Life is About Choices…

I have spent twenty plus years in my professional capacity watching and studying people and their patterns of behavior.  I can say that based on these patterns, people often forget they have choices in life.

More often than not, people chose to be right where they are at, whether that place is good or bad.  That is a sad statement to make but realize this; by our inaction of changing the negative things in our lives we are thereby making a conscious decision to remain in our present state.

It’s our choice to be right where we are.  But why do we make these choices to remain unhappy or unsuccessful or to remain in our present state?

There are no absolutes in psychology and in fact most of the time there are many plausible answers to any given question.  There is the old debate of nature versus nurture when it comes to human development.  Are we born a certain way (nature) or are we taught (nurture) to be a certain way?

The truthful answer is both nature and nurture play a significant role in the person we become.  There are a lot of generalities and behavioral patterns that come out of both the nature and nurture arguments with respect to our human development.

On the nature side, our parents and the genes they pass down genetically play a key role in the person we become.  In addition to our looks and heritage there are some predispositions when it comes to things like alcoholism, anxiety disorders, depression, mental illness, propensity for violence and addictions in general.

With respect to nurture, our environment also contributes to who we have become.  Such things include our ethnicity, socio-economic status, social environment, parental involvement and religion to mention a few.

I have spoken to numerous people on probation and parole and I’m always astonished at their response when I ask them why they come back to the same place, neighborhood and friends knowing it will likely have the same results.  Their typical answer, “Where am I supposed to go?  I don’t know anything else.”

They have conditioned themselves to believe this is their only option.  They are products of their environment and they believe they do not have a choice in the matter.  They believe it’s their destiny and they accept it as such.  It’s their reality and as a result, they will typically not do anything different to change their outcome.  That means they will do nothing to help themselves.

I do not say this to mean any disrespect to these individuals and in fact it saddens me to think they have come to believe this.  It has truly become a self-fulfilling prophecy for them.  They see this as their life and accept it, doing nothing to better or change it.

I don’t say this as a means of criticism, it’s our human behavior.  It’s how our brains work.  Sadly, it’s typical.  But typical doesn’t always correlate with good or healthy.

Think of the domestic violence victim who continually goes back and stays with his/her abuser.  Think of the person who is released from jail and returns to the same neighborhood and same friends.  Think of the alcoholic who continues to drink after an alcohol related incident (arrest or accident).

Do they really have any chance of succeeding or changing their lifestyles without changing their patterns of behavior?  The answer is unequivocally, NO.  Obviously these issues are very complex and I don’t mean to minimize them in any way.  There is a lot of psychology and contributing factors (education, socio-economic status, drug/alcohol addiction, mental health issues) to these matters.

The point is this, nature and nurture both undoubtedly play a role in the person we become.  Both obviously have powerful influences on our development, but neither are as significant as the choices we make in life.  Our choices, by far, are a greater determination of who we become.

We must understand the influences of nature and nurture on our development but they do not absolutely determine our outcome.  More importantly, how we respond to those influences is a greater determining factor.

If we truly want to make positive changes in our lives, we must change our patterns of behavior.  It’s a choice to change those patterns or to continue with our same old patterns.  We may not realize it’s a choice but it is.

The domestic violence victim must understand why they stay in abusive relationships or why they leave one abusive relationship and move to another.  They must understand why they choose these types of relationships.  There are correlations within them that they must uncover.

Individuals released from jail cannot return to the same friends and neighborhood if they want a different outcome.  They must see that this choice will likely end with the same results.

Chances are, the domestic violence and incarceration examples above don’t apply to the majority of people reading this.  So how does all of this relate to most of us?  It relates to us in our daily lives, our relationships, our jobs and our general outlook on life.

Many of us have found ourselves in bad relationships, unhappy with our professional lives or perhaps in a depressed state in general.  Perhaps we are still in one of those states today.  Sadly, most of us will stay in those situations for years.  How many people stay in bad marriages year after year?  How many people stay at unhappy jobs for decades.  It’s very common.

The point is, we stay in those situations out of choice.  Many times staying is easier than putting forth the effort of changing.  Many times staying is more convenient.  Many times we stay because we don’t want to hurt those around us.   But in the end, everyone is truly being hurt.

We are hurting ourselves because we are  not happy and living a content life.  We are hurting those around us because they are not getting our full potential.  We end up just going through the motions day in and day out.  This could be in both personal or professional relationships.

In order to find our happiness, sometimes we must make changes in our lives.  Sometimes those changes come easy and sometimes they are the most difficult decisions we will ever make; like getting out of an unhealthy relationship.

Life is truly about the choices we make on a daily basis.  We choose our situations and we choose our outcomes.  And yes, doing nothing to fix or change our situation is also a choice; we are choosing to remain right where we are.

We all have the ability to be happy and successful but we have to first make the choice to be so.  We then have to make good choices that support a happy and successful outcome.  You can choose to be happy and successful or you can choose not to be…but the choice is yours.

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