To say 2020 was a tough year is a huge understatement. As we prepare our hearts and minds for 2021, we need to take a step back and look at the so-called “influencers” vying for our influence. From spiritually bankrupt politicians to super-wealthy tech geniuses to charismatic personalities who sway audiences to buy their favorite (sponsored) products, these larger-than-life figures dominate our headlines and social media feeds — but they don’t fill our yearning for authentic, heart-driven leadership.
Paying too much attention to this style of influencer leads us down a path of unhappiness, says Karen McGregor. More and more people are realizing this. As we seek to find our way in a post-COVID world, we long for a new kind of influencer, one who creates good for themselves and everyone else. Best of all, anyone can become this type of influencer — including you.
“You may not think of yourself this way, but the truth is you influence people all the time,” says McGregor, leadership and influence expert and author of Wall Street Journal bestseller “The Tao of Influence.” “Everyone does, whether they’re an ‘official’ leader or not. Here’s the question: Is your influence driven by fear, or greed, or the desire to manipulate others, or the need for recognition — or by a deep longing to create a better world for everyone?”
This is a hard question. We all want to think we have selfless or at least benevolent motives, but when we look within — with a sincere desire to know ourselves — we may find a different truth. Once we do, though, we can begin to influence others for the collective good.
McGregor’s book lays out a path — rooted in the ancient wisdom of the 4,000-year-old Tao Te Ching—that you can follow to identify and break the “power patterns” that undermine your influence, block you from getting the results you want, lead to dysfunctional relationships, and otherwise make you miserable. (For example, distorted power patterns mean that some of us are controllers, others are victims, still others withdrawers, etc.)
She also lays out the three stages of influence that people move through in their lives. The first stage is self-centered; it’s all about attempting to get something we want. The second stage happens when we seek out win-wins; our goal is for everyone involved in a decision or action to benefit. In the third stage of influence, we work toward a powerful outcome for all — for the planet, the community, and the evolution of humanity. (This is the Tao at work.)
McGregor hopes readers will recognize where they are and take steps to start moving to a higher stage of influence. “We have to do the inner work to do the outer work,” she says. “The beginning of a new year is a powerful time to start this journey.”
A few tips to help you get started:
Replace old, habitual, fear-based wording with a new language. Words are powerful: They can lift our spirits, or they can drag us down in an instant — and others with us. When your mind spins its story about what’s wrong with your world over what’s right, notice the words you say and find better words to use in their place. For example, instead of using the word “busy” to describe your life, say that it is “wonderfully full.” Instead of saying, “I’m tired,” say, “I’m going to have a nap, and when I wake up, I’ll feel refreshed, energized, and ready to work or play.”
When you feel angry or annoyed, focus on gratitude. This can help to supplant old power patterns you’ve relied on for years and years. If you are angry with someone or arguing endlessly, remove yourself and ask, What is the gift in this moment? Without blaming or shaming anyone, feel into your heart and ask, What am I grateful for? Try to reframe challenging circumstances as opportunities and practice appreciating them. This is a form of gratitude: to be able to see the good that is present in every situation.
McGregor writes about how there has been loud construction behind her home every morning for the past year. Three neighbors moved away because of the noise. But McGregor says she was able to transform the noise into her morning alarm. “When I hear it now, I feel grateful for starting a new day, and I feel excitement and appreciation for waking up in a comfortable bed without having to set an alarm,” she writes.
Stop begging and pleading and calling it prayer. Asking, bargaining, and engaging in transactions lead to a one-sided relationship with the divine. To better understand the power of prayer, McGregor journeyed to the Poor Clares Monastery in Duncan, British Columbia. The nuns there lived a solitary life of contemplative prayer. They taught her that prayer isn’t what most of us think it is.
“The nuns said that prayer is many things,” she says. “It can be a meditative walk in nature, a feeling of deep gratitude or joy from being in the presence of a loved one, or simply saying a phrase like ‘thank you.’ It can be saying one of many names for God. All these ways to pray have one thing in common: to illuminate a relationship with the divine.”
Start paying attention to your need to be “right.” This very common “ego need” diminishes your power and weakens your ability to influence. It also takes the life out of creativity and destroys new solutions to old problems before they see the light of day. The key to stopping this behavior is to recognize where it comes from. Ask yourself: When did I first take on the belief that I am not okay? Or that there was something wrong or bad about me?
“One of my spiritual mentors, Loree Cowling, helped me with one statement and two simple questions,” says McGregor. “They were: When building connections with another person, have an awareness of your individual agenda. Do you want to be altered by the interaction? Or do you want to alter the other person? Her questions invited me to look at how often I want to be right so that the other person would change, rather than being open to being changed myself.”
Resist the urge to label everything. We use words to label people, events, and experiences as good or bad. As soon as we label something, our mind creates the opposite. If we label someone as a rational person, we will judge others to be irrational. If we label someone as smart, we will find others to judge as stupid. Catch yourself labeling, which serves only to separate “us” from “them” and choose to stop. As we release the language of duality and refuse to describe people according to our preferences, we relax and surrender to acceptance without trying to change them or defend ourselves.
Create “environmental stillness.” A messy space at home contributes to a disorganized and chaotic mind. But if we can take small steps toward establishing stillness on the outside of us, we can experience more internal peace, wellness, and harmony within. Observe each room you use every day and notice what creates unsettling thoughts. Does your office lack a system for filing bills or random pieces of information? Do your bedroom clothes and accessories not have a “home”? Take inventory, commit to doing something about it, and set a date for when it will be done. The entire house can be completed in one month.
When you encounter a challenging person, try thinking of them as a soul mate. Soul mates are actually not romantic partners but people destined to help you grow by presenting you with challenging personality traits and actions you don’t like. They challenge you to look beyond your preferences and surrender to what is. They invite you to accept the Law of the Impersonal while at the same time, saying “yes” to the opportunity to become a more kind, compassionate, and loving human being. This mind shift may defuse anger or defensiveness and help you change the dynamic with “difficult” people who cross your path.
“You really can change the world for the better when you set a resolution around realizing the true power of your influence,” concludes McGregor. “But becoming an influencer begins as an inside job. Once you do the inner work, you can start influencing those around you in a positive way, and the ripples you create will impact the whole world.”
Karen McGregor is a thought leader and catalyst for influencers with a powerful global message, and is the author of Wall Street Journal bestseller “The Tao of Influence: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Leaders and Entrepreneurs.”