I’ve been thinking a lot these last few days about choices.
Have you ever noticed how often people label a choice as either “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong” and how we talk about choices most often from the perspective of “what the consequences will be” as if those consequences are always negative?
Surely I am not the only one with the Old Lady Wearing Half-Glasses peering down at me from On High each time I make a choice saying, “Now, dearie, have you really thought about the consequences of your actions?” as if those consequences were sure to be dire and lead to some disaster I couldn’t possibly be prepared for.
Why do we do that?
It makes decision-making so incredibly painful.
And often it means we actually don’t make decisions at all. We either allow others to choose for us (which, yes, is a choice unto itself but isn’t done consciously) or we sit in painful limbo for months or even years (also a choice in and of itself, but not an active choice.)
I’m working on this myself, watching how I am in the face of making choices, listening to the voices in my head, and accepting that there are a few things I really have to be mindful of on a regular basis:
- My brain is hard-wired to keep me safe. I love my mind. It is a powerful tool and it is infinitely fascinating to me. And it has but one job: to keep me safe. Everyone’s brain is wired to do that…and if you, like me, have PTSD, then your brain is really freakin’ good at its job because it’s had more practice than the average brain. My brain is loud. It likes to talk a lot. And sometimes it can be a bit obsessive. In recent years, I have begun to create a new relationship with my brain. When faced with a decision, and my brain starts going 60 miles an hour into all the things that Could Go Wrong if I were to choose option A or B or, God forbid, option C (!), I do my very best to pause so that I can really listen to my brain. It’s like a toddler: it just wants to be heard. So I listen. And I listen carefully. And I thank it for its opinion. For its insights. And its ability to see so many possible outcomes. I give my brain the respect it deserves, and I thank it for its service. And then I gently turn my gaze away and sit in the silence that follows, for that is when I can really listen and hear my inner truth.
- My body knows everything. If I thought my brain was powerful beyond measure, then wow, my body is nothing short of omnipotent. My body teaches me in every moment exactly how I feel, and when I consult my body for assistance in my decision-making, I can literally feel the options racing through my cells as my body seeks to give me its own insight into the “best choice” for me. Last week I wrote a post about betrayal, and how I was processing the potentially largest set of lies ever to land at my doorstep. People have asked me, “How did you not know? How could YOU not have known?” And the truth is, my brain did not want me to know. My brain (see point 1 above) is very adept at keeping me safe. But my body did know. My hip had one day “suddenly” given out, and as I leaned into what that was all about, it became clear to me that there was a “tragedy” that my body was trying to communicate to me (this all happened at the exact time that Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip announced he has terminal brain cancer…so yep, my body also has a great sense of humour: it gave me my own Tragic Hip.) So my body? It knows stuff. It knows everything. And in every moment it is trying to communicate to me in the way it knows how: through physical sensations. So now, when I am trying to make any choice, I take the options into my body. I ask my body, “Please show me how this option feels so I can know if it is the best choice for me at this time.” And my body responds. In facing a particularly difficult decision recently, I used this very technique and, when presented with one option, I felt my entire chest open and expand and I could breathe deeply for what felt like the first time in forever. When presented with the second option, my body brought me into my head, and I felt constricted, my eyes kind of squinted shut, and I wanted to put my hands to my head as if to quiet the noise. By doing this exercise, the best choice for me was quite clear.
- It’s not always easy to do “what feels right,” because, typically, each decision that we make that “feels right” will have some challenging aspects that present themselves often immediately after. And this, my friends, is perhaps the trickiest bit of all: sticking to our choices. When you’ve made a choice that you feel strongly is in your best interest, your “work” is not magically done. Now you must practice your choice, in the face of any and all adversity: the opinions of others, the impact on people close to you, the fast and furious rattlings of your brain as it scrambles to keep you safe (again!) based on the fact that you’ve made a choice…all of these pitfalls and so many more are right there in front of you, and your job is to keep calm, to stay the course, and trust like hell that because you made that decision consciously, everything will work itself out and your choice will inevitably benefit everyone around you. But for those first moments, days, even weeks, it may feel like a storm of chaos, like you made the worst decision ever, and that you were “so stupid” for choosing that option. Know this will happen. Expect it. Anticipate it. Be ready for it. And allow it to happen. Let those thoughts flow. Acknowledge the emotions that come up. And let it all move around, through, and past you. Stay focused on your body and that feeling you had when you “just knew” that what you had decided was “right” for you. Let that be your touchstone in times of doubt, and keep choosing, over and over, the option that you know, deep down, is the one for you. Choices need to be made and then acted upon, consistently, committedly, and then and only then can you reap the full reward of your decision.
- We can never know what would have happened if we had chosen differently. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it, so I won’t tell you the name of the novel that really hammered this home for me last week, but the fact is quite simply that we will never know. In this novel, the author presented life as the characters knew it: One had committed murder. One had slept with her ex-boyfriend. One had chosen not to go get butter for the scones that morning. Each of these choices had consequences and at the end of the novel, the author does this: She tells the story of what would have happened had those choices not been made. The murderer will never know that it wasn’t actually him that killed the girl, that she actually died from a burst aneurysm that would have killed her later that night. The woman who slept with her ex-boyfriend will never know that if she hadn’t stayed with him that night, she would have gone home and had a fire in the fireplace, fallen asleep, and a random spark would have set her house ablaze. The mother who made the choice not to go buy butter will never know that, in staying home, she allowed her children to have the pleasure of presenting her with a handmade card and love letters, none of which they’d have made if she had gone out.And so you may say, “Rebecca, if this is also true, if we will never really know the consequences of our choices, why do we even attempt to make the best ones? What’s the point?” And the answer is quite simple: One day in the not-to-distant future you will be sitting on your proverbial porch, rocking in your rocking chair. When you look back on your life, do you want to feel pride and accomplishment at having lived life by your own design, or by default? Yeah. That’s what I thought.
So here’s to you and your journey, fellow traveller. May your brain always keep you safe, your body always share its knowledge, and may you have the courage and the fortitude to choose what’s best for you, in every moment, and stay your course, no matter what.
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Rebecca Liston helps her clients predict, pivot, and compete in an increasingly complex global marketplace. Her clients quickly uncover the root of their challenges and know the actions to take to overcome them. A six-time nominee for the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Award, Rebecca combines business strategy with intuition, giving her clients the edge on forward-thinking, elegant answers to their most complicated problems. Her clients are entrepreneurs with CEO-mindsets and executives with entrepreneurial instincts. She is based in London, Ontario. What if you could get the answer to your biggest business challenge, in one sitting? Visit rebeccaliston.com to find out more.