We all have things that we have to do. Or, rather, and more accurately, we all have things that we choose to do. As you learn to release the anxiety and worry from your life, it’s critical to recognize the difference.
Think about the things in life that you have to do, many of which turn into sources of anxiety. Many people would say that, among other things, you have to:
There are plenty of people, however, who don’t pay their taxes, don’t take care of their children and don’t phone their mothers. But, you might say, there are institutions that will make you pay your taxes, go to school and take care of your children. And your mother might be pretty good at ‘making’ you phone her. You might say, further, that while it’s true that there are people who don’t do these things, bad things happen as a result. You’re right again. But the fact remains that everyone, at all times, has a choice. And you need to be aware that, even when it feels like you are being forced into something, you still have a choice.
If we believe that there is anything at all that we absolutely, positively must do because circumstances or someone else is forcing us to, we again surrender our power. In every single instance, we hold and make the choice. Let’s look at an example:
But let’s say you don’t mind being broke…
Of course, there are also people who would rather go to jail than pay their taxes, reveal their secret information source, renounce their beliefs, etc. Although the choices you have might not be great ones, it’s absolutely critical to understand that you always have choices.
Worry and anxiety are also choices that we make. Let’s take a common example: You’re driving to work and there’s a big traffic jam. You begin to worry that you’re going to be late. That worry turns into a worry that, being late, you’ll miss the important meeting. Which turns into a worry about the boss’s opinion of you. Which turns into a worry about job security. Which turns into…
When you arrive late to work, you tell the boss, “The traffic made me late.” In blaming the traffic, you have chosen to be a victim of circumstances beyond your control. And as you sat in the traffic jam and your blood pressure went up, you chose to blame the traffic for your blood pressure too. Both these choices leave you powerless.
Let’s change things up and see if we are as much of a victim as we sometimes like to claim.
Let’s say the morning’s meeting was to announce you as the next Senior Vice President and the position came with a $50,000 bonus. It was conditional, however, on you being on time for the meeting. Do you think you could have found a way to be there on time? If the bonus was $500,000, would you have left the house at 3 am or even slept in the boardroom overnight to be sure you were there? I bet you could be pretty ingenious at overcoming obstacles if we put the stakes high enough.
Which highlights the truth that you are not a victim of the traffic, you made a choice to risk the (highly predictable) heavy traffic. It was more important for you to get up at your regular time and have your regular breakfast than it was to be at the meeting on time, so you chose sleep time and breakfast over the consequences at work. Having made that choice, it’s pointless to then worry about what the boss might think. If, on the other hand, you chose to make sure you were at the meeting on time, it’s pointless to worry about your lost sleep.
The truth is that no one and nothing can force you to do anything. You always have the choice to comply or not, to agree or not, to act or not, to worry or not to worry. Many of us pretend we are a victim, but we are not, we always have a choice. Victim mentality, blaming and complaining weaken our ability to make clear, conscious choices.
There’s a cute little movie from 2006 starring Queen Latifah called ‘Last Holiday’ in which she plays a shy, unassuming store clerk. She longs to be a professional chef and records her dreams of a better life in a journal labeled, "Possibilities." But rather than stepping up to her possibilities, she carefully saves her money for that rainy day, never colors outside the lines and lives a drab, unfulfilling life. When she’s diagnosed with a fatal illness and given just a few weeks to live, she liquidates her savings and embarks on her dream vacation.
As she’s contemplating the dream life that never materialized, she reflects, “Next time... we will laugh more, we'll love more; we just won't be so afraid.”
Are you deciding from a place of fear?
How many decisions do we each make every day? A few big ones, dozens of mid-sized ones and hundreds of tiny, little choices. We like to believe that we’re rational, logical humans and that we arrive at our choices and decisions with equal rationale and logic. But the truth is that virtually none of our decisions are made from logic, they’re made from a place of emotion. And far too often, the emotions that drive our decisions are fear, worry, anxiety and self-doubt.
“If I go away with him for the weekend, what will my Mother say?” “What if my boss sees that I posted that on Facebook?” “I don’t have the nerve to tell my partners that I want to start my own company.”
There are two sides to every decision
Every decision has two sides – one is to go after what you DO want. The other is to avoid what you DON’T want. The first is made from a place of faith, courage and growth. The other is made from a place of fear.
More often than not, though, we’re completely unaware of these dynamics. It wasn’t until I was well into my 50s that I began to realize how many of my decisions had been made to avoid things I was afraid of or because of self-limiting beliefs I’d picked up along the way. I spent most of my adult years with unstable finances because I grew up believing that it was only other people who could be rich. I undervalued my services because I was afraid my customers would leave if I charged more. It took 60 years for me to finally take up painting because I doubted I would be very good at it.
What decisions have you made from fear or self-limiting beliefs? What decisions are you facing now?
Is it courage or fear?
Here’s how you can tell the real motive behind your choice. When you’re in the process of making a decision, even a little one, get quiet for a moment and try this statement: “I’m deciding in this way because…” If you finish the sentence with a list of the negative outcomes you’ll avoid, you’re deciding from a place of fear. But if you can finish the statement with a list of the benefits you and others are going to enjoy, then you’re deciding from a place of courage and possibility.
You’ve heard the old challenge, “What would you try if you knew you couldn’t fail?” That delicious little thought experiment always opens the flood gates to our dreams. A smile comes over our face, we sit up straighter and start to recite our favorite bucket list items.
How many of your decisions are made from a position of courage and confidence? How many from a place of fear?