There is a song by American punk rock band, Pennywise called “You Get the Life You Choose”. Don’t ask me how I know this–I just do (besides, those of you who know me well already know that I have questionable taste in music–ha!)
While some would see this song title as negative (because we want the life that we want right?), I love the empowering notion that we get to live the life of our choosing. This is a message that was drilled into my head on a daily basis back when I was in treatment for Anorexia and working to put my life back together after escaping an incredibly toxic marriage. My therapist told me repeatedly that our lives are the results of the choices we make. If we want better lives, we absolutely had to make better choices. This sounds so simple doesn’t it? Want a good life? Okay then–make good choices. Easy enough right?
Despite the seeming simplicity of the whole your choices create your life notion, so many of us prefer to go through our lives believing that we are hapless victims of circumstance and that if our lives suck, it is because we’ve been dealt a bum hand; not because we’ve made some stupid choices that have landed us in a less than desirable spot. Buying into this victim mentality means that we get to pout and cry while pointing our finger at others without ever accepting any accountability for our own contribution to the situation. Unfortunately, despite the fact that this “poor me” stance might be easier in the short-term, it will do nothing to enhance our lives down the road.
Please don’t misunderstand me on this point; I am not saying that bad things don’t sometimes happen to good people–they do–unfortunately. However; even when difficult circumstances come our way, it is up to us to choose our response to the situation. This case is eloquently made in the bestselling book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl–an Austrian psychiatrist who survived over two and a half years in a Nazi concentration camp. While many of us will be faced with challenges, few of us will have to endure the horror of being imprisoned against our will in a Nazi concentration camp while watching our parents, brother and pregnant wife perish. This was Frankl’s experience and yet, despite the atrocities that he was forced to deal with, Frankl was able to cope, find meaning and even move forward in life with a renewed sense of purpose.
So, if the quality of one’s life truly is determined by the quality of one’s choices (including the choice of how to react to unfavorable circumstances), doesn’t it seem logical then, that we should make every effort to make consistently high quality choices? Let the following suggestions guide you as you strive to elevate your life through the choices you make…
Live the Life You CHOOSE…
- Do a values check. What are your most cherished values in life? Connection? Freedom? Security? Spontaneity? Once you know your values, try viewing each possible choice outcome through the values lens. Maybe the anxiety that you notice when thinking about a new job opportunity is because the new job is in a town that is two hours away from home and though it would pay more, it would also be in conflict with the value that you place in connection to family. Taking the time to get clear on your values now, will make it easier to align your choices with those values when the time comes.
- Think it through. When faced with a choice, it is common to focus only upon the immediate outcome of the choice, i.e. “eating this entire bag of Cheetos will taste good and make me happy”. Instead, make the effort to really think through the eventual outcome, i.e. “eating this entire bag of Cheetos will leave me feeling frustrated over the extra pounds that I’ve packed on and discouraged with myself because of my lack of discipline regarding my physical health”. Start to make conscious choices by being deliberate in your analyzation of outcomes. Ask yourself 1.) what are the probable outcomes of this choice? 2.) what are the possible but unlikely outcomes of this choice? 3.) What will the outcomes be if I don’t make this choice? 4.) what would the ideal outcome be? and 5.) what choice is most likely to get me to my ideal outcome?
- Balance your emotional feelings and rational thoughts. Whether we realize it or not, our emotional state does have an impact upon the choices that we make. When I am feeling strong and happy, it is easier for me to make choices that will empower me and further my goals. However; when I am feeling strong and happy, I may also be more prone to overconfidence and therefore make choices that carry an unnaturally high level of risk. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it is easy to make lazy, disempowering choices when we are feeling sad or overwhelmed. Though our emotions are neither good nor bad (you can read more about that here) they do impact the way in which we process information. This isn’t necessarily bad, it just means that we need to learn to temper our emotions with our ability to think logically about a situation. It is also crucial that we learn to tune into our emotions so that we are able to discern which emotions are directly related to the choice that we must make and which emotions are stemming from some other outside influence (i.e. a disagreement with a coworker) and therefore need to be filtered in regard to our choice.
- Seek out advice from (qualified) others. There is a quote by Woodrow Wilson that says “I not only use all the brains that I have, but all I can borrow”. He was SO spot on when he said this and it is something that I try to live by every day as I make choices for my life. Granted, there are some choices that are mine and mine alone because they are (for whatever reason) deeply personal to me. However; more often than not, I can make better, more informed choices when I seek out the advice of others who are knowledgeable in the subject matter at hand. I enlisted help from my friend Jenny who is a personal trainer and avid runner when I needed to decide on a training program for my half-marathon. I sought the advice of a website developer colleague when I needed to decide on a web hosting service for FabYOUlous Life and I regularly utilize the expertise of my tech savvy, young adult sons whenever I need to upgrade my phone, decide on a new monitor for my computer or sync my wireless devices. By being willing to admit that there are a lot of things that I don’t know, and seeking out the counsel of those who do know, I have been able to dramatically elevate the quality of choices in my life. There is one caveat to this however; seeking the advice and guidance of others only works if the person advising you actually knows something about the subject matter in question, and has your best interests at heart. DO NOT seek out the advice of your bitter, newly divorced, jealous co-worker if you are looking for advice on how to talk to your husband about an issue that the two of you are having, nor should you ask your friend who has filed for bankruptcy three times about a business investment that you are considering. Instead, look for individuals who have demonstrated success in the areas connected to your choice and go to them for guidance.
- Listen to your hunches. We all (whether we realize it or not) are intuitive. Intuition is simply a knowing that is built upon one’s (often subconscious) capacity to read signals, patterns and clues based upon past experience. It is a form of unconscious reasoning that is rooted in the way our brains collect and store information. While many people attribute spiritual nuances to the phenomenon of intuition (and I don’t have enough evidence to refute these claims so I can’t discount their validity), there is a lot of real science behind these “gut feelings”. As you gather knowledge–whether it’s about what kind of music your boyfriend likes or how to create a website–your brain will begin to recognize patterns and then begin to unconsciously organize these patterns into blocks of information. This process was dubbed “chunking” by the late social scientist, Herbert Simon, PhD. As time goes on, your brain chunks and links more and more patterns together and then stores these clusters of data in your long-term memory. Then; when you see a tiny detail of a familiar pattern, you instantly (though usually subconsciously) recognize the larger composition. That mental recognition is commonly regarded as a flash of intuition. While you certainly want to employ your capacity for logical reasoning when faced with a difficult choice, it would be foolish to discount the intuitive hunches that you receive. For more advice on how to balance logic with intuition when making choices click here.
We are all faced with countless choices every day. Some of them are small and inconsequential (whether to wear your blue or grey socks) while others can have repercussions that impact us for years. By making it a point to become more conscious and deliberate in our choice making we can set ourselves on a positive trajectory toward our most FabYOUlous Life. Remember though, refusing to make a choice is also a choice that can leave you feeling stuck and powerless. Make the intention today to take back the control in your life by choosing to make empowering choices that reflect your goals and aspirations.