The Power of Choice

Recently, I have been contemplating the power of making choices. A lifelong perfectionist, I have often viewed decision-making with dread; a difficult, even scary, process involving much option-weighing, hem-hawing and second-guessing. Even small decisions about what to wear for the day, whether or not to eat that piece of cake, what chores/activities to accomplish, could send me in tailspin. I would decide one way, then change my mind 10 seconds later, and so on, until finally I was either forced to make a choice, or the opportunity had passed.  Half of the time I would regret whatever course of action I chose, wondering if I should’ve chosen differently.

Over time, I have slowly come to the realization that, not only have I wasted a vast amount of time and energy worrying about making just the right decision, but in doing so, I have missed out on enjoying the outcome of that decision. Let’s go back to the cake example. I think most of us can relate to this; you’re at a party, and you want to eat a piece of cake. In the past, my thought process would’ve gone something like this: “I really want to eat cake. But I probably shouldn’t, because I’m trying to watch what I eat. But if I don’t eat cake, I’m going to spend the rest of the day wishing I had! But if I do eat it, I’m going to wish I hadn’t!” This mental monologue would continue for some amount of time until I made a decision. But I wouldn’t be happy with my decision, whatever it was, because, and here’s the real kicker--I never truly took ownership of my choice!

I am not a practicing Christian, but I have always liked this Bible passage: In Matthew 5:37, Jesus says, ‘let your yes be yes, and your no be no…’ This means when we make a choice, we need to go ‘all the way’, we need to fully possess our choice: either we eat the cake, or we don’t. If we eat the cake, we don’t berate ourselves for eating the cake, and if we don’t eat the cake, we don’t regret it.

It really is as simple as that. And the best part of learning to stand firm in our choices is that we can stop finding decision-making scary, and start finding it empowering! 

Learning to take ownership of my decisions has truly brought me a great deal of peace. As with any skill, I don’t always do it perfectly 100% of the time, but I am making an effort to practice at every opportunity. And in practicing making small decisions with confidence, I will gradually be able to make larger and more complex decisions with confidence as well. And hopefully, as I gain experience making choices, whatever they might be, I can start analyzing those choices and find ways to make better, wiser, more informed decisions. More on this next time!

Happy with what is?

Recently, I began reading the Harry Potter series to my young son. In the first book of the series, The Sorcerer’s Stone, there is a chapter about The Mirror of Erised, which is a mirror that shows not your face, but the desires of your heart. After Harry discovers this mirror, he visits it every night so he can sit and stare at the faces of his dead parents-for Harry would like nothing more than to have a proper family. On the 3rd night, he discovers Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, waiting for him in the room that houses the mirror. Dumbledore, after explaining what the mirror does, utters this little gem of wisdom,

“However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible….it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”

I have my own Mirror of Erised in my mind, and I can’t tell you how often I have mentally parked myself in front of it, dreaming about what could be better. I have wasted my energy, frittered away countless moments that could’ve been spent enjoying what I have had, or working on ways to improve it. Instead, I have wished it to be different, wished it away. I have dwelled on dreams and forgotten to live.

After reading the above passage, I asked myself, “Why do I do it?” The answer, I am ashamed to admit, is that it’s the easy way out. It’s far easier to dream about the way things could be than to deal with situations, and people, the way they are. Real life is almost always less than ideal; real people have imperfections. Instead of facing that, and doing the work that brings forth fruit, it’s easier to ignore the problems and the pain and get lost instead in fantasies of what could be ‘if only’.

I’m not saying that it’s not OK to dream–not at all. Our ability to imagine ‘what if’ is what makes us human. It is the nexus of our creativity; in fact, without it, we would not be creators. This kind of dreaming is probably better labeled aspiration. No, the dreaming I’m talking about is the kind of stupor that we can allow ourselves to settle into in our day to day lives. It’s easy to fall into. We get into a routine, doing the same things with the same people, and we forget to really see, we aren’t really fully aware of our surroundings. Complacency sets in, and we become numb, to some degree or another.

So what’s the antidote to this state of mind? I’m not entirely sure. But I can think of one weapon that we have at our disposal at all times; choice. The power to choose to accept what is going on, right now, in our lives. The power to face hardships, whatever they may be, and work through them. And most of all, the power to enjoy what we have, even if it isn’t perfectly harmonious with what we think we want (more about that in another post).

With that being said, Carpe Diem! Use your power of choice to live as fully as possible in this day!