The power of choice is one of my favorite topics because it has the potential to dramatically change people’s lives. Choosing on purpose is the theme of my leadership series. Many of us, myself included, have a tendency to fall into a victim mentality. We say, “Oh, I have to do this” and “I have to do that.” In reality, most of the things that we do are choices.
I use an exercise in my communication workshops that creates a huge perspective shift for people. I have them complete the sentence “I have to…” with as many things as they can think of in about three minutes. If someone writes, “I have to eat, sleep, and breathe,” that is correct! We do “have” to do those things in order to keep living. However, most everything else is a choice.
Often someone will say, “But we have to pay taxes.” The answer is, “No, not really.” Generally we choose to pay taxes because we don’t want to risk penalties and jail, but we could choose to live as a hermit off the grid or risk not paying taxes in the hope that we wouldn’t get caught.
Life right now, for the most part, is the result of the choices we’ve made up to this point. People in my workshops usually groan at that statement. It is true and it hits home. We have made some really good choices in our lives and some not so great choices that have led us to our current situation.
I know that we don’t choose everything that happens to us. I am a woman who has had brain surgery on very short notice. However, we do get to choose how we react to what happens to us.
What’s important to note is that our future is determined by the choices that we make now. We make choices all the time without thinking about how those choices will affect the future. The key is to make choices intentionally. We must decide where we want to go, what we want to accomplish, and who we want to be. Using those decisions as a guide, we intentionally choose actions, attitudes, and perspectives that will move us closer to those goals.
I call choosing with intention “waving around the Magic Wand of Destiny.” I have a Magic Wand of Destiny that I use in my leadership seminars. (You can see it in the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZaiN1wnj6s) Choosing on purpose creates a completely different way of looking at the world. It can change what you do, and it can also change how you think about what you do.
When I first did the exercise of completing the sentence “I have too…” I wrote that I had to make my sons’ breakfast and lunch every morning. I didn’t really like making breakfast and lunch and I would lie in bed in the morning groaning about it. After the exercise, I realized that I was choosing to get up and prepare meals. The kids were middle school age and capable of fixing their own food.
However, I thought it was important to spend time with them in the morning and to ensure that they had good food to eat. Getting up and fixing meals were actions that were in alignment with my values. That realization didn’t change what I did, but it changed how I felt about doing it. When I woke up and thought, “I have to…” I stopped myself and started waving around the Magic Wand of Destiny. I told myself to either get up and cheerfully fix food or stay in bed.
In life you have three choices in most situations. If you don’t like what’s going on, the first option is to try and change it. If you control the situation, it’s easy to change. If you have no control, then changing it isn’t an option. In most situations, we have some influence that we can try to exert.
In workshops I use a personal example. We moved to a new place and were only going to be there one year. My youngest son, Andrew, had asthma and was allergic to dogs. There was a helping dog in the school and Andrew found himself with the dog often and we were having to increase his asthma medication as a result.
We didn’t completely control the situation, but we did have some influence. We met with teachers and the principal. I sent them information on asthma and allergies. It was all to no avail. They did not cooperate. We were unable to change the situation.
The second choice is to accept the situation. I do mean to truly accept the situation, not grit your teeth and endure it. Accepting mean making a mental or physical adjustment that you can live with and that won’t stress you out. In our case, we were up to quadrupling Andrew’s asthma medicine so we couldn’t really accept the situation.
The third and final option is to flee. Fleeing doesn’t have to be a negative event. You can plan ahead and leave a situation on good terms. For example, if I’m volunteering on a board and want to leave the situation, I can just make it clear that I won’t return when my term is up. In my example with Andrew, we did flee. We pulled Andrew out of school and I homeschooled him that year. He decreased to minimal amount of medication and we had great year together.
The bottom line is if you don’t realize that you have the power of choice, you can become a victim. You can live in a constant victim mentality which is very unhealthy. It’s more useful to look at each situation and ask what you can intentionally do to improve it. Decide who you want to be and where you want to go. Then start waving around the Magic Wand of Destiny.