Making choices can help to lighten the load

“BUT I don’t have a choice!”

We’re all guilty of uttering this phrase at some point, right? For example, you’d love to stay that extra day away down south. All your friends are staying, but you’ve got to go back to Perth to work. Your friends rib you that you’re a workaholic and a bore, so you answer with the standard line of defence: “But I don’t have a choice! My boss will kill me!”

Of course, you have a choice. You’ve just chosen to go back to work, rather than stay down south. You could have also chosen to stay down south, and miss work. But you decided (consciously or otherwise) that the consequences of missing work were worse than the consequences of missing out down south. Nonetheless, you chose. No one else chose for you. Don’t blame the boss.

So, the first point, I hope, is made clearly enough. For those of you who missed it, here it is in plain English. We always have choice. Every moment. In fact, our lives are the way they are right at this moment because of the millions of decisions we have made along the way.

About the only thing we don’t get to choose is whether we get to live forever or not, although scientists are working on that one.

And don’t start up on taxes. You can choose not to pay your taxes. Just live with the consequences. It’s your call.

Let’s build on this concept. What if your boss asks you to work over the weekend? You know that you can choose not to, but the consequences of not doing so aren’t worth contemplating. But, nevertheless, you get angry with him/her for asking you to do so. In fact, you’re fuming.

Did the boss make you angry? Think about that. Did he/she make you angry? Or did you become angry because of what the boss asked you to do? Who’s responsible for your anger here – you or the boss?

Answer: You. You don’t have control over what is done to you. But you can always choose your response.

People don’t make us angry. We make ourselves angry. What others do might trigger our anger, but we’re ultimately in control of the trigger mechanism.

Victor Frankl, survivor of the Nazi concentration camps and author of the famous book, Man’s Search For Meaning, gave the classic example of people choosing a positive attitude in the face of terrible oppression: “We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of his freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

We can also abdicate our freedom to choose. But don’t blame others if things then don’t go your way.

Last week, the director of operations of a large call centre related to me a tactic she used to affront staff’s disgruntlement with management. Staff members were complaining that “it wasn’t their job” to solve certain issues – they believed it was management’s job. And, furthermore, they were complaining that management was making a right balls-up in solving the issues.

Instead of taking the blame on the chin, the director responded by pointing out that if they, the staff, didn’t want to take any responsibility for solving the issues, then they would have to live with the outcomes resulting from management decisions. This silenced even the fiercest critics. And so began the process of enrolling the staff to take responsibility for their problems.

All too often we tend blame others for situations arising from our own actions or circumstances beyond our control. We blame the weather for ruining our picnic, we blame the television for ruining our kids’ minds, and we blame tobacco companies when we die from lung cancer after smoking three packs a day for 40 years. It’s easier to blame someone or something else rather than take responsibility for our choices.

If we place blame on others for the consequences of our own actions, we are effectively giving away our choice to them. And when we give away choice, we have no right to blame.

When we remind ourselves that we always have a choice, it’s empowering. It puts us in control of our lives, rather than in the hands of some “big brother”.

We may not always like the choices presented to us, but having the freedom to choose can ease the oppression we feel if we are blaming some external force.

So, when someone next says to you, “but I don’t have a choice”, remind them that they do, and lighten their load.

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