Have you ever gone through something at work or at home and felt that you really had no choice about having to go through it?
My clients often will say “I have to do this.” It might be about a reaction to a problem, being in a difficult situation, or minor irritation. Sometimes it is a job they are in that they dislike but they stay in the job they hate because they need a steady income or healthcare benefits.
I think that people actually do have choices. They make their choices every single day.
Always a Choice
The past is set in stone so we have no choices about what has already happened. And there are many things that are beyond our control. However, as the old saying goes “We can not direct the wind, but we can adjust our sails.”
When a client says “There are only two choices: stay or go.” I challenge them because there are very few truly dichotomous choices in life. There are probably hundreds of options to choose from. While not all of them may be attractive, we can shift our thinking about many of those options. We can, in fact, change our reactions to those alternatives.
We Choose All the Time
There are choices we make every day but we may not see them as choices anymore. They may now feel like habit and lifestyle. We choose to go to exercise or not, socialize or not, and hit the snooze button or get up.
• When do you wake up? 7:00 am because you want to be on time for work? 6:00 am because you want to get in an early workout? What if you are really tired?
• What will you wear today? You select one outfit out of a variety of options
• You choose to walk, drive, take the train, bus, subway, grab a scooter to get to where you are going.
• What’s your routine? Start with coffee at home? Grab a coffee on the go? Get a cup in the coffee room at work? Stick with water?
• What do you tackle first? Return phone calls? A morning meeting with your team to kick off the day? One-On-One with your boss? Review the report that is due?
Everything I’ve listed above is a choice. It might be a habit, a comfortable routine, or what you think works best for you, but you are choosing all the time. And for each one cited above, there are a host of other options. We have choices about the little actions we take as well as those options that are life-altering.
Own Your Choices
While you may feel helpless about your choices (“I have to help her. If I don’t, she’ll fail.”), that feeling of helplessness allows the problem to remain. While it does take courage to choose a different course of action, it can also lead you to a happier and more empowered life. Being proactive about your choices usually results in creating the outcomes you want to see.
If you find yourself (or hear someone else) complaining repeatedly about the same thing, a good question to ask is ‘What are you doing about that?” If the answer is ‘nothing,’ it indicates that the variety of possible options has not been examined.
If you think you have no choice over whatever situation is making you unhappy, then that will be how things remain. You will be the person who can’t find where their power lies. As a good friend told me a long time ago – ‘Nothing changes if nothing changes.’
Why is that we feel we have no choice or don’t change?
One reason is that most of us act in ways that we think will make us feel better. We eat junk food instead of fruit and vegetables because it brings us more comfort. Buying more stuff gives us more joy than budgeting and saving.
We put a lot of power into immediate gratification. We want to feel good now so we snag those things that bring us happiness immediately. We are not looking at the long term impact and potential pain down the road.
It’s easy to see the wrong decisions in hindsight. But when you are in the moment, you may have chosen what made the most sense then. You are learning from experience. The goal is not to beat yourself up, and to figure out where you can make an adjustment so you don’t make the same mistake again.
Rather than blaming the outside forces and feeling victimized, you can identify that your power lies in making different (and better) choices.
I work with clients on creating goals that are important to them and learning behaviors that create empowered action. To help you think about whether I might be able to support your efforts in this area, ask yourself:
• Is there anything I am currently doing because I think I don’t have a choice?
• What is the goal that I am after that seems obstructed because I think that I don’t have a choice?
• What have I done to address my situation?
• Do I know why my previous actions did not work to change my situation?
Life IS Choices
No matter how things seem, we always have a choice. The choices you have made throughout your life have gotten you to where you are today. You can move toward what you want by accepting the responsibility for your actions and summoning some courage. Reach out and contact me if you want to do more.