The choices we make carry consequences. From a very early age, we are taught that poor choices carry negative consequences, and it is on this basis that we are guided to make better choices. As children we come to expect that better choices will be associated with positive or more desirable outcomes, so imagine the disappointment when we eventually realize that that is not entirely true. Even more confusing is the fact that sometimes poor choices actually result in rewarding outcomes. The thing with “good” choices is that in the long run they tend to yield overall better results or consequences. Whereas “poor” choices, although they can initially be gratifying, tend overtime to carry more negative consequences. The easiest example of this is food: making poor dietary choices is often met with immense immediate gratification, hitting the spot and meeting whatever craving one might have then and there. Making a wise choice may not always prove quite as satisfying (although I could argue this is fundamentally untrue once you re-educate your palate, but that is for another day and another post), but in the long and repeated run will yield many more benefits and rewards.
My point in writing this is really to address the complex nature of choice making. We often speak of and hear about “doing the right thing,” but ultimately how do we know what that is, and if that is what we want of ourselves? There is a tendency to make what may be a “good” choice and be dumbfounded that it does not result in a happy-ever-after ending. Imagine having the opportunity to get a great job, but then having to deal with an unpleasant co-workers, horrible shifts, or depressing working conditions. If taking the great job also means we have to deal with distressing parameters, is that really a great job? And is taking the job ultimately the “right” thing to do? The answer to that question is entirely dependent on what you as an individual value and need. Making the right choice requires understanding and weighing all consequences, not just the good ones. This is something many people fail to do consistently.
Why is it that we, as relatively intelligent, realistic people, fail to examine our choices more carefully? I think the answer is that many of us operate automatically, we make default decisions. We feel like we have to do something, and so we do, not realizing that we are actually making a choice, and then feel helpless when unwanted consequences befall us. This problems stems from our failure to recognize that we are constantly making choices, and in so realistically we have control over our lives. For example, it is my choice to go train at the gym or come back home earlier and spend time with my children. Both choices come with a set of consequences, some good and some bad. Going to gym helps me achieve my goal of personal balance, get healthier and keep us with some strong ladies I know and respect. Going home allows me to enjoy my kids before I or they are too tired, and gives me more time to attend to the long list of nightly to-dos that a parents has. I often choose the latter and then complain that I have no time to work on self improvement; when really I have the time, I have just chosen to focus on the children and to make my evenings a bit easier by getting home earlier. You can look at this from a job perspective too. I hear people tell me all the time how much they hate their jobs, but in the next breath say how they are stuck because they need the income. That sense of helplessness that comes with the thought “I can’t do anything about this” or “I have no choice” is extremely distressing. The correction I often make with these individuals is to remind them that they always have a choice, they may not like the consequences associated with the choices they have, but it is nonetheless a choice. They could leave their job, but it would mean having to deal with the loss of income and its associated consequences. They could stay and be unhappy, but pay their bills and get food on the table. Or they could try to see what other options are available to them. At times it is easy to feel stuck, to feel imposed on and helpless, but this is a fallacy, we are not stuck, nor imposed on, nor helpless. We simply made a choice which had some consequences associated.
So the next time you feel stuck, or like you have no choice try looking at the situation differently and identify what your actual choices are. Be aware that you may be faced with several choices you don’t like, but the fact remains that you get to make a decision, and therefore are in control. This might not be ideal, but it sure is an improvement on having no control or being stuck.