Your choices will make you strong and resilient…or weak and pathetic.
Charlie was stranded; his plane crashed on a desert island. With few survivors, they all had to work together to stay alive. But Charlie wasn’t sure he’d make it. Years of playing in his popular band had made him a bit soft.
It wasn’t being unaccustomed to hardship that weighed on him, though. It was his drug addiction—the nasty habit he’d picked up on his way to stardom. He felt completely powerless to it and, worse, his supply was running low.
One day, another survivor, John, caught Charlie in the woods, indulging himself. Charlie looked completely weak and pathetic—no control over himself or his world. Thinking quickly, John saw an opportunity to help Charlie become the strong, resilient person he needed to be to survive in their harsh environment.
He scooped the drugs away from Charlie and told him, “I’m keeping these for now. If you want them back, you can ask me for them. On the third time, I’ll give them to you.
Charlie protested and begged for the drugs back right then. That’s when John explained:
You’re going to run out one way or another. Difficult days of withdrawal lie ahead for you. Now you have a choice. You are the one who gets to decide how your addiction ends. And choice is the most important thing you have. It’s the only thing separating us from animals acting on their base instincts.
That quote is paraphrased. Never mind that, though. Charlie and John are both fictional characters from the popular TV drama, Lost, that I recently started watching.
But Charlie’s predicament is very real—in one way or another—for many of us. It’s easy to become lost in your own bad habits, letting life lead you around by the nose. And John’s solution is a valuable one, as well.
The choices you make for yourself will determine whether life is something you lead… or something that leads you.
You Either Control Your Choices Or They Control You
Your psychology—the way your brain works and makes you to do the things you do—is a fascinating and complex thing. Every choice you make affects the next one after it. This is how patterns form and habits become ingrained. The more you make the same choice, the easier it becomes to make it again.
For as difficult as it can be to understand yourself—we’re all just trying to figure ourselves out, right?—it’s not so hard to see how the choices you make lead to the type of person you are.
You can waffle back and forth between them and get lost in the overlap but, for the most part, there really are two ways to classify yourself.
- You control your choices. You see the opportunities and pitfalls in front of you each day, and you consciously decide how to respond to them. Your life is a ship on a tumultuous ocean, but you have a skilled captain at the helm.
- Your choices control you. The ocean of life is too much to bear, and you’re overwhelmed by the choices in front of you. You let your base instincts—the ones only focused on short-term gains—steer the vessel.
Think of some of the situations you might want to change in your life and ask yourself how you approach them.
- Losing weight. If you’re overweight and unhealthy, you’ll eventually be forced to do something to fix it. Will you wait for life to force you into that position, or will you make the choice to do something about it now?
- Quitting smoking. There are 12 cigarettes left in your pack. Will you let your habit control you—smoking every last one of them before making your attempt to quit, or will you throw those 12 away now and take control for yourself?
- Improving your finances. If your spending is out of control, you’ll eventually go bankrupt. The world will solve your problem by not allowing you to spend any more. Will you wait for that to happen, or will you be the one to take the first step towards righting the ship?
- Advancing your career. Changing jobs and asking for a raise is scary. It’s easy to wait for your boss to fire you so you can look for another job or give you the raise you’ve been thinking about for months. But this makes it feel like you’re playing the lottery of life, and the odds are stacked against you. Will you keep playing, or will you improve your odds by making the choice to ask for what you want?
- Dating and relationships. Will you wait and hope someone magically comes along who perfectly fulfills your needs, or will you fulfill your own and take it upon yourself to find someone who compliments the life you’ve built?
- Improving your health. Will you wait until you’re too sick to ignore your health, or will you make the choice that enough is enough and start fighting to fix it now?
Your Choices Can Make You Unbelievably Strong
It’s funny isn’t it? So many times, when you take the easiest path, you end up dissatisfied and unfulfilled. Sure, it was easy, but it left you feeling empty and out of control. Worse, it made it easier to make that same unfulfilling choice again and again until it was a habit and you were no longer the one in control of it.
But then, think of the times you made the choice to do it the hard way. The right way. Hard doesn’t always equal right and right doesn’t always equal hard. But, somehow, putting in the effort left you feeling amazing. That’s your brain rewarding you for taking control. That’s the dopamine blast—the satisfaction of making the hard choice and sticking with it. It doesn’t come right away—that’s what makes it hard—but when it does, it’s oh so satisfying.
Just the same, each time you make that hard choice, it also gets easier to make it again. But this time, the habit you’ve built has made you unbelievably strong. And each time you make the choice to take control again, you get stronger.
The path to strength is not easy. It can’t be—strength is gained through struggle, through resistance. But the reward of strength is great. It’s a life of direction and satisfaction.
So, today, look at the habits you keep, and look at the decisions you make. Then, ask yourself: Do you control your choices or do your choices control you?
This post originally appeared at Riskology.
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Photo: Flickr/Thomas Guignard