Who is making your decisions?
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
Ya ever feel like you're caught in the undertow of life doing your absolute best just to keep your head afloat?
For a lot of us, life feels like a prison of expectations that keeps us tethered to the same monotony of 'getting through the day'. Oddly, a lot of those expectations are rarely things we have chosen to accept; rather, we accept them simply because they've been imposed on us as thoughts backed by fear-based logic wherein our value and identity are at stake. Many of these expectations often go unquestioned as they're accepted as a cultural or familial standard way of thinking. The 'meta', as my company has come to define it.
We relate our actions and behaviors to our identity in an attempt to quantify how valuable we feel about ourselves.
How frequently do you think to yourself, "I've done A, B and C which makes me <this> type of person?"
In a recent blog I considered the idea of 'label shaming' to be a process by which you assign the results of someone's actions or behaviors to their identity subliminally associating other behaviors and actions to them which they have not committed. It's a common phenomenon in which we're all guilty of participating.
For instance you could say, "Oh man, I looked at porn as a married man. I'm a horrible husband." Or you could say, "this person supports our president... they must be a bigot so I'm going to treat them accordingly."
The danger here is that in doing so you remove the humanity of a person giving more value to the circumstance than to them as a person. And ironically, that's one of the big controversies in our world right now. To some this might sound like a foreign topic but it's a rampant issue I see with my clients as well as myself on a daily basis. It's what holds us back from understanding that we, in fact, can decide what decisions are and are not made for our lives.
But before taking back control we have to learn to separate what actually matters from what doesn't.
Where do you want to go?
I used the analogy earlier of how life can feel like being caught in an undertow as we try to keep our head above water. When you're in a constant state of survival because there're so many decisions being made for you, it's tough to decide where you want to go.
From the outside you could say that I wasted my 20's.
I didn't really have much direction aside from pursuing a life in Amway - a multi-level marketing company considered a 'pyramid scheme' some. For some reason the normal 9-5 just was not what I wanted in life. But the lifestyle of Amway's uppercrust... well, from someone who came from a trailer park lifestyle the hope of one day making it out of my circumstance and finally having a life to write home about was exciting. But it was also beyond my belief level. So, in my 20's I constantly wavered between 'I can' and 'I can't' based upon my actions, behaviors, their results, and most notably my feelings.
The key is that my decisions were rooted in what I believed about my identity.
I believed that I was defined by living in a trailer.
I believed that my circumstance was bad because I based my identity in the opinions of others instead of what's actually true.
I believed that I was defined by being in Amway.
I believed that once I "made it" I would be defined by my success.
Because building your belief system upon actions and failures is all vanity, I spent almost the entirety of my 20's getting lost in an MMO called Final Fantasy XI online. I thought that I couldn't succeed in my real life because there were so many decisions, I felt, that were being made for me due to my circumstances. "It's always going to be this way," I'd often think to myself. But boy, in FFXI I had a beast of a character. I had some of the best gear, I was REALLY good at the classes that I played (in my mind at least) and I had some friends who accepted me based on my in-game exploits.
It was a comfortable escape. And that escape felt better than real life.
When the escape feels better than real life, direction doesn't seem to matter. I mean, it didn't matter that my car had been repossessed. It didn't matter that I owed $4500 on a credit card that had a $3500 limit. It didn't matter that my bank account had been closed due to overdrafts and had a balance of negative $300+. Oh, and it didn't matter that I was lying to my parents about not working a job because I was supposedly making money by selling items in Diablo 3.
My escape and the actions therein satisfied all of the insecurities I was running away from. Unsurprisingly, finding identity in my actions was also what created all of the 'decision makers' in my life that I felt were out of my control.
I believed that because of my actions, I was a loser.
There is no such thing as indecision.
I spent so much time in FFXI running from my problems thinking that one day I'd make a decision to fix them. One day.
Indecision is a comfortable place.
The truth, however, is that allowing myself to live in the space of indecision resulted me deciding to ruin my credit score, take advantage of my parents, be a poor role model for my younger brother and not take overall accountability for my life.
My indecision was my decision.
One day I just decided that I wanted to decide something different. I went down to Truliant in Clemmons, NC and opened a line of secured credit where I gave the bank $300 so they could loan it back to me on a credit card to build my credit score. It was a single step in a long process. Just the other day I received a notice saying that I have made on-time payments across the board for 101 months straight.
It took a lot of small decisions made with consistency.
Should I regret my past?
You know how when you look back on your life you can see how ignorant you were. Yet while navigating your past you made the best choices you thought possible from your unique composition of circumstance, world view, belief systems, insecurity, and support.
For the longest time I felt like I could "arrive". One day I'd finally get to a place where I would look at myself differently. All I had to do was change this and this and this and this and this and finally I'd be happy with myself. Once the circumstances are perfect I'll be able to have value.
Testimony is a funny thing. It's something you can't simply just acquire. It can't be purchased or manufactured. And it certainly can't be fabricated. Testimony is what shapes you because you understand that it's a realization of how you use you've come to understand your value beyond the circumstance.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "If only I could go back then with what I know now." If you had back then what you have now you'd never have had the struggles that have given you insight into how you're actually made beyond insecurity, beyond circumstance and beyond ignorance. The common denominator between you then and you now is your value as a person.
Actions, circumstances - it can all change. At one point I was kind of a loser because I was allowing my circumstances to dictate where my life was headed. But it was going through all of it that helped me get to where I am. The pain, the moments of weakness, the trials, the failures, the successes. All of it helped me learn what I needed to embrace where my life was meant to go.
You have to look for the value before taking action.
Some time ago two sculptors were in possession of a large block of marble about twelve feet tall. After considering what to do with it for a while, both artists discarded it thinking it wasn't worth the effort and that it was too difficult to work. For ten years it sat untouched until one day a man discovered it and saw its value for what it could be. For months he'd go into his workspace and simply observe the large, raw block of stone. People thought he was crazy and others thought he was just lazy since he wasn't making any progress.
One day he got to work chipping away at the imperfections. Over time the sculptor discovered that he had to employ the use of different tools to accomplish the desired outcome and other times he just had to use the tools he had in a different way.
Two years after he began and after a lot of hard work, time and through enduring criticism for his process, Michaelangelo completed the statue of David. He saw the value in what he was doing which reinforced his ability to maintain his decision to keep moving forward. It was his decision backed by what he was choosing to see.
Michaelangelo developed his Why Statement.
What is your Why Statement?
We all have reasons for why we choose to or not to do something. They're called Why Statements and can support both good and not-so-good processes. Think about Why Statements as blocks used to build the foundation of a home - it's upon what everything else is built. Typically we navigate our Why Statements in three ways: manipulation, motivation and inspiration.
But what's the difference between them?
That drowning feeling is often the cause of manipulation. Everything seems out of control because there are so many expectations on your life dictating where you have to focus your priorities. These expectations come from sources that are seeking your effort for their gain. And contrary to our natural tendency to place blame on people, circumstances and our own perspective are often the reason behind our decisions made through manipulation.
"You need to make <this decision> because of <reason based in fear>."
Sometimes it's due to the source (i.e. our perspective and other people) seeking to satisfy an insecurity. Other times it's because we feel that the circumstance has restricted us from our ability to choose (which is also perspective).
For instance, sometimes we feel like we "just can't" when faced with social anxiety and meeting new people. You might be resentful towards 'religion' because a family member tried to shove it down your throat during your adolescence. You might be in a position where two mutual friends are at odds with one another and both are expecting you to pick a side. You may be a single parent with more bills than money and your circumstance is such that the circumstance itself is making all of the decisions.
If you're making decisions based in manipulation you could probably say to yourself, "I have to <do this> because I don't have a choice."
Manipulation robs us of our decision making process because it's already decided for us. Another party is imparting on us how and what we should value with the expectation that our actions support the Why Statement.
You know that feeling of contagion that accompanies scenarios where our belief systems are challenged?
It's how you feel when for the first time your coach encourages you, "You CAN do this!" It's also the feeling when your body goes into fight-or-flight mode while being chased by a bear; in it's own way your body realizes"You CAN do this!" as the option to climb a tree, which prior would have never crossed the table, now seems like a truly viable solution to the current situation.
Motivation is simply the process of entertaining a Why Statement that falls in line with your perspective of limitations. You may think to yourself, "this is possible... or at least it's something I could see myself wanting to achieve." It's leaning on the value proposition of a third party. You don't own it but it's believable and you want to give it a chance.
Amway was a motivator for me. I pursued success in the company for ten years because I would frequently go back to my Why Statement that said, "This might actually carry me out of my circumstances." On the other hand I was never motivated to be a doctor nor was I motivated to race car driver. Both are things that I either did not think was possible for me or for which I lacked desire.
Basically, motivation is where change begins. We realize that our belief system needs an adjustment but we're not sure what kind of adjustments. So we search for a perspective that will take us in the right direction. By trial and error we discover what works and what doesn't. We also evaluate the value of our Why Statement - is it really worth the price of admission?
There is always a trade that must be made in order for change to happen. As we mature we constantly weigh what we're willing to pay for what we'd like to gain: how healthy do we want to be, what kind of car do we want to drive, what kind of relationships do we want to have, etc. There is an exchange for everything. Even the not-so-great stuff like depression and insecurity.
Indecision costs just as much as decision. But indecision is easier because we allow the world around us to make our decisions for us. Sometimes our motivation is simply to avoid paying the cost required for change. When that happens the circumstance begins 'garnishing wages' from all areas of our life which usually ends up developing into circumstantial manipulation.
It's a spiral. I 'quit' my job so I could play FFXI online which lead to getting behind on my bills. When I decided to escape into the game instead of finding another job my indecision to deal with my problems developed into losing my car, all of my bills transitioning into collections, etc. Because of this the cost of recovery grew by the day while I refused to make a decision about what to do. When I finally decided to turn my life around there were obstacles present that I now had to overcome that wouldn't have been present had I taken action sooner.
My Why Statement and what I believed I could do about my situation was impacted by the limitations imposed by my self-imposed circumstances. So, I did what was believable backed by the hope that I could achieve it. Small, consistent, believable steps. And it was through chancing these small steps and through some failures along the way that I built a wall of faith in my decision making ability.
People who just can't be told 'no' are interesting creatures.
They are the trailblazers, the trendsetters, the artifacts of change. Whether the intentions are good or bad, having complete faith in your decision is the result of inspiration.
Think about times when you've felt truly inspired. It's a feeling that comes from inside of you which compels you to action knowing fully that the value of your decision is worth the effort regardless of the obstacles and failures you'll meet along the way to resolution. It's a feeling where you see the value in something and regardless of the risk or the opinions of others, you are making the decision and taking action.
About a year ago I felt inspired to leave my job. My Why Statement was that I wanted to focus my full time efforts on helping people develop and providing perspective change. I also wanted the freedom to say 'yes' to time with friends and family since it was typical that my job had, on many occasions, taken higher priority than I wanted.
However, transitioning away from my job didn't make sense on paper. I had 12 years of tenure, decent pay, a great community of coworkers and clients, a fun environment and it was something I really enjoyed. Why would I quit to work as a self-employed life coach with no on-paper credentials in the field making $0 annually?
Making decisions out of inspiration don't always make sense if you don't understand the worldview and value proposition backing them.
In my mind, what I was capable of doing and my purpose were far more important than the immediate risks involved. Some told me that I was making a foolish move and that I should consider altering my plans to include more safety financially. But I knew, mostly because I partnered with God, that taking a leap of faith was the right call.
Don't get me wrong. I've doubted my abilities and motives while navigating this decision. Specifically, I've had doubts where I've thought, "Man, am I really doing this to help people?" "I'm not making any money. Therefore what I'm doing isn't worth doing."
Why Statements are important. They're like a guide-line used by cave explorers. When you get lost and confused, they're the 'save points' that allow you to reset and start again.
There is always going to be opposition if what you're doing has significance. There is always going to be resistance through people and circumstances that are going to test your decision. That's why you've got to continue adding bricks to your faith wall.
When I began my company, there were a lot of ideas I had about how it was going to play out. I had schedules, initiatives, things to do and things to promote. They were all bricks in my faith wall that supported my decision. As I've moved forward there have been multiple instances where I'd hit a dead end and have to start again. Each time, however, I've had to reassess my Why Statement to see what weathered the trial and what didn't.
And I've had to be careful to allow myself the freedom to fail and learn. When you follow inspiration, it's easy to hit an area of growth and accept manipulation or motivation to pull you through. It's so much easier to have someone or something decide what to do. And while it's not as easy, leaning on the value proposition of another to make a decision is not the same as making the decision yourself. You're less invested and therefore take less ownership over the process. And when you don't own the process and fail or make a mistake... it's easy to throw in the towel because you're working on borrowed or imposed faith.
Living by inspiration is part of maturity
Is it bad to live a life where my decisions are made through manipulation? How about motivation?
When we're born we are fully reliant on our parents or guardians to take care of and teach us. As we mature, we gain autonomy in our ability to care for our own needs and assess our perception of risk : reward. During adolescence we live by imposed rules for our safety and growth as directed by our guardians. And as we become young adults we explore, based on what we've learned, where our value statements are going to form borrowing belief from sources that are to be tested.
Reaching the adult platform is something I still feel that I'm reaching towards, but I have an idea that a healthy adult is one who operates fully in inspiration. They've come to understand their value and support their purpose by actions made in both faith and freedom to fail. It seems that freedom [from manipulation] and inspiration go hand in hand. But operating in freedom also comes with accountability.
You can't give something away if you don't own it.
Our generation is intriguing because there is so much individuality but so little accountability. People's decisions ebb and flow with the cultural trend of what is and is not acceptable. We base our decisions on feelings instead of a resolve to pursue with resilience a Why Statement that is purposed for who we are meant to become. And because our decisions are based in feeling, we don't consider accountability for our actions as a responsibility because we feel like we didn't choose them in the first place.
You are a unique composition of desires, world view, and experiences. In your lifetime there is a niche that only you will be able to fill. And that niche will impact lives, perspectives, communities, animals, environments. But far too often we fail to make decisions to move forward because we allow ourselves to be wrapped up in the approval of the world around us instead of what's inside of us.
We want to follow inspiration but fail to do so because they either don't believe in their value propositions over that of the world or We'retaught that failing forward isn't a viable way to grow.
And an environment where people are shamed for vulnerability and growth is toxic.
Earlier I mentioned that we relate our actions and behaviors to our identity in an attempt to quantify how valuable we feel about ourselves. If you don't think you are valuable, you're going to believe everything around you is more valuable.
You are valuable.
You are valuable if you fail.
You are valuable if your perspectives don't line up with culture.
You are valuable if you're making poor decisions.
You are valuable if you're in a broken relationship.
You are valuable if you're abusing substances.
You are valuable if you're hurting someone else because you're hurting.
Who is making your decisions? If it's not you, the first step is taking back your belief about yourself. The belief that your value is God's Why Statement for your life. Your value withstands the trials of life.
That's the mission statement of grace in the whole process - today you get to start again.
All it takes is an intentional focus on our Why Statement backed by intentional action and reinforced with intentional grace to find our way. Own your process. Part of it's going to be good and part of it's going to suck. The beauty of owning your process is that it's how you grow.
And when you grow, you'll never be as you were.