The Power of Choice: Does It Really Matter?

In Deuteronomy 30:19, God, speaking through his servant Moses, addresses the dilemma Israel was in due to poor decisions they had made. Moses communicates that God would restore all that had been scattered, that God had set before them death and life, blessings and curses. God then emphasized that they “choose life” so that they and their children may live.

Sometimes it’s hard not to have feelings of hopelessness.
People struggling with substance use disorders, anxiety, and depression frequently complain about feelings of helplessness. We can point to a series of past life circumstances they had no control over. These experiences may include job loss, marital conflict, death of a loved one, infidelity, divorce, illness, or injury. In many of these situations, we may not have control of the situation or circumstance we are dealing with.

 Because we have no control over these events, we may believe we are inadequate, incompetent, and powerless. Consequently, we begin to feel helpless. Hopelessness is a feeling, and helplessness is the non-action coming from those feelings. Helplessness and hopelessness may cause us to feel stuck, uncertain, and paralyzed, although it is possible to overcome these feelings and their resulting behaviors.

Helpless Thinking Patterns
Counseling can focus on the thought processes of a depressed person, particularly the hopeless, helpless thinking, and hopefully change negative thought patterns. Helpless thinking is filled with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. It is often accompanied by low motivation, feeling cautious and insecure. People often lack the ability or desire to persevere under stress.
Helpless thoughts and actions often have their origins in past traumatic experiences where you had limited resources, few choices, or felt defeated, trapped, and overwhelmed. Those feelings can become generalized to other, more common, and less threatening situations. As we develop increased confidence and assurance in our abilities, helplessness will diminish.

To decrease feelings of helplessness, try focusing on your abilities, not your limitations.  Think through what is going well, and do not get stuck on what is not. Consider your recent successes, and be intentional about seeing the ways you positively contributed to your own success. Try to minimize difficulties, hardships, and stressful situations. Go with your strengths and positive traits. Make more efforts to solve problems, work harder, and persevere through difficult times. If possible try collaborating with people who believe the best about you. They will encourage, inspire, and affirm you in your journey.
You may be struggling with a personal situation – it may be ongoing stressors that are not getting better. It does not take much for any of us to be greatly troubled by the state of the world, our country or our home situations.

What happens in society affects individuals. And we are understandably concerned about others, even if we’re not directly involved. It’s normal for us to feel overwhelmed, shocked, and helpless at times. Furthermore, it is natural to be flooded with fear or sorrow. Still, even in the midst of all of this, we can at times be mindful and fully aware of all the difficulties we are impacted by, yet not be entirely wiped out. At some point we can look around and try to figure out what to do.

Every choice we make is important to the person who makes it. Knowing that we are committed to something and have kept our word and accomplished it, feels really good. Plus, it’s a wonderful curative to one’s helplessness and despair. We each have the power to see what we see, value what we value, and make our own plans.
We can draw guidance and strength from people who have faced equally or greater hardships than we have. We all have the freedom to make our own choices, to claim the confidence that we do have, and to use it, and use it well, with compassion as we learn, grow and keep trying to use our gifts as well as the past successes we have experienced. In doing this we become both more confident as well as productive in many areas where we may have been paralyzed to make chooses that need to still be made.

Around us even today we see so much happening. There so many areas of our life still needing to change and be addressed. Why not start today? You will be so glad you did.

Top Ten Things We Can Choose to Change

While we cannot control the weather, death or another’s thoughts, much as we might like to, we would do well to pay attention to the areas in our life that we can actually do something about.
Choices are about knowing what we need and what we do not need in our lives.

1. Our Actions. We alone are responsible for what we do. 
2. Our Words. Spoken or written, the words we choose impact our lives and the lives of others.
3. Our Beliefs. If we believe that others should take care of our needs, then we will be frustrated when they don’t. We can change our beliefs. 
4. Our Spiritual Values. What’s important to us is our choice. No one else can tell us what to value. It is up to us to take the initiative to fill our hearts with spiritual truths or allow others to tell us what to believe.
5. Our Work. Although many of us complain of being stuck in a job or profession, we do actually get to choose what our work in the world is.
6. Our Friends. Those we associate with say a lot about what we think about ourselves. We can choose to have friends who support us or who bring us down.
7. Our Input. We can select our sources of news, turn off televisions and what we expose ourselves to on the internet.  
8. Our time. Though it sometimes feels like we have no choice, we do choose every day how we will use the 24 hours a day gives us.
9. Our Health. While we cannot control our genetic make-up, we can choose to exercise, sleep enough, eat healthy food, get routine check-ups, etc.
10. Our Legacy. All that we choose while alive—our actions, words, etc.—will become the gift we leave when we die.

This blog post was originally published on June 22, 2020 on the Compass Consulting blog: Thank you to Dr. Petronella for the permission to share this post.

Dr. Rick Petronella is the president and founder of Compass Consulting and Affiliates, LLC. He has been a corporate consultant specializing in the areas of leadership development, executive coaching and organizational transformations in many corporations throughout the United States. Compass’s Choices treatment program helps those who struggle in decisions, poor choices or even in self-destructive behaviors. Its name is derived from the words in Deuteronomy 30:19.

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