You have a great advantage over the rest of the animal kingdom. Know what it is?
Animals run on instinct. They do what they do because their very nature tells them that they should. They don't really have a choice. There are no second thoughts. There is no guilt. Ambiguity? Not a chance.
Not so with us humans. We have second thoughts and guilt and indecision. But wait - I did say that this was an advantage...
Like animals, we also have instinct.
It may be our genes driving our impulses. Maybe it's how we grew up. Whatever drives our baser instincts, there are natural tendencies that we all have. Some are beneficial, and some are not.
But unlike animals, we have choice.
Choice can allow us to select our way. We don't have to be a slave to instinct.
At many moments throughout our day, we make small choices, almost imperceptible choices that determine what it is that we do each day.
I don't mean just the big stuff, like "wake up, go to work, come home..." I mean the small stuff.
Visit the vending machine or not?
Make a sarcastic comment or say something nice?
Answer the phone or let the machine get it while watching TV?
Elevator or stairs?
Each of these moments is what I call a "decision switch."
Like a train getting routed through a rail yard, our decision switch routes our actions many times a day. It's the instant of decision; it's not the internal debate that leads up it. It's a moment, and it happens so fast that it can be hard to recognize.
Normally, a decision switch moment is routed according to our natural impulses.
Ever have someone ask you why you did something and you didn't know why? Ever feel like you just can't help it? Couldn't explain it? If so, then you are truly part of the animal kingdom. That, my friend, is baser instinct, but there is a better way...
We define who we are by the decisions we make every day.
Not only the life-altering decisions that affect everyone around us but also, and most importantly, the day-to-day decisions.
Simple things like what to cook for dinner. Should we have fish and vegetables, or hamburgers and french fries? We all know that the best thing for us is the fish but boy, are we craving those fries. And then it's decision time, driving with the kids in the van on the way home. We pass countless fast food places and each one tempts us, stacking the internal argument and soon enough, impulsively, we veer into the Burger King parking
lot to the cheers of our kids who all call out for a Kid's Meal. The turn of the steering wheel came directly from the routing of the decision switch. Burgers and fries it is.
A decision switch takes place in a fraction of a second.
How many happen in a day? Each decision determines who we are, how we live, and how we present ourselves to the world. Think of all the little decisions that we make in just one single day. Really. Stop to think of it. Each day is packed with so many events and decisions and interactions and conversations.
It's true. What we do each day matters so much to who we are.
Consider that every 30 years, we live about 11,000 days.
If you truly stop to think of each day and how much happens within a day, the thought of that much life
should stagger you.
What do you want the sum of the days of your life to be? We don't have to be the essence of our baser instincts. We can choose who we are and become the person that we want to be.
We hear people all of the time ask us when we are young, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
But is that the wrong question? Maybe it should be not "What do you want to be?" but
"Who do you want to be?"
Everyone has a career goal, but how about a Self Goal?
The decision switch is generally run by instinct, but it doesn't have to be.
You might have seen the movie, Iron Giant. In it, a boy is told and later tells someone else that "You are who you choose to be." Exactly (and great movie). It's the importance of choice. Of taking the time to really consider who we want to be.
What we do for a living is so much less important than how we live.
We are creatures born with the ability to choose. So how do we choose who we want to be and become that person?
We stop to think of who we want to be and then embark on a long-range plan to be that person. This choice is a Self
We maintain an awareness to guide our decision switch moments along the path of a Self Goal. This is harder. The first is saying it; the second is doing it.
Let's say that I want to be a better parent. That's my Self Goal. But I'm sitting down to watch a TV show that I like and a half an hour into the show, my son comes up to me and asks if I would read him a book. At that moment, there is a little decision-making process and I weigh my desire for the show and my son's request. Which do I choose?
If I'm engrossed in the show, I absent-mindedly respond, "No, I'm watching the TV right now." Far from my thinking is the Self Goal I had set for myself.
Living in control of your decision switch takes practice.
First, learn to recognize your decision switch. At first, you'll notice it after the fact. You'll see the actions that resulted from the decision switch. Stop then and retrace your thinking. You'll come to see it and then begin to recognize it as it happens.
Second, learn to interrupt the decision switch to keep it in line with your Self Goals. This requires pause. The switch is naturally aligned with whatever is easiest to do. The mind, a naturally lazy thing, will make excuses for you. Don't listen to it.
Finally, remember that failure at the decision switch is normal and to be expected. It takes work to align the switch with Self Goals so that these moments don't need to be so conscious.
Living in control of your decision switch is day-to-day and moment-by-moment.
So, who do you want to be?
Sometimes, it's easier to answer that question by simply doing what others want from us. In the movie, The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise shouts in exasperation to his antagonist, "What do you want from me?"
He is asked in reply, "What do you want from yourself?"
We can make choices about who we want to be based upon what others want, but these choices seldom stick because we do it to please others, and as you know from experience, people can be hard to please and we wonder why we're doing these things.
We need to choose our Self Goals to satisfy ourselves.
If our aim is self-satisfaction, then we won't need the recognition of others to sustain us. Our satisfaction at achieving what we choose becomes the only reward we need.
So, who do you want to be?
To choose a Self Goal for myself, I first need to be as honest as I can be about who I am now. If I want to be a better parent, then I need to ask: Am I good parent? Do I yell at my kids? Neglect them? Listen to them? Where am I today? Only if I know that can I plot a course for the person that I want to be.
Self-awareness demands a no-excuses honesty.
That's right - an honesty of the soul - the kind of honesty that no one will ever see because it's completely about you for your own satisfaction.
You may not know right away what your Self Goals
should be. That's okay. Self Goals should be well considered and
will need re-assessment from time to time. Circumstances change and
you will too as you grow. But it's important to dig in and be honest
first. The Self Goals will come.
Self-awareness also demands a bit of mercy.
To admit that I am flawed and then take ownership for those flaws is hard.
We live in a society where we hear that "Failure is not an option." We can't admit failure. Failure means ridicule and ineptitude. It's unacceptable.
Failure is the "f" word. Parents don't want to see it in their children. Employers don't tolerate it in their workers. We don't want see it in ourselves because we're afraid that it might define us.
But this attitude ignores an indisputable fact: like it or not, failure is inevitable. Failure is not only inevitable and apparent to everyone, but our failure is also okay.
Toddlers fail at walking. A lot. Nevertheless, they keep walking.
Too many of us only love ourselves after we have succeeded.
If we fail, we see the failure we have at decision switch moments, and we lower our opinion of ourselves. Because we have no success (yet), we give up.
We need love most - from ourselves - when we are failing. Nobody rejects the 13-month-old who keeps falling. Failure is a natural part of growth. Failure means that we tried. It doesn't mean that we can't.
If a credit card company can love us 2 months after bankruptcy (financial failure), then we can love ourselves after decision switch failures. Only if we do this can we persist and stay focused on our Self Goal, even if it takes a lifetime. The decision switch, that little guide that keeps us oriented toward the Self Goal, takes practice, just like walking.
You can do this.
You can make your life what you choose for it to be,
so that it positively impacts the lives of others.
"Stop. Focus. Change. Because I am who I
choose to be."