"Forget it Jake, It's Chinatown" - Feeling Powerless in Your Life: It's Evolutionary Irrational Malevolence
I was shmying around Best Buy the other day. I found myself wander aimlessly into the television department. A glossy Korean LCD television was playing a blue ray disc of one of my all-time favorite Jack Nicholson flicks, "Chinatown."
I happened to catch that iconic final scene where Nicholson's character, Mr. Gittes is powerless to do anything but watch his love interest lose her life at the hands of dirty cops paid off by her corrupt and powerful father who controls all of the water in Southern California.
Although a tragic example the feeling of powerlessness has a very distinctive energetic signature different from other negative emotions. Feeling powerless and out of control in your life makes us not see the forest from the trees. The feeling, if left unchecked can hijack our coping mechanisms. Addiction, depression, etc are all byproducts of this toxic emotion.
How many of you feel powerless at this very moment? Does it feels like the power has been turned off in your head? Not fun, right?
Maybe you feel stuck, or unfulfilled at work. Or maybe a family member makes you feel terrible about yourself or invisible.
Feeling dis-empowered can make you feel completely out of control and at the mercy of your fear.
How many "take-charge" people do you know in your life? Those "take charge" self empowered people in your life did not stumble upon on it by accident. Self-empowermentis something they work at on a daily basis.
So what does that actually mean? The word "empowered" to me seems like a leftover artifact from the "EST movement" of the 1970's.
Unfortunately the term "self-empowerment" is so overused today it that it has lost its meaning.
Feeling charged, confident, inspired, and passionate is a great way to define self-empowerment. It’s feeling that you are in command of your own Star-ship Enterprise (instead of in the engine room or stowage, watching your life fade away).
Sadly, most of us don’t feel empowered on a daily basis… maybe not even a weekly or monthly basis.
What can you do to feel more powerful and in control of your daily life despite your circumstance?
Consciously relive your accomplishments on a regular basis.
When was the last time you felt confident and capable of anything?
Whether it was last week or a year ago when was the last time you thought of your successes?
Easier said than done right?
What if I am currently out of work, barely making ends meet, overwhelmed with debt and have kids to feed? How I am supposed to feel empowered when I am feeling out of control and scared?
Simple. Take a moment to take a personal inventory of how you feel.
Ask yourself this one simple question: are you currently playing the old "powerless tape" about a particular criticism, tragic event, or negative feedback from an old boss, family member, or co-worker from ten years ago? Is this old tape on auto-repeat mode (for those of you who feel hopeless and powerless because of the current circumstances in your life).
Practice, Practice, Practice
Unfortunately evolution has not made it easy for us to deal with that noxious feeling of powerlessness. Unfortunately our neuro-biology is wired to focus on the negatives in such a way that it distracts us from focusing on the positive people, places, and things in your life.
Like daily exercise, it takes daily effort to consciously train your 'amygdala hijacked' brain to replay your past successes instead of your bad decisions, tragedies, and failures in life.
Create a Success Inventory
The workaround? Create an inventory of all the things you have accomplished that make you feel proud and accomplished no matter how big or small. Keep it to yourself. Use your memo pad on your phone or write down on a post it note using it as a bookmark when reading your favorite book, etc.
Challenge the Feeling
Facing your fears (big or small) is the best way to rewire our brain's tendency to become hijacked in fear and powerlessness when bad things happen to us.
The brilliant movie Chinatown is a metaphor of the whole world, and forces us to survive in a world that is sometimes hard and cruel. But as Nicholson's brilliant portrayal of the private eye Mr. Gittes now understands why life with as little suffering as possible, is a life where you “do as little as possible”.
Roman Polanski made a hopelessly tragic and cynical movie, but even if we choose to live a life of hope and aspirations, it’s worth it to know that life can sometimes throw us around in such away that we may not feel we can survive it. But then we do and life goes on. And thus, this film, this ending scene, and it’s big lessons, will always follow me, until one day when I have to face my own Chinatown.