Every single day, you and I both wake up to opportunity.
We wake up to the opportunity to choose.
We don’t always see this opportunity, because we are not looking for it. Yet once called to our attention, we begin to see choices at every turn.
We can choose to eat eggs instead of toast, brush our teeth with the left hand instead of the right, and we can choose different thoughts to focus on. We can choose where we will go when we leave the house (if we leave the house) – maybe to work, maybe somewhere else.
What prevents us from seriously considering the vast array of choices available to us every single day? Here are three reasons I have identified.
The first and easiest answer is time.
I mean… really. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard enough time figuring out what I want to order in a restaurant or choosing a pair of pants in a clothing store. Making choices can be stressful, and if you already make a lot of them in your professional world, you may be inclined -like me- to severely minimize the number required of you outside of that world.
This is the reason that some choose uniforms, laid out the night before, getting up at the same time of day every morning, eating the same breakfast, packing the same lunch that was prepared in bulk on Sunday, over and over again. It makes things flow smoothly and minimizes distraction, confusion, missing breakfast, wearing mismatched clothing, and being late for work.
What’s not to love?
Personally, I’m all for it, and this is how I operate.
Yet I do concede that from time to time, I find myself wondering: “do I still need to do this?” And I don’t always know how to answer.
2. WE ARE ACTING OUT OF HABIT
The second reason we don’t consider our choices is that we’re acting out of habit.
I heard once that you know you have a habit in something when it feels strange if you don’t do it. And habits can be useful because they reduce the amount of discipline required to do a thing (like getting up early, exercising, writing or making sales calls, for example.) When we first attempt to do something like waking up earlier than our habitual time, it feels awful and every limb of our body revolts against the action. Yet after weeks or months or years of doing so, it becomes natural, so much so that we may even find our eyes popping open one minute prior to the alarm going off, which has its own fresh annoyance.
Habits can also cause us trouble, say for example if it’s a habit of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for twenty-seven years straight, as I can tell you from personal experience.
For better or for worse, acting out of habit can blind us over time to the availability of choices before us in any given moment, as well as over the course of a lifetime.
3. WE ARE OPERATING FROM A PLACE OF JUDGEMENT
The third reason we don’t consider our choices is that we are operating with a mindset of judgement rather than curiosity.
Specifically, when we believe certain things are good or bad it becomes easy to turn off our critical thinking and ignore the truth… which is that we can always choose to be curious and to evaluate whether things have changed.
For example, if I believe that waking up at 5AM every day is a good thing, then not only will I have more incentive to do it (even if I don’t want to our need to) but in fact I may judge myself negatively when I don’t do so, even if it’s on the weekend or another day where there is no requirement to be anywhere early.
This is because I have decided that a certain action (waking up at 5AM) has a positive value, and I ignore the option of doing anything but that action.
Another example of where our judgments obscure the choices we might make relates to our affiliation with groups. (Think political party, religious organization, company, or any group that we use to define our identity.)
When we decide unequivocally that we ARE (insert party affiliation or group) it becomes so easy to also conclude that we can only socialize or converse with certain people who match our affiliation, and closes us off to the opportunities to learn and grow from interaction with those who think differently. We’re attempting to take a shortcut on life by judging groups, and shortcuts mean we miss the long path, which often has much to offer.
Perhaps it is also true that the very act of choosing something new may suggest that we were not correct in our original choice. Nobody enjoys being wrong. (At least as far as I can tell.)
There is so much negative we can say about people who change their minds, right? We might call these people uncommitted, flaky, and we presume that they will not accomplish much in life, because accomplishment requires knowing what you want, and staying a course over time. It requires commitment, endurance, and perseverance.
But what if a person stays the course over the span of a lifetime and does not ultimately accomplish the goal they desired because the course itself was not correct?
What if what we’ve been doing all our lives is wrong, and we must choose differently in order to be right?
The path toward answering these questions is paved with awareness of our choices.
We always have them.
- We can choose to slow down and consider our options before taking an action or adopting a behavior.
- We can choose to review our habits and ask ourselves if they are serving us well in this journey toward who we desire to become.
- We can choose to hear the perspectives of those who hold different views from ours, and stay curious, remind ourselves that we may have blind spots, and the truth may be different than what we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe.
And we can acknowledge and own the choices that we ultimately make.