A friend was stressed and unhappy during a re-structure at work. She didn’t have far to commute and had been with the organisation a long time. She also had considerable financial commitments, and it seemed to her that she had no option but to stay where she was, rather than taking the risk of moving somewhere else. She said she couldn’t even entertain thoughts about what she’d really like to do, because she didn’t feel she had the luxury of choice.

Her feelings were summed up in one sentence: “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

A few years ago, this story could easily have been my own!

Often we ignore the possibility of an alternative to the life we’re leading, because it’s too painful to contemplate what we might be missing out on. So we continue to march along the trench we’ve dug out, our eyes blinded to opportunities, hoping that things will get better. The sad truth is that, if what we’re doing isn’t working for us now, it’s not likely to work for us in the future either. Things could get better right now, if only we’d take off the blinders and work out what we really want to be, do and have.

When we’re feeling under pressure or if we’ve had a blow to our confidence, we may even convince ourselves it’s better not to have a choice.

A client said recently: “I don’t really want a choice, because I might make the wrong choice. But if there’s only one option, I don’t have to choose.”

I pointed out that everything is a choice – even doing nothing is a choice – and choosing what appears to be the only option available doesn’t make it the right choice. It’s impossible to know for certain, whether a choice will be the ‘right’ choice. You just have to be willing to take a chance.

Life’s path has many twists and turns, and there are lots of opportunities for things to ‘go wrong’, and equally lots of opportunities for things to go well. It’s up to you to decide whether the glass is half empty or half full – and what action you need to take in order to fill it up again.

You might choose to learn new skills to make yourself more valuable at work so that you get a promotion, or reduce the number of hours you work so that you have more time to pursue interests which are not fulfilled by your career, or you might look for ways to bring more of your creative talent into your work.

The chorus of a Stephen Stills song, from 1970, makes the suggestion: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

If you find yourself in a less than ideal situation, you have a choice between complaining about your predicament and blaming other people, or taking responsibility for your circumstances and doing the best you can with what you have at your disposal.

I read a lovely story once, about a lady who, no longer able to manage in her own home, was moving into a home for the elderly. When she arrived, one of the carers offered to show her to her room. “It’s lovely,” the elderly lady said. The carer was confused: “But I haven’t shown it to you yet.” “It doesn’t matter,” the elderly lady replied. “I already decided I was going to like it before I arrived.”

How we feel is a choice, and each choice has a benefit – so it’s important to work out what the benefit is, when you’re experiencing negative feelings. For example, if we choose to be unhappy, the benefit may be that friends and family pay more attention and are more sympathetic, and we don’t have to make as much of an effort.

We don’t necessarily want to be unhappy, but perhaps it’s the only way to get the attention we need. Perhaps, on balance, it would be better to pay more attention to our friends and relatives when they’re feeling happy, rather than the other way round?

Another client said: “I wish I could wake up happy in the mornings. What can I do?”

I replied: “When you wake up every morning, before you do anything else, tell yourself that you are happy.” She frowned. “I didn’t say it was going to be easy,” I continued. “In the beginning, you’ll find yourself saying it’s just not true. Tell yourself anyway. If you keep telling yourself, every day, that you’re happy, eventually you’ll start believing it, and then it’ll be true. But you have to believe it first.”

Remember that everything in Life is a choice. The next time you’re preparing for a situation where you might feel unhappy, nervous, apprehensive or lacking in confidence, ask yourself:

How do I want to feel in this situation?

Visualise the situation and how you want it to happen. Watch the story unfold as if you were seeing it on a movie screen. Imagine yourself feeling confident, happy, relaxed, in control. Then step into the picture and begin to act as if that’s exactly how you do feel – in any situation – and see the difference it makes!

In any given moment, there are an infinite number of possibilities to choose from – not just the obvious ones which are right in front of you, but also choices you may feel compelled to make without fully understanding why.

If you realised that your choices affect not only your life, but also the lives of everyone around you, wouldn’t you choose the most fulfilled and inspired life you could possibly have?

2 thoughts on “Hobson’s Choice: the dilemma of infinite possibilities

  1. Julia, that’s a fabulous blog post. So many truths in this. You certainly can choose to be happy, and to face the day with positivity. It’s much less of a struggle that way. And I love your suggestion to pay more attention to friends when they are being positive; we should feed and encourage that outlook on life. Brilliant. Never easy to choose a better way, of course, but always worth reminding people that a better way is possible. 🙂

  2. Julia Barnickle

    Thanks Richard. You say it’s “never easy to choose a better way” – but as I say in the article, it depends on the benefits of the current way versus the better way. We will always be drawn to the way that has the greatest benefits! 🙂

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