The Power of Choice, In Any Moment
At any moment, whatever is going on around us, we can choose two things:
Choice 1: Where we direct our attention
Choice 2: How we respond
Being deliberate about what we choose is never done--we make choices over and over, every day, and throughout the day.
Our attention and our responses impact every aspect of our lives. Getting good at this will change your life. It will bring you freedom. It will bring you peace.
Choice 1: Where we direct our attention
Being deliberate about what we focus on.
Focus attention to the moment we're in.
Honor the past without dwelling on it.
Prepare for the future without stressing on it.
Even though we can't physically be in two places at once, we're often physically in one place and mentally in another. How much of life's wonder and beauty have been lost because of this?
Practicing being present in this moment, right now takes effort. Most of us stink at it. That's okay--once you realize it's happening, you are lucky, because now you can work on it.
Thinking about the past is okay and can be helpful: We still need to explore the past, remember valuable memories, and learn from mistakes. We just need to do it deliberately. We need to understand: Is the memory true? Is it helpful? Is it kind? If old memories aren't true, helpful, or kind, then they aren't valuable to us. They haunt us and limit us. Practice letting them go.
Thinking about the future is okay and can be helpful: We still need to think about the future, whether it's paying for tomorrow's rent, preparing for a tough conversation, or having a backup plan in case something goes wrong. We just need to do it deliberately. Understand whether something is catastrophic thinking or helpful planning, and then once something has been explored, practicing letting the worries or stresses go and direct your attention into something more helpful.
It's not easy letting thoughts go. See tips here.
Focusing on solving problems, rather than stressing about problems.
We're surrounded by problems. In every size and shape. The skill is figuring out when to shift from exploring the problem to exploring the solution.
It's easy to talk about problems. It's much harder to talk about solutions.
Check out the Insights section of jomanity for ideas on how to effectively focus on problem solving and decision making.
First find common ground, before focusing on where we're different.
Oh man, do we live in troubled times. And one of the biggest "norms" that we face is the us-versus-them norm.
But, most people, most of the time, have shared values. Most all of us want to be healthy, understood, and loved. We want peace and joy. We want clean water, justice, democracy, and a bright and hopeful future. So start there. Start with what we share because that makes a world of difference.
Choice 2: How we respond
Being deliberate about how we respond.
Stop believing "I can't" or "I don't have time."
Know you make choices.
We often say "I can't" or "I don't have time" when what we really mean is I've chosen something different. We've thought about our priorities and made a choice.
Let's say you have two meeting invitations for the same time. Instead of telling yourself I can't make the meeting, rephrase it to make it true: I have another meeting at the same time and that one is higher priority.
Does this really matter? YES. Because words matter. The words we choose tell us, and tell the people around us, context--whether something is good or bad, whether it's limited or abundant, whether we want it or reject it.
When we say "I can't" we are saying I am incapable, I don't have the power or ability. When we say "I choose not to" we are saying I have the power to choose and this is the choice I am making. This is agency, knowing that you have the ability to control your choices.
You cannot control the outside world, what happened in the past, or what will happen in the future. You can control how you choose to respond.
Is this response true, helpful, and kind?
Understanding whether something is true, helpful, and kind is tougher than it seems.
It requires both using your instinct and being open-minded to challenging your own thoughts. These concepts are explored more in Joy, Insights and Humanity.
Think of the values most important to you: Is this response living to those values?
What if this response was headline news?
Here's what Martin Luther King, Jr, wrote:
“...In every one of us... there is a civil war going on in your life.
And every time you set out to be good, there's something pulling on you, telling you to be evil...
Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate.
Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and to spread evil gossip about them.
There's a civil war going on.... all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and a Dr. Jekyll in us...
There's a tension at the heart of human nature... we must be honest enough to recognize it.”
Every day, every moment, we make choices in what we believe, what we say, and what we do.
We make choices in how we respond.
It is normal to have moments where we feel like succumbing to something less than our core values. The pull might be mild and it might be strong. It takes strength and energy.
One quick test that can help makes choices easier: Ask yourself, what if this response were headline news? This is a quick, in-the-moment test to help us when our energy and focus are lower.
Ask. Listen. Understand. And Learn.
You already know what they say when you "assume."
It's human nature to make assumptions. Our brains try to fill in the blanks for us. The world is complicated, people are complicated, and there is always information we don't even know we don't know.
So, what can you do?
Ask. Ask questions. "Help me understand what I don't yet understand." "Help me stand in your shoes and understand your perspective."
And listen. Don't mentally multitask. Don't worry about how you're going to respond. If you're genuinely, fully, listening, your brain and body will empathize and help you understand. Don't do the "but--you don't understand..." When we do that, we end up talking at each other. Listen so that you can learn. So that you can understand what someone believes and why they believe it.
After you understand, and after you've learned, maybe share your perspective. Or maybe not...
Resources and Citations
- Martin Luther King Jr., The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. “And in every one of us, there's a war going on. It's a civil war. I don't care who you are, I don't care where you live, there is a civil war going on in your life. And every time you set out to be good, there's something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. It's going on in your life. Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate. Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and to spread evil gossip about them. There's a civil war going on. There is a schizophrenia, as the psychologists or the psychiatrists would call it, going on within all of us. And there are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and a Dr. Jekyll in us...There's a tension at the heart of human nature. And whenever we set out to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to recognize it.”