Are You Forgetting to Choose?
Do you answer yes to invitations when you really want to say no? Do you end up doing favours for friends and family because you feel you ‘should’ and regret that you don’t get time to do your own chores? Do you eat foods, not because you particularly like them, but because you were told by someone that they would be good for you? Do you exercise when you don’t feel like it because you simply can’t face the guilt of not exercising? Do you have direct debits on your credit card for charities you simply couldn’t say ‘no’ to? All of these things might be 'good' to do, but does that mean you 'should' do them? Are these 'good shoulds' stopping you from feeling peaceful, happy and free?
We all want freedom. We want to be free to be ourselves, to do our own thing, to make our own decisions and to generally feel that we have control over our own lives. We want to feel empowered to make our own choices. We’re rightfully outraged if our freedom is threatened and we readily defend the impingement of the human rights of ourselves and others. But what if we’re so busy worrying about ‘others’ taking away our freedom that we fail to notice how and when we voluntarily surrender our own freedoms?
We all make time, work, financial and social commitments – to companies, teams, clubs, groups, causes, and of course, friends and families. These ‘commitments’ were made so that we could feel the joy of giving, the sense of belonging or the benefits of participating, yet how often do these commitments become chores or obligations? I often hear clients comment that they ‘have to’ visit their family or they ‘have to’ babysit or they ‘have to’ go to the dentist or ‘have to’ get all the housework done. The truth is – you don’t ‘have to’ do anything. You have a choice to. I can already hear you saying “Yes but…I have to…” and then I also hear you saying “but the bills have to be paid” or “we have to eat…or pay the mortgage…or wear clean clothes…” Nope. You still don’t have to. You have a choice.
Why is it so hard to believe that we actually choose to pay a mortgage, do the ironing or work in a crappy job? We live in the land of ‘have to,’ ‘must’ or ‘should’ because we simply fail to see that we actually have a choice – we ‘forget’ that we have a choice. Even when we are saying “I don’t have a choice” it is never true, we are simply failing to remember and recognise that we have a choice. How and why does this happen? The reason is actually quite simple:
Sometimes the choice is between a few really shit options.
Recently a lovely client of mine, a young mum with two children under 3 years old was feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. She felt that the demands on her time and energy were relentless and she could never ‘catch a break’– there was always something that needed to be done. Given her circumstances it was easy to understand why. Most people would leave it at that: “I am tired and exhausted because I have young children” or “I am exhausted and overwhelmed because I have to work overtime on this big deal at work” and suffer through the exhaustion feeling like there is no choice – it ‘has to be done’.
But interestingly, when we delved further into my client’s source of exhaustion and stress, it wasn’t the children and the chores that were causing the drain, it was actually the feeling of ‘always having to do something’ and the belief that she had ‘to get it all done’ that was nagging her, causing anxiety, and preventing her from getting the rest she desperately needed. She admitted that she couldn’t go to bed early because there ‘was always something to do’ and this was not a choice because ‘things had to be done’. When we looked at an example of this, her most recent late night was due to her cat vomiting all over the floor before she was about to go to bed. As she got out the mop and bucket she felt that her choice to have an early night had been taken away from her.
When we explored this we realised that she did have a choice. She could have left the vomit on the floor and gone to bed. We laughed and dismissed the idea – it was clear that although it wasn’t really a viable or preferable option – it was nonetheless, an option. We always have a choice, but when that choice has an option that is so ridiculous or terrible that it makes logical, common sense to dismiss it immediately – it can feel like we don’t have a choice at all.
The energy drain comes from feeling like we don’t have a choice – from feeling like we’re trapped, powerless and enslaved by the external person, task or situation. In my client’s example, the energy drain resulted not from having to clean up the vomit but from failing to remember that it was her choice to clean up the vomit or not. (To clean up the vomit, or not clean up the vomit…that is the choice!)
Once we remember that we have a choice, we can consciously choose. A conscious choice is empowering. It occurs when we have weighed up the options, considered the consequences of each course of action and made a decision about what is best for us. It is unconditional – it hasn’t made someone else or the outcome more important than how we feel and we haven’t reacted from an unconscious program or habit nor acted from a limiting belief, condition or rule.
Conscious, empowered choice is really all we need to get our energy back. We might still feel tired from the demands of our family or working life, but we are not drained. When we own our choice, we own our power, even if that choice is not ideal (the less-shit option!). When we feel like we don’t have a choice, or haven’t made a choice, we feel powerless and then we feel drained.
One of the predominant ways in which we drain ourselves and give away our power and freedom is by doing things out of obligation – because we must, should or have to. Anything that we do out of obligation is in fact, a reneging of our free choice. It has not come from an inspired, heart-felt impulse, but from a programmed or conditioned belief, usually about ‘doing the right thing’ or ‘not letting others down.’ Any time we are doing something out of obligation, we are limiting ourselves. While these obligations appear to be externally imposed and appear to cause pressure, burden and overwhelm, they are not. Our ‘obligations’ are often good examples of the behavioural strategies which we have devised to avoid the threat of guilt or punishment or to win the approval of others. We often have subconscious programs running about not ‘being selfish’ or ‘pleasing others’ which conflict with what we would consciously choose for ourselves. It is these subconscious programs that override our decision-making unless we are making a conscious choice. Perhaps our heart would really like us to take some time out for ourselves and get a massage, but our sense of duty and responsibility and the need to make others happy might drive us to run errands for our elderly relative instead. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the more we stifle the expression or our own needs and wants and forget that we are consciously choosing to meet someone else’s needs instead of our own, the more drained we will be. Being honest with ourselves and making an effort to consciously choose without conditions will bring us much more freedom.
Again, it all comes down to remembering. Reminding ourselves that no-one is making us donate to that cause, go to that event or do that boot camp session – we have chosen to. Whether we feel empowered and energised by this choice will depend on whether we have made this choice consciously – basedon our own values, unconditional love and acceptance for self and others, or unconsciously – based on our programs, expectations, unmet needs, subconscious habits and unhealthy or limiting beliefs. Being conscious of the choice and the intention behind it, is paramount.
So if you are feeling drained, powerless, trapped or overwhelmed, it might be a good time to check in with yourself and identify the cause of ‘hidden’ energy drains – what are the things that you are doing out of obligation?
Some helpful questions when letting go of 'obligations' and making a choice...
What do I want to do?
What energises me?
Without my own fear and conditioning in the way, what would be best for me?
What would be most loving for me?
If I pleased myself first, what am I scared would happen? Can I let go of this fear?
Does what I want align with what others expect of me? If not, how can I say no?
How can putting myself first serve others? How could doing what is right for me benefit others?