There’s an amazing variety of choices we make by default day after day that it might be good to think about. We also make a lot of choices by default because we assume there really isn’t a choice. We assume we have to keep THIS job because we need A job. We assume we must stay where we are geographically simply because it’s where we are today.
Making choices this way is the meek way to live. It means you never consider anything beyond what you already know, what you already do, what you are already comfortable with. It also means that you feel “stuck” with what you are doing-a “victim of circumstance” rather than captain of your own destiny.
The truth of the matter is there are always alternatives. Much of the time, they’re so unappealing we never consider them. To be sure, there are some choices where the alternatives really are unthinkable and making the choice again and again would be silly. I choose to breathe. Not breathing doesn’t look like a real good idea to me. I also choose to rest, eat, and drive with care. But letting most of your life run on autopilot is cheating yourself.
Decades ago, I was involved in a company program that encouraged women to get into nontraditional careers within the organization. We offered an all-day seminar called “How to Decide.” I wish that class were mandatory in every high school in the country today. Since it isn’t, here are the basics of making good choices:
RECOGNIZE YOU HAVE A CHOICE. The first step in making a good choice is acknowledging you HAVE a choice. Instead of assuming that what is going on is the only thing that could be going on, make a conscious effort to assess the situation. Ask yourself “Is this the way I want my life to go?” Ask that question often and you will get some surprising and rewarding answers.
GENERATE A WIDE RANGE OF POTENTIAL ALTERNATIVES. When you create the list, put down everything you think of, even if it seems silly or unworkable. Sometimes those “frivolous answers” hold the kernel of a really great alternative.
Many of us are rethinking whether we can retire because of the rollercoaster ride the financial markets are on. But there are a whole lot of alternatives beyond “doing what I am doing now” and “traditional retirement.” Exploring that broader range of alternatives can offer far more appealing course of action. That fantasy of waiting tables in the coffee shop at Furnace Creek in Death Valley for half the year may be the spring board to a really good solution.
GATHER THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION. Even when we do make an effort to consciously choose, this is where we tend to blow it. It’s easy to buy in on information from some website or a friend without thinking about whether it’s the right information or even accurate information. There are TWO pieces to this step-accurate knowledge about what the alternatives will and won’t provide AND a clear idea of what you really need. Is the expensive leather jacket essential because clothes are terribly important to you-or for the work you do? Or is it more important you find something that won’t leave your budget in tatters?
DECIDE. Too often, we do this “naked”-without a clear idea of what we are deciding and without anywhere close to enough information. And we do it without thinking about the consequences of choosing this particular alternative. A friend bought a dishwasher he hates-because he daughter told him it was the greatest. She’s good in the kitchen and he believed her rather than thinking about what he really needed himself. Now he’s stuck with that dishwasher. That’s small potatoes compared to the career choices that are sometimes made the same way.
Taking the time to choose is usually a time saver, too. The easy way usually ends up costing you a lot more-in time, in money and definitely in personal satisfaction. So choose to choose. And even when what you choose is what you are already doing, the results are dramatic. Choosing reinforces your sense that you have control over your own life.
Copyright (c) 2009 Mary Lloyd