5 Tips for Picking Your Battles, and Winning Some
I recently read The Education of an Idealist — the memoir of former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power. The memoir describes her childhood as an Irish immigrant in America, her education and human rights advocacy, and of course her work as US Ambassador to the UN under the Obama administration. Samantha has had an incredible life and career but one line from the book, in particular, has stayed with me. A friend of Power’s tells her -
“The world is filled with broken places. Pick your battles, and go win some”
My battles may not relate to the foreign policy of the world’s most powerful nations but the quote still leaves a lasting effect.
To pick your battles is to actively decide to not participate in minor or unimportant arguments, conflicts, or confrontations, so saving your energy instead for issues of a greater significance whether regarding relationships, career, or other personal matters. Many of us know this but never stop to evaluate the advantages of being selective.
We all face multiple battles a day whether we notice them or not. From getting kids ready for school to customer service arguments over online chat. But, how often do we stop to consider why we engage in some battles and pass on others?
With so much going on in the world there is no better time to start picking your battles wisely — and go on to win them.
Why Is It Important To Pick Our Battles?
Not Everything Will Always Be Important
It is vital to consider the long-term effects of your battle. Will taking it on affect your day, your week, your year, or longer? How often have you gone to sleep in a fit of anger only to wake the next morning feeling calm and embarrassed at your reaction the night before?
Contemplate the importance of the battle. It is not healthy to pick a fight in order to feel short-term satisfaction. Every day people exceedingly sacrifice to a cause only to later realise the consequences were too great. Start questioning why you want to go through this struggle and if it is really worth your efforts or should be avoided.
Is It Your Battle To Fight?
It is easy to assume someone else’s fight is our own — it can stem from feeling protective over a friend or family member — but if it’s not your battle then why spend your time fighting it? We live in a world where everyone is easily triggered; do not pick a fight because you assume it is the right thing to do for someone other than yourself. Remember, you have enough of your own battles to fight.
Also, consider if you are qualified for the battle. If you have issues with a manager in a workplace, for example, do you go directly to them or is there a supervisor who you could lean on for advice and help?
Life Is Short
The most obvious yet overlooked thought; you have limited time on this planet, what mark do you want to leave? Don’t waste your life nitpicking on small issues, focus on your passions and fight to achieve them. Conserve your energy for what matters and forget petty arguments.
How to Pick Your Battles, and Win Some
1. Assess the Issue at Hand
Stop and think:
- Is this worth my time and effort — what will I get out of it?
- Who will it affect? Can I win without doing excessive damage?
- Will this issue be reoccurring?
- Am I capable alone or do I require the help of others?
Don’t allow yourself to be blinded by ambition. Take time to assess the situation.
If you are struggling with writer’s block then yes it is worth pushing through the hardships but forcing yourself to produce an article a day could be negatively affecting you. There is the possibility that you will come out a better writer, but will you be far superior to if you wrote every second day leaving more time to also focus on your well-being?
It is important to challenge yourself but you must also understand the long-term expectations. If you are struggling on a day-to-day basis then at what point do you expect to feel fulfilled? We don’t need to constantly be in battle — be selective and think bigger picture. Pause and contemplate, is this worth fighting for?
2. Is It Really a Battle or Can It Be Avoided?
Life is not always you against them — could a fight be avoided or can everyone involved come out on top? If your battle is with another person then consider how well you know them. Are you willing to give them a second chance? If you are insulted consider it a mistake on the first occasion and disregard it. If it is recurring then decide how best to deal with the situation.
People can be challenging, it’s easy to feel frustrated and lose your temper. There is a skill in knowing when to bite your tongue. It is okay to turn to others for support; not all battles need to be fought alone.
3. Don’t Act Based on Emotion
We live in a vivacious world where we are easily triggered and often act first and think later. Remember to pause and reflect before you action particularly if you are sensitive or short-tempered. Reacting instantly often causes things to be said that are later regretted. Consider your feelings and what is driving you and acknowledge if you have the emotional capital required for the battle.
On reflection is winning still as appealing and important as it once seemed?
4. Know When to Cut Your Losses
Examine what can be lost from your battle and understand when it is okay to call it quits. Learn to let go. Is this battle capable of solving problems or will it evolve an issue into something worse? Evaluating the negatives will give you a realistic outlook on if the outcome is worth fighting for.
Success is not winning every battle but learning from those you have lost. There will always be people who want to get a rise out of you. Find harmony in the process and don’t always focus on the result.
Know how to recognise people actively working against you and avoid arguing for the sake of it. There is dignity in being able to silence your ego and take the high road.
5. Will You Be Proud of Yourself?
No matter the outcome will you be able to look yourself in the mirror and be happy with who you see? If the answer is no then you need to re-evaluate why you think this battle is the right decision. Stick to your morals — is it really a loss if you have the victory of retaining your pride?
Winning battles is often about power and control, which do not equate to happiness. You must be willing to accept the consequences of a battle before they happen.
A few months into a job I found out that I received five days less annual leave than longer-serving employees. I enjoyed the work but felt that I needed to know I was being treated as equal to others. I assessed the situation and decided how best to proceed. I asked my father for his opinion to help with my decision.
I gave myself enough time to process emotions; I was going to express my concern and have a suggestion on how to resolve the issue. I requested that I receive an extra day of annual leave for every year I worked in the company to a maximum of five, leveling myself with other employees. This request benefitted both future employees and myself as we have the opportunity to get more annual leave days while it also benefited the company as it encouraged loyalty. The company accepted my proposal.
It was an important battle for me and I can look back on my efforts with pride knowing that not only did I receive the requested result but I also approached the issue in a respectable way and have no regrets on how the situation was handled.
When we feel strongly about an issue it can be hard to take advice into consideration but that is often when it is most important.
There is a difference between being afraid of conflict and knowing when it will benefit you more to avoid it. Always remember the advantages of picking your battles and then going on to successfully win them. Considering these tips will help shift your perspective, allowing you to recognise what battles are worth fighting — and winning.
Set yourself up for victory. Knowing how best to handle the situation is half the battle.