A choice is an option, one of several alternatives to select in a given situation. When we make a conscious choice, we use the rational parts of our brains to think through the situation and decide the best option given the information we have. For choices that have an impact on our lives, this process is especially important. In the ideal world, the conscious choice would be one that aligns with and supports our hopes and dreams and vision for our future.
Unfortunately, we mess up choices all the time:
We act on impulse or out of habit without making a rational choice
We fail to recognize that a choice exists in a given situation or don’t realize that we have other options available
We feel overwhelmed or disempowered so we do nothing (which is in fact, a choice), and just let the “chips fall where they may”
We make a choice in our heads (maybe a great one), but then because of procrastination, fear or other reasons, we do not act on it
We’ve all been there
Some of the most common “bad” choices that are driven by habit are health-related. We settle into a pattern of eating bad foods, avoiding exercise or smoking or any number of other self-destructive behaviors, and seem to ignore the fact that every time we engage in these behaviors, we are making a choice. We all know that the best, most logical way to lose weight is to exercise and to eat healthy foods that are low in calories. Therefore, when confronted with the urge to eat, our rational choices should be something along the line of “I’m not really hungry because I just ate an hour ago” or perhaps “I am hungry, here’s an apple, it fits my definition of a healthy choice, let’s eat that”. Unfortunately, habit kicks in and blinds us to the choice that is in front of us, and we grab the Ben and Jerry’s container out of the freezer and polish it off before our conscious mind has a chance to enter the debate. Meanwhile, somewhere in our brains, there is a tiny voice saying “wait a minute, I thought we were trying to lose weight?”. That voice though, has no authority. It has not been given the freedom or the tools to challenge the habit, and so it is ignored and the brain never registered this as a choice.
A variation on this is to fail to recognize all the many options that we have. Again out of habit, you walk to the kitchen when you are hungry. You may realize that you have choices to eat, and maybe will choose between the apply and ice cream, so you recognize the choice, but what about all the other options? If you slow down a bit and think about it, there are other conscious choices we could have made, which may have been to acknowledge that we just had lunch and should not be hungry, and instead of walking to the kitchen, walk outside and get some fresh air. Another option might have been to get a drink of water because maybe we are really just thirsty. Another option might be to go brush our teeth because we read that sometimes doing that will reset our mindset to forget about eating for a while. When there is a choice to be made, but our perspective is so limited by our habits, or narrow because we just haven’t given the options adequate thought, that we miss out on other (maybe better) possibilities.
We sometimes make enormous choices seemingly on a whim. We all know someone who got married after a whirlwind romance, only to break up soon after. Someone who bought a house with a too-good-to-be-true mortgage, only to lose it in bankruptcy. Someone who quit their job in a moment of frustration, only to regret it the next day as they contemplated paying bills with no paycheck. Even someone who gave into their kids’ demand for a dog, only to resent the effort and cost that being the sole caretaker of a puppy brings. And then are some people, that just for the life of them, cannot make a good choice. You could present them with two paths, one leading to a land of sunshine and rainbows with unicorns and kitty cats playing among the cotton candy bushes OR a path to a wasteland of broken hearts and shattered dreams, and darn it, they will choose the second path every time.
These types of decisions are life-changing. Ideally, we would want that “life change” to be in a positive direction, and one of our own choosing, no? The only way to be sure that these choices are the ones that will take us toward our guiding vision for our life is to 1) have an guiding vision for our life and 2) have a plan to get there that isolates these choices and tells us ahead of time what choice should be made!