How to Change a Powerless State of Mind

Researchers have substantiated a common-sense concept – when you feel powerless, tasks feel more difficult. Even when the tasks are considered easier, when a thought of powerlessness crosses the mind, the task suddenly becomes much more difficult to perform.

The reverse held true, too. Those who felt powerful were able to do more and experienced it as easier than when they felt powerless.

For example –
One experiment asked participants to guess the weight of a box of items. Those participants who felt powerless in their lives also guessed the weight of the box to be greater than it actually was – while participants who felt powerful or at least capable in their lives tended to guess more correctly the weight of the box.

Even when participants simply recalled a time in their lives when they felt powerless, they consistently overestimated the weight of the box – while recalling a time of powerfulness, they consistently correctly or underestimated the weight of the box.

“The present work suggests that feeling powerless – whether due to inherent personality characteristic in dealing with others, or because of having been conferred a disadvantageous social role – leads people to perceive objects differently, presumably because they are faced with challenges for which they lack the resources to overcome them. The comment made by the former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, that ‘power only tires those who do not possess it,’ therefore is no longer an unsubstantiated conjecture, but our data suggest that the world of the powerless is indeed full of heavy burdens.” (Lee and Schnall)

Why do I feel powerless sometimes?

When I feel powerless, my life might feel like a real drag – literally – one that seems harder and harder to do. It’s a downward spiral that seems to lead to total powerlessness – maybe even death.

I tend to feel less powerful in situations over which I feel I have no control. I can’t personally control the orbit of the earth or the movement of the heavens. I can’t personally control an avalanche or hurricane. I have little to no control over what other people think and do.

No wonder I get a feeling of powerlessness now and then. The universe is LARGE while I am small. And yet, the strongest concrete is no match for the sustained intention of the grass.

What constitutes a “powerful thought?”

Thinking powerful thoughts tends to build confidence and personal mental and physical power.

This may seem rather obvious, yet it escapes many – to think powerful thoughts you must take personal accountability for your life. This is surprisingly easy to do. And you can do it with a simple mantra and exercise.

For example –
I got a letter from the IRS a couple years ago. The agency wanted to charge me a whole lot more than I thought I should pay. I felt a sense of powerlessness because I don’t feel that I have personal control over what the IRS does – it’s tiny little ME vs the humongous United States government. As a result of that powerless feeling, fear filled my mind when I saw the envelope.

How can I develop powerful thoughts

Fortunately, I’d been practicing taking personal accountability when I got the IRS letter, and so I chanted this mantra (again) when I opened the envelope and read its contents: “Everything in my life is happening just as I intend it to happen.”

I reviewed my tax forms and noticed an error – in my favor – and resubmitted my change with documentation. The IRS found in my favor and I paid LESS tax. My “body/mind” now knows that I DO have power over the IRS. I am NOT powerless against “the man.” I AM powerful.

Suppose, though, that the IRS had not found in my favor. What then? I’d be fine with that because the IRS would simply be carrying out MY intention for ME. Keep in mind – it’s NEVER about THEM!

A fun, elegant, and useful two-step exercise helped me solidify my accountability and hold a powerful state of mind:

  1. Notice something happening that SEEMS out of your control (a car moving through an intersection, for example)
  2. Tell that which you notice to DO exactly what it is currently doing (ex: tell the car to proceed through the intersection exactly as it is doing it)

That’s it. Simple as 1-2.

Apply the exercise to EVERYTHING. All that you witness then becomes YOUR INTENTION for it. Over time and practice, you’ll begin to “forecast” happenings as your life becomes more and more accountable to your will.

Besides, it’s amazing fun.

Resources:

  • The Influence of Social Power on Weight Perception, Eun Hee Lee, Simone Schnall, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, February 2014. Open access
  • The University of Cambridge, news release, accessed 6 February 2014.
  • Whiteman, H. (2014, February 8). “Feeling powerless ‘makes tasks more physically challenging’.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/272289.

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