After spending the last few days with cancer survivors, physicians, caregivers and nurses who were working toward raising money for cancer research and prevention programs, I could feel that taking part in this advocacy work left many feeling empowered. I could also feel how important this empowerment was for so many of the participants. As we traveled through our training and meetings, there was a sense of happiness and gratitude.
The experience left me thinking about what makes people feel powerful in their own lives. According to Catteneo and Chapman (2010), empowerment is a process that sets a goal that is personally meaningful and begins to work toward that goal. In addition, while working toward that goal, the person reflects on how their sense of self-efficacy, competence and knowledge expand.
I know that many of the people I see in therapy feel that they have lost their sense of empowerment, which inspired me to write down the top 5 things that people can do to increase their sense of empowerment. Here they are:
- Learn something new: Learning is a powerful! When you gain new knowledge, it can help you feel prepared or inspire you to tackle something new. It can also make you feel as though you have a fresh perspective or different skill set to retry something that may have been challenging before. If nothing else, the act of learning can leave you feeling mentally stronger and more capable.
- Give back: It is easy to get stuck in your own world. We each get wrapped up on our own day-to-day problems and it can leave us feeling overwhelmed and sometimes powerless. When we help others, it allows us to see that we have something important to offer to the world around us. In the process of giving back, we can also empower others while helping ourselves.
- Take charge: Often in life, we all have a tendency to rely on our routines, the competency of others or even chance to get us where we are going. Although there are certainly aspects of our lives that we are not able to control that are as simple as flight delays or as complicated as illness, there are many things we can control. Those things under our control include our behavior, thoughts, and feelings. If we take the opportunity to show up in our lives with the right attitude and focus on what we bring the situation, we often find that we have more power than we thought. For more about how to influence your thoughts please read an article by my colleague, Dr. Angela Williams, about cognitive defusion.
- Set goals: Knowing what you want and going after it can go along way in making you feel powerful in your own life. The first step in goal setting is to begin by thinking about what is meaningful in your life. From there, think about what you may want to achieve or do that can bring a greater sense of meaning into your life. Start with goals that you know you can attain first. This can help build confidence and a sense of mastery. From there add goals that may be more challenging and keep going.
- Make your own rules: We all spend a lot of time worrying about what we “should” be doing. This tendency to live our lives according to the unattainable guidelines made up of absolute statements often leaves us feeling as though we are not good enough or that we have limited choices. So begin to think about how many times a day you say to yourself, “I should…” or “I have to…” and simply stop to think about whether that statement is accurate. You will likely find that there are plenty of times where you are making a choice, which gives you the chance to do something else if you want to. For more about should statements, read a recent blog I wrote on “musterbation”.
Dr. Stephanie Davidson is a licensed, clinical health psychologist at the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine. She specializes in the use of cognitive-behavioral, humanistic and existential approaches to treat patients with a range of medical and mental health challenges. She has a strong interest in mindfulness-based interventions to heal the body and mind. Her focus is on collaboration with the goal of assisting patients in adjusting to difficult experiences and achieving a greater sense of well-being, balance and peace in their lives.