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Tired of Just Coping? 3 Steps to Greater Self-Control

Well running dry? To move from coping to thriving, energy holds the key.

“I feel as if my well has run dry”.

It’s a description I hear often as a coach of leaders.

I’ve certainly used it myself during my years in leadership when I found myself barely coping. But what are we really referring to when we say this?

It’s a depletion, yes. But of what? Motivation? Patience? Willpower?

For me, a dry well seemed the only apt description for what I was experiencing at the time. But there was no one aspect of my experience it described. It was more a spectrum of emotions.

But, I have come to believe that when we speak of such a profound sense of depletion in our experience, we’re actually speaking of our self-control.

Self-Control and Energy Management

It all comes down to the nature of energy. It’s inexorable tendency to move toward chaos. Our consciousness is energy. Psychic energy, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Our psychic energy will tend toward chaos if we don’t apply self-control to counter it. It’s a constant threat that must be managed. We must harness it so that we can maintain harmony and order out of disorder, and avoid descent onto the “coping grounds”.

But, I have come to believe that when we speak of such a profound sense of depletion in our experience, we’re actually speaking of our self-control.

The challenge is we have a finite pool – or well – of self-control to keep things in check.

As with any well, we can overdraw on its resources. If we spend too much time in coping mode – buffeted by external forces of change and uncertainty – we draw heavily on our well of self-control to try to stay functional.

In time, without replenishment, we slip further into the realm of randomness and disorder. We begin to feel as if all control has been stripped from us.

Our well drained.

So, what can we do to keep ourselves in control, regardless of external conditions over which we often have little control? How do we stay resilient?

How to Replenish Your Well of Self-Control (and stop just coping)

1. Make Space For Energy-Creating Activities

Flow activities are those that immerse you. Time stands still when you’re engaged in them, and your focus is singularly on the activity. Extraneous “noise” is filtered out, and you get lost in the “doing”.

For me, photography, riding my motorcycle, working out, hiking in nature are flow activities.

You will have your own. But too often, especially when we’re in coping mode, we choose not to create time for them, allowing them to take a back seat to our more pressing concerns.

Understanding that these activities can actually help you refill the tank, allowing you to regain control over your experience, should prompt you to make room for them.

Take time to sit and reflect on your flow activities. Ask yourself, what energizes me? What am I doing, who am I with, where am I when I’m feeling most in flow.  Look at both your work and your life as a whole.

Define them and then create space for them. Carve time out for them in your weekly calendar. Actually put them in there.

Take time to sit and reflect on your flow activities. Ask yourself, what energizes me? What am I doing, who am I with, where am I when I’m feeling most in flow. 

The positive energy created by these activities will not only begin to re-energize you, but will naturally prune those behaviors that are not serving you.

2. Plug Holes In Your Well

If you take even a few moments to think about it, you will likely be able to produce a list of behaviours you engage in daily that suck your energy.

Here are a few of mine…

  • Ruminating and dwelling
  • Avoiding (particularly those things that trigger my emotions)
  • Multitasking
  • Procrastinating
  • Low Return on Investment actions like obsessively checking your email or phone

As I consider these, I realize just how much they are a constant drain on me (funny, given they are often “coping” behaviours). And how good it feels when I actually take action to deal with them.

Some of these will resonate with you, and you will certainly have your own if you think about it. And think about it you should.

Self-awareness of these behaviours is the starting point to addressing them. But the impact this will have on your mindset and ability to move your overall energy in the direction of flow can be huge.

3. Remove The Dams Blocking You

This is a particularly heavy-hitter in the energy management sphere.

It’s human for thinking to shift when we’re faced with external pressures and stressors. In coping with the emotion that external events trigger with us, we tend to create narratives to protect ourselves.

The problem with this is that these “stories” are based on our perspectives. Often, when we’re struggling, our perspectives are of a more disempowering nature and can lead us down roads towards greater disorder and disharmony (I’ve referenced some of these in a previous post).

Putting a finger on perspectives that might be limiting you is a necessary first step. After all, you can’t change what you don’t see. Here are a few places to start…

Assumption-Judgment-Blame

I call this the Axis of Pain. Usually all or some combination of these three are factoring in to the disempowering perspectives we’re holding onto when we’re barely coping.

Putting a finger on perspectives that might be limiting you is a necessary first step. After all, you can’t change what you don’t see.

Ask yourself,

“What assumptions am I making about my situation?”

“If these were only assumptions, and not actual fact, how would this change how I’m viewing things? What actions might I create to gain clarity?”

“Where am I judging others, or myself?”

“Where am I blaming others or myself?”

You will no doubt find these enlightening and directive.

(By the way, two great reads on the subject of perspectives and how they rule us are both by Don Miguel Ruiz: The Four Agreements and The Voice of Knowledge).

The Inner Critic

I’ve written about this character before. He’s been such an influence in my life, I can actually describe him, down to the dark hoody he’s wearing.

Be aware of when your Inner Critic demands to be heard.

He will be telling you you’re not good enough, not decisive enough, not strong enough. He’ll be telling you this because he wants to keep you rooted where you are, even if where you are is not what’s best for you.

Blocks to your energy – that prevent you from refilling your well of self-control – are tough ones. But you can gain traction on them with greater self-awareness.

As a coach, I find that while specific “external” challenges bring my clients to me looking for help, when we dig in it’s invariably underlying perspectives and mindsets that are the real instigators. It’s here the biggest aha moments occur.

Blocks to your energy – that prevent you from refilling your well of self-control – are tough ones. But you can gain traction on them with greater self-awareness.

If you find yourself stuck here, search for external help. Whether a coach, a trusted friend or colleague, an objective viewpoint can be of immense help.

Summary

Most of us find our “well running dry” at some point. The natural tendency of energy is toward disharmony.

Our well of self-control provides us the means too keep our energy ordered and in flow, leading to a more fulfilling life and work experience.

However, our wells are not bottomless and they need to be replenished, especially if we find ourselves in constant coping mode. Becoming aware of what creates, drains and blocks our energy and taking action are crucial to keeping ourselves feeling centered, energized and resilient in the face of turbulence.

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