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  • Dave Caperton

You're More Powerful Than You Think



One Can Be a Breakthrough for Big Problems

For reasons I don’t get, some people intentionally do things that cause themselves pain. Maybe you like to eat hot peppers. Maybe you run marathons. Maybe you DVR and binge-watch Dr. Phil. But no matter how much pain and suffering you seek by choice, no one while driving ever comes up on a long line of brake lights on a hot freeway and says, “A traffic jam? Alright! What could be better than finding myself in a spontaneous parking lot while aspirating diesel fumes? ” Instead, you probably grind your teeth and fantasize about super-villain style ways you’d like to remove that stupid smoking dump truck rumbling five feet ahead. The most frustrating part is how helpless you feel. The problem is just too big for one person to solve. Or is it?


The New York Times just this week published a story about the toll on health that Americans face because of being stuck in traffic an average of 42 hours a year (Stuck and Stressed: The Health Costs of Traffic, 1/21/19). Researchers say found that the toll of being stuck in traffic had an impact on our sense of psychological well-being and even has been linked to higher levels of of domestic violence which the researchers theorize is due to feelings of helplessness associated with too much gridlock.  In a recent video post, I referenced an October 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal that reported the surprising news that the behavior of a single driver can unsnarl a traffic jam simply by backing off and letting others in ahead of themselves. In other words, the generosity of anyone makes things better for everyone. In the context of a problem that seems so much bigger than any one person, being willing to give room to others leads to a solution. It's the power of one and it's the exact opposite of helplessness. Don’t you wonder what other big issues could be significantly affected by the choices of one person? A broken work culture? Employee disengagement? Customer service? The answer to all of these and more is, Yes! And it doesn’t have to come from the top down, either. It just takes an understanding of what people need and a willingness to put their needs ahead of your own.


No matter where we are in the power structure, we’re all just people with common needs. These include the need to be recognized and appreciated, the need to feel included and the need to feel that our personal problems matter to others. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly two-thirds of workers reported that they hadn’t been thanked on the job one time in the previous 12 months. Although that’s sad, it’s also empowering to know that changing that miserable statistic is within the grasp of every person every day. Other choices that each individual can choose to make work more joyful and less stressful include:


Expressing enthusiasm – Enthusiastic and positive people influence other people’s behavior up to a third degree of separation.


Not so random acts of kindness – When kindness is random it can change someone’s life. What would happen if it were a daily objective?


Shared laughter –Providing shared laughter brings people together in ways only surpassed by the way people come together after a calamity (but lots cheaper and easier than staging a flood).


Using positive words – The words we choose not only communicate outwardly but inwardly as well. Dr. James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin has concluded that patients that use positive words express a dimension of happiness even when illness or challenges exist and those who used positive words to discuss their challenges did significantly better than those who used negative words about their illness or pain.


These are just a few ways to change the world around you with your influence and willingness to meet the sometimes hidden but critical needs that we all have to feel recognized, connected and uplifted. It’s about putting others before yourself and, just like in a traffic jam, that can help you and everyone around you to get unstuck and rolling in the right direction.

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