Are you more like an elevator or an escalator? More like a hotel or a motel? More like a clothesline or a kite string?
Are you more like an elevator or an escalator? More like a hotel or a motel? More like a clothesline or a kite string? I was first asked these questions as part of an icebreaker activity called “Choices” many years ago. Upon getting a sheet of questions, my initial reaction was to see this activity as a chance to have a little light-hearted fun. However, as the small group I was in began to answer the questions with more depth and profundity, we were amazed at the wealth of emotion and information these seemingly innocuous questions were capable of generating. One of the participants shared that he was more like breakfast than dinner because he saw himself as much too focused on just getting things done and over with rather than savoring the richness of his daily life and work experiences. This man saw the impact his choices were having on his life and was motivated to create a different reality for himself.
Choices have consequences. This seems to be a basic principle, and one that is taught to the youngest of individuals. We tell a toddler that if she touches a hot stove, she will get burned. We all still know the value of looking both ways before crossing a street. These consequences are immediate and offer their own incentives for adopting or discarding certain behaviors.
When I first began working in the field of addiction treatment many years ago, I consistently gave my clients the same message: you have the power to choose the life you want. The majority of the clients I worked with were grappling with the devastation of addiction—whether it be their own or that of someone close to them. On occasions too numerous to count, these individuals would try to convince me that their drug use was really harmless, and posed no threat to their future. I reminded these clients that I had no power over them; they had the ability to make whatever choices they wanted. I just wanted to be sure they were making educated choices, and my position remained constant: choices have consequences.
The difficulty for some people is that when no immediate consequence is felt, they forget about its presence. This lesson was made abundantly clear to me again later in my career. I had just begun working in a position where I provided counseling to inmates at a county jail. I was getting a tour of the facility and was being escorted down a long hallway lined with cellblocks. From a small opening in one of the heavy metal doors came the voice of a young man who shouted my name. Imagine my surprise! Imagine the even bigger surprise of my new boss who was with me! I approached the door and looked through the slot to see the nowmature face of a young man I met when he was in the seventh grade. “I never believed your consequence speech,” he said. “But now I am in jail and I am probably going to prison.” During the coming weeks, I talked with him further about his life since we had last seen each other. “I thought I was invincible,” he said. “I only thought about what I wanted and what would make me feel good in the moment. And now I can’t even choose when to take a shower.”
Choices have consequences. There is a non-clinical definition of insanity with which many are undoubtedly familiar: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It can be extrapolated that consistently making the same choices will yield the same consequences.
Like my friend from the small group almost 15 years ago, a paradigm shift may be in order. Instead of thinking of consequences as a negative result to be avoided, can we proactively change our methodology and search for choices whose results are to be embraced? I think we can and we must.
Many well-known authors have tackled this topic, and some timeless works have been generated on the ability to change a life simply by choosing a different path. One of my favorites is by Robert Frost in his poem “The Road Not Taken:” “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I…I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Even though those are just the last few lines from Frost’s classic work, the power of the words is unmistakable. And that is the point after all, is it not? The power of the words can create an image in our minds. That image then becomes a vision or a need we have to make a reality. From that moment on, that need can drive our thoughts and actions.
If we engage in a pattern of behavior long enough, it will become a habit. From the power of words and a choice made comes an embraceable outcome. Charles Swindoll is another well known author, and often writes on the topics of attitude and choice:
“I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude. It is more important than my past, my education, my bankroll, my successes or failures, fame or pain, what other people think of me or say about me, my circumstances or my position. Attitude keeps me going or cripples my progress. It alone fuels my fire or assaults my hope. When my attitudes are right, there is no barrier too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, no challenge too great for me.”
Choice is defined as “the mental process of thinking involved with the process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one of them for action.” Stephen Covey, whose work helps people become more effective and productive, wrote a follow-up to his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The second book is called The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, in which he writes:
“I extend to you a promise and a challenge. My promise: If you will apply these four capacities—talent (discipline), need (vision), passion and conscience—to any role in your life, you can find your voice in that role. My simple challenge: Take two or three of the primary roles in your life, and in each role, ask yourself the following four questions:
- What need do I sense (in my family, in my community, in the organization I work for)?
- Do I possess a true talent that, if disciplined and applied, can meet the need?
- Does the opportunity to meet the need tap into my passion?
- Does my conscience inspire me to take action and become involved?
If you can answer all four questions in the affirmative, and will make a habit of developing a plan and then going to work on it, I guarantee you will begin to find your voice in life.”
What choices would you make? What do you want your voice to say? What need do you have that is yet unmet and waiting to be fulfilled? What are you waiting for? Remember, if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten. We can choose to live our lives in fear of what may happen or by celebrating what could happen. We do not get “doovers” in life, but acting proactively and seeking out the results we want seems like the next best thing. It was Henry David Thoreau who said it best: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, living the life you have imagined.” TPW