How to Make Good Decisions from Bad Choices

I read a fascinating post over at Aliventures yesterday (Life: Choose Your Own Adventure).

Without stealing Ali’s thunder, she makes the timely point that we have the final say in our own lives – that it is up to us to “choose our own adventure.” Discover your passion. Rationally analyse your prospects for failure or success. Determine the stakes. Take the plunge. The worst that can happen is very rarely the worst that can happen.

Sounds great to me! I was struck though, by the number of negative responses she received. Poverty, destitution and failure all raising their heads as apparently legitimate excuses for not being able to make the choices necessary to live your own adventure. Not everyone is born with the same opportunities – or so the argument goes – and so some of us should be exempted from the responsibility that the hard choices in our life require.

Living your own adventure – by this view – is an extravagant luxury beyond the scope of folks who live in that nasty little place: the real world.

Which got me thinking: Does making a good decision always mean choosing between a good or bad choice? How do you make a good decision when all of the choices at your disposal are bad?

You Decide how Difficult Your Life is

I believe fundamentally in the power of a human being to change their circumstance – wherever they start from in life. I cannot concede that poverty, destitution, failure – or any other environmental or psychological factor – are an insurmountable block to making the necessary decisions required to improve your life.

It’s true – having a secure job, relationship, a roof over your head and money in your pocket can make it easier to find the courage that hard decisions require: but not always. It’s often a matter of perception – depending wholly on what direction you wish to take your life in. The direction you choose for your life will dictate the difficulty of the decisions you have to make. In that sense, life is truly an exercise in choosing your own adventure. When the hard decisions require more from you than you think you have, sometimes having nothing becomes an asset. Having nothing to lose means having everything to gain.

My own experience in this is born out of a brush with homelessness in early 2009.  As unpleasant as it was, it was remarkably easier than many people believe it to be. It’s really the fear of homelessness – and by extension, failing – that is worse than homelessness itself.

Homelessness is still not something i’m completely free of – now i’ve refined my lifestyle to a pattern of “distributed living” – but i’ve made my peace with it. The direction i’ve decided to take my life in has dictated the difficulty of the decisions that I face. Often, the consequence of those decisions bring me into direct contact with hunger, discomfort and an absence of financial security. Internally though, I recognise the value of these experiences as expanding my capacity for courage – giving me the ability to “choose better” at the next stage of my adventure.

Living your own adventure is an incremental process, where you gradually improve the quality of choices that are available to you. With each choice you make – each risk you take – you find a little bit more of the courage that the next decision will require of you, allowing you to take bigger leaps with the next risk.

It’s a simple process. But it’s not easy.

Choosing Between Bad and Worse: Finding the Silver Lining

It almost goes without saying that when you’re in a situation that requires choosing between the lesser of two evils, the outcome will be far from optimal. Someone will get hurt, a goal will be unfulfilled, some sort of sacrifice will be made. That hurts – especially when you’re the one with your finger on the trigger.

It might hurt, but it is good for you.

1. Choose to Indulge your Worst Case Scenario

Fearing the consequences of your decisions is the most common roadblock to making them.  Rather than become paralysed by them though, an effective strategy when choosing between bad and worse is to let them take over. For a while.

Indulge your fears. Forget about failing, forget about running out of money or friends, forget about losing the respect or care of loved ones. All fears – when logically followed to their conclusion –  cascade down to one eventual and unavoidable finality: death.

The worst that can happen to you as a result of your own decisions is your death. Embrace that fact. In the (highly unlikely) event that you should die as a consequence of your decisions, is it such a tragedy? Would you be proud to disappear doing what you’re deciding to do right now? If not, then what are you saving yourself for? If you’re not already living your purpose, you should be trying to discover or define it. Anything else is just treading water.

Indulging your worst case scenario can be an effective way to gauge the quality of your decisions – if it’s worth doing, it’s worth dying for.

2. Choose the Path of Most Resistance

When confronted with a range of choices – all as bad as each other – often the best decision is the hardest choice to make.

The choice that offers the most immediate sense of relief can often seem like the right one to make. Be mindful of this trap. Although it is possible that the easiest choice is also the best decision, this is rarely the case. More often than not, the best opportunities for growth and development are nestled at the heart of the worst problems.

Being surrounded by bad choices, your first response – like a pursued animal – is to flee, either becoming paralysed by the awfulness of the choices confronting you, or falling into a pattern of procrastination in the hope that the situation will resolve itself. It won’t. Just because the only choices you have are bad, does not relieve you of the responsibility and necessity of making them.

Accepting responsibility and developing the courage you need to face the hardest choices is an unavoidable step in making the right decision from a bad range of choices. Choose the path of most resistance.

3. Choose Powerfully

Being constantly confronted with bad choices is a draining situation to be in. The anxiety caused by the knowledge that no matter what you do you will “lose” can cause you to relinquish the one thing that no person or circumstance could ever deprive you of: your ability to choose.

Don’t let that happen.

Realise that no matter what may happen to you in life, the only thing you have genuine control over are your reactions.Where experience and reaction meet, personal power is formed. Your personal power is your conscious acknowledgement that you are in ultimate control of your reality. By choosing your reaction – and acknowledging your ability to do so – you create your own reality. Master this, and you will be invincible.

Those who have found their personal power know this, and choose powerfully.They are not cowed by circumstance, and by honouring their personal power they retain their sense of individuality and dignity – regardless of the situation they are in.

Those who do not know this, let their experiences define them – relinquishing their own agency by blaming the people, circumstances or events that have happened to them for their current circumstance. They lose hope for the future – for in relinquishing the one genuine level of control they have in the world, they have condemned themselves to a reality forged by forces beyond their control.

One attitude leads to growth and opportunity. The other leads to stagnation and decline.

Being constantly confronted with bad choices does not  mean that you are forever resigned to living in an emotional cul-de-sac. Choosing powerfully means making a decision – even when all of the choices are bad – that will preserve your personal power, not erode it.

Experience a set back. Decide how you will react. Own that decision. Choose powerfully.

Every Room has an Exit

Being in a situation where you can only decide between choices that are bad or worse necessarily means that navigating your way out the situation wont be easy.

It might be difficult. But it is simple.

Embrace your fears. Take the path of most resistance, and choose powerfully. You are the only one who can construct a way out of this situation, and happily – you are the only one that needs to.

We all come from different places in life – but we all have exactly the same capacity to choose. Regardless of your personal circumstance, there are always options. You just need the tenacity to find them and the courage to pursue them.

Whatever the quality of the choices you are confronted with, the quality of your decisions is entirely up to you, and comes down to your own level of personal courage.

Dig deep – it’s there.

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2 Responses to How to Make Good Decisions from Bad Choices

  1. Ali Hale says:

    Thanks for the link — and for a very thoughtful post! I think that many people (me included, often…) find it very tempting to blame circumstances. And, of course, circumstances can be incredibly tough. I’ve got friends who I admire hugely for battling on against adversity.

    Interesting to hear your experiences; I think those of us who’ve not brushed with homelessness, backruptcy, etc, see those as terrible, unrecoverable states. Of course they’re not.

    I suspect some of the backlash to my piece was because, well, I am pretty lucky. I’ve got a loving family who’ve got the means and ability to support me if things go badly, and I’ve had the advantage of a good education. I’m fully aware that others have struggled through much more in order to get to where they are. I guess, if anything, that makes me feel even more strongly that I want to do my very best and live my best life, rather than waste the opportunities I’ve been given.

    Thanks for an inspiring post — keep writing!

    • deserttravel says:

      Thanks for stopping by Ali!

      You’re absolutely right – as hard as some knockbacks can be in life, they are never unrecoverable. And that’s the theme here too – no matter where you are in life, as long as you have the tenacity to find choices and the courage to pursue them, then you’ll be ok. The actual circumstances in which your personal choices occur is largely irelevent. The way you approach them is everything!

      Of course, the “better off” we are in life, the easier those decisions can be – depending on the direction we decide to take our lives. As long as people take ownership for the direction of thier lives, then the difficulty of the decisions required of them starts to mean something.

      It’s refreshing that you view your position in life from a place of gratitude! Too many people spend thier lives in wilful ignorance of the blessings they’ve been born with. That’s half the battle I think: all of our experiences of life are inherently subjective – there will always be someone else who is better or worse off than ourself by nearly whatever criteria we choose to measure. The trick though, is in focusing on what you’ve got in objective terms. As long as you’re alive, you’ve got everything going for you:-)

      Thanks again for the comment, and no problems re: the link – your post was fertile ground for my imagination, as i’m sure future posts will be!

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