Our world is filled with external stimuli. All day long we are interacting with other people, other situations, other places etc.
This makes it easy to give too much control to external sources. We start to think we are powerless and it is up to someone or something else to decide what happens.
It may be that we are having trouble finding a job. Instead of putting the ownership on us it helps save our ego to blame the poor economy caused by a politician we dislike. But that doesn’t help us improve; it actually convinces us that there is nothing we can do. But that just isn’t true.
Or we look to blame our parents, teachers, coaches etc. for not teaching us something or encouraging us in a specific way. Or we say our teachers failed us by not giving us the right answers.
Whatever it is, we all have a tendency to look to external sources of control. But doing this gives away the ability that we do have because it assumes that someone else has complete power.
But we are all participants in larger systems. This means that we are players in the game but we think we are being played. We don’t understand our role and assume we are victims instead of participants.
One of the things that I have gained from systems thinking is the ability to see my own role in the system. This is incredibly empowering and freeing. Instead of feeling trapped, stuck, or controlled, it gives us a different perspective.
We see a larger system. That system has parts where we don’t have any control, parts of the system that we have control, and parts of the system that are a combination of us and others having control.
This doesn’t suddenly mean that we can change anything we want. What it means is that we can start to develop the mental freedom necessary to change. We gain the power to change.
We may have a difficult time finding a job but instead of blaming the economy, we see a larger system. We see parts that we can’t control (economy), parts that we have control (having the right attitude towards work), and parts that are a combination of others and us having control (gaining employable skills).
The next time you feel powerless in a situation, take a moment to try to understand the full system. If your boss is criticizing your performance on a recent project, don’t assume you are just some victim of his or her wrath. Instead see the full system and where you made decisions that impacted (positively or negatively) the outcome of the project. Then calm your emotions and come up with a way to move forward using the information to improve.
Or the next time you get upset with your spouse, realize that he or she isn’t the sole person in this conflict. They will likely have a completely different perspective than you so it isn’t as simple as who is right and who is wrong. But if we don’t understand this it leads to neither party taking accountability for their role, assuming they are innocent and their partner is guilty.
I remember hearing about a criminal a few years ago. This criminal was in the business of dealing drugs. They were in the middle of a drug deal when their customer pulled a gun and stole their supply of drugs. The drug dealer then called the police to report the crime. Obviously it didn’t end well for this drug dealer since the police simply arrested him for dealing drugs.
In this instance this individual certainly felt victimized. I’m sure they didn’t think it was their fault at all when the police showed up and arrested them for dealing drugs. This may be an extreme example but we all make decisions and then separate out the parts that prove our point. This is an example of linear thinking instead of thinking systematically.
Whenever you want to improve, you have to empower yourself. This means that we can’t just play the victim and give all our power away. We keep our power by taking responsibility for our own situation and then taking action to improve. So take responsibility, start to see the full system, and then move forward towards success.