New Years has come and gone and with it, that made-up moment when we make (or don't) our New Year's resolutions. Some voice in us tells us we should make that list, really, this year, for sure... and stick to it, finally, ok? And maybe you made that list, or at least spent some time thinking about it, feeling guilty, giving yourself a hard time for all the things you should or should not do. But, as we know, every should invites a rebellious, resistant or defeated response. Maybe not right away. Maybe January 1 and 2, maybe even into the middle of the month, we might find ourselves motivated, even inspired by the should list. But it won't last. Whoever, in our inner cast of characters, got tromped on in our list of shoulds will live to rise again. And the cycle of good intentions and failed outcomes goes on.
Who among us isn't tired of the many shoulds? They aren't good for the soul. Now there are helpful words we might use to convey the inner importance of a choice. I must, I shall, I will, I am committed to.... But most of the choices we make that feel deeply true and important don't need much in the way of words. Still, it is a piece of work to figure out who in us gets to make decisions and whether the rest of us will honor those decisions. This act of will can be supported by some fairly simple strategies.
Will is a different beast than should. It is, at best, the direct response to our experience of being centered. Awareness is our in-breath, taking in our world. Will is our out-breath, acting upon and in our world. It is not wish, want, hope, try, maybe, should, kinda, soon, have to. It is the act that moves us from purpose and meaning through deliberation into choice and action. And right in the middle, between purpose and action is the Choice Point. There is always a fraction of a second, or a minute or days and years, when we are poised at the edge of a decision. Sometimes by the nature of the choice being made it must take only a fleeting second. Car coming: slam on the brakes! Sometimes it is a very long time that we wait for enough information, enough awareness, enough inner clarity to act. How many years have some of us waited to go to school, leave a job, try something new, choose to have a child, sell that house, move to the place we really want to be?
Here are a few strategies that may be helpful in making choices that work. The first is checking in to what is important. If there's a bear in the woods, staying alive has now become way more important than that nice walk I had planned. So strategy #1 is about being clear about your values, your priorities and what is truly meaningful to you (in the moment and over a lifetime). This means, for instance, that when I remember that being kind is a high value for me, I am less likely to snap at the 30th telemarketer of the week… or the bad driver… or the people I love.
Strategy #2 is about giving ourselves space to consider alternatives. It is said that even in life and death crises, the person who considers options does better. So does the person who has a plan B, if plan A doesn't work out. Day in and day out, this works too. I value kindness, but I really don't like getting telemarketer calls. What are my options? Seeing some options, I am now at that wonderful moment of choosing. I will do this... and if that doesn't work, I'll move to plan B.
Strategy #3 is the most important. It is that moment when we take a breath and focus our awareness before we act: the old "count to ten" strategy, though really it needs only be that one deep in-breath of awareness where we still have choice, where we haven't gone on automatic pilot or let a passing impulse take over. This precious moment is where we get to define the actions that are our legacy. When we stretch that moment between impulse and action, we then have a true choice. We then have access to our values. We then have the option to act in service of our deepest truth.
There are lots more tips, but for now, but I'll end with a quote from an unlikely source, Shaquille O'Neal (who did credit Aristotle with the original thought): "Excellence is not a singular act, but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do." Let's do it right. It's all we've got.