Learning to make choices

First Published in Affinity Magazine

I’ve heard a few times recently people saying things like ‘I couldn’t help it’ ‘they made me do it’ or ‘well it wasn’t my fault it was because …….’. Well let’s just set one thing straight. Unless someone literally has a gun to your head or is putting you under threat – you have a choice.

But I also understand that it doesn’t always feel like we have much of choice. So let’s look at some strategies we can use to ensure that we are always aware that we are in control of our own actions and so can always exercise a choice about those, even if we can’t choose some of the things that are happening to us or around us. In fact lot of things can happen that we have no control or choice over  – but even then we can exercise control of our response, we can make a choice.

The steps below will help everyone be able to be more aware that we can always make a choice and that actually those choices will have an impact on our future.



Take time to react

It happens to all of us, people upset, or hurt us, stuff happens that makes us angry or unhappy and of course it is a very human response to react. However when we have lots of emotions our reaction may not be measured and sometimes we might actually make a situation worse by reacting when we are ‘emotional’. It might not be easy but just giving yourself a moment, even just a few seconds can mean that we are better able to choose to react in a different way. Yes it might make us feel instantly better in the short term to throw something or yell at someone, or make a rude gesture when driving but usually it doesn’t really help the situation, in fact sometimes it can make it a whole lot worse. So give yourself a minute take a deep breath and then choose how you will react.



Don’t be influenced by others

I was talking with someone recently who was embroiled in a long and difficult legal battle. During the course of the conversation I asked why she had initially decided to take this route when it seemed  there would have been other options. She suggested that a couple of friends had persuaded her as it wasn’t right to let her adversary ‘get away with it’. I don’t think her friends meant to be unhelpful or give bad advice but of course they weren’t having to live through the consequences of the action. So be cautious about accepting advice from people who won’t have to accept the consequences of YOUR action.


Think about the consequences

The advantage of taking even just a minute before you react means you can consider the consequences of what you feel like doing and sometimes that will be enough to help you to make a different choice. I’m fairly confident that there won’t be anyone reading this who doesn’t regret some consequence for a choice they made or an action they took. Of course some consequences may be unforeseen BUT if we stop for a moment many could be anticipated and often a different reaction can avoid some unfortunate consequences.


Choices are Cumulative

Sometimes the impact of choices won’t be seen immediately but over time they can have a big impact. Think about a person who makes a choice to overeat, we’ve all done it and the consequences if it is an occasional choice may not be great but if this is a repeated choice then this will impact your weight and potentially health. Similarly if we always make the ‘safe’ choice and refuse to take a risk or never stray out of our comfort zone the long term impact may be that we restrict our personal growth in some way.


Feelings are NOT choices

People, if I ask them about a choice they have made, will often refer to feelings. But feelings, while they are real and can have a great influence upon us, are not choices or actions. We have feelings but we can still choose how we act or react. Imagine someone who is feeling very sad, maybe they have suffered a disappointment or loss. The feelings might be awful but the feelings don’t make you stay in bed all day, or snap at everyone, they are choices we make, yes they may stem for the feelings but feelings never ‘make’ us do things. We can still choose how we act even when we are experiencing extreme emotions.

The Good News

So the good news is that whatever life is throwing at us and at times it might be pretty grim and we might feel battered by what is happening we always have a choice, which means that we are not victims but actually we can be empowered to choose the life we want in all sorts of ways.

Are you happy with your life? There may be some aspects that could be improved but the first step is to acknowledge that as humans we need not be passive but we can every day in every situation, even those situations we wish we hadn’t found ourselves in, make some positive choices.