“Everything can be taken from a man, but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
-Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
An adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day, according to researchers at Cornell University (Wansink and Sobal, 2007). Given this volume of decision-making, and the knowledge that practice makes perfect, you would think that we would achieve a respectable level of mastery with choices at some point in our lives. Maybe it’s just me, but I can sure find a way to make less than stellar ones more often than I would like.
What makes matters worse is when I begin to rationalize the poor choices I have made with all my leadership know-how. This can look like me surmising that I was in the D2 “Disillusioned Learner” space in Ken Blanchard’s SLII model; not yet at “Acceptance” in the Steps of Learning; or maybe it was just a result of my personality style preferences which weren’t quite right for the situation. Some may see all of this as smart diagnostics. Yet, for me, after some good old honesty with myself, I’ll usually land in a place where I realize that I’m just making excuses for my poor choices; and I am a big believer in my own freedom and power to choose.
In his book, The 8th Habit, Dr. Stephen R. Covey says it best when he writes, “An awareness of our freedom and power to choose is affirming because it can excite our sense of possibility and potential. It can also threaten, even terrify, because suddenly we’re responsible, that is, ‘response-able.’ We become accountable. If we’ve taken shelter over the years in explaining our situation and problems in the name of past or present circumstances, it is truly terrifying to think otherwise. Suddenly, there is no excuse.” As leaders, there is a profound responsibility that goes along with the precious lives placed in our care. And the more I understand the impact that a leader can have on those around them, the more I subscribe to the belief that in leadership there are no excuses, only choices.
Several practices and behaviors that I have learned can help us make better choices and decisions in the moment and over time include:
Believing We Are in Control – the belief that we are not victims of our circumstances, thus don’t become a function of our conditions rather than our decisions; that we do in fact have the freedom and power to choose regardless of how difficult the situation might be
Knowing Our Triggers – there are some situations and things that, even when we are in a place of best self, they can still take us down a bad path; knowing and keeping these triggers top of mind can help us avoid getting hijacked in the moment
Anticipating What’s to Come – we typically don’t do well with surprises; taking some time to reflect forward to what’s ahead can allow us to put a little more thought into the choices and decisions we make
Using the Pause Button – this is about taking that 3 second pause between stimulus and response to ensure our choices are conscious, and aligned with our values, principles, beliefs, and purpose
Learning vs. Dwelling – yes there are no excuses, however, we are human beings not perfect beings; we need to first take responsibility for our bad decisions, then clean them up as necessary (apologies are a good place to start), learn from them, and move on
Staying Healthy – one of the single biggest contributors to our own bad choices is when our well-being is at risk which serves as a constant reminder that self-care is not selfish; that when we are of healthy mind, body and spirit, we typically show up much better for others
Covey goes on to say, “Those who develop increasing inner power and freedom to choose can also become what I call a transition person—one who stops unworthy tendencies from being passed on from prior generations to those that follow (your children and grandchildren).” The impact of our choices can be timeless. Are you prepared to live with yours?