Without action, there can be no self-determination! We achieve outcomes by taking action. Furthermore, we develop increased self-awareness and confidence in ourselves as a result of taking action and reflecting on the outcomes of those actions. This increased knowledge and confidence contributes to an upward spiral of self-determination. Taking action almost always involves some element of risk. Self-determination is advanced when we learn to take calculated risks. The preparation we make for action, especially anticipating and planning for the potential consequences of actions, helps us minimize risk…..so does a sense of social support.
Being able to communicate effectively–speaking, listening, reading, and writing–contributes to our ability to take action toward our goals. Listening is especially important. It’s how we gain information to know where our supports, and our potential pitfalls, lie. It also contributes to building the positive relationships that are so important to increasing self-determination.
Communicating assertively is especially important for self-determination. Assertive communication is all about honestly stating our wants, feelings, or beliefs in a way that does not deny the right of others to be respected or block their feelings, beliefs, or opinions. Assertive communication can be contrasted to passive communication (you don’t express your wants, feelings, or beliefs) and aggressive communication (saying what you want in a way that denies the right of others to be treated with respect or attempts to block others from expressing their feelings, beliefs, or opinions that may different from yours). By communicating assertively, we state our wants while at the same time contributing to the growth of positive relationships.
Another important aspect of the Act component is accessing resources and support. We rarely reach a goal all by ourselves. We typically need to access support or resources from others to get there.
Consistent with the need for strong communication and positive relationship skills are the abilities to negotiate and to resolve conflict and criticism. To foster self-determination over the long-term, we need to work toward our goals in a way that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. We might be able to reach our goal one time by trampling over someone else, but if we want that person (or anyone else they know) to support us in our next effort we’ll likely be out of luck and our sense of self-determination will be short-lived. Learning to use win-win negotiation strategies is recommended to increase the likelihood of getting what we want from a negotiation while still preserving positive relationships.
Despite our best efforts to build positive relationships while we’re working toward our goals, we will likely have times when our efforts to be self-determined result in conflict with, or criticism from, others. We need to learn to make conscious choices about when and how to address conflict.
Remember the little engine that could? It’s a perfect example of maintaining persistence–and what it takes to be persistent–to reach our goals. I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can……. are important words to remember. The ability to persevere in spite of obstacles is an essential element of ongoing self-determination.