Personal empowerment means taking control of your life. It is about more than just feeling able to do so, though this is an important element.
True personal empowerment requires you to set meaningful goals to identify what you want from life, and then take action to achieve those goals and have more impact over the world around you.
People who are not empowered tend to lack control over what they do. They allow others to make decisions for them—whether spouse, partner, children, managers or colleagues. They often lack confidence in themselves and their decisions, and therefore rely on others. However, these patterns of behaviour can be changed and broken by increasing self-awareness and then self-confidence.
What is Personal Empowerment?
At a basic level, the term 'empowerment' simply means 'becoming powerful'. Personal empowerment therefore means taking control of your own life, and not allowing others to control it for you.
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
This sounds simple but, in practice, taking control can be a complicated process.
You need to develop your self-awareness, so that you understand your strengths and weaknesses. You also need an awareness and understanding of your goals—and how these differ from your current position. Achieving your goals may require you to change your behaviours, and even your deeper values and beliefs.
When you are thinking about this, you may find it helpful to read our page on Dilts’ Logical Levels to understand why some changes are harder than others.
Personal Empowerment or Personal Development?
‘Personal Empowerment’ and ‘Personal Development’ are very closely connected.
To become empowered, you may need to do some personal development, and empowerment may also encourage you to develop yourself further.
It may therefore be helpful to read our page on Personal Development.
Developing personal empowerment usually involves making some fundamental changes in life, which is not always an easy process.
The degree of change required will differ from person to person, depending on the individual starting point.
Developing Personal Empowerment
There is a useful six-step process for developing personal empowerment. It can be used either generally, to look at your life as a whole, or as a way to help you to deal with a single issue.
Six Steps to Personal Empowerment
Identify a goal that is focused on power.
This might be, for example, to increase your influence over your colleagues, or to have more influence over your family’s choice of holiday destination.
Increase your knowledge
Your next step is to understand more about the subject or situation. For example, if you wish to have more influence over your colleagues, you need to understand the politics in the organisation. To influence your family’s holiday choices, you need to know what each person wants, and who has the most influence at the moment.
Increase your self-efficacy, or belief that you can achieve.
Before you to take action, you need to believe that you can achieve. Knowing that you have the necessary information can help. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses will also help you to understand where you are most likely to achieve.
Increase your skills and competence
You may need to improve your skills to become more influential. However, as you start to talk to people more, and try to influence them, you will rapidly learn what works, and therefore develop your skills!
Take action—and keep taking action
Personal empowerment means not being ‘knocked back’ by the first problem we encounter, but having the resilience and persistence to keep going and seek other ways to achieve our goals.
Assess your impact
Empowerment is about changing the impact that you have on others and on events. It is therefore important to assess your impact. At first, you may not see much change, but even small changes count as success.
Dimensions of Personal Empowerment
There are a number of possible areas that you may want to look at to help you develop more personal empowerment.
Self-awareness involves understanding yourself and how you are likely to respond to situations.
This enables you to build on positive qualities and be aware of any negative traits which may reduce your effectiveness. Self-aware people make conscious decisions to enhance their lives whenever possible, learning from past experiences. In particular, you may need to improve your awareness of your strengths, weaknesses and limits.
Empowered people know their strengths and weaknesses and are confident in communicating them to ensure that they get the opportunities they want. They also, however, know their limits and have no problems with asking for help or guidance.
See our page Personal SWOT Analysis for help with identifying your strengths and weaknesses.
Values are opinions or beliefs that are important to us but of which we are not always aware.
They can be any kind of belief or perceived obligation. The reasons for personal preferences and beliefs may not always be obvious or known, although they often go back to childhood. Self-awareness requires an understanding of your values, and then some critical examination of them to make sure that they are fully valid. It is also important to accept that everyone’s values are different.
An individual’s skills are the main resources that enable them to achieve their goals.
Skills can be gained through experience, practice, education and training. It is only by developing skills that individual values can be translated into action.
Knowledge or information is necessary to develop self-awareness and skills.
Knowing where to find appropriate information is in itself an essential skill. Without information, your choices will be more limited. The internet has provided an easy way for everybody to access huge amounts of information very quickly and easily. However, not all information is available on the internet—for example, the politics within an organisation—and not all information on the internet is reliable.
Setting goals is a means by which an individual can take charge of their life.
The process of setting a goal involves thinking about your values and the direction that you would like your life to follow. Setting personal goals gives us a sense of direction in life, which is essential to personal empowerment.
See our page Personal Goal Setting for more information.
Confidence is one of the greatest motivators or most powerful limitations to anyone trying to change their behaviour and become more empowered.
Most people only undertake tasks that they feel capable of doing and it takes great effort to overcome a lack of confidence in your own abilities. Improving your confidence and building your self-esteem can therefore be important ways to improve your personal empowerment.
See our pages on Building Confidence and Self-Esteem for more information.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Learn how to set yourself effective personal goals and find the motivation you need to achieve them. This is the essence of personal development, a set of skills designed to help you reach your full potential, at work, in study and in your personal life.
Our eBook is ideal for anyone who wants to improve their skills and learning potential, and it is full of easy-to-follow, practical information.
Language and Empowerment
The use of language, how individuals express themselves verbally and non-verbally to others, can be empowering to both themselves and the people with whom they are communicating. Looking at how language is used is important in terms of self-empowerment and when attempting to empower other people. For example:
Use positive language
Research into language suggests that a person’s self-image is reflected in the words that they use. For example, saying that you ‘should’ behave in a certain way implies passivity and can detract from seeming to be in control and taking responsibility for your actions. Talking about yourself in a positive way, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses, can be empowering.
Use active language
Use terms which imply positive action rather than making vague statements, particularly when talking about the future. For example, ‘I will...’ and ‘I can...’.
Choose your own words to define yourself
If you fail to use words to define your own space and identity, then others will tend to define you and set standards by which you evaluate yourself. They may also try to persuade you to conform to their demands. Be clear about who you are and your values and goals, and do not let others define you.
Avoid criticism and negativity
Criticism should always be given with extreme care, and only when absolutely necessary. If criticism is necessary then it should be given in a constructive way using positive and supporting words and phrases. Our pages on Giving and Receiving Feedback and Offering Constructive Criticism have more information.
A Long-term Process
Personal empowerment is not a static thing that you can do once in your life.
You should view personal empowerment as ongoing personal development. As circumstances change and develop, and as we ourselves change and develop, so do our needs for development and empowerment.