I’m going to start this post with a quote you’ve probably heard before.
“Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing” – Laurie Buchanan
As far as I can see, the main rule for being successful is to take responsibility for your life. Too often, I hear people putting up metaphorical walls in the way of success before they’ve even tried to take a step and, more often than not, it comes down to your ability to see choices.
Seeing choices isn’t some mystical innate talent, it’s not a ‘you do or you don’t’ ability. It’s a skill. And like every skill on this planet, it takes learning and practice and repetition to get good at it. Some of us are lucky because we were brought up by people who could see choices and, just like learning to speak, we learned this skill when we were young. Some of us were very unlucky and were brought up by those who see the world in black and white and nothing in between, but it’s okay, you can learn to see the grey still. And some of us knew how to see every possibility as enthusiastic children but have lost the art as the world has ground us down over our adult years. Wherever you fit, I promise you one thing. When you learn to see choices, you learn how to change your life and the world. You learn the art of the possible.
So, what do I mean by seeing choices? Let’s try and comprehend this in metaphor first. Imagine you’re walking down a corridor, it’s quite a short corridor, and you take 5 steps only to find yourself surrounded by three doors: one in front of you, one to your left, and one to your right. Pick a door, turn the doorknob, and step through. As you go through the door, you notice this corridor is slightly different from the first one. You start walking only, after 5 steps, you find yourself surrounded by another three doors. This continues again and again, the corridor changing slightly each time. This is an example of what’s happening when you make a decision or choice. The key learning is, every action you take, even the action of not taking any action, is a choice. When we talk about seeing choices, the aim is to see all the doors available to you, and not just the pre-conditioned straight line ahead of you.
Let’s make it a bit more practical. At work at the moment, our team has stacks of boxes of chocolates and sweets in front of us. Literally, in front of me today was three tins of Quality Street, a tin of Celebrations, and a box of Haribos. So there’s your first choice – Quality Street, Celebrations, Haribos, all of them, any combination of two, or none at all. Say I pick Haribos, do I eat them straight away, save them for later, or change my mind and not have any at all? What order will I eat the sweets in? Do I save the cola bottles for last as they’re my favourite (duh) or eat them first? You see how a very simple example can create a whole lot of choices? Most of which, you’d go through intuitively in the moment when your hand reaches into whichever tin. If you were to remain present throughout an entire day, you could play out these miniature decisions throughout every second.
Obviously, the brain makes a lot of our choices for us out of habit. We have conditioned our neurons over months and years and decades to fire in a certain way automatically and this is INCREDIBLY useful in a lot of situations. Imagine if you had to decide how to move your body when it came to walking every day? You’d be exhausted before you even got to work! However, this system can trick our minds into feeling trapped, like they can’t change the reality of how things are, and lead to a lovely little habit called blaming everyone and everything around us. Not so helpful….
So the trick of seeing choices goes a little like this. Think about an area of your life that you’re less than content with right now. Maybe you hate your job, you despise the morning commute, you can’t stand spending time with your in-laws at Christmas, you don’t have time to exercise, or whatever it is. Think of that situation and say to yourself ‘I’m choosing this’. How does it feel to choose those feelings and that scenario? A little crap? Me too, but that’s the reality of it. Now, think about your scenario again, but this time make the picture much bigger and put it in the centre of a mindmap (physically or metaphorically, it’s all the same to me). Ask yourself, ‘What possible options do I have here?’. They don’t have to be immediately plausible, or even things you think you would do, and yes they can be to quit/stop/leave even if that feels impossible. Just mindmap every option, absurd to practical, that you can think of.
I’ll warn you now, this is when the excuses will kick in HARD. Say you’re miserable going to work; this is when all the ‘but I need my job to pay the rent’, ‘I don’t have any experience to move careers’, ‘no one will employ me at X age’, ‘my manager will never listen to me about X’. Tell the voices that you realise they’re just trying to keep you safe, but actually there’s nothing dangerous here but a little bit of thinking and we’ll engage them again when we come to making a serious decision. If that’s not working, tell them to shh. If that doesn’t work, tell them to STFU. Write down every idea you have on that mindmap.
Look at that mindmap. Look at every idea you wrote down. However mad or impossible, some of them will be very realistic. This exercise increases the number of doors in the corridor. See which ones take your fancy and have a serious think about them. Your life is your own and you can choose at any moment to change it.
Sometimes, the most powerful choice you can make is acceptance. For example, maybe you despise Christmas but it makes your partner very happy and you mindmap all the choices you have around Christmas including everything from burning down the tree to asking your partner to spend Christmas with her family, but at the end of it your realise that seeing your partner super happy on Christmas day is more important to you than honouring how much you hate it. In this instance, you actively choose your situation and you attach a why which replaces the resentment and bitterness with acceptance and contentment. Equally, maybe you burn down the tree, ornaments and all – only you know what choice is best for you.
Learning to see the choices in your life, even the ones you think you HAVE to make, will allow you to claim responsibility over your life, and take the power back. From this position of power, the world is your oyster. What could you choose?