Dr. Judith Orloff, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCLA
Are you addicted to power? Many leaders are, and it gets in the way of their personal and professional progress.
Here’s a mini-profile of a power-addicted leader. He feels he can control everything–and if he can’t, he’s going to try anyway. He believes he can “make things happen” and has little patience for people and situations that get in the way and distract him from his objective. He feels most powerful when dominating others. He pushes through illness and pain. He defines himself in terms of his title and net worth. He has a difficult time relaxing, being still, and spending intimate time with a lover, or downtime with friends.
As a result, the power addict often finds himself burnt out, stressed out, obsessed, under-slept, alone, and depleted.
In The Ecstasy of Surrender, I emphasize that power is so seductive because it appeals to our most ancient, hard-wired impulse for survival. But there’s a better way. It’s to let go of your power addiction and surrender to a new kind of power. This other type of power will make you calmer, more resilient, more connected to others, more influential, and more productive.
Here are two ways to surrender to a new kind of power–and beat your power addiction.
Practice intellectual surrender.
Use reason to convince yourself why giving up your power addiction will benefit you. First, you are not giving up power or ignoring your survival instincts. You are simply extending your power base and becoming more a master of your own fate. Next, remind yourself what will improve in your life by seeing power in larger terms. For instance, if you don’t have to control everything, your stress hormones will decrease. You’ll be more relaxed, less uptight, and more energized. You’ll live longer and have better quality relationships. Give your intellect a say in the decision to update your perspective, and let go of knee-jerk reactions.
Let go of old behaviors.
The quickest way to release old behaviors is to try new ones. Start by listing three habits you’d like to let go of. For instance:
— I dismiss people who waste my time with petty questions.
— I have to be right or have the last word.
— I feel competitive with peers and don’t share information with them.
Now, try doing the opposite. Smile at the employee who comes to you for clarification. Tell a colleague that you will consider her proposal, even though it disagrees with yours. Share some valuable business intel with a trusted associate, especially someone who can benefit from that information. By refusing to engage in typical power plays, you’ll see immediate changes in those you seek to influence. People will be calmer around you. You’ll be more appreciated and trusted, and others’ loyalty will increase.
Learning to change your relationship to power and trying on new types of power will open up your heart, which allows you to start feeling at ease. The world will go on. Things will get done. You’ll make an impact. But you’ll feel good while you’re doing it, instead of feeling clenched up and controlling.
Surrendering to a new kind of power means weaning off an addiction to adrenaline power surges and embracing the consciously sought pleasure of higher-ground solutions. No one’s perfect. Just give it your best. Doing this is emotional evolution.
The opposite of addiction to power is surrendering. To find out how “surrendered” you are, take a free quiz here.
Dr. Judith Orloff is assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and author of The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life, on which this article is based. The book will be released in April.