photo by Miguel Bruna
by Andrea Blundell
Want more personal power? Or just to stop feeling so helpless and lost? But not sure where to start?
What is personal power?
Personal power is not about controlling others. This is social power.
Personal power is instead about being totally detached from others and their opinions, and instead attached to your own inner capabilities.
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy describes it as, “freedom from the dominance of others… it’s about access to and control of limitless inner resources.” Whereas social power means you seek power over others, personal power means you seek to control yourself.
Do I really need to feel powerful?
Why bother with personal power, though? Is it really that necessary? It certainly comes with benefits, such as:
- trusting ourselves more
- and therefore feeling safer to trust others
- stronger sense of self
- an ability to be optimistic
- resilience in the face of challenge
- able to take advantage of opportunity
- a feeling of satisfaction that we are being our boldest self
- a sense of purpose.
A study on power led by social psychologist Adam Galinsky also suggests that personal power “frees a person to listen to others without abandoning a personal vision. Power also increases creativity and makes it easier to ignore bad advice, even if it comes from a ‘very important person’.”
How can I gain personal power?
1. Recognise and nurture your innate gifts.
It’s easy to write off the things we do easily and well as ‘unimportant’ and instead become obsessed with big challenges. We want to be a famous musician, a social media influencer, the best in our class, then feel a failure if that doesn’t happen.
We don’t rate our ability to read quickly, listen well, or make others laugh… whatever it is that comes natural.
Or we can even unconsciously be sabotaging our success by refusing to let ourselves succeed by things we find easy, instead always focussing on things that are hard.
Growing our innate gifts raises our self-esteem and circle of influence, helps us realise how resourceful we are, and lead to opportunities we didn’t expect.
2. Record your achievements.
Feeling powerless is often a mindset, arising from negative self-talk and an over-focus on what isn’t happening, and what we haven’t done.
Reframing your perspective and noticing what you actually have done can help you see that you are already powerful.
photo by Jungwoo Hong
Aim to record five achievements a day, no matter how small they might seem. On days when you start to feel powerless, you can flip back and see that this is a cognitive distortion over a fact.
3. One word. Boundaries.
To be powerful we must keep enough energy for ourselves to take care of ourselves.
If we have poor boundaries it means we don’t do this. We say yes when we want to say no, let others do things that leave us feeling upset and used, and end up exhausted and feeling low.
4. Get out of victim mode.
Part of having no boundaries is playing the victim.
We don’t take responsibility for the fact that many of our upsetting experiences are things we chose to allow into our lives, or even invited in. But we can’t be a victim and also powerful.
The moment you accept some responsibility for issues you have with other people is the moment you realise the power you have had all along to make better choices.
5. Get to the root of a need for approval.
If we grew up having to seek approval and be pleasing to get our needs met, then this can be a difficult habit to break. But it’s a great drain of energy and takes us further and further away from our own sense of self.
To be powerful, we need to know who we are. And to hear our needs and desires we need to stop spending all our time and energy trying be what others desire.
6. Watch out for toxic relationships.
An addiction to unhealthy relationships can completely deplete us and even leave us constantly ill.
If we are constantly letting someone else belittle us or hurt us, then we will always feel knocked down and helpless instead of powerful. We get stuck in an endless cycle of reaffirming our negative beliefs that we aren’t worthy.
7. Learn about and create real connection.
When we feel fully supported, it’s easier to feel powerful. Even if we fall, someone will catch us and encourage us to get back up.
Of course we need to find those people who ‘get us’. Who respect us and are a safe space for us to be our authentic selves, and who understand what drives us.
8. Commit to your values.
Your personal values are the things that matter to you when all else falls away. It’s easy to get caught up in the values of our family, partners, and friends, which can lead to constantly feeling a bit lost and fatigued.
When we face up to what actually makes us feel alive — whether that is freedom from a nine-to-five job, or even structure, if we come from a creative family? We can feel a great release of energy.
We can also then find our support ‘tribe’, the people we feel at home with because we share their values.
9. Learn self-compassion.
Making mistakes is not a problem. It’s better to take incorrect action than take no action at all.
The problem is when we make mistakes then beat ourselves up and judge ourselves, stopping ourselves in our tracks just as we are starting to be powerful and shine.
How could you speak to yourself the same way you would to a good friend?
10. Be present.
It can be misguided to think personal power comes from doing ‘more’. Instead it can come from clearing out distractions and focusing our minds so that we stop missing the moments to use our inner resources.
Mindfulness is a practise that helps us be grounded in the present moment, meaning we don’t overlook opportunity when it passes by. And it’s free and easy to learn (try our free ‘Guide to Mindfulness‘).
11. Know when to ask for support.
Can’t turn off your negative thoughts? Feel your self-esteem is so low you’ll never feel powerful? Or simply can’t seem to set boundaries no matter how you try?
Sometimes our old patterns come from a difficult childhood, and the ways we learned to behave and think in order to survive. They are deep-rooted and hard to untangle alone.
See reaching out for some support, in the form of a counsellor or psychotherapist, your first courageous step to being powerful.
Sick of feeling lost and powerless? We connect you with highly experienced and skilled London talk therapists in central locations. Not in the city? Use our booking site now to find a registered therapist near you, or an online counsellor you can work with from anywhere.
Still have a question about how to gain personal power? Or want to share your own tip with other readers? Post in the comment box below.
Andrea Blundell is the lead writer and editor of this site. She is trained in person centred psychology and coaching.