Locus of Control

Stuff happens.  Life happens.  There really is not much we can do about it, other than “roll with the punches.”

Or can we do something about it?

That question is at the heart of the concept of “locus of control.” Encarta, the online dictionary, defines locus as “a place where something happens.”  When it comes to the locus of control it is either “out there” in the external world or it is internal, where we are largely in control.  We may not be in control of all that happens in our life, but as we stress repeatedly in TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) ™ work, we are always in control of how we choose to respond.

Locus also means focus.  In the Victim Orientation, the focus is on problems that engage anxiety which leads to reacting.  Those problems are almost always in the outer world – or we at least blame external factors for them.  The “problem” may be a co-worker or a poor boss.  It could also be addiction or compulsion that one blames on heredity or their upbringing or any other external factor.

As we adopt a Creator Orientation, our focus is on the outcomes we choose (and the outcome may be a response to that co-worker or boss, as well as a personal habit).  As we focus on what we want, our desire for the outcome gives us the energy to take the next Baby Step in the process of creating.  We turn inward to answer the question of what we want, which means we have chosen an internal locus of control.

All three of the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)™ roles operate from an external locus of control.  The Victim reacts to the Persecutor (whether a person, condition, or circumstance).  When the perceived Persecutor is a person, they see the Victim as a problem.  The Rescuer sees both the Victim as a problem to be fixed or taken care of and the Persecutor as someone or something to react to.  All three are focused externally and tend to blame each other for the drama they are experiencing.

The Creator, Challenger and Coach roles of TED* all share an internal locus of control.  A Creator knows that they can choose the outcomes they want to create and also choose their response to their life experience – be that a person, condition or circumstance.  A Challenger sees the person in the Creator role as responsible for the choices they make.  A Coach supports a Creator knowing that that person is ultimately capable and resourceful.

So, when “stuff happens” in life, stop and ask yourself where your locus of control resides.  An external locus leads to reactivity.  An internal locus opens to choice.

(If you are curious about your general locus of control, you might find this on-line assessment interesting.


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TED* is Not Another Hammer

Here is one sure-fire way to be perceived by another as a Persecutor: just point out that they are being a Victim. It’s a proven way to engage the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)™!

This is a point we always make in TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) ™ workshops. It also came up in a conversation we had this week with several TED* Practitioners talking about feedback they had received from a recently completed 13-week TED* series. A couple of the written comments from participants indicated that, now that they know and can recognize the DDT roles, they can tell people when they see them playing the roles – and especially Victim.

That is when TED* becomes a “hammer.” Once you have named someone as a Victim, the almost universal response is going to be some form of reactivity – defensiveness; distance; attacking back.

This image of a hammer was given to David years ago when a workshop participant admitted that, after reading The Power of TED*, he would call people on their Victim behavior, only to have them react defensively and, often, shut down. “I realized,” he said, “that TED* had become a new hammer that I hit people over the head with when they were acting disempowered.”

We all desire to see those we care about, including those we work with, grow beyond the DDT roles into the TED* roles of Creator, Challenger and Coach. However, the best way to encourage people to make that shift happen is to change yourself and model the way.

Remember this: you can’t argue against someone’s sense of victimization. This is a lesson that many of us have learned the hard way (because of the reaction we have received when we do).

When someone is exhibiting Victim behavior (complaining, whining, blaming, etc.), this is the process we suggest:

  • Allow them to “vent.” This can actually be healthy in that they get out what has them feeling like a Victim.
  • Show empathy, so they know they are being heard. A simple “I can see you are frustrated” or “I hear your anger” is enough to let them know they are being heard and seen.
  • Redirect the focus. Depending on the subject or object of their sense of victimization, you can then redirect them either as a Challenger or Coach. As a Challenger, you might point out that they have a choice as to how they respond to the situation they are speaking about. As a Coach, you might ask “Given the situation, how do you want to respond – what options are available to you?”

We are grateful that TED* opens up a new realm of possibility in the way we relate to others. At the same time, we have learned that bluntly pointing out to others when they are in the DDT is often counterproductive.

TED* is not to be used as a hammer, but as an invitation.


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Strength from Struggle

Being a Creator is not all “goodness and light.” We stress this reality in workshops all the time. There are times that creating outcomes and choosing our response to life experiences brings with it challenges and struggles (or that which we call Challengers). It is especially in those times that turning to someone, as a Coach, to help you clarify your vision or options can help you gain strength.

However, it is important that the help you seek is that of a Coach, which is a helping role in TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) ™, and not a Rescuer.

Recently, several TED* Practitioners shared the following story in a session they were conducting for their organization that illustrates this point:

The Man and a Butterfly

One day a man found the cocoon of a butterfly, with a small opening just starting to appear. So, he sat down to watch as the butterfly struggled for several hours to force its body through the hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared to the man that it had gotten as far as it could.

Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and the body would contract, so it could fly — but neither happened. Sadly, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It was never able to fly, or be a truly beautiful butterfly.

What the man in his well-meaning kindness and haste did not understand, was that the restricting cocoon, and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening, was nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly, into its wings, so that it would be ready for flight once it got out of the cocoon.

Sometimes, like the butterfly, the struggles we go through in life are necessary, although we usually don’t understand why. If we experienced life without any obstacles, it could hurt our growth. Then we would not be as strong as we should be — and it could keep us from soaring to the wonderful heights you and I are capable of.

Well-meaning Rescuers can actually thwart the growth of those they seek to fix or save. Coaches can help a Creator discern the learning and growth from those “unwanted” Challengers that arise as part of the human experience. As in the story, struggles can actually strengthen us as Creators.


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You Are Not the Voice Inside Your Head

I am sure you have noticed the constant voice chattering inside your head. As I write this essay my (Donna’s) voice sounds like this:

“David is traveling so it is my turn to write this week’s essay. Why did I wait until the last minute? Sometimes I write better when I have a deadline. No I feel rushed and we want to model slowing down to avoid slipping into the drama roles. I don’t feel very authentic right now but I’d better come up with something fast.”

When we start noticing this constant voice, what is most obvious is that it never shuts up! It also takes both sides of the conversation, but mostly it just rambles. It just wants to talk, talk, talk. Most of what it says is meaningless and a waste of time and energy. What’s the point? Why do our human minds work this way?

About two years ago, I was walking along the shore here on Bainbridge Island and noticed this internal dialogue more than usual, probably because it was a beautiful afternoon and I had no reason to judge anything. I stopped to listen:

“Look at the huge thorns on the blackberry bushes. Those thorns hurt when I reach for the berries. I wish I had brought a bowl to pick some. I need some new bowls. I saw some in a catalogue last week. Darn those catalogue companies. I hate how much paper they waste.”

I stopped in my tracks and asked: “What is this chatter about?” When I asked that question I realized there was another “I” listening in on the conversation. There was an observer “I” that was not participating in the meaningless chatter. I realized that other “I” was my true self.

Your true self is the one that hears the internal dialogue. In the TED* work we call the true self the Creator in you. All the other voices come from the reactive psyche that is figuring out how to manage life. What was clear that sunny day is that the chattering voice was trying to create a stronger sense of “Donna as self.” By judging, commenting and chattering about the outside world hopefully her inside “self” would be more individualized.

The voice inside your head is built upon fear that you are not enough. By constantly commenting, this voice is trying to create a more distinct you but, instead, it triggers the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)™!

You won’t stop the voice from talking (it never shuts up!) but you can moderate how much your Creator-self pays attention. To help reduce the internal DDT voice, learn to pause, stand back and observe the chattering. This standing back creates a separation and nurtures the Creator “self” that wants to grow and become the stronger aspect of your true self.

There is nothing more important in learning to shift your center of gravity from the DDT into TED* than realizing you are not the drama voice constantly chattering away. Your true self, your Creator self, is not the one chattering aimlessly, it is the self that is listening. Taking a moment to pause and observe allows the Creator self to distance itself from the drama voice so you can go back to enjoying your day.


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Rescuer as Counselor

We frequently write about the role of Rescuer in the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)™. We do this because the majority of people tell us they adopt rescuing behavior when they become engaged in reactive or drama-filled relationships.

It makes sense that the Rescuing role is the most common role, since most people want to err on the side of defusing tension and keeping conflict under wraps. Rescuing is clearly the more socially acceptable DDT role.  In the work setting, being agreeable and ready to help the boss or co-workers is reinforced as an admirable trait. However, when the Rescuer-as-Counselor becomes exaggerated and is our primary “go to strategy” difficulties may arise.

(An important note:   We are not referring to professional counselors or therapists who provide valuable support to their clients. Here we are writing about the everyday DDT role of Rescuer who gives advice and curative remedies to others as they primary way of moving through life.)

The Rescuer-as-Counselor loves to share what they know and have learned. Counselors are quick to share an idea, the perfect book, workshop or advice on how others can improve their lives.   Counselors also pride themselves on being great listeners. But their keen listening skills can border on gossip and prying into other’s affairs so that they have all the information to create a perfect solution.

In many cases, their advice may be useful which can keep people coming back for more, and promotes being dependent on the Rescuer who wants to feel needed.

Rescuers-as-Counselors can spend so much time thinking about how to solve other people’s issues that they avoid their own inner life. They need others to have problems so they don’t have to focus on their own. If you really listen to a Rescuer-as- Counselor, you will notice that they only focus on other people’s issues.  In doing so, they avoid sharing their own challenges and may create a one-way relationship where vulnerability and sharing comes from others and not themselves.

With a little more balance in their approach, a Rescuer-as-Counselor can build upon their positive concern for others and grow into more equilibrium in working with life’s challenges. If this scenario speaks to you, try these steps:

  • Simply stop giving so much advice. Listen to understand and connect—not to cure or fix.
  • Ask for assistance or advice from others. By relinquishing your superiority as a Counselor you are leveling the playing field and allowing others to assist you. (If you identify with this role, beware. This will be very difficult for you!)
  • Catch yourself giving advice. Stop, observe and ask yourself, “What am I defending or avoiding by giving advice right now?”

Treat yourself to more freedom and ease by letting go of the need to have the perfect book, idea or suggestion for others.   You don’t have to have it all figured out!


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Striving for Comfort Causes Discomfort

Most of us have grown up in the Western world of plenty.   Let’s face it. We who live in the modern world are attached to creating a comfortable life—bigger homes, more love in our relationships, better jobs and on an on.   Striving to create constant comfort is the main goal.

Once we believe we should have continuous comfort, we reject anxiety or sadness that may arise when our life is not always comfortable.   We either strive for more pleasant feelings or we numb the anxiety because we tell ourselves something is wrong if we don’t feel comfortable.

We think we’re the only ones who don’t have everything (an example of the Victim mentality that says “why me?”)  Once this takes hold we turn on ourselves, (example of the inner Persecuting conversation that develops) and say: “We’re not enough. Something is wrong with me that I don’t feel constant pleasure.”

This story helped Donna to understand how feeling uncomfortable can be a teaching lesson:

She recently had a flight delay and went to the United Club to take a break from airport noise. Donna chose a quiet corner and soon a man turned up the sound on his computer to watch a movie. She noticed how uncomfortable it became that her desire for quiet was interrupted. Donna got up to ask him to turn down the sound, and noticed this question arise: “Can I be okay with this sound?” Without talking with the man, she returned to her chair and decided to practice being uncomfortable and not needing to immediately fix the source of her distress. (Interesting side note—once she accepted that she could relax in spite of the sound, he shut off his computer and left.) It was an important teaching moment that she could learn to find contentment in the midst of unease.

The comfort-seeking drama cycle can be traced back to our desire to look for happiness in something other than what we currently have. What we tell ourselves is that we will be happier, more comfortable, if we have something else.   How do we get out of this cycle?

  • To reverse this trap, bring your attention back to the present moment and hold the tension of your uncomfortable feelings.
  • When you notice the uncomfortableness, take a moment to breathe, relax and be with the unease. While relaxed, focus on one thing that is comfortable.
  • Shift your beliefs about uncomfortableness. There’s nothing you have to do or say to deny the existence of feeling uncomfortable. It is part of life. You are okay.

As you learn to hold uncomfortable feelings, the Creator in you has a chance to emerge and ask more profound questions such as: “What is meaningful for me in this moment?”  The brief encounter in the airport was, for Donna, an insightful teaching moment about learning to be comfortable with discomfort.


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You Don’t Have to Attend Every Drama You Are Invited to

Last week, David had the opportunity to spend a morning with students of a private middle school in the Cleveland, Ohio area. He was invited by Chris Nagel who volunteers at the school and teaches principles from The Power of TED* to the junior high students.   In his professional work, Chris is Director of Serving Leader Strategy at Cleveland Clinic and includes TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) ™ in their “Serving Leader” series. With the students and his work at the Clinic, we marveled at Chris’ mastery of the TED* work.

The interaction with the 6th, 7th and 8th graders was invigorating for David. It was clear the students grasped the ever-present realities of the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™. From the issue of bullying to popular movies (the 8th graders had a homework assignment to watch a movie and describe the DDT roles), they were able to observe and describe the roles they saw.

The students shared that:

  • They especially noticed the drama with friends, neighbors and family;
  • Once they learned about the drama-filled roles, they wanted to limit time with those friends and;
  • They often feel trapped because they don’t know how to “protect” their energies and not get pulled into the dramas.

Chris said, “You don’t have to attend every drama party you are invited to.” David loved that statement and knew it described the all-important skill of setting boundaries. In other words, when others try to pull you into the DDT – consciously or unconsciously – you can choose not to join.

We don’t have to attend every drama party we are invited to! We can consciously choose to limit our time with those who are “drama queens and kings.”

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Be aware of how you are feeling. What happens to you when you are around others who love the drama? If you succumb to the drama, which DDT role are you likely to take on?  Be on the look-out for that role when it emerges.
  2. Be able to say “no,” when invited into the drama. “No” is the essential word when learning to set boundaries.
  3. Make your own self-care a priority. Learn to care about yourself enough that you stay away from drama situations because you know, from past experiences, you do not thrive in them.

Again, you do not have to “attend” every drama you are invited into. As the students shared, drama parties are everywhere and you can choose not to “play.” By modeling boundaries you may also give permission to others not to participate. Who knows, the drama party may fizzle-out due to lack of attendees.


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The Zen of Current Reality

A corporate executive (Jack Welch, former CEO of GE) once wrote: “What determines your destiny is not the hand you’re dealt; it’s how you play the hand. And the best way to play your hand is to face reality – see the world the way it is – and act accordingly.” (Emphasis added.)

This statement came to David’s mind during his recent 10-day silent meditation retreat. Seeing reality for what it is – not as we wish to see it or to “spin it” or to only look at either the bright side or dark side to the exclusion of the other – requires a discipline and resolve to meet reality on its own terms.

It takes a Zen-like discipline. The online Urban Dictionary offers an interesting definition of Zen: “Zen… is a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. Zen is a way of being. It also is a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.”

As we often stress in workshops when working with Dynamic Tension, in order to move toward your envisioned outcome, you must tell the truth about your current reality – both what’s working and supports the outcome, as well as what is not working and is inhibiting your capacity to create it (including the problems you face).

This is especially challenging, for some of us, in reflecting on our own qualities, characteristics and behaviors. It is all too easy to delude ourselves by rationalizing or denying aspects of our current reality that may demand we own behaviors not to our liking.

We may “shade the truth” (i.e. lie to others or ourselves) about what we are doing or not doing to create physical, spiritual and/or mental health. Yet, if we truly hold a vision to live consciously and in a lifestyle of health and wellbeing, we must (as it is said in 12-step recovery systems) “make a thorough and honest inventory” in order to make choices and changes which result in the Baby Steps that move us in the direction of our true and healthy desires.

Another challenge in this discipline is not to judge or condemn current reality, but to be able to say “it is as it is.” To judge or condemn only serves to fuel anxiety and can easily throw us into the Victim Orientation and the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™ and, most likely, become a Persecutor to ourselves or others.

The key, as Welch wrote, is to see reality for what it is and to act accordingly by taking Baby Steps toward the envisioned outcome.What determines your destiny is not the hand you’re dealt; it’s how you play the hand. And the best way to play your hand is to face reality – see the world the way it is – and act accordingly.


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Learning to Stop – A Rollerblading Lesson

Donna has fond memories of roller-skating as a kid, so naturally, she wanted to learn to rollerblade as an adult. To celebrate her 60th birthday a couple of years ago, she bought herself a new pair of rollerblades. Last week she finally decided it was time to try them out.

After practicing in the local school parking lot, she declared herself ready for a larger challenge—to skate the 3 mile loop around Green Lake, one of Seattle’s beautiful urban lakes. About half way around the lake she was feeling smug about how well she was doing. Then she thought to herself: “I wonder if I should have learned to stop?” The next second she fell backwards with the full weight of her body on her left knee, which painfully folded beneath her.

Fortunately her sprained knee is mending. Icing it while lying on the couch has given her ample time to reflect upon the drama she created for herself and the family that had to take care of her.

As it turns out, there are many lessons to be learned from this experience and David has been tactful about not bringing all of them to her attention. One obvious lesson is the importance of learning to stop and observe the situation with as much truth and accuracy as possible (we call this assessing current reality).

The idea of learning to stop is essential in the TED* work (okay..…we don’t always remember to practice our own work!). The language we use is to “call a time out.” Learn to stop and ask yourself: “Where am I? Am I adding to life’s drama or am I empowering myself and others?”

Stopping and reflecting is contrary to our society where one-click buying is now the standard. Don’t stop and think about it–just buy it! We are surrounded with cultural norms that oppose the idea of being deliberate and thoughtful. “Get ‘er done” and move on to the next task is all too common. In other words, don’t stop and reflect. Just do it.

Donna now admits she did not stop and tell herself the truth or she would have realized that learning to stop is an important rollerblading skill. Seduced by her desire to finally try out her new blades, she wanted what she wanted and she wanted it now!

If you are avoiding stopping and taking a time-out before acting, these questions may be helpful:

  • Is there something you are sidestepping?
  • What do you hope no one asks you?
  • Where are you fooling yourself?

The impulse to have what you want can hide the facts of the situation. Donna actually persecuted herself by avoiding essential information about learning to rollerblade. When you do this, you will reduce your chances of success. Learn to stop, observe and tell yourself the whole truth. It will serve you well.
Rollerblade Lesson

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Craving or Passion?

David recently returned from a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Although the silence was maintained between participants, each night there was a discourse, or presentation, by a teacher. One of the themes that recurred throughout was that of the human tendency toward craving.

We have spent some time considering the question: what is the difference between craving for an outcome, as a Creator, and tapping passion for an outcome?

When we crave an outcome our emotional energy is attached to it and, if what we want is not fulfilled, we will experience disappointment, loss – even suffering.  Also, if the outcome we are focused on does not come to fruition in a timely manner, we may give up on it.

Passion, on the other hand, is the emotional energy that naturally arises when we focus on outcomes that have heart and meaning for us. There is a quality of love for the possibility of the outcome and, therefore, we often have a greater capacity to hold the Dynamic Tension.

Passion fuels persistence and we take multiple Baby Steps – sometimes forward and sometimes experiencing setbacks – in the journey toward the outcome.

Many years ago, David heard an interview with Peter Senge, a well-known consultant and advocate for “learning organizations,” in which he told a story that illustrates the distinction between craving and passion.

The story was about an American CEO and a Japanese CEO having a conversation over dinner. At one point the American executive shared that his company had set a goal of winning the Malcom Baldrige Quality Award within three years. (The Baldrige Award is a very prestigious recognition of a company’s commitment to total quality management and continuous improvement).

The Japanese executive expressed surprise at the American’s declaration. He responded that, in his company, they would never think of going after winning the Deming Prize (the Japanese equivalent and forerunner to the Baldrige Award). Instead, he went on to explain, the company was so committed to total quality and continuous improvement, if they were doing the right things (i.e. taking the appropriate Baby Steps) then, maybe someday the Deming Prize would come to them.

The American executive, as the story is told, was craving the recognition that the award would bring his company. If they did not achieve the outcome, given all the hard work, process improvements and changes it would take, there would be deep disappointment and “suffering” in failing to meet the goal.

The Japanese executive, on the other hand, was focused on the on-going outcome of total quality management and continuous improvement from an “inner state” of passion and commitment, regardless of whether or not they achieved the prize.

As a Creator, take a step back and ask yourself the question: “Are the outcomes I want to create coming from an inner state of craving or passion?”

Craving or Passion?

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