There’s Always a Choice

Do you remember a time when you were young and your parents wanted you to try a new type of food and you refused? They went on and on about how delicious and nutritious it is and coaxed you into eventually putting a tiny piece in your mouth. If you are anything like me (or how I used to be as a kid), you were probably ready to say you didn’t like it before it even touched your tongue. In fact, you probably said you didn’t like it even if you loved it. It is almost as if you wanted to prove to them and to yourself that you were right. This is kind of how our unconscious minds work too.

Our conscious mind, the one that thinks logically and that makes decisions and sets goals (and breaks them), decides how we will think and feel about certain things in our lives. The unconscious mind, the one that follows the boss’s orders (the boss being the conscious mind), and the one that takes things personally, obviously wants to prove you right. So let’s say your conscious mind says that the meeting that you are about to go into is going to be useless and a complete waste of time, with no outcome in sight. Your unconscious mind then says: “Yes sir, that is exactly what we will focus on today”. You then go into this meeting and regardless of how the meeting goes, even if great ideas come up, even if the discussion becomes interesting, your unconscious mind is now programmed to follow your orders; the ones you set before you even stepped into the meeting room. And so, your focus zooms in on every single thing that goes wrong in the meeting, regardless of how small or irrelevant it is. You see, you decided before the experience happened how the experience is going to be.

This is a two-way street. Say you are going on vacation with your friends and you are the one who chose the location and the hotel. You have already decided that this city is great and the hotel will be fine. When you arrive there, you will be looking for signs to prove you right. If the room is dark and gloomy, you will focus on how funky the side lamp is. If the streets are packed and dirty, you will focus on how vibrant it is. Your unconscious mind will bring to your attention only the things that you have consciously prepared yourself for.

When you like someone and in your opinion (and according to your own set of values and beliefs) you think that they always make good judgments and they are generally nice people, you are much more likely to forgive their shortcomings and to defend their “uncharacteristic” mistakes. If on the other hand you dislike someone because they are not aligned with your values, you will continuously look for reasons to dislike them even more. Even when they do or say something you agree with, you will often disregard it, just like you did with the food your parents tried to get you to try.

None of us wake up in the morning and decide to have a bad day. We rarely, if ever, tell ourselves that we want a project to fail or that we want our partners to disappoint us or that we want to screw up a presentation. What we do instead is imagine things going wrong. And guess what happens? They do. Yes, sometimes we imagine things going perfectly and they don’t, but when that happens and you are in the right frame of mind, you will be able to put the incident in perspective, and not give it more weight than it deserves. An unpleasant incident doesn’t automatically turn into an unpleasant day. A 2-minute argument doesn’t consume your mind for 2 days. It fits in its small compartment and it stays there.

If you had a choice in how you see the world, how you feel about it, how successful you perceive yourself to be, how happy you are and how your day will turn out every day, would you take it? Well guess what? You do. Now, what will you choose?

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