Have you ever stopped to think how you got where you are today?
I'm not talking about your mode of transportation. I mean, how did you wind up with your particular life? How did you end up with your career, the person you married, the home you where you reside, and the experiences you've had?
It wasn't a random set of circumstances that placed you where you are right now. Perhaps some of your life evolved as a result of the hand you were dealt, but most everything that's happened to you or that you're doing in your life right now, is a result of your own personal choices.
If you love your current life, that's good news. If you don't, accepting the responsibility for how your life turned out can sting. It's hard to swallow the truth that our own choices have led to failure, regret, shame, or simply a failure to launch in the direction we really want for ourselves.
However, even if you have been dealt a bad hand in life or have made poor choices in the past, that doesn't mean your future has to be limited. The great thing about choice is that you always have another one around the corner — and a chance to change the direction of your life. Almost every moment, you are presented with a question:
- Should I sit here and watch the game or go for a run?
- Should I order those fries or go without them this time?
- Should I spend the next hour talking with my wife, or finish this project on the computer?
- Should I call that list of prospects one more time or call it a day?
Every choice we make has a consequence, even the smallest choices. You might choose to skip flossing your teeth on a particularly rushed morning, but if you choose to skip it every day, you'll end up with gum disease or tooth loss. You might pass up calling your prospect list one day, but if you blow it off too often, someone else will get the sale.
Our repeated choices become our habits — either good or bad. And our habits become who we are. So how do we decide the best choices in the moment when life is busy and demanding, or we're tired or hungry or unmotivated? How do we move past the “what the hell” voice that pushes us toward a bad choice, so that we can hear the higher calling of our best selves?
Here are 6 ways to make good choices and reclaim your personal power:
1. Define Your Personal Values
Once of the best ways to make choice easier is to measure every choice against your personal values. If a choice doesn't align with your values, the result will likely cause you some kind of grief in the long run — or even the short term.
If one of your main values is integrity, then making the choice to lie to your spouse will ultimately hurt you and your relationship.
If you don't know your core values, check out this list of 400 value words to help you define them. Then use this list as the benchmark for making future choices.
2. Create Awareness
So many of our choices are made unconsciously. We do things and say things without giving it a moment's thought. But if you knew every choice you made could set you off on a trajectory toward success or failure, happiness or misery, confidence or remorse, wouldn't you take the time to consider your choices more carefully?
The truth is, your choices do set you off on a trajectory, even though you might not be able to envision the outcome in the moments before the decision. That's why awareness is so essential. Throughout your day, rather than just going along and saying, “Sure” when the McDonald's server asks, “Do you want to Super Size that?” — remind yourself that your choice has a consequence.
Just that pause to reflect is often enough to set you in a different direction. Become fully aware of the power of your choices.
3. Envision the Outcome
Once you've empowered yourself with awareness, give yourself the time and permission to carefully consider the possible outcomes of your choice. A small choice like whether or not to floss your teeth today may have a negligible outcome for just one day. But ask yourself if you have a history of making the choice to skip it. If so, this repeated choice will create a bad habit that WILL have a bad outcome.
Some choices, repeated often enough, add up over time to a positive or negative result. Other choices can have more immediate and profound consequences. If I choose to buy this car, knowing it's beyond my means, I can pretty much count on dealing with the pain of debt or a much tighter budget as soon as I spend the money.
Don't throw caution to the wind or let yourself jump forward without time for consideration. Ask yourself, “Where will this choice lead me? Where will the opposite choice lead? What will likely send me in a direction with the best outcome?” Write out a list of pros and cons if necessary. Sometimes putting things in writing helps you clarify the best choice.
4. Seek Guidance and Feedback
If you have a big choice or decision to make, you might feel overwhelmed with your options or confused about the best course of action. That's when it's smart to phone a friend. Carefully select two or three trusted friends or advisers whose opinion and judgment you value. Tell them about your choice, show them your list of pros and cons, and ask for their input about your decision.
Someone who is removed from the turmoil of the choice and who has a different perspective can help you see things in a clearer light. A personal coach or counselor also can help you gain clarity around your decision by asking you pointed questions related to your motivations, feelings, and desires.
The point here is not to rely totally on the advice of others, but to use it in the mix of the decision-making process.
5. Make Choice Automatic with Habits
There are some choices that you want to become habitual. By creating solid habits from your daily choices, you streamline the process so that your behavior doesn't require the same thought process or self-discipline over time.
For example, you might be faced with the decision every day about whether or not to exercise. But if you create a daily habit of exercising, then you just do it. You don't have to think about it. There are so many behaviors we know are good for us, and we want to make the choice to do them every day. But, as you've likely experienced, we lose motivation after a few days and then give up. Then we're not only faced with the choice again after we quit, but also we're faced with the bad feelings of failure.
If you learn how to create sustainable habits properly, then you can transform any good choice into a regular habit. Forming habits isn't a matter of willpower or character. You have to learn how to create new neural pathways in your brain so your choices become automatic. The same holds true for bad choices that have become bad habits. By learning the skills of creating good habits, you can learn to replace those unwanted bad habits with a positive new habit.
6. See Every Day as a New Opportunity
One of the problems with making repeated bad choices and creating a string of bad habits is that it makes us feel like we're doomed to failure. We've probably received enough negative reinforcement from others that we start to believe we're incapable of change or just not smart enough to make good choices.
It doesn't matter how many poor choices we've made in the past. Today is a blank slate, and we all have the opportunity to start fresh — even if we just fell off the wagon yesterday. Just hop back on and begin again.
When you define your values, create awareness around your power to make choice, envision the possible outcomes, and build good habits from your thoughtful choices, you have the power to completely overhaul your life. Yes, there will be times you falter and make a bad choice, either from neglect or intent. That happens to all of us. No one is expecting perfection.
But if you can get to the place where you know you're making more good choices than bad, you'll begin to see a huge shift in your life. Things will be easier. You'll feel more confident. You'll experience more success and pride in your endeavors. Other people will respond more positively to you.
You are in complete control of your destiny through your daily choices, your habits, and your willingness to move past failure and try again. Seize the reins of your life by directing all of the choices you make.