Change the things you can II: About influence
After publishing the article Change the things you can, which was about having or not having influence on our lives, I was asked by several of you to write more about the topic of influence, and about what I meant by the word ‘influence’ as such.
The question is philosophical and very broad, so I will focus on what I mean in coaching when I talk about influence. I would be happy to hear your view on having influence on our own lives.
If you wish to read the original article first, you can find it here.
What does it mean: having influence on things in life?
In my understanding of the term, having influence means having a chance to affect how things in our lives develop. What we do, how we feel and think, how we interpret the world around us through our values, beliefs, fears or wishes, how we act – those are all determinants that can have an impact on our lives.
However, those are not the only determinants, because situations often depend not only on us, but also on other people and many other variables, so what we usually have is some level of influence, rather than full control.
Influence is the potential for having impact. On an imaginative scale, having influence would be somewhere (anywhere) between having no control at all, and having full control over a situation. And I believe that in most of the situations and areas of our lives, we are somewhere within that scale, with neither zero control nor full control. Sometimes we can have just a little influence, but still more than zero, and many other times we can be the crucial determinant.
As influence is not control, it does not contain certainty: if we do something to improve our situation, we do not have certainty that the situation will improve. But we have a chance, often a great chance.
We humans often long for certainty. We fantasise that if we had full control over our situation, if everything were up to us, things would work much better. On the other hand, we may think that if we knew that we could not influence our lives at all, we would at least save a lot of energy and useless effort.
But would our lives really work better in either of those two cases: if things were fully up to us, or if we could leave everything to someone else?
How many times have we been pleasantly surprised in life? How many of our hobbies, passions, career directions have we discovered by chance, and how many precious people, friends or a partner have we met where we would never have thought of looking for them? Think of happy coincidences, new inspirations, all the unpredictable but desirable things in life. We would perhaps have missed them all if we had had full control, or, on the contrary, we might never have grabbed the chances if we had left the control to somebody else and just waited.
There is very little certainty in our lives. And we have to choose whether to approach the uncertainty with mistrust or trust that life is better, nicer like this: when we can control very little, but influence almost everything in our lives.