Finding choices

Finding Choices

Often times it’s easy to say “I had no other choice.” I say it at times, but deep down I know what I’m saying is not true at all. There are choices all around us and sometimes the answer is so obvious that we perceive it as not being a choice at all; however this perception can often lead us to feel like victims in our own story.

There is a reason why experts recommend that toddlers be given options for them to choose from. Not only is it really good for the developing brain, but it FEELS good to exercise choice. And life is good when a toddler feels good.

I often say “I had no other choice” when I talk about a situation in which I felt crappy, like when I left my agency job. But my victimization is more around my hurt feelings, failed expectations of self and others along with the negative beliefs I started labeling myself with. What I REALLY did was I weighed my options and made the best decision I could, with the knowledge and resources I had in order to build, in my opinion, a better life.

Lets pick another example that may seem less obvious.

“I had no choice I had to eat SOMETHING.” Situations can get a bit tricker. Eat something or starve. Even in this morbid like scenario there was still have choice – just one being better than the other. Maybe for some reason this scenario included someone eating bugs. Most people I know don’t choose to eat bugs, but maybe if your life depended on it, you might choose to eat the bug. It’s not a fun choice. Personally it seems like a pretty shitty choice, but it’s still a choice. And when I see eating bugs as choice my stomach feels a bit smoother and my brain feels more clear compared to when I see a scenario of someone being forced to eat bugs in which there is no choice. My stomach is in knots and I feel physically ill. How could I feel such different ways about eating bugs?

It’s seeing the choice in the matter.

When I watch a scary movie (which I don’t really do), often times the horrific acts bother me, but if I dig deeper, like I did with the bug example it’s seeing people not be able to exercise their choice that is often physically uncomfortable. Lack of choice shakes us to our core and threatens our being.

When I do some of this work with clients it may seem surprising how often people can go from feeling victimized to feeling empowered – by recognizing their choice. Sometimes grief needs to happen as a result of choice and that’s painful and not to be discounted. But recognizing and feeling the choices we made/make provide us with this freedom that is felt physically.

But it doesn’t end there – Self-compassion is essential!

When we recognize that we had choice, it’s important to agree that we made the best choice we could have and did the best we could at the time, given the resources we had. Sure, everything is better in hindsight, but beating ourselves up over knowledge gained later is destined to turn you into a scrooge. Recognizing all the factors that went into us making a choice (even if it was a shitty one) and trusting we did the best we could allows for healing to happen. So finding choice is the first step, but if we beat ourselves up over it healing will never occur, self-compassion is essential.

Is there something in your life that you often say “I had no choice?” How is saying that serving you? How do you feel about that same scenario after finding your choice in the matter? Does it feels different to you? Do you feel the difference in your body?

Is there a decision you’re currently wrestling in your life and you feel victimized? Can you clearly see what all your options are? Are you sitting in your current decision because even though you might not like it, it appears to you, the best decision given your current needs and resources? Even though it may not be ideal, does your choice feel better than the other choices?

I think you get the point here.

Find choice. Trust you’re doing the best you can. We are always still learning. I’ve never seen anyone get better in therapy by staying victimized and beating themselves up. How is that serving you?

The secret to finding out what you want

The secret to finding out what you want

Instead of asking my clients what they want (because they don’t really know) I instead ask, “what do you enjoy?”

“Want” is a loaded question and oftentimes isn’t rooted in reality. I want my debt to go away. I want all the crap in my house to disappear and it be designed professionally. I want to be able to run and workout when I want to. I want my business to run itself without putting work into it. I want to make enough money so my husband can stay home and make me dinner every night :-p I want a lot of things. And like I said, they’re not really rooted in reality. And if I keep focusing on what I want and not getting it, I get frustrated, upset and sad pretty quickly.

Asking yourself what you want is too overwhelming because when your brain hears the word “want” it goes to certain pathways in the brain that have developed a close relationship with the word “want.” Your brain might go to these ridiculous things I just mentioned above or maybe your amazon wish list, because that memory is closely related to you list for Santa when you were a kid and thumbing through the JC penney catalog and circling all the things you want. Its rooted in the memory of seeing an ad on TV and saying, “mom I WANT that.” Which is now just seeing it on TV or the internet and buying it with your credit card. Those are the pathways that are lit up when you hear WANT. Not really constructive toward building a happy, purposeful, fulfilling life, now is it?

Now think about the word ENJOY.

Notice what happens to your body when you hear or say that work in your head. Where does it go?

My body relaxes a little when I hear that word. It also immediately goes to the outdoors. A sunrise, the woods, sky, clouds, trees, green…. It goes to people and laughing and fun social situations…. I notice a half smile (for all your DBT nerds out there) on my face. I feel a sense of calm energy in my body with slight anticipation and delight.

Wow, what a different experience than the word want. Weird.

Like I said, it’s because those two words have different associations in our brain going all the way back to childhood.

So I want to share this “secret” with you.

Instead of asking yourself what you want, ask yourself what you enjoy.

Not, “What do I want out of life?”

But, “What do I enjoy?”

What puts a half smile on my face?

What makes my body feel good?

What makes my mind feel relaxed and at ease?

These are the questions that will help you work on building your life toward one of happiness and fulfillment. Not what you want but what you ENJOY!

If you enjoy flowers spend less than $10 for a bouquet and they last two weeks. That’s less than $5 a week on something you enjoy. You might find you like flowers so much you start to make your own flower arrangements, or you might pick up a hobby of planting flowers in the spring and learning more about plants, arrangements, gardens, landscaping etc.

This is how something you enjoy can turn into a hobby…. And even eventually a job if that’s what you desire.

Hobbies are important, in my opinion. They’re not just something to pick up in your spare time, they are an essential part of our being, our day to day, our passion and what makes life more enjoyable.

If you’re finding yourself at a loss for what you would even like to do for a hobby use this advice. Like I said, first substitue want with enjoy…

What do I enjoy?

Answer the question and do that thing (even if it’s small and silly). Just a small step will do. Don’t go to step 10. You likely won’t get anywhere. Stay small.

Cultivate what you enjoy and watch it grow.

You may become more involved in it, or you might be satisfied at the small step.

Doing something for yourself, something you enjoy, is a great step you can take toward taking care of yourself. Your body and your mind will thank you for listening.

If you try this out, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

Thanks for reading.