by Judith Fertig
Pulitzer Prize winner Anna Quindlen had reached the top of the New York Times bestseller list more than once, yet she relates in her memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, that she also yearned to be able to do a headstand, but felt she didn’t possess the necessary sense of balance. “That’s just a little story you tell yourself,” advised her personal trainer.
Our bodies, Quindlen observes, are major appliances that deliver decades of faithful service with precious little downtime. She admits, “If the human body had a warranty, mine would have run out ages ago.” Still, she clung to a vision: “I want to be strong; strong enough to hike the mountain without getting breathless, strong enough to take a case of wine from the deliveryman and carry it to the kitchen.” Quindlen, who lives in New York City and New England, was also maintaining an incorrect belief: It wasn’t her sense of balance that was holding her back, it was fear.
After two years of trying, she was able to do a headstand. Along with a sense of accomplishment, this quirky achievement was a revelation as she ultimately concluded, “If I can do one thing like that, perhaps there are others.”
Take a Stand
Personal empowerment is all about taking a stand—developing the vision, countering misguided beliefs, having a plan and then moving forward to be the best version of one’s true self.
David Gershon and Gail Straub, of West Hurley, New York, authors of Empowerment: The Art of Creating Your Life As You Want It, contend that empowerment always starts with a desire for a better life. “We need to learn how to dream, how to boldly and courageously reach for our highest visions,” says Straub. “Start with what’s working already and the vision of what life can be.” She likens self-empowerment to “spiritual surfing, riding the wave where the energy, momentum and passion are.”
As workshop leaders, they encourage participants to transform limiting beliefs, determine what is meaningful for them, construct a compelling vision from that insight and then find ways to manifest that vision. They address six key areas in which to become more powerful and realize our personal best: physical health, emotional health, relationships, work, finances and spirituality.
First, recognize what we’re already doing right—eating well, perhaps, or exercising—and then add another healthy activity. Cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, director of New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital’s Women and Heart Disease, underscores that much of physical health is within our personal control. “Many lifestyle factors keep us from being physically healthy enough to lead a full life,” she says, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption or drug use, stress and depression. “The good news is that lifestyle factors are within our power to change.”
Steinbaum recommends starting small by changing one bad habit and then seeing how we feel. “Quit the diet soda or the sugar-sweetened beverages. Get rid of potato chips. Go for a walk. Put down your smartphone and spend some focused time with your child, a friend or even your pet. Then breathe… and just listen to how you feel.”
Our emotions can be allies in achieving personal empowerment, advises Straub. For example, fear can alert us to danger; joy can remind us to be grateful. However, when emotions cause pain and threaten derailment, it’s important to understand why, and then work through it.
“Uncomfortable emotions let us know there is a problem to attend to, a wound to work on, thus allowing us to see our own truth,” explains don Miguel Ruiz, Jr., of San Diego, California, author of The Five Levels of Attachment. “With awareness, we can observe our uncomfortable emotions, as they may be showing a belief we are holding that is no longer true for us.”
“To work through our emotions, we have to be able to accurately sense what we are feeling and be able to express it in a healthy way,” adds Straub, like expressing anger after a tough commute by punching a designated pillow or shouting into a closet. Furthermore, “We need to change the belief we’ve identified that’s causing the painful emotional response.” Did the guy that cut us off in traffic really do it maliciously? Third, learn to let go of a negative emotion that’s automatically triggered when someone or something presses our “hot button” by immediately considering, “He must have been in a big hurry,” or “She doesn’t realize how offensive that remark could be,” realizing it’s their problem, not ours, and declining to make it ours.
Achieving greater emotional calm is a huge step toward personal empowerment.
Acting on heartfelt emotions can help forge stronger and healthier relationships. “Sometimes, we say yes to a false image of ourselves or hide who we are in order to be accepted,” counsels Ruiz, noting that not presenting our authentic selves in relationships will weaken or replace true intimacy with a sense of loneliness and distance. “Say, ‘I forgive, I accept and I let go.’” This paves the way to being genuine, which naturally leads to greater unconditional love and more fulfilling and honest relationships.
In romantic relationships, life coach Martha Beck, Ph.D., author of Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaiming Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want, suggests ditching the image of two people looking soulfully into each other’s eyes. “Realize that you’re both changing all the time,” she says. Instead, envision two people walking side-by-side at the same pace, and a relationship that will continue to refresh and move forward, instead of getting stuck in well-worn patterns.
Capability is one of the new guiding principles for self-empowerment at work, says Haydn Shaughnessy, a fellow at the University of California-Irvine’s Center for Digital Transformation and co-author, with Nicholas Vitalari, of The Elastic Enterprise. “It’s more about a broad-stroke capability,” he claims, such as public speaking, writing or troubleshooting and fixing machinery.
Capability means a strong skill that can be fine-tuned for a specific circumstance; a talented generalist, rather than a narrow specialist. Shaughnessy recommends that we recognize and develop our best competencies in order to equip ourselves to both withstand economic adversity and help push our careers forward.
Fiscal self-empowerment involves cultivating the confidence that we will be able to obtain more money when needed. Beck maintains that anyone can create abundance that lasts. “Where people believe they get abundance, they will,” she says, as in friendships or creative problem solving. It’s the mixed internal messages of, “I need more money,” with, “There’s not enough to go around,” that can block the flow of abundance in our lives. Beck, who lives in San Luis Obispo, California, recommends throwing a “neurological toggle switch” to turn off the “lack-and-attack” part of our brains and turn on the “everything-is-going-to-be- all-right” area. This is realized through slowing down, relaxing and meditating. “You have to relax to start dissolving the disbelief in the possibility of having what you want,” she says. “Empty out the negative thoughts in order to gain the confidence that abundance is yours.”
Following all of these first five steps also helps enhance our spirituality. Dennis Merritt Jones, of Simi Valley, California, author of the new book, Your (Re) Defining Moments: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be, calls it “being pulled by vision,” rather than being pushed by pain.
The motivational speaker believes that every encounter, event or circumstance is a portal to a redefining moment—a chance to connect with our authentic self.
Jones cites seven characteristics of the authentic or timeless self: realizing our oneness in life, reverence for that life, fearlessness because we know we’re part of something bigger, integrity, humility, equanimity and unconditional love. “When these qualities become the norm in our daily lives, we’ll know we are living from the authentic self,” he says.
Jones urges us to live “more vertically.” He explains, “We exist on what I call the surface of life, a horizontal pathway where we go about our daily routines. We often don’t hear the siren call from the depths of our being because we are so busy ‘doing’. It’s the authentic self that’s eternally calling us to be who we were born to be.”
He describes a “sacred intersection” where we can turn from the horizontal everyday and move in a vertical direction to the depths of our souls or the heights of our imaginations via mindfulness and self-enquiry. Fortunately, every moment of every day offers this opportunity to expand our being. The key question is, “Will we be consciously present enough to recognize the opening and step through the door?”
These experts concur there is no finish line for self-empowerment or attaining the perfect place to stay. It’s a “sustainable growth process,” says Gershon, an ideal project for the rest of our lives.
Judith Fertig blogs at AlfrescoFoodAndLifestyle.blogspot.com from Overland Park, KS.