Choices Shape Our Resilience – and Thus Our Lives
Life is the sum of all your choices.
– Albert Camus
That our lives are shaped by the choices we make, even by the choices we avoid or forfeit, goes without saying. (Though Camus says it very well.)
When life’s challenges seem overwhelming and our choices seem narrowed to the point of no choice, we may need some practical tools to re-open the functioning of our brains and mind to discern choices where it seemed there were none.
You can learn these tools in the exercise below, and at the September 28, 2019 daylong training at Spirit Rock Meditation Center on Resilience: Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster. The workshop will provide ample opportunity to practice tools that help you see clearly where you are and how to move to where you need to be.
Exercise: Creating Options, Discerning Choices, Choosing Wisely
1. Assess what is happening as clearly as you can. This includes:
a) getting all the facts about the situation you are being asked to cope with;
b) getting expert opinions and perspectives from competent, resilient others;
c) seeing clearly the circumstances and past decisions that contributed to what you have to deal with now;
d) assessing what’s going on in your own patterns of resilience that’s helpful to you now — or not. Where you are open to new learning, where you might be defended or in denial.
Assessing requires resources — of time, help from other people, of open-mindedness. Assessing is essential to cultivate response flexibility; otherwise we have no options except to react as we have before.
2. Identify options. Brainstorming is a useful tool of de-conditioning that help our brains temporarily loosen the grip of old rules and should’s. We can create an open-minded receptivity to new possibilities by creating the neural receptivity within the brain that will allow new associations or linkages to form spontaneously and come to consciousness.
a) ask a small group of friends to meet with you to identify options. The open-minded exchange of ideas, and the associations they lead to, will spark more ideas than if you brainstorm by yourself or with just one other person.
b) each of you generate as many ideas as you can as quickly as you can without any judgments or evaluations allowed that would short-circuit the free flow of generativity. You may notice the intuitive side of your brain can generate ideas as quickly as the analytical side. Let your brain generate new ideas by associating to what has already been suggested.
c) once your group runs out of steam generating new ideas, take a few moments to categorize the ideas into different topics, still without judgment or evaluation.
3. Identify holes in the sidewalk and walk around them.
Identify any self-limiting beliefs or automatic patterns of response that might have contributed to the situation you find yourself in, or that might be re-railing your ability to generate and choose among options now. Take the clear seeing of these habits of belief, these inner saboteurs, as a cue to walk down another street — to shift perspectives, especially to the perspective of your Wiser Self, that can approach the situation from the most optimistic, courageous perspective.
4. Identify the core values that will guide you in choosing among the options. We all live by a moral compass that guides our choices of behaviors in life, part of the conditioning from our parents, our peers, our teachers, coaches, role models, our culture and society at large, about what’s “right” or “wrong”, whether we’re always conscious of that compass or not. Your Wiser Self, for now, embodies the highest values of that moral compass.
a) Find a time and place where you can come into a sense of presence; a quiet spacious stillness where you can have a “heart to heart” with your Wiser Self.
c) state the dilemma you find yourself in, and the options you have generated by yourself or with your friends.
d) Listen, simply listen to the deep wisdom of your Wiser Self speaking to you. Not necessarily yet about which options to choose, but the “truth sense” of which values matter to you most in choosing. It’s this “truth sense” that will guide you in choosing options.
e) Bring your awareness back to the present moment; register this guidance from our Wiser Self in your awareness as you proceed to make your choices.
5. Discern which options best serve your values.
a) With clarity on your core values to guide your choices, you can begin to discern which options you’ve generated best fit those values — they feel right on, and which ones feel “off”, they are less of a good match or don’t fit at all.
b) as strange as this may sound after all of your careful assessment, generating options, identifying saboteurs, and clarifying values, at this juncture you can help your brain discern which option is best by tossing a coin.
Not that the coin toss makes the decision for you, but in the split second when you realize what the “decision” of the coin toss is, you can experience a quick gut reaction, “Uh, oh; this isn’t what I wanted,” or “Phew! I’m glad it turned out this way!” That moment of gut reaction is your intuitive wisdom discerning that this choice feels “off” or this choice feels right on.
6. Choose wisely is the natural culmination of the 5 steps above. There’s always the possibility that you would make a different choice later if you had more information later, or circumstances changed and you had more options later. This is the wisest choice you can make now. Whatever choice you make and whatever the consequences, you have created more response flexibility in your brain. That is the neurobiological fulcrum of resilience that will allow you to make wiser and wiser choices as you go forward.