Make Good Choices
Lately I’ve been thinking about my choices. Am I making the right ones?
So much so that not too long ago I attempted to take inventory of every choice I made over the course of a day. It was exhausting, and went something like this:
At 6:15 my alarm went off. Should I hit snooze? Choice 1. Or should I get up and make sure I make it to the gym on time? Chose 2.
Before I get out, should I look at my phone and quickly check emails? Choice 3.
Should I wear the grey shorts or black ones? Which socks should I wear? And tank top? Should I grab an apple before I go? Should I drive or walk? If I walk, is it raining? Should I bring an umbrella? It was. I didn’t. Choice 17, 18, 27.
By 6:45 I had logged 59 choices. Simple, everyday choices that frankly, I don’t even think about. Yet still, the choice got made and there I was, at the gym, making another choice. Chest or legs? Choice 111.
By 8:30 I had logged 257. Number of reps. That was a choice. Water breaks. So was that. Shower? How long? What soap? All choices.
35,000 choices a day
By 9:00 I had given up keeping track, and turned to google instead. And the results were surprising. Some studies suggest that the average person makes a staggering 35,000 choices per day. Assuming that most of us spend seven hours per day asleep, that makes roughly 2,000 decisions per hour, or one decision every two seconds.
One decision every two seconds? Can that be true? If you’ve read this blog this far you’ve spent about 50 seconds (unless you skimmed. That was a choice). During that time, did you choose to look at (or ignore) a smartphone notification, take a sip of coffee, reposition yourself, check Facebook, scratch your arm, let out a yawn, or pick your nose?
These are all choice. Many of which are subconscious. They just seem to happen.
With all of these choice being made all day — and us operating in many cases on auto-response to them — I wondered if I would be well suited to understand better just how my choices are informed? If I could get a better handle how my choice are made, maybe I could reprogram myself to make good ones?
Ask many coaches or therapists and they will tell you that If you want to change a behaviour (the manifestations of our choices), you have to change your thoughts first.
But changing a thought is next to impossible. You can’t suddenly will yourself to be a racist, for example. To change a thought requires that we go to our underlying beliefs, opinions, attitudes and truths. If we can change those, then our thoughts choices, and behaviours will follow.
So, for the past several months I have been hawkish about my thoughts. And in observing them — and then inquiring into the underlying belief — I’ve noticed there has been a profound positive shift in my overall wellbeing. Indeed, by watching my thoughts and questioning ‘why’ I’m thinking them, my choices have led to exponentially greater experiences of joy. As a result, I am the consistently the happiest I have ever been.
The Power of Choice
Here’s what I did (and am doing):
First, I read Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine, lecturer at Stanford University and former CEO Coaches Training Institute. The book details how to train your mind to work in your best interest, rather than succumbing to any of the 10 “saboteurs” or voices in our heads that run the show without us knowing (until we start observing!). These saboteurs have names — like the hyper-vigilant, the stickler, the hyper-rational, or the pleaser. And they all serve one function — to protect our egos. The problem is, these saboteurs aren’t good long-term planners. Immediate pay-offs are sacrificed for long-term growth opportunities. And unless we are aware of when these saboteurs are influencing our choices — all 35,000 of them per day — we run the risk of preventing our best selves from coming to the foreground. To improve our control over these voices, Chamine suggests that every time we notice a saboteur we simply rub our fingertips together. Or that every time we go to the bathroom, we stop to actually feel the sensation. Or that at your desk at work, really feel what it feels like to sit in a chair. Do this grounding meditation for 10 seconds a day, 15 times a day for 3 weeks and the saboteurs will fade into the background, he claims. And he’s right.
Then I read another book which shook me to my core. Loving What Is by Byron Katie invites its readers to ask 4 simple questions every time they find themselves in moments that do not bring them joy. They are:
- Is the thought I’m having true?
- Is it really true?
- How do I respond when I believe the thought to be true?
- Who would I be without that thought?
At its core, Loving What Is is a mix of existentialism and Zen that asserts it is not life’s circumstances that causes our suffering, but instead our attachment to our thoughts about how we think life’s circumstances ought to be.
The last question in her series of 4 drives this assertion home. If my thought about whatever circumstance that is causing me grief were different, then I wouldn’t have the grief. That means that in every moment, I have the opportunity to decide just how I will let my thoughts effect me.
As I’ve practiced these 4 questions (she calls it The Work), what I’m finding is that every disappointment, despair, grief, anger and frustration I have about the world is really just my own attachment to what I think the world “should” be. And as I realize that I have ABSOLUTELY ZERO control over anything other than myself and my own beliefs, I come full circle to the profoundly simply notion that in every single moment, I get to choose.
And increasingly, I find myself choosing joy, happiness, compassion, and love.
What are you choosing?