The holocaust thriver, Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Clients, mostly between 30 and 60 often come to me because decisions around personal. business and entrepreneurial pursuits have left them feeling lost and confused.
Very often they have searched endlessly on Google and have asked many other people for their opinions. Some have even made spreadsheets, weighing different factors, in order to come to a calculated decision. Deciding and choosing may sound like the same thing, but the difference is between surviving and thriving.
If I asked you to choose a city in the world where you’d like to live and explain to me why you’d made your choice, you might say Sydney, because it’s by the water’ ‘People there enjoy a wonderful lifestyle’ or ‘Rio de Janeiro, because it has a thriving street life,’ ‘I love the weather there.’ But what you’d be describing are the reasons for your decision. This is not the same as a choice.
We choose Rio because we choose Rio. We choose Sydney because we choose Sydney.
Decisions vs Choices
A decision is a path selected as an outcome of various considerations
A choice is a path selected after considerations have been examined and put aside.
A decision comes from your conscious mind and can be explained. When you make a decision you’re often second-guessing the needs of others. Decision-making is laborious and often leaves you with a feeling of compromise.
And, no matter how harmful or unhealthy the environment you’re in, a seemingly rational decision process will keep you stuck where you are.
I had a client the other day who was explaining all the good, logical. reasons why he remained working for the company where he’d been miserably unhappy for more than 8 years. The reasons he cited for staying were the same reasons that had kept him feeling miserable. What was required was for him to make a wild, irrational choice. A choice to quit.
A choice comes from your gut or your heart. It simply exists. A choice is light and places no burden of responsibility on others.
Sitting back is also a choice
As so often, we have much to learn from our younger selves. As a child you choose. You want strawberry ice cream because you want strawberry ice cream. Adults may annoyingly ask you why, but you want it because you want it. In your twenties you may have fallen in love, moved in with someone you barely knew, changed career or re-located to a different country, just because you instinctively chose to.
Of course, just because you choose something or someone with your heart or your gut does not mean your choice has not been influenced by past experience. In his book Free Will, in which the neuroscientist, Sam Harris, puts forward a case that letting go of the idea of free will liberates us from the heavy weight of the ego, he writes, “The fact that our choices depend on prior cause does not mean that choice doesn’t matter. To sit back and see what happens is also a choice that has its own consequences. So, the choices we make in life are as important as people think, but the next choice you make will come out of a wilderness of prior causes that you cannot see and did not bring into being.” Yet, even if free will is an illusion, the simple act of choosing liberates us from the weight and pressure of the ego and expands our capacity for creativity and compassion.
Choosing what is
James Baldwin wrote, “We, none of us, choose the century we are born in, or the skin we are born in, or the chromosomes we are born with. We don’t choose the incredibly narrow band of homeostasis within which we can be alive at all — in bodies that die when their temperature rises above 40 degrees Celsius or drops below 20, living on a planet that would be the volcanic inferno of Venus or the frigid desert of Mars if it were just a little closer to or farther from its star. And yet, within these narrow parameters of being, nothing appeals to us more than the notion of freedom — the feeling that we are free, that intoxicating illusion with which we blunt the hard fact that we are not.”
I have a friend who chose cancer. Well, obviously she didn’t choose to get cancer, but once she was diagnosed, she accepted it fully. She accepted that the power, to accept treatment or not, to live with the illness, lay in her hands.
Of course, she could have been at war with the diagnosis and cancer itself. She could have pulled all those who loved her with her into denying the power of the illness or succumbing to it helplessly.
Instead, by choosing cancer, she was able to focus fully on taking it on.
It’s no different with addiction. You could sit down and list all the pros and cons of your addiction, or you could choose, for instance, to fully accept your obesity and tackle it from the place of “I am obese. The sum of my choices got me here and now. I’m ready t tackle it.”
Confusion is your saboteur’s best friend
Feeling confused about what to do next with your life may be causing you to feel anxious or distressed. Should I leave my partner? Should I quit my job? Should I focus on this career path or another one?
And it’s important t recognize that confusion, is one of your saboteur’s favorite states of being. Your saboteur, remember, is the voice in your head designed to protect you from failing and from looking foolish. So, your saboteur will always tell you not to try new things. Your saboteur is completely risk-averse.
Given that your saboteur wants to keep things just as they are (“even if there is no joy, no freedom, no self-expression. Just think how much worse it could be if you try something new and fail”) it follows, that your saboteur loves confusion. When you go around being lost and confused, your saboteur knows that, while perhaps the situation is not quite ideal, at least you won’t be making any rash, spontaneous choices that will threaten the status quo.
Your saboteur has no objection to you making decisions, of course, because your saboteur knows that weighing, assessing, measuring and reasoning will most likely keep you right where you are. At worst, a ‘bad’ decision won’t be on you. You may have decided to move to Rio, based on information and research. But if it doesn’t work out, at least you didn’t choose to go there just because you chose to go.
Imagine you’re lost and confused about something as simple as which city you want to move to. Weighing up all the pros and cons only leaves you more confused. And while most people with whom you communicate your confusion sound and act concerned for how lost you are, they know they can’t make the choice for you.
Now imagine, you’ve simply chosen to re-locate to Sydney, just because you feel it in your gut. Chances are everyone you tell will have some useful intelligence or advice about how to get there, where to stop off on the way, who to look up once you arrive, their favourite restaurant, district, or social club in Sydney. Once you make a choice. just because you’ve made a choice, new worlds of possibility will open up.
This happened for a TV producer client recently, who was confused about which genre to specialize in. She’d made lifestyle programming and game shows, travel programs and shiny-floor competitions; Daytime fodder and prime time spectacle. She’d produced shows in so many different unscripted genres that she wasn’t the ‘go to’ showrunner for any particular genre. As a result, she was grinding along, without much joy, let alone any real recognition or reward.
“But I can’t choose what I want to focus on,” she told me and everyone she met along the way. “I feel lost and confused.”
Of course, a lot of what she was also feeling was fear. Fear that if she put all her professional dreams into one area of programming he might fail. What if no one hired her?
With the help of some visualization exercises, once all fear had been abandoned, and all rational thought processes had been disregarded, we discovered her choice.
Even though it still takes work to suppress her saboteur, now, when she tells people what she wants to do she doesn’t say she’s lost or confused. She says she has chosen to make high-budget, prime-time entertainment shows. To her delight, many of the commissioners and production company bosses have responded by saying. “I’m so glad. This is what I’ve always felt you did best.” She landed a gig show producing a big US talent show which she’s working on now, as I write.
Of course there are many processes, from cooking a meal to furnishing a home in which measuring and assessing are essential. There are many endeavors when weighted decision making is a crucial part of survival. But when it comes to important life choices, you need to follow your heart and your gut in order to thrive.