So, how does that work? How do we find options and choices where there seem to be none? How do we exercise our ‘choice muscle?’ The first thing we can do is accept the situation we’re in for what it is. I don’t mean resign ourselves to it. Instead, we can take a good hard look at it and accept that this is where we are right now. If we are asking ‘why am I here’ and ‘how did this happen to me,’ we are spending time looking backward. Those questions keep us inside our helpless feelings. By simply looking at the situation and accepting that it is what it is, we can begin to think about what it would take to change our circumstances.
Let’s look at an example. Maybe you’re the person responsible for preparing or providing meals for your family. You’re the only one in the family who is trying to manage your weight. Everyone else in the family can eat whatever they want and stay at their desired size and weight. Why are you the only one who has this struggle? Whether you are cooking meals, buying quick, easily prepared foods from the store, or bringing home take-out food so you can juggle all of your time commitments. Why do everyone else’s needs and tastes come first. You feel powerless to stick to any kind of food plan. Believe me, I’ve been in this situation, even though it was just me and a partner, so I realize there’s a lot more to this story, but you get the idea.
These are the facts as you see them right now. This is where you find yourself. Now it’s time for some questions. What would it take to change one thing about my life right now? What would have to happen for me to feel like I’m being heard by my family? Could I shift some of the responsibility for meals to another member of the family? What could I do that would honor my desire to manage my weight and at the same time meet my family’s food choices? What foods would satisfy my food plan and their taste buds at the same time?
You are creative! You’ll find your own questions to ask and when you think of those questions, you’ll come up with brilliant ideas! Bring your family into the discussion. Get them on board with brainstorming ideas. Find other people in similar circumstances and ask how they handle things. Talk it over with a friend who will help you think it through rather than reinforce your helpless feelings.
The next exercise in the ‘choice muscle’ routine is to be gentle with yourself and with the process. Things may not change all at once. You might only see a little difference at first. The key is to focus your attention on the progress. Recognize that a little bit of progress is great and it’s the foundation you can build on. If we only concentrate on what hasn’t changed yet, we’ll fall back into feeling hopeless. You’ve found a little light where you couldn’t see any before, so focus on the light.
What if the change doesn’t last? Remember I said I had to start over again and practice looking for choices? Persistence is also a ‘choice muscle’ builder. Focusing on that little bit of light was what helped me try again. Something changed the last time I tried a new idea and I made a difference in my circumstances. What can I do this next time? What did I learn from the last time? How can I do it better or differently? Allow that little bit of hope you felt to encourage you to try again. This process of trying over and over again is the same thing we do when we’re turning our negative thoughts around. We notice the thought and find a new, self-affirming thought to have. When we notice we’re feeling locked in and hopeless, we find a new idea that honors our values desires.
So, we ask ourselves, “What other things could I try?” When I’m brainstorming ideas, the sky is the limit. I don’t think about what’s practical, I let my imagination go wild. One of my practices is to write down 10 choices I have, then write 10 more, then 10 more. I come up with things that ‘aren’t possible’ according to my understanding of my life in the moment. Those ‘impossible dreams’ are usually what spark the best and most practical ideas for me. From that wild and free imagining, I find the choices that actually work for me. And that brings me such a feeling of joy that I’m ready to keep going.
Whether it’s food prep, or money problems, or relationship difficulties, or an employment situation, the feelings are the same. We can get to a place of feeling locked into our circumstances with no choice and no way out. It’s rarely true that we have no choice at all, because we still have the choice of how to think about ourselves and about the situation. Even if it seems impossible, we can start with this thought: “I’m willing to find a different way to see my circumstances. I’m willing to look for options.” That willingness alone opens us up to see the options all around us. It’s a way to focus on what could be instead of sinking down into what feels hopeless.
When you hear yourself saying, “I don’t have a choice…” finish it by saying, “but I’m willing to look for some.” Give yourself the gift of choice. Unlock yourself from your current circumstance by looking directly at it and allowing for the possibility of change. The choices are there. Some are practical, some are goofy. At least one is just right for you.