We have all heard the old adage that our lives are the product of our choices. Why is it that no one really bothers to take the time to teach us this vital skill — Making Choices? Not in school, nor at home. In some cases, one may encounter a course in decision-theory. Even if you know the theory, how many take the time and run a careful decision-analysis before making every move. We need something a lot simpler and more in concert with how we operate as emotional humans.
I believe that our daily lives are filled with numerous opportunities on a moment by moment basis to exercise our choice. Just learning this simple truth can energize us with a great deal of power. Right now, I could be focused on finishing this article and sharing it with you or worrying about something else or chatting with a friend or watching TV.
Too much weight seems to be placed on the big choices in life, because of the imagined enormity of their impact as conjured up by our minds. Our clever minds are in the habit of making mountains of mole hills. I recently read that the three most important choices in life are to figure out where to live, what career path to choose and who to marry.
According to this popular philosophy, once a person decides on a city, a career and a spouse — they should be set for life. I don’t believe that life plays out that way at all. I have personally experienced and known people who love the city they live in, like their jobs and are in love with their spouses, but are not living a life of joy and fulfillment.
So what’s the catch?
The quality of our life is defined by our experience of various life moments, not just the big ones. Big events come by very few times in one’s life, but small everyday moments occur in droves. Just becoming aware of the number of occasions we have every day to exercise our ability to choose is empowering.
We are mostly unaware of this gift. We simply settle for the default option that is made for us. I always tell my wife, “If you don’t move your chess piece, your opponent will move it for you. That’s usually not a good situation.” If you actually took the time to count the number of opportunities you have everyday to exert your option to make a choice, you will realize how powerful you truly are.
We all know big choices make a difference in our life, but how many of us realize that it’s the little everyday choices that impact the quality of our life and our ability to attain lasting joy and fulfillment?
How many of these little choices do we encounter everyday?
My good friend and executive coach, Sharon Eakes, recently wrote about Choosing in Every Moment in her e-zine Fresh Views, “With really big things it’s easy to notice we have a choice. What shall I do with the rest of my life? Shall I marry this person? It’s harder to realize I’m choosing in every moment on little, everyday things. What to do, feel, think, say? How to say it? Whether to be cheerful or grumpy. Every time I remember how many choices I have in a day, I feel both liberated and overwhelmed. Often I’m not even aware of the choices I make. Or it feels like someone else MADE me choose this or that.”
I recently hosted a Meetup group and asked them how many choices they made in a given day and they quickly answered, a hundred. The group also chuckled at the question, because it was mind-boggling for them to count the number of opportunities they had every single day to make deliberate choices. It’s also sad to note how often we knowingly or unknowingly “pass” on our choice and succumb to the default option.
And yet, how do we become better at making these “smaller” everyday choices?
While some of us may think that we take the time, gather the facts, analyze the situation and make rational choices, most of the time we only “rationalize” our choice. So, who made them to begin with? And, why are we rationalizing?
On the other hand, many of us find ourselves at the mercy of our choices. How come we did not use our free will to make better choices? Did we even know we had a choice to make?
Several of our choices are either motivated by our fears and our need to avoid painful experiences (APE) or driven by our greed or our instinct to pursue instant gratification (PIG). Many other choices are influenced by our Ego or our need to protect or enhance our identity or our image in society. Once we become aware that our primitive instincts or our egoic self tend to strongly influence our choices, we can pause and ask three simple questions when faced with a choice:
- Am I being driven by my fears or my discomfort?
- Am I being driven by greed or my need for pleasure?
- Am I being driven by my Ego or my pride?
Additionally, once you are aware of these forces working within you, you become vigilant and watch for their moves and influences. You become more present. Knowing that you own a PIG, APE and a Monkey, you are now very careful and watch their every move. I often joke and tell my kids, “Monkeys are very clever, they will do tricks for you and if you are not careful, they will trick you and make a monkey out of you.”
Have fun with this and I would love to hear your thoughts and how your choice-making may have improved as a result of this awareness.
Better Choices = Better Life.™