Everyone wants to be happy, right?
Most of us have given thought to what will, and does, make us happy in our work, in our relationships, in our lives. Guess what’s been reported to be the number one contributor to being happy?
Money? No so much
Good looks? Nope
Popularity? Not even close
A hot sex life? Guess again
The article defined autonomy as “the feeling that your life, its activities, and habits, are self-chosen and self-endorsed.”
It sort of makes sense if you give it some thought. How wonderful does autonomy make you feel? How unhappy do you become when it is lacking? In my work as a coach, when I see someone unhappy about something in their live, a break up, work issues, even their weight, it is often because they feel like they don’t have enough control in that part of your life—loss of autonomy. Much of what I have seen cause sadness, regret, anger, or disappointment—all negative feelings—are derived from feeling your autonomy challenged in some way. Think about it.
How wonderful does autonomy
make you feel? How unhappy
do you become when it is lacking?
In his book, The Human Meaning of Social Change, Angus Campbell unequivocally supports the perks of autonomy. He writes, “Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered.”
According to a University of Michigan nationwide survey,15% of Americans declared that they felt “in control of their lives” and also enjoyed “extraordinarily positive feelings of happiness.”
Learned Helplessness is Lack of Autonomy
I read about a study by Dr. Martin Seligman that’s now famous, which used dogs. Dr. Seligman, quite by accident, discovered that an experimental conditioning protocol they used with dogs led to unexpected behaviors. Under the experimental conditions, the recently conditioned dogs did not respond to opportunities to learn to escape from an unpleasant situation.
Dr. Seligman developed the theory further, finding learned helplessness to be a psychological condition in which a human being or an animal has learned to act or behave helplessly in a particular situation, usually after experiencing some inability to avoid an unfavorable situation, even when the animal actually has the power to change its unpleasant or even harmful circumstance. It comes down a lack of control over a situation, a lack of autonomy.
Luckily, unlike those dogs, you as a human being have that terrific prefrontal cortex advantage called “consciousness,” meaning you know you shouldn’t give up, even after your autonomy has been temporarily limited. You know after a hard time, you can take back the control you have over your life. Dr. Seligman saw a similarity with severely depressed patients, and argued that clinical depression and related mental illnesses result, in part, from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.
You know after a hard time,
you can take back the
control you have over your life.
But where do you start to take back your autonomy? Coaches and psychologists alike teach that if you want to bounce back after a challenge, that you slowly increase your “internal locus of control,” the power you have to make easy, small changes. Studies have shown even taking control of a few small actions start you on your way to feeling like the master of your destiny once again.
Psychologists Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin, in their research study, encouraged depressed nursing-home patients to exert more control in their lives by motivating them to make a few small but significant changes in their environment. The subjects were guided by this thought, “think about the decisions you can, and should, be making.”
Studies have shown even
taking control of a few small actions start
you on your way to feeling like the
master of your destiny once again.
By way of example, they made sure patients were asked to decide for themselves if they wanted the air conditioning on or off, if they’d like to change the channels on the TV, or if they’d like to have different foods for dinner, etc. Plus, they encouraged patients to advocate for themselves, requesting changes in various nursing home policies which, as it turns out, were granted. As a result, a sizable majority of patients became more alert, active, and happy as compared to the test patients who were not given the same options. The ones who exerted more control actually lived longer.
We all have felt out of control from time to time; there is nothing unusual about it. Do you ever find an out-of-control life challenge making you feel “out of control” of everything in your life? When you do, know that there are things you can do about the feeling.
Start by not lying around doing nothing. Stop all that sleeping late. Cut back on too much TV. When you recognize that with the lack of a disciplined schedule, you feel more out of control of your life and there is a way out. The solution really is right in front of you. It is, quite simply, the next thing you decide to do. The late Dr. Michael Argyle of Oxford University, suggested in his book The Psychology of Happiness, that “For unhappy people, their time is unfilled, open, and uncommitted. They postpone things and are inefficient,” yet, “For happy people, time is filled and planned. They are punctual and efficient.”
So, today is a great day to decide to will regain your autonomy by starting to practice with “internal locus of control!”
Taking Back Control
Here is an experiment for you to try. First, decide on three pre-set deadlines for three new projects or tasks. Second, decide on three exciting events to be shared with someone or some people you care about (actually, love). Third, actually put/write them all in your calendar. Then fourth, actually do the things you decided to do, on time, meet with the people you selected and do what you planned to do at the times and manners you intended.
Spoiler Alert: Creating pre-set deadlines, then meeting them, will absolutely help you feel like you are in charge of your life!
Do it again and again and it becomes a habit; over time, your habit becomes your destiny. And who among us doesn’t want a destiny that reinforces the feeling of control in our lives.
What say you?. Are you in control of your life? Would you like more?
Give me a call so we can talk about it… schedule a time for a call and let’s give it a go.
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Header picture: Autonomy monument on the Praca da Autonomia, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
Argyle, M. “The Psychology of Happiness”
Campbell, A, “The Human Meaning of Social Change”
Spreitzer, G.M., De Janesz, S., and Quinn, R.E. ‘Empowered to lead: The role of psychological empowerment in leadership’,
Walsh, K., Bartunek, J.M. and Lacey, C.A. ‘A relational approach to empowerment’,
Fisher, R., Bower, D., “What Is More Important for National Well-Being: Money or Autonomy?
Seligman, M.E.P.; Maier, S.F. “Failure to escape traumatic shock”.
Overmier, J.B.; Seligman, M.E.P. “Effects of inescapable shock upon subsequent escape and avoidance responding