a result of those events, is ineffectual and unnecessary. There are alternatives and we have the ability to choose them.

For example, suppose you lose a big sale. You could become distressed and let that distract you from your future actions. Or you could be disappointed but relatively quickly move beyond that disappointment and even learn from what happened. You have the choice; people who move ahead move beyond disappointment. What usually holds people back in this type of situation is not competence, but attitude. The wrong attitude can keep you from getting the sale.

Here is one of the great lessons I've learned. We always have a choice about how to react to a situation. When I look back at the people I worked for, I remember some managers who knew how to manage and some who didn't. When I worked for the people who managed well, people who explained what they wanted and gave autonomy and trusted me to do my job, I responded with my best work. When I worked for managers who criticized, played games, or played favorites, I found it hard to maintain that same level of commitment or performance. Why would the same person respond so differently in these two situations? Part of it was that so much of how I viewed myself was tied up in who I was on the job.

What I've learned by reflecting on those types of situations is that there are ways to make the best of a bad situation. Here are my suggestions for doing that.

  • Use better interpersonal skills to encourage better relationships.

  • Consider the boss to be your client and seek to meet his or her requirements, no matter how difficult they may be.

  • Separate yourself from your job. Your value as a person doesn't depend on your job performance. If your job performance is good, be glad about it. If it needs improvement, be confident and seek to improve it. Don't let someone else's evaluation of your performance, whether good or bad, affect your evaluation of yourself as a person.

The danger in circumstances such as these is fear rooted in past experiences. If you can keep yourself from activating those fears in the first place, you can have better control over your perception of the situation. One of the things you can do when you find yourself in situations that remind you of times when you weren't at your best is to think about times when you were. Instead of dwelling on how you ran into problems, recall those times when you overcame problems. You have a choice about what to think, so why not think about something positive?

Make a Choice: Better or Bitter

I heard a woman say one time after she had lived through a terrible experience that she knew that she could get either better or bitter from it. When you are faced with a similar situation, try to remember that the choice is yours. Holding on to bitterness doesn't change the situation for the better. Getting better does. Taking positive action does.

Don't Hold Grudges

Grudges take a tremendous amount of energy. They take your focus off more constructive efforts. In a business setting, they will diminish or destroy your ability to function effectively and will close off future opportunities. Why? Grudges are infectious to you and the people around you, so people try to avoid the combatants. Instead of holding on to a grudge, let go. Move on. There are many ways you can choose to let go. However you decide to do it, you will be a better person for it. You will be looking toward the future, not living in the past. You will find your energy level restored. And you will feel excited about your renewed outlook.

Choose Your Boss Wisely

Think twice about the person you choose to work for, if you are given a choice in the matter. No one in the workplace will ever have as much influence over your success as does the person you work for.

I wish I had known a long time ago what I know now about how important it is to think about the person you work for. I have worked for a dozen or so different people. Of those dozen, about three quarters of them were good to work for. Several were really good to work for. And then there were three people I should have known more about before I went to work for them. The jobs I went into were good, but in these cases I wasn't well matched with the person I worked for.

You are the person responsible for your career. The person you work for is going to be instrumental in helping you to achieve your career goals. Not that you can't achieve those goals in spite of that person, or that you can't learn lessons from that person. But if you have a choice, choose a boss who is capable, honest, supportive, and respected by colleagues, bosses, or customers. Consider the person you work for just as you consider the job itself. It will make your life easier and may help keep your career on a fast track.

State of Mind

Think of a business situation you've been in that was unpleasant or unsuccessful. Now think about a business situation you've been in that was pleasant and led to success. Think about how that situation felt.

Did you notice your jaw clench up a bit when you recalled the unpleasant situation? Did you start to stare at an object? Did you feel a sense of letdown? Did you notice yourself relaxing a bit when recalling the pleasant experience, perhaps smile just a little and feel a sense of a well-being?

All of us have had both unpleasant and pleasant experiences. Recognizing what could be done better the next time we find ourselves in those types of situations and then moving on is the lesson to take away. Facing a challenging situation by thinking about a successful past situation predisposes us to more success.

A Cure for Worry

Worrying is a waste of energy. When we worry, we get distracted. We can even lose sleep. The problem is, nothing changes when we worry.

The cure for worrying is to start planning and take action. Analyze the situation—identify your alternatives and the pros and cons of each—and develop a plan of action. Realize that no plan is perfect, so build in contingencies: What if A, B, or C happens? What will you do? Plan for that contingency now.

When you have a plan in place and have taken decisive action, stop worrying. Either what you feared will not come to pass because of the actions you have taken, or it will, and you will be as prepared as you can be for that possibility. In the meantime, you will have gained peace of mind. You will have more energy. You will have been able to focus on other important priorities. And you will have less to worry about!

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