Autonomy is an important aspect of life, although not for everyone. Some people can readily accept certain guardrails, rules, and requirements that limit their choices.
Of course, we need some of these. As the old saw goes: “Your right to swing your fist ends at my jaw.”
But many of us crave more autonomy: the ability to run our own work and life, to focus on what we feel is important, and to control our own movement toward the tasks, proje/i/cts, and goals we most want to accomplish.
Over the years, I’ve discovered some powerful methods and mind-sets that facilitate the process of running my own work and life. I’d like to share some of these with you now:
Expect Continuing Change
This one is probably the most important, because if you’re not expecting and feeling comfortable with change, then you’re effectively stuck in the past. At least to some extent, you’re pining for the “old days” and continuing to do what has already been working for you, even if it’s not working as well as it once did.
For this reason, I remind myself as often as I can: “Everything comes to an end,” and “The future starts right now.”
Taken together, these two ideas prime me for looking forward rather than backward, and for recognizing that I have considerable influence over what’s going to happen to me next.
Tell the Right Stories
We’ve all heard the expression: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” But we often fail to realize we can be our own storyteller. The truth is, much of what happens to us results from the stories we tell ourselves.
It stands to reason, then, that if you change the stories you tell about yourself you might very well change what happens in your work and your life, or at least how you perceive what happens.
For example, years ago I felt myself to be someone who rarely received help from others. I told myself this was the reason it made sense to develop and practice self-sufficiency. As I grew older, however, I recognized that many friends, family, even strangers had been helpful to me, and that I continue get help from others, sometimes without even asking for it.
I’m still capable of handling a good deal of whatever comes up, of course, but now I feel a lot better because I see myself as a part of various communities, working cooperatively toward a better world.
Do the Right Things
This is where the rubber meets the road, because running your own work and life nearly always comes down to the choices you make and the actions you take.
When you spend your time and energy doing more of what you believe is useful and important, you’ll find your work and your life start trending toward greater autonomy, satisfaction, productivity, and success.
What’s more, moving in this direction becomes easier with practice, sort of like rolling downhill. After a while, you find any distractions and forces trying to push you off course tend to weaken and may almost totally disappear.
When making a choice or taking an action, think in terms of: “Is this something that…”
- I want to do?
- Helps people I want to help?
- Is likely to produce results I can be proud of?
- Changes the situation in ways I want it to change?
Honor Your Values
Whether we think about them or not, deep down each of us has a set of values we feel are important. The more closely you can live in tune with your values, the more often you’ll be guiding your work and life in the directions you prefer.
This is not black and white, of course. There are nuances. Sometimes values conflict with each other, such as when you want to help one person, but helping them would hurt someone else or conflict with another one of your values.
But you take a long step toward greater autonomy when you simply recognize your values and consciously try to follow them as best you can.
Praise and Reprimand Wisely
Although much of what you think, feel, and do emanates from your subconscious, your brain also has some conscious “executive functions” that can argue with and possibly overrule your instincts, urges, and gut feelings.
These “executive functions” can also review your behavior after-the-fact.
In many situations, they can draw conclusions about your behavior and issue deserved benefits or punishments, praise or reprimands.
Because these “executive functions” are part of your conscious mind, you can use them to reward the behaviors that reflect what you feel is right and important, and to chastise yourself for deviating from your path toward autonomy.
Regardless of what other people are saying or doing to you, over time these conscious benefits and punishments, praise and reprimands can mold your behavior in whatever directions you prefer.
That’s autonomy, with a capital “A,” and it’s worth working toward.
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