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The options you have when faced with a challenging situation

Feb 07, 2022

Three ways to think about it…

It’s amazing how people will wind themselves up- and in my opinion, spend a disproportionate amount of time, moaning and whining about things they have no intention of doing anything about, or a situation which they cannot influence. It’s a misuse of energy that could be redirected for a much more positive benefit elsewhere.

A large development is planned near to where a friend of mine lives. I say a large development, it's more like a brand new village. Residents from surrounding villages are up in arms that a local landowner is going to sell his land to developers to allow this to take place. It's in the consultation phase at the moment with local people's views being sought, plans put out for perusal and approval and the local council investigating the viability of the project.

There are concerns that there isn't the infrastructure to support the number of houses proposed to be built- roads won't be able to take the extra traffic, local schools will be oversubscribed, and that GP surgeries can't handle the number of patients as it is- or so is widely believed, so people are asking how it will manage such an influx of people.

There is a lot of noise, but is anyone sticking their head above the parapet and doing anything about it?

My friend said that a Facebook group has been created and local people are airing their views. The trouble is, apparently there's a fair amount of talk the talk going on, with very little walking the walk taking place. Many believe it's a done deal and that there's nothing they can do to influence the situation. 

Very often, we say there’s nothing we can do about a situation but if we really wanted to, is it possible we might be able to find a way? I find it interesting to ask myself the question: Is it that I can't or is it that I don't want to badly enough? There are very few things which are genuine lighthouses in life– those situations we can do absolutely nothing about such as the weather, the passing of time, the past and our age. For most other issues, you can most probably do something if you really want to. For your own sanity, know the difference, something which the Serenity Prayer puts so well.

The three choices you have when faced with a situation you're not happy about:

  1. Do something- change the situation or process.
  2. If you can't do anything to change the situation, or you can’t be bothered or don't want to face the possible consequences of doing something, change the way you think about it.
  3. Carry on complaining.

The trouble is, far too many people spend much of their time thinking a situation is a lighthouse which they’re moaning about, so do nothing to change the situation, or, if it is a genuine lighthouse, they continue to bang their head against the rocks rather than work out a way round it.

A little less conversation…

Is the proposed housing development a lighthouse or could local people do something about the situation? Has an action group been formed? Is there anyone spearheading what the group is doing to seek to have their views heard? Is there a coordinated effort to ensure all bases are covered in terms of liaising with the developer and the council, and perhaps contacting the local MP etc? From what I hear, there's not too much of that taking place.

In these kinds of situations, people very often prefer to mumble from the sidelines. They don't want the effort of getting involved, so they unwittingly chip away at their self-respect by continuing to moan but doing nothing to change anything.

This is best illustrated below, by a model developed by Stephen Covey:


Our Circle of Influence is where we care enough to want to make a difference about issues which are important to us – we’re willing to do something to make a change, to kickstart progress. Maybe you work in HR or Leadership and Development and feel appraisals are not getting the best out of everyone– perhaps you feel coaching and mentoring is the way forward. You can help to implement this change by speaking to the senior leadership team. Perhaps there is an issue at your child's school and rather than join the playground whingers, you make an appointment with the Headteacher to discuss your concerns and see if a way forward can be found. 

The Circle of Concern is where we’ll comment on things, nay have a good old moan but don’t actually step up to the plate and do anything about it. If we want to do something enough, we will widen our Circle of Influence. One of my daughters feels that since the COVID pandemic, due to year group bubbles needing to be established at school for safety, the cohesiveness of the student body has been lost. There used to be many more activities and themed days which everyone could get involved in. It encouraged student engagement and very often raised money for important causes that the students felt strongly about. My daughter, who can be very self-conscious, wanted to do something so spoke to the Deputy Headteacher and asked if she could have a meeting with him to propose some ideas. She asked me to help her with a PowerPoint presentation so that she could effectively get her ideas across. She had the meeting and her proposals were well met. My daughter was chuffed to bits - not only was something going to happen to benefit students and to raise money for a number of charities, but she had given herself a dollop of self-respect.

Very often we think that we as an individual cannot influence positive change but I always marvel at Greta Thunberg - whether you like what she has to say or not, she is a great example of how one person can create a sea change in attitudes and action. So concerned was she about stronger action being taken on climate change, that aged just 15 years old, she started to sit outside the Swedish parliament holding up a sign reading ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’ (School strike for the climate). This was a one-person protest which has led to a global movement. Now that’s widening your Circle of Influence…

Put up or shut up

Along with the Circles of Influence and Concern, there’s a little whinge gap because well, we all love a little moan sometimes – we download and we move on. It’s clearly not something we’re too bothered about because otherwise it would be within our Circle of Influence. So, we decide we’re not going to get a bee in our bonnet, nor elevate it to something we perpetually whinge about.

Which area do you think people spend most of their time? It’s the Circle of Concern– you’ll hear things like: ‘Isn’t it dreadful the amount of homeless people on the street?’ ‘Isn’t it terrible how the local MP is doing nothing about the mess they’re making of the new inner ring road,’ ‘It’s awful how little nurses get paid,’ etc etc. If they care enough about something, they’d widen their Circle of Influence, as opposed to just incessantly talking about it, without taking any action.

People with high self-respect and self-esteem send emails, contact their local MP, form a pressure group or start a charity to make a change. Greta Thunberg did, so did Malala. As did Marcus Rashford. They cared enough to do something about the situation they weren’t happy with.

Put up or shut up – do something about it or stop whingeing, if it’s that important to you, you’ll effect positive change.

Could it be true that some people have a small Circle of Influence because they can’t be bothered to do anything?  Do we have a lot more influence than we exercise sometimes?  We may need to expand the Circle of Influence to meet the Circle of Concern.  What are you doing to do this?  Some of the laws we enjoy today are because historically some other people cared enough…

The wrong kind of party

Very often, the complainers in life find company and when two or more people get together for a whinge, a ‘Pity Party’ is formed. In the workplace, they’re a self-serving culture destroyer- when people have been whinging negatively, even for just a short time, it takes two hours for their brain to get back to being productive - that's a lot of money lost for that company! However, positive complaint is necessary; it’s how we get things changed.

Linda Cliatt-Wayman gives a powerful TED Talk on fixing broken schools. One of the three powerful slogans she uses in her schools is: ‘So what? Now what?’ She says it eliminates all the excuses and gets people to think ‘What are WE going to do about it?’ A question I suggest persistent faultfinders could ask themselves…

To do or not to do, that is the question…

Can you do something about everything you are concerned about?  Probably not and if that is the case then consciously choose to put it in the background. It’s about choosing consciously where you want to put your time, energy and resources.

It’s okay to have an opinion without action, that’s your choice as long as you don’t keep winding yourself up about it. If you are consciously choosing to do nothing about it at the moment, you avoid guilt. Your life might already be full of many other challenges and issues, people and work, which are important to you. The point is, don’t be one of life’s complainers who stands on the sidelines, comments but takes no action. Be a conscious thinker. Know what bothers you enough that you’ll do something about it and park the stuff which you find frustrating or disappointing but which you know you’re not going to act on.

It means your self-respect and sanity remain in-tact. 

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Do you find you frequently wind yourself up? Are you finding the negatives in life seem to outweigh the positives and you don't know how to redress the balance? 

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