Find Your Power describes how you find personal power, which Chris Johnstone defines as the ability to move in the direction you want to go, focussing on what you can do, rather than on what you can get others to do. This type of power strengthens your ability to face any situation and respond in a way that helps create the outcomes you desire. Find your Power invites you on a journey of developing inner strengths such as courage, determination, confidence, enthusiasm, clarity off purpose and the ability to deal with problems. Strengths like these are sometimes viewed as inherent qualities that some people have and others donª äª t. Chris shows that they are learnable strategies, so that whatever your current starting point, you can find ways of increasing and enhancing these valuable inner resources.
332pp, 159mm x 204mm, illus. in b&w, Paperback, 2010
Power is often thought of in terms of domination and control. This book takes a different approach. It describes how you find personal power, which I define as the ability to move in the direction you want to go. I use the term personal because the focus is on what you can do, rather than on what you can get others to do. This type of power strengthens your ability to face any situation and respond in a way that helps create the outcomes you desire.
Find your Power invites you on a journey of developing inner strengths such as courage, determination, confidence, enthusiasm, clarity off purpose and the ability to deal with problems. Strengths like these are sometimes viewed as inherent qualities that some people have and others don’t. We’ll be looking at how they are also based on learnable strategies, so that whatever your current starting point, you can find ways of increasing and enhancing these valuable inner resources.
Why might you be interested in personal power? What benefits could it bring you? I regard power not as an end in itself, but as something that helps you achieve other things important to you. There may be concerns you want to address or directions you want to move in. When you think of the things you’d like to happen, whether in your personal life, your relationships, your work or our world, your give yourself reasons for being interested in power. This is the starting point. However, initial enthusiasm often hits two major stumbling blocks.
The first is having mixed feelings. Part of you is interested, but another part may be wary or even resistant. Power is a difficult word. It has negative associations that include corruption and ruthlessness. The problem here is not power itself, but the way it is so often viewed and expressed.
If you think of power as getting others to do things they don’t want to do, you may associate it with bullying and manipulation. But the type of power this book promotes is designed to support your values rather than clash with them. The focus is on how you increase your ability to move in directions important to you, while also respecting the right of other people to make their own decisions.
A question we’ll be exploring is what personal power is based on. If you think power depends on something you don’t have, you’re more likely to feel powerless. So if you want to do something, but don’t have enough money, status, brains, good looks or whatever else you think is needed, it is easy to believe that the goal is beyond your power. This is the second block. How can we turn this one around?
Whatever the direction you want to head in, at least some of the obstacles you face are likely to like within you. Doubt, fear, cynicism, apathy, disbelief and lack of confidence can all add to the barriers in your way. The approach I introduce helps you find ways through these. By strengthening your ability to deal with the inner obstacles, you put yourself in a better position to tackle any type of issue in your life. Here are some examples of the sort of thing this can help with.
Some areas this book may help with
Increasing happiness, giving up smoking, taking up a musical instrument, starting your own business, losing weight, tackling global warming, improving working conditions, writing a book, enhancing relationships, finding a partner, recovering from depression, sorting out your finances, becoming more creative, surviving through times of crisis, increasing effectiveness at work, reducing stress, coping with illness, acting for world peace, creating more joy, clarifying purpose, moving on from your past if you want to, facing fears, becoming more determined, getting fitter, learning to laugh more, increasing self-confidence, developing a richly satisfying life.
The journey of finding your power
Whether you want to change your waistline or the world, your workplace or your state of mind, the process of altering anything requires a similar set of strengths. You need the self-awareness to know what you want, the planning ability to achieve achievable steps and the motivation to move into action. Any process of change is a journey and these strengths help get you started. The first part of this book, The Power to Begin, shows how to develop them. We willl be looking at ways of getting clearer about what you really want and strategies for boosting your confidence to take those first important steps.
Once you start moving in the direction you want to go, it won’t be long before you bump into some kind of obstacle. This isn’t negative thinking. Obstacles offer an opportunity to develop new strengths and abilities; difficulties force you to think again, giving you an appetite for new skills and the deepening of wisdom. The second part of this book, The Power to Move Through Blocks, offers a toolkit to help you understand and work through many of the common resistances that block your path. We look at ways of dealing with fear, how to change stuck patterns of behaviour, creative problem-solving strategies and methods for transforming crisis and failures into turning points.
When you have found your way through the obstacles, you face a new set of challenges: how do you stop yourself from losing interest or getting disillusioned? The third part of the book, The Power to Keep Yourself Going, explores ways of maintaining the energy, enthusiasm and determination needed for any long-term project. I describe how to develop a context that supports the changes you want to make and also one that supports you in making them.
One of the main deepeners of determination is having a strong sense of purpose behind what you do. We will look at how inspiring purposes often come from seeing yourself as part of a bigger story. Personal power deepens when you act for something larger than your individual self. This could be your family, community, beliefs, country or world. But when you look at bigger-picture issues like organizations in crisis or the state of our planet, it is also easy to feel powerless. This is where we need the new ways of looking at power that this book introduces.
What this book is based on
I went to my first personal power workshop over 20 years ago. I saw how applying a simple collection of principles could help people turn their lives around. My life since then has been a quest of learning, studying and exploring this field. Over the last 15 years I’ve been running courses that pass on the insights and strategies I’ve found most useful. It is these I present in this book. I draw from a wide range of sources, but four in particular stand out as worth a special mention.
The first is my work as a medical doctor and addictions specialist. Addictions can be thought of as a concentrated form of resistance to change, where someone can become so stuck in a pattern of behaviour that they continue doing it even when they know it is killing them. Yet many of my clients do find their way in to recovery and my work with them has immensely deepened my understanding of what helps people change. By drawing on recent advances in the addictions treatment field, I outline approaches to strengthening motivation that are refreshingly effective. The usefulness of these extends far beyond just tackling addictions. As you will see, they can be applied to many areas of change.
The second source I draw form is the relatively new approach of positive psychology, which puts scientific method behind the study of happiness and the cultivation of strengths. Martin Seligman, a leading proponent, also developed one of the main psychological theories of depression, known as the helplessness model. In this he described how the experience of powerlessness was a factor in causing depression. His more recent research has shown how we can develop learned optimism. As well as reducing our risk of depression, this can help us develop the resilience needed to bounce back from difficult situations. I draw on his findings and those of others within the positive psychology field.
Increasing motivation and optimism might seem irrelevant if what you want to change is beyond your power to influence. Yet many of the assumptions that commonly limit power are based on an eighteenth-century approach. My third source is the modern holistic approach to science that lies behind chaos theory and systems thinking. This can lead to breakthroughs in the way we view power and influence. I will show how ideas like the butterfly effect offer the essential upgrade in thinking needed to bring personal power into the twenty-first century.
As part of my research for writing this book, I carried out in-depth interviews with a wide range of people. I asked them how they found their power and also what blocked it. The fourth source, therefore, is the human experience of the people I interviewed. Their stories provide real-life examples that demonstrate the tools and insights I describe. I also include my own experience, as this is what has most convinced me that thinking about power in new ways really makes a difference.
Thinking differently about power
In the late 1980s I worked as a doctor in a London hospital. My contract was for an average of 88 hours a week, although with compulsory overtime there were often weeks when I’d put in well over 100 hours. Not surprisingly, I became completely exhausted. Thinking this was a crazy way to work, I started asking my colleagues what we could do to improve our conditions. ‘We don’t have the power here,’ I was told, ‘nothing we can do will make any difference.’
In the phrase ‘we don’t have the power here’, power is a noun. Whenever you think of power as a thing that others have and you don’t, you effectively pull the plug on your own authority. This leads to what I call the ‘inner power cut’, where it seems that nothing you can do will make any difference. But you can also think of power as a verb (for example ‘I power myself’). Verbs refer to things that you do rather than have. So whenever you’re in a situation where you’re feeling underpowered, this way of thinking focuses attention on what you can do to respond.
Whatever the situation, you always have choices about your response. Some choices move you in the direction you want to go, while others take you further away. When you explore your options and choose one that moves you, even if only a small amount, in the direction you want to go, you start a ball rolling. I think of this as the journey approach to change. With this way of thinking, you don’t have a clearly mapped-out blueprint for success before you can begin. You just focus on steps you can take from where you are, whatever that is.
So how did this approach help me when I was working all those crazy hours as hospital doctor?
In the 1980s, not many people knew about the hours problem. Most doctors were unwilling to speak out for fear this would damage their careers. So the problem remained hidden and slowly got worse. I knew surgeons who performed operations after working around the clock for over 50 hours without any sleep. Mistakes were made through sheer exhaustion and as many as one in four junior doctors (or residents as they’re called in the US) showed evidence of clinical depression. I was so appalled that I joined the small group of doctors who were campaigning on this issue. I became a whistle-blower and started to talk to the press about what was going on.
I agreed to speak with a television news team, but the evening before the interview was due to take place a hospital manager phoned me at home. He told me that if I went ahead with the broadcast, I would need to watch out for my future. Nevertheless, there are times when a situation cries out for people to come forward - so I did.
In spite of the growing media interest, there was no change in my working conditions. At the time my job was in a busy obstetrics unit where I could work over 50 hours in a single shift. The grinding sleep deprivation led me to become seriously depressed. I even began to think about suicide. A colleague who was concerned about me suggested taking legal action against my employers. I consulted a lawyer who told me my case was a no-hoper and might even be laughed out of court. A second opinion said something similar. Then a lawyer friend told me she saw things differently. She was horrified by the conditions I was working under that she agreed to take on the case for free. With her help, I issued a writ challenging the legal basis of my contract.
Taking my employers to court created massive publicity. My picture was on the front page of newspapers and friends the other side of the world saw me on their television news. Now the issue of junior doctors’ hours was placed firmly in the public eye. At that time I had no funding and couldn’t afford to pursue the case in my own, but a newspaper article mentioned this and people started sending me money. In the first few months I received over 200 letters of support and thousands of pounds in donations. A leading barrister provided his services free of charge and a team of people stepped forward to offer their support. There had been widespread concern about the dangers of such working hours and people felt please to be able to contribute towards a positive step for change.
Six years and ten court hearings later, I finally won my case. Junior doctors still work long hours compared with most other groups, but their conditions have improved dramatically. The campaign was a success.
Turning things around
Many people asked me how I found the determination to stick with this case when there were so many obstacles in its way. At first my situation was bleak and there didn’t seem much chance of improvement. But one thing that gave me inspiration was the idea that our lives are a bit like adventure stories. These often begin from a similar place of gloom. The little hobbit Frodo didn’t seem to stand much of a chance at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, but that didn’t put him off. Stories similar to this have been told for thousands of years, not just for their entertainment value, but also because they teach important principles of personal power. I’d like to identify a few features of such stories that can help us find our power. The first of these I call the turning.
How many adventure stories can you think of that start with a gloomy beginning yet still manage to find their way to a happy ending? The plot in these tales usually revolves around the sequence of events that allows a reversal of fortunes, turning, to occur. The message transmitted is that no matter how dreadful things are at the start, positive changes, even if they initially seem unlikely, are possible. This turning doesn’t happen by itself though; it is dependent on active steps taken by the main characters in the story.
This perspective offered an alternative to the widespread pessimism I encountered in my colleagues. It reminded me that life is mysterious and can sometimes surprise us. It also reminded me that if I wanted a turning to occur, then I needed to become part of the story that helped this to happen.
Another feature of adventure tales is the way the central characters become transformed over the course of the story. Often they start out seeming puny and inept, only to reveal unsuspected strengths at crucial moments. There is an important lesson here. If we judge our abilities by how we are when we’re at the beginning of something, we fail to take into account the way that facing later challenges can help us grow into more capable versions of ourselves. Like muscles that develop through lifting weights, inner strengths are found by engaging with situations where they’re needed. and when we take steps in the directions most important to us, the journey itself acts as training that helps us grow in our abilites.
The good news is that we don’t have to do all this on our own. There will always be sources off help if we can see them, and a necessary part of any adv