Your year, your choice
At a time when I was feeling a bit lost in my twenties, I used my sparse savings to sign up for a personal development programme.
It was quite an intense experience of self-discovery – if you’ve heard of inspirational coach Tony Robbins, it was like a mini-version of his events. However, of everything I learned, the epiphany for me was that I was the sole proprietor of my life experience, my happiness and fulfilment.
I not only “had” a choice : I was “in” choice.
“Choose to” vs “have to”
So often, we use the language, “I have to” as though we have no choice over our actions. For example, “I have to walk the dog”, “I have to check my emails after dinner/at the weekends”, “I have to be at the beck and call of my family/team”.
And we feel unhappy or resentful in the misguided belief that our circumstances and other people make us think or feel or act the way we do, that we have no agency over our own experience.
The personal development programme made the distinction between “having to” do something and “choosing to” do something. The point was that we always have the choice as to how we respond to the world around us. We are not a victim of our circumstances.
It has taken many many more years for me to develop the maturity and tools to own and manage my state – and I am still on that journey.
All choices have consequences
The most challenging part of making our own choices is that all choices have consequences, and consequences can feel uncomfortable.
If you decline a colleague’s request for help because you’re working on an important piece of work, there is a risk that your colleague may be annoyed with you.
If you leave the office at 4pm because you want to see your child in a school play, even if you have a reputation for always delivering what you say you will, you may get snarky comments from colleagues about being a part-timer.
However, if you want to live a meaningful and fulfilled life, you have to make tough choices and suffer the consequences. As Brene Brown says, “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort. You cannot have both.”
It’s your choice
As Jean Paul Sartre said, “We are our choices”. Here are five steps to help you be “in choice” :
1) Step back : First, connect with what’s important to you – your values and aspirations both professional and personal. This might be a career goal, spending more time with friends and family or feeling healthier. It isn’t always easy to get in touch with what we want, and it is fundamental to you treading a path that’s true for you.
2) Assess : Ask yourself : are your everyday choices moving you towards or away from the values and goals you’ve identified? The human condition is to prioritise short-term gain over long-term goals – think of our hunter-gatherer ancestors whose survival depended on food and procreation over blue-sky thinking.
For example, I sometimes find myself saying yes to work opportunities because it’s money in the bank even though they might not be aligned with the direction I want to go in.
3) Reframe : When you catch yourself saying you “have to” do something, replace this with “choose to”. For example, rather than, “I have to attend this meeting”, “I choose to attend this meeting”. It may be that just changing your language makes you feel more empowered. However, if this choice still doesn’t feel good, then…
4) Choose differently : If what you’re thinking, feeling and doing isn’t serving you, you need to make different choices. That could be something as small – though not necessarily easy! – as not checking email before 10am, or changing your job.
5) Care less : We often make choices we don’t really want because we’re worried about what we think other people may think or how we think they may react. You may like to take a look at this blog to reflect on where you may be choosing comfort over courage.
Finally, wishing you a happy, fulfilled, successful and choiceful 2024.
Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps senior managers and directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.