Coffee or tea, red or blue, sleep or watch one more episode of your favorite TV show, go to that party or stay home; I mean, I can go on and on without exhausting the list. It’s a struggle that we all face daily. From the simplest choices like brown bread or white bread to complex ones like quitting your job, going back to school or pursuing your dreams.
Choice is the one thing that has made mankind the greatest living creature among all of creations but remains one of the most difficult aspects of our day to day life. I, by no means, have all the answers nor am I overflowing with years of wisdom but in the few years of my life, I’ve happened to learn a thing or two from my own experiences. That I want to share with you so you can see the power of choice and its impact.
The Difficulty in Choosing
We face many challenges on a daily basis that place us in the proverbial fork in the road where we have to wrestle between one way or the other. Often, we tend to over-simplify certain choices we make and live looking back in hindsight with regret over how little thought we gave to the choice. The greatest decisions in life are never easy but then again, the definition of great is subjective.
For some people, choosing white bread or brown bread is a cakewalk but to others, that choice isn’t available.
So why is making choices and in effect decisions so difficult? The complicated answer lies in 3 distinct areas: Nature ,Nurture and the Reason.
Nature and Nurture
I am a relatively dark skinned individual. This is a part of my physical appearance that I don’t necessarily have control over, its embedded heavily into my genetics. Just the same, I come with a cocktail of personality traits that can sway from being a trait from my father or my mother. These are natural traits but I am not bound to these traits and here in comes the role of Nurture and this is where things get complicated. Different people originate from different backgrounds that define a lot of who they are, this ranges from whether you were from a privileged family or not, if you were raised by one or both or none of your parents, if you have siblings,if you were adopted and the list goes on. These factors shape and continually reshape our view on the world and influence how we make choices.
The Reason : Motive and Consequence
The core to any choice exists between the reason for making the choice and the consequences that come after. Most of the time the consequence of a choice drives the motive for making it. However, a lot of people tend to make choices based purely on motive alone and ignore the consequence.The reality is people have the capacity to choose,however often people are inclined to blame what they feel or how they feel for what they chose and this is where we need to address the elephant in the room being – “What you feel is not what you choose”. When faced with choices most people are more biased to choosing what feels good and too many times what people feel is largely biased towards a lack in confidence, past experiences,spotlight effect and at times it is under duress be it emotional, psychological or even physical. In the best case scenario, we have time to think through most decisions, in other cases we don’t.
What do you do when you can’t continue school because your family can’t support you financially? What do you do when you’ve written the same test 3 times and failed? what do you do when you’re trying to resolve a conflict with someone you care about and they won’t listen to your opinion? where do you pack it up and leave, or sit down and dig in to try again?
Frankly, I’m 50 years too young to be giving this advice but it shocked me just the same to find myself thinking of it: “Regret comes from what you didn’t do not what you did”. It’s regretting having not studied the night before the test, It’s regretting that you gave up too soon on a relationship that still haunts you 3 years later, It’s settling on something that makes you feel like you’re betraying yourself and you’ve shelved your dreams. One day I will be a hundred and something with kids and grand-kids and I will inevitably retire from this life to the next chapter of existence and in that moment I don’t want to look back and regret that I had to live in a wheelchair because I fought a mugger at gunpoint who put me in a wheelchair,I don’t want to wake up in a cold sweat every other night in regret of the relationship I gave up on,but most importantly I don’t want to look back and say I had every opportunity to live my life and achieve my goals and I wasted it.
Letting Go Of The Past
Forgive and forget is a difficult life lesson to teach because the fundamental aspect of this teaching is letting go of the past and a large part of what makes us who we are as people lies in what we have been through.
It is in those experiences that we analyze and scrutinize how to go about our daily lives, it is what can almost be expressed as who we are entirely. So where then is the wisdom in “Forgiving and forgetting”? What can be derived from having amnesia of one experiences?
The problem then is that this teaching is taught in an unapproachable manner. A large portion of our lives is spent learning about everything be it good, bad, right, wrong or outright weird. The unfortunate reality is that the most impactful lessons we learn, are learnt not from past wisdom but often times from experiences of our own and this is, for the most part, not necessarily a bad thing.
I often find myself returning to the cake analogy wherein the ingredients are 2 sticks unsalted butter, 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 4 large eggs, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and 3/4 cup heavy cream. These might all be without a doubt cake ingredients but unless prepared in a certain way and eventually placed in an oven with a specific amount of heat to bake we can never look at the ingredients and say “This is a cake”.
The lesson in this analogy is that some of the greatest points of growth came when we had to go through some extreme difficulties but could have only happened on our choosing. Those ingredients will never be a cake until the baker chooses to mix them according to the recipe and it still wont be a cake until he puts it in the oven and turns up the heat.
Choice turns a painful memory into a life lesson. It is not the experience or lesson that we need to forget but the pain that came with it. Living in today’s world is not easy that’s why there’s Hope, Hope for a better tomorrow.
So Now What Do I Do?
So how do we navigate this life with all its complexities and nuances? how do we navigate day to day life when selfishness, greed and corruption thrive? How do we make the right choices?
Own Your Choices: Blaming other people for the decisions you make is the quickest way to be dissatisfied in your life,Not all choices are going to be easy,Not all choices are clear cut but if they are yours to make then face them head on.Weigh all your options,Question your Motives,Understand the Consequences and Commit
Learn from others: You will either learn from your own mistakes or learn from the wisdom of others,It is better to learn from the teachings of those who have been at the point of choosing where you find yourself as opposed to learning from harsh experiences
Decide to act: A lot of regrets come from indecision, you are responsible for your own destiny and this requires the ability to make up your mind and choose what it is that you want to do but you also have to take responsibility to act on those choices. Choosing to study as opposed to going to a party is one thing but actually studying is still another thing altogether.
Choose Your Battles: Not every circumstance, challenge and battle needs a choice in favor of one or the other. Sometimes you need not answer a question posed. Consider this saying, “Simply because it needs to be said doesn’t mean it needs to be heard”
Least Regret: Fact of the matter is there will be some cases, exceptional cases where we face some form of residual regret and it’s in these cases where we need to determine if the sacrifice to choose one over the other was worth the sacrifice. This often requires loving what’s good for you
Change Your Mind: Too many people are living in the consequences of the decisions and choices and are too afraid to change their mind because it feels like they are betraying someone else or even themselves. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. No decision is set in stone. There are choices that will need a lifetime commitment but 90% of the choices we make on a daily basis are always subject to change.
In 50 or so years I am going to be 80, I won’t have as much energy as I do now; I won’t have as much time on my hand as I do now to start things from the ground up but I will have a life to look back on, and in reality I will have made some good choices and a lot of bad ones but critical to my retrospect is that I will either be consumed by regret for all the chances I never took or filled with contentment knowing that there are a lot of things I never did, a lot of people I never met and a lot of opportunities I missed but I can take pride in knowing that my life is a result of the choices I made.
So my question to you is whether your life is going to be a result of what other people choose for you or you will define your own life by taking control of the choices in your life.
Let me know what you think.