Life moves fast and expectations are bestowed upon us at rapid speed. We often fail to recognize how many choices we’re presented with throughout any given day of our lives. We get used to living on auto-pilot, making fast decisions that help us get through our lives without taking a pause or recognizing the potential outcomes of the choices we’re making. But what if we honed in on more subtle opportunities to exercise our right to say yes and no when we mean it? It’s not all about the big choices, like what jobs you will accept, who you want to marry or where you want to live. Recognizing the choices we have on a moment to moment basis helps us to bust through our previously held beliefs surrounding obligations.

According to Oxford’s dictionary, the definition of choice is an act of selecting or making a decision when there are two or more possibilities. More often than not, we have more than one possibility to choose from in any given moment. When we slow down, we can start to notice that life is made up of small choices, and there are many more chances to empower ourselves than we previously believed. In this article, we are increasing awareness around choice through the use of examples. Noticing the power of choice will help you feel like you’re in the driver’s seat of your life.

Remember that habits often serve and hinder simultaneously. For example, saying yes to someone might ensure they stay happy with you, while draining your energy. If you’re used to saying yes all the time, it can feel as though you’re riding a high-speed train away from your feelings and needs. You might be feeling numb, put-upon, overworked or unseen. You might lash out at others in resentment, believing they are making you do things you’re not comfortable with. Choice is about recognizing that you have the power to take responsibility for your actions. If there’s a place in your life that you feel choice has escaped you, this is precisely where you should start exploring.

Example

You’ve been going above and beyond at work. Your boss is happy with your performance and prefers you to take on high-risk projects because they trust in your abilities. You like your boss and feel as though they mean well. You can see they’re over-worked and that your support is valued by them. You’ve been working a lot of over-time, feeling burnt out and tired. You’re not being monetarily compensated for the extra hours you’re putting in. You begin to notice that your co-workers are doing less work than you, and no one else is logging in on the weekends.

Your boss approaches you on a Friday afternoon and asks if you will prepare something to present at 9 am on Monday morning. Your body tenses up and you feel a sinking in your gut. You begin to resign mentally, “I had plans this weekend, but I guess they’re out the window now!” You think, “My coworkers suck!” And you say, “Yes, I’ll prepare the presentation for Monday at 9 am”.

You come home and tell your partner that you have to work all weekend. They roll their eyes and ask, “but why?”

You say, “I have to, I have no choice”.

Reflection

It’s valid to feel as though you don’t have choices, and to feel powerless as a result. Sometimes we say “YES!” so quickly without recognizing the need to take a breath to ask ourselves if this is what we truly want. Going with a default yes can ensure other people are happy with us, but it takes away the necessary step of inquiring about how we feel and making a realistic judgment about what we have to give. Maybe that “YES!” needs to turn into a “Let me sleep on it!” or a “HELL NO!”

Existentially, human beings have learned patterns of responding and relating to other people and situations. When we become aware of the patterns, we release ourselves from auto-pilot and we create more space for conscious choices to be made. Beliefs fuel patterns of behavior, so it’s a helpful place to begin exploring what beliefs might be arising for you if you’re having trouble harnessing the power of choice.

Common Beliefs

It’s my job to please others.

I have to keep others happy with me.

I am not valuable unless I’m taking care of others.

I can’t rock the boat, I have to keep the peace.

My feelings are less important than other people’s feelings.

What I need is less important than what others are asking of me.

There are benefits to believing such things. We get to ensure that other people (like the boss in the example) are happy with us. When we avoid conflict, the boat remains steady and people expect pleasant answers from us, we are relied upon. We can gain a sense of identity from being “the go-to person.” It can feel really good to be viewed as responsible, reliable and giving. But what about ourselves? Do we value our time, energy and individual needs as much as we value the needs and opinions of others? Is there a possibility that we can be giving, loving people without burning ourselves out, or saying yes when inside we’re screaming, “NO!”

Reflection Questions

Try writing down the beliefs that are motivating you to say “Yes” when you mean “No.”

If your belief is that “I ALWAYS have to take care of others.” Is that 100% true? Do you ALWAYS have to take care of others? If the answer is yes, then start thinking about why that is. Why isn’t there any flexibility in my life? Where did I learn this from? If the answer is no, then start thinking about what situations or people allow you to say no. What is significant about those interactions? What’s special about the interactions?

Conclusion

Identifying beliefs is one of the first steps to reclaim your power of choice. When we are aware that we have a belief such as “I ALWAYS have to keep the peace,” then we can start to understand why we might be ignoring our needs and feelings in favor of keeping the peace. When we develop awareness of what’s holding us back from choosing ourselves, we can begin to develop a stronger power to make choices in our life that reflect our true needs, choices that put us closer to where we want to be.