conscious choice

I started this year with a motto, and that motto was ‘2019 is the year of conscious choice.’

Now, over the course of the year, things have changed, work has increased, priorities have changed and, at times, I’ve forgotten the motto that I started the year with (happens to all of us!).

I was reminded of my motto over the weekend when talking with someone who wants to lose weight and be healthier.  We chatted about that for a while and what they plan to do to make the change.

A little while later we were talking about something else and they said ‘I just love my bowl of ice-cream every night, it’s a habit that I’ve got into recently-just before I go to bed I have a bowl of ice-cream’.

OK, but aren’t you wanting to lose weight I said.  ‘Yeah, but you only live once, and I’m here for a good time not a long time’ was the reply.

It was at this point I introduced him to ‘conscious choices’.  What he is doing each night, is making a decision, unconsciously, based on habits and instant gratification.  He is unconsciously choosing to have ice-cream.

I asked him, ‘what if, instead, as you notice the urge to have ice cream, you say to yourself “I consciously choose not to have ice cream”.  Choose consciously rather than reacting unconsciously’.

Why are conscious choices important?

Why are conscious choices important if you want to make a change or work towards a desired goal? It’s because, over the course of a day, it’s been estimated that you make about 35,000 choices a day.  From the minute you wake up and choose to get out of bed (or not), through to the end of the day when you choose to climb back into bed and fall asleep.  And, most of these choices occur unconsciously.

Those choices drive your actions through-out the day, even the small ones you aren’t aware you are making, including habits that you don’t even recognise you have.

Think about what a habits are – they are choices that you don’t evaluate, you just do. They are unconscious choices.

Buying a cup of coffee every morning, hitting snooze and not going to the gym, allowing email to determine the direction of your day rather than working on your priorities, having a bowl of ice-cream before you go to bed.  These are all examples of habits (and choices you’ve made) that are performed without thinking that could be having an adverse impact on your ability to change your behaviour or meet your goals.

Eventually, these habits (and choices) become automatic and you do them without thinking, which is how bad habits sneak up on you.  Therefore, to change your habits and behaviour, or step outside of your comfort zone and work towards your goal, you need to gain awareness of what you are actually doing.  You need to recognise where you are making unconscious choices and actions and instead, choose consciously.

Pointing and calling:

James Clear discusses a great way to bring your actions and habits to your conscious – pointing and calling. He refers to the Japanese rail system and the Operator’s way of working.  The Japanese Rail Operators identify, point out and name out loud every detail of the trains arriving and departing including signal colours, train speed, timetable, etc.

Pointing and calling is their safety system and it designed to reduce errors and accidents.  As silly as it may seem, the operators pointing to and calling out all details, has reduced errors by up to 85 percent and accidents by 30 percent (note 1).

Pointing and calling works because it raises the level of awareness from the unconscious to the conscious.  By pointing to something and naming it out loud you are consciously aware of what you are doing rather than reacting on auto-pilot.

I do this each time I park the car.  I used to get out of the car and then have to run back and check that I put the hand-break on (which I had done 99% of the time!).  Now, I park the car and say out loud ‘hand-break on’.  Doing this brings this action to my conscious.  I walk away knowing my hand break is on and don’t have to run back and check.

This works the same with breaking other habits such as eating ice-cream before bed.

By calling out, I’m getting ice-cream, you bring the action to your conscious mind and can then make the conscious choice to resist ice-cream rather than unconsciously choosing to have ice-cream.

Use conscious choices to:
  • Resist the temptation to check email while you are working on your high priority items.
  • Call out to yourself that you are about to watch TV rather than exercise and consciously choose to exercise.
  • Recognise that you are procrastinating rather than making that difficult call and consciously choose to make the call instead.
  • Say out load, I’m about to switch my alarm off and go back to sleep but instead I consciously chose to get up and go to the gym.
  • Call out when you are going to the cupboard for a chocolate biscuit and consciously choose to have an apple instead.

By bringing your actions to your conscious, and focusing on making as many of your decisions as consciously as possible, you will increase your ability to change your habits, pursue your goals and dreams and create positive change.

Since this recent conversation I mentioned, I’ve reconnected with how important it is to do this on a daily basis.

Rather than ‘conscious choice’ being my motto for 2019, I have decided it is my motto for each day.  Each morning I now remind myself that today is a day of conscious choice for me.

I now choose for conscious choice to be my default, not unconscious choice (sorry chocolate!!).

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Information on Japanese Rail Operators from