“You always have a choice”.
This is a phrase that has been resounding in my ears for YEARS.
I am not saying it is a phrase I have agreed with for years. That part has only gradually started to unfold over the last year or two. But it is definitely a phrase I have been hearing for years from books, articles, friends, and most importantly (and often) from mentors.
The truth is, at least from this tiny corner of the world, that it is relatively easy for me to convince myself that I do NOT have a choice. Especially when the issue at hand is something I do not want to do, am afraid to do, think I cannot do, or think others do not want me to do (or do want me to do as the case may be – I, too, have my rebellious side), I have discovered that it can be much, much less costly in terms of energy output and personal growth work to simply say “I have/had no choice”.
Except for the ill-concealed, niggling little fact that this is not – is never – true.
You – me – each of us and all of us – we always have a choice.
The very definition of “choice” is to choose between two or more possibilities or options. In this definition we do not read anything about unwillingness, unreadiness, or a strong dislike for the potential outcome of what we are choosing to do or not do. What we may call a lack of choice is nearly always a lack of affinity for one or more possible outcomes of the choice we say we cannot make. In other words, “I have no choice” equals “I don’t like what will probably happen if I do/don’t do this thing I say I have no choice about.”
Here is an example. Let’s say you are diagnosed with cancer. Your doctor says you need an expensive treatment. You look into your bank account and – no cash. So you might be tempted to state, “I am going to die – I have no choice because I can’t afford treatment.” But this is not true – it might be accurate to state that your bank account appears to be devoid of the funds required to pay for that particular treatment at that particular moment, but in no way does this predicate that you are going to die, nor does it predict that there is not yet another possibility for affording the care you need.
In the same way, your boss may come to you and say, “I need you to do this project for me”. You take one look at the project and realize there is an issue with it – it could be the time it will take you to complete it, a conflict with your current workload or your job description, an incomplete scope of work, you name it. So you could say, “My boss says I have to do this project so I have no choice.” But again, this is not true. You have lots of choices, including communicating with your boss to find a reasonable solution that works for you both (see my post last week “The Cool Thing About Conflict” for more on this).
One of my mentors, Byron Katie, has a lot to say on this as well. Her training, called simply “The Work”, states that when we arrive at a conclusion of choicelessness, this indicates that we are racing lazily, carelessly, towards the outcome without giving ourselves the most basic common courtesy of examining the situation in adequate detail first. Katie calls this required state of reflection and contemplation “loving what is”. She teaches a simple process of asking our mind four questions to help us turn the situation or issue over in our minds, making sure we see all sides of it before coming to a conclusion. Just about 100 percent of the time, I have realized, this process will yield new information that shifts my perception of choicelessness firmly back into the arena of personal, empowered choice.
Plus, “loving what is” just feels good to think and say, so there has got to be good stuff in there somewhere!
It is probably also worth noting that, in my own experiments with shifting choicelessness to choice, I have noticed that training my mind to replace phrases like “I have no choice” with “I always have a choice” has been tremendously helpful in reducing fearfulness. Because fear is a programmed and very natural biological response to being trapped, backed into a corner, or otherwise made to feel like you are out of options (as in, in the natural food chain, what is trapped is normally about to get eaten), telling myself “you have no choice” triggers a deep fear response that I then must work my way back out of before I can even begin to muster the energy and creativity to address the actual issue at hand.
Being able to state with confidence “I have a choice” – even if I am not sure what my choice is yet – is also a real self-esteem booster for me. I am reminding myself of my value, my equality with those around me, my worth, my personal power, and my intention to live an honest and admirable life whenever I speak this phrase to myself. While saying “I have no choice” translates into “you helpless victim/peon/nobody”, stating “I have a choice” translates equally into “you matter, you are empowered, you can find a healthy way to work through this and take care of yourself while doing so.”
This has made a HUGE difference in my ability to enjoy and embody my own life with confidence, and to encourage others to achieve the same in their lives as well.
Today’s Takeaway: What is your relationship to choice? Do you often or sometimes find yourself saying or thinking “I have no choice”? What, if anything, might change in those types of situations if you began replacing that statement with “I have a choice” – even if you are not sure yet what your options are?
At the crossroads photo available from Shutterstock