Throughout our lives we are constantly making choices. Whether it is something as mundane as what to eat for lunch or important issues like who to vote for, our days are filled with choices. With some there are dire consequences and yet others simply show very little effect on our lives. How we chose depends on the results of past choices but also on the opinions of those around us. We are influenced by friends, family and the media but also by the little voices in our heads that are constantly trying to sway us. The subconscious that needs to keep us alive. We are quite arrogant in our belief that we have control over who we are, what we are and who we have become. Even the most successful of all people were influenced by comments and suggestions from the world around them. We need each other. That’s the bottom line.
I am always struck by the conversations I have with other people and the difference in how we see the world. Last summer I was golfing with a lady I had just met. She was quite adamant that the world was a very dangerous place now and it was just going to get worse. Children need to be protected. The helicopter parents need to hover because in the blink of an eye their children will be snatched from their safe little environments and suffer unspeakable horror. Her voice rose as she ranted and I must admit she scared me a little with her vehemence. Now I don’t agree with her for the most part but that wasn’t really what struck me. As usual, when I am confronted with people who are not just different from myself but seem almost opposite, I start to ponder the theory of choice. How did she arrive at this conclusion? What brought us to this point in our lives with her as a doom and gloomer and me believing we are in the beginning of an era of great positivity. Moving from the age of pisces to the age of Aquarius.
Believe it or not Choice theory is a thing. Developed by William Glasser the theory contends that how we act is a choice. It can be used as an alternative teaching method apart from trying to elicit a wanted behavior from kids based on negative or positive reinforcement. This is how many of us were raised. Right wrong or otherwise it was to the go to style. Children were controlled in order to make them into mini me’s. As adults we still are subjected to this type of persuasion. Glasser contends that we are motivated by internal wants or needs and we behave in a manner that helps us fulfill those wants and needs. We are still subjected to outside events but it is only information. We don’t have to react to outside events. Especially if those events cause us fear. That is what happens when we read those negative posts on Facebook. Someone is trying to control us through fear. Our future actions and opinions are then in reaction to that fear so we then spread the negative information because we feel it will help us in the future. Save us from something bad. Glassers ideas teach us that we can chose our behaviours.
We have all heard the saying “We can’t control what happens to us, we can only control our reactions to it.” That is big in choice theory. Here is the rub though. While it is hard to control our actions sometimes, controlling our thoughts and emotions is incredibly difficult. Something happens and we react emotionally. If we allow our thoughts free reign they can spiral us out of control if we are already in an emotionally unstable headspace. If you spend your life going down this path it can be an almost insurmountable task to just change. No only that, we get stuck in the quagmire. Soon all choices are made to protect our hurt. Pain. Loneliness. We all know these people who seem to find comfort in their doom and gloom. We all do it to some extent because we aren’t able to quickly bring ourselves out of the self pity party. And lets face it, sometimes it feels good to have a good cry, say angry things to ourselves about the person who hurt us and then feel sorry for ourselves for a bit. When it becomes a habit or our go to defense mechanism, that’s when problems arise. And it is a choice even if we prefer to blame all of life’s problems on others. It is a choice.
So what do we do about it all? Frankly it all comes down to responsibility. Rather, taking responsibility. For our own actions. And this my friend is tough. We have all done some things in our lives where we didn’t really think far enough along to understand the consequences. This was a very common occurrence in my life as I am a very reactive individual. Admittedly, my childhood and teen years were spent with very little thought to future issues. I just went about my business and was often surprised when things went awry. Like the time when I was eight and my mom said I could ride my bike after supper for half an hour. That is important. Half an hour. My brother found me as it was getting dark, blissfully unaware of the time and having fun with some neighbourhood kids. I can only guess at the timeline but as the sun was going down when I was found and we ate at five pm, I must have been out for close to four hours. It explains the psycho frantic mother who met me at the door. Her fear and subsequent relief at my safety caused her to go completely off the rails and spank me with gusto never seen before. Well, she tried. I doubt she hit my butt at all as I squirmed and twisted wondering who this crazed woman was who took over my mothers body. My father was the usual disciplinarian so I was more shocked than hurt at her behaviour. Her negative reinforcement did little to curb my inattention to the clock but I found out a little about fear that day. A mothers fear.
Taking responsibility for our actions is very hard. Especially if we care just a bit too much about what others think. My husband was raised in an environment where people cared too much about what others thought. As a result decisions were painstakingly hard for him as he was too afraid to make mistakes. Commitment becomes a problem for people like that. Having firm opinions is tough. What if they are later proven to be wrong? What will people think? Well, honestly… I am here to tell you that most people don’t think about you at all. When my girls were teens, I remember days they were horrified when they had to go to school with a new pimple on their face. I had to explain that most people wouldn’t notice their new blemish since everyone is walking around wondering what others are saying about their own new imperfections. Junior high is a bad time. For everyone. So much insecurity. When you start to take responsibility for your actions, in time you learn more about your internal motivations. What makes us tick? In time we are able to become more content in our own skin and worry less about the opinions of the world. We are less apt to be controlled or manipulated by others. We start to see life through a different lens and we truly can become happier people. Another bonus is we allow the people we know and love to follow our lead. Because we aren’t trying to judge them they will also feel free to be themselves and own their actions.
My hubby had a bad habit of negative talk sometimes. When he made a bad shot on the golf course he would say things like “Well that was stupid Rene’.” If he spilled food on the table while we were eating he would be angry with himself. That was a bone of contention between us. I felt it taught or children that simple mistakes were unacceptable. His argument was that he never scolded the children for these minor things. My reply was he didn’t have to. They saw from his actions that spilling food on the table was unacceptable and bad golf shots were the result of stupidity. When we berate ourselves we cause harm to ourselves and those around us. Simple little mistakes are just that. Simple little actions that can teach us and help us grow. I have to be honest with you… I make a lot of errant golf shots. In fact I would guess that ninety percent go awry in some manner. And yet, I am a pretty decent golfer. Through years of playing the severity of the miss shots has decreased and therefore the negative results have also decreased. My game improves. So too in life. I often jump into life without thinking too far ahead. I am reactive and it can get me into trouble. But I must say I have learned so much about myself on this journey. I keep practicing though and it gets better.
Even as we stop allowing life to get a grip on us and our emotions we have to learn to let others make their own choices. Learn to take responsibility for their own actions. Stop judging others. Its hard enough to understand what is going on in our own minds let alone the lives of the people around us. I recently had an eight hour visit with a man who has been in my life for many years. His wife was my best friend and her brother was my husband. The siblings are gone now and we are the two left behind. We talked about everything under the sun that day. Not just our spouses and their loss to us but the world and everything in it. We are polar opposites T and I. I am religious and he is an atheist. I am urban, he is rural. I am very left politically and he is right wing. He likes a tipple and I am more of an abstainer. Everything that is core to our personal belief systems is different. And yet, we are friends. Time has bonded us together and we accept each other. We allow each other to be different. We support each others choices. That alone allows us to be responsible for our choices with out judgement. It makes our relationship honest.
When we allow the world to dictate to us and manipulate us we lose a bit of ourselves in the process. All choices have consequences, good and not so good. Owning the consequences teaches us responsibility but it does so much more. It give us the confidence to become more decisive in our choices. Educate ourselves. Stop blaming others when things don’t work out as we would like. After all, when things work out well we tend to pat ourselves on the back don’t we. A lot of what happens in life is sheer luck. Right place right time. When we wait for the world to tell us what to do we certainly won’t be in the right place. We will be on the couch looking at social media. Finding our next soapbox or bandwagon. Opportunities will pass us by as we join our friends in their latest cause or indignation. In the end, what do you gain from this?
Sometimes we are so paralyzed by fear of what others think we just go around and around in circles. The Band Rush has a song called Freewill. One line sums it up quite well “If you chose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” There is nothing wrong with listening to the advice of others or seeking out information to help us in our decision making. Giving up your right to chose or allowing others to chose for you can imprison you in your own life. In reality you can’t even blame them when things go wrong. Because it was your choice to lay your life in their hands. In the end I have learned that the more I take responsibility for my choices the more confident I feel in those choices. I also have less time to judge those around me for their choices. I have learned that I need to look deep inside myself to understand what is truly best for me and for my life. From that starting point everything becomes so easy. The greatest lesson I have learned though. Happiness is a choice. And it comes from within.