Reality Check: The Words of Choice

Although we humans do a lot of talking (and occasionally listening), it can still be difficult to understand each other. Even the words we use with ourselves—our internal dialog—can shape how we understand our lives.

Do we believe that we are free to make choices? Or do we believe that our lives and behaviours are largely determined by other people or by things out of our control?

Even if we do believe that we are in charge of our choices, our own words sometimes contradict us. Keep an ear out for some of these telling phrases. Do you hear them in conversations? Do you say them yourself?

  • “That’s just the way I am.” This assertion goes along with others such as, “I get my temper from my mother,” “Our family was never good with money,” or “I’ve always been a procrastinator.”

The implication is that you are not really responsible for your temper, your money-management, or your tendency to put things off. They’re the result of factors out of your control.

The downside of adopting this point of view is that it offers no point in trying to improve. If you believe that your temper was inherited and can’t be un-inherited, then you are stuck with a lifetime of bad temper. Is that what you want?

Might a different perspective be more satisfying? For example, “Even though it’s difficult for me, I can and I will improve my bad temper.” “I can learn to improve my money-management skills.” “I will develop more effective habits for getting things done on time.”

Here’s another no-choice phrase:

  • “If only” This wonderful pair of words implies that life would be better if only something that you can’t control would change. For example, “If only he would listen; “If only they were nicer;” “If only I were smarter, thinner, richer…”

The downside of “if only” is that there’s seemingly nothing that you can do to make things better. The control belongs to someone or something outside of you. Even when associated with self, as in, “If only I were smarter,” the implication is that you have been granted a less-than-adequate level of smartness and there is nothing you can do about it.

Suggestion? When you hear or say “if only,” rethink that assumption.

Instead of, “If only he would listen,” consider, “What can I do?” Perhaps changing your own talking or listening skills could make a difference. Or, ultimately, you may find it helpful to accept that other people make their own choices, and may subsequently have to live with their consequences.

Instead of, “If only I were smarter,” consider, “How can I learn what I need to know?” All of us have our particular strengths and weaknesses. Rather than comparing your disadvantages (or advantages) with those that you perceive others have, consider putting your efforts into improving the state you happen to be in right now.

The alternatives to no-choice phrases say, “I am prepared to take responsibility for myself. I don’t blame someone else.” Do you think such as assertion can bring you more personal freedom?

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