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The power of Choice

Do you sometimes feel like everything is coming at you at once and you don’t know which way to turn?

When unexpected challenges arise do you sometimes feel like you are being pulled in so many directions that you have no control?

How can you ‘create the life of our dreams’ when the curve balls come at you at lightning speed? You didn’t CHOOSE to have that car run into you. You didn’t CHOOSE that storm to blow that tree into your house. You didn’t CHOOSE to lose that friend to illness, or to have your employer go into receivership so you could lose your job.

Unexpected and unwanted things happen, often without warning, and definitely without our choosing or control.

So how can we take back some control in these situations?

Life will throw us curve balls; that we know for sure. Some of them are much faster and more curved than we would like, and some can really knock us off our feet.

If we can learn that even in those situations we still have some level of choice, and we begin to harness that power of choice, even in the most challenging circumstances, then we can begin to take back that feeling of control over our lives that those curve balls tend to temporarily take away.

At Positive Living Skills, we believe that each of us always has some level of choice; in how we choose to live our lives, the actions or decisions we will make, how we communicate with others, and that while we don’t choose all the events that happen around us or to us, we can choose how we will respond to situations and other people.

Our beliefs are that we can:

  1. Choose what we will decide an event means to us

  2. Choose how we will respond to any event, large or small

  3. Choose what we will focus on from moment to moment

When we believe we always have choice over something, we feel more empowered, and we are building our resilience and our ability to handle whatever will come our way.

Here are some ways to harness the power of choice so that you feel more like you are in the driver’s seat of life rather than on the roof racks desperately trying to hang on!

Appreciate that it could be worse.

While this might not sound like positive psychology style thinking, considering how a situation could be worse is actually a way to choose gratitude within a challenge. Robert A Emmons has thoroughly explored the concept of gratitude in his body of research, and it has been proven that considering how a situation could be worse can help us appreciate the good that is within the event, and to be grateful for what we have or where we are or who we are, and feel more in control of a situation or our emotional state. How could it be worse? What do I have to appreciate about the situation right now? What resources do I have within me that could help me right now?

Choose kindness - for self and others

You and your friends are in a bar and someone pushes into you, or someone runs into your car at a set of lights, or your presentation falls completely flat and you receive negative feedback. Maybe your friend doesn’t return your call, or you see them at an event and they don’t say hello.

Despite how challenging it can be when we perceive that someone has treated us poorly, or isn’t being kind, we must accept that other people can’t MAKE us feel a certain way or do a certain thing. If we decide ‘She MADE me so angry, I had no choice!’ then we are giving all our personal power away.

If you accept that you get to choose what to make of these events, and you know that this choice will influence how you respond, and you get to choose your emotional state at any time, then you can ask yourself, ‘Which meaning or response will be most supportive – of me and of others?’

Giving yourself or the other person the benefit of the doubt is often the kindest first choice. Maybe the person didn’t get the message, or maybe they didn’t see you. Even if they did and they have chosen to speak unkindly toward you, you still get to choose or decide how you will respond. If someone isn’t kind to you it usually has a lot more to do with them than it does with you.

Find someone to model.

The same significant life event could happen to 10 different people and each person could assign that event a different meaning, and the meaning they assign the event will influence how they respond. A person might lose a limb in an accident and decide they will never be able to contribute to society in a meaningful way, and another will compete in elite sport. The meaning that a couple gives to not being able to have children of their own will determine the outcomes they experience in their relationship and in their lives. They could find other ways to contribute to children and others, or investigate alternative ways to parent, or choose to enjoy all those things that couples without children dream of doing.

Find someone who faced a challenge like the one you are up against and who responded in a way you would love to be able to, then find out what they did and how they did it. If they can do it, then you can too. One benefit of having ‘Google’ at our fingertips is that in just a few clicks or swipes or key strokes we can ask a question and get a bunch of answers, and there are so many inspirational people willing to share their tips or their story, and that could really help you to move toward the meaning you seek.

While events may knock us for six, and we are entitled to feel whatever emotions come with that, we can then access support and assistance to help us learn how to choose a meaning for that event that will give us the ultimate opportunity to live a fulfilled life of contribution and purpose.

Keep your sense of humour.

It’s 9am in the morning. You have already broken a shoe, been cut off in traffic so you almost had an accident, and your meeting was postponed and nobody notified you. Have you decided that this day is a write off? Or have you decided to make it mean that the day will get better from here. What you decide about this day is a choice, and what we choose to focus on grows. The meaning you give these events however big or small, determines what you will choose to do from then on.

You can spend the day telling anyone you can find what bad luck you are having or you can smile or laugh to yourself and move on. It’s up to you.

Get to know your self talk.

At any given moment we get to choose what we will focus on. We can choose to think about what we do well or what we believe we can’t do, we can choose to focus on what we have, or what we think is missing, we can choose to focus on what we believe someone ‘should’ be doing for us, or what we can do for ourselves. We could be focusing on what happened yesterday, ten years ago or what hasn’t happened yet. We can choose a focus that is kind or compassionate or we can choose criticism or judgement or blame.

When you start to get to know your inner voice, you can begin to learn how to stop yourself within the thinking process and ask, how am I talking to myself right now? What am I choosing to focus on? What am I thinking this means right now? What else could I decide it means? Which will serve me more?

Choose to be the Director of the movie of your life rather than waiting for the next event to determine your next scene. Choose to visualise things as you would like them to be in your mind’s eye, and choose kindness, compassion, joy or love. Choose to recognise and appreciate your own capacity and enjoy how that feels.


“What I focus on in life is what I get. And if I concentrate on how bad I am or how wrong I am or how inadequate I am, if I concentrate on what I can't do and how there's not enough time in which to do it, isn't that what I get every time? And when I think about how powerful I am, and when I think about what I have left to contribute, and when I think about the difference I can make on this planet, then that's what I get. You see, I recognize that it's not what happens to you; it's what you do about it.” - W. Mitchell

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