One of the most powerful realizations that can change your life is becoming aware of the power you have to choose. Many people get overwhelmed and frustrated in their lives because they see only the roadblocks and circumstances that prevent them from doing what they want to do, and they feel powerless to change them. As a result, their lives often feel beyond their control.
In What Happy People Know, Dan Baker talks about the link between happiness and the power of choice. He suggests that a key distinction between happy and unhappy people is that unhappy people often perceive they don’t have many choices when it comes to the circumstances they face. When they perceive they don’t have choices, they feel frustrated and lose hope. On the other hand, people who see their lives as a series of choices feel in control of their lives and their destiny.
The idea that we have ultimate control and freedom to choose may not seem realistic when we look at our lives in totality. It’s important to remember that every change, no matter how big or small, happens through a series of small steps. Achieving the goals you have for your life is about the small choices you make on a daily basis. It’s those daily choices that add up to create your life.
To help you feel less overwhelmed, here are eight choices that can help you feel more in control.
1. Choose to go to bed one hour earlier
Getting more sleep boosts your immunity, slows the aging process and decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It has also been shown to help with weight loss. Beyond the health benefits, sleep is critical to how we function—physically, mentally and emotionally. Ideally you should aim for seven to eight hours per night and six hours minimum. You can start with just one extra hour per night. You will feel more relaxed, focused and in control.
2. Choose just five minutes of stillness
Our minds work overtime. We are overstimulated with technology, constant access and hectic schedules. We are always thinking, worrying or planning. Most of us are under the impression that we need large amounts of time to be able to relax and recharge and we underestimate the power of just a few minutes of stillness and silence every day. Just five minutes a day has been shown to improve health, mood and overall well-being.
3. Choose to be grateful
Gratitude is an important quality to cultivate in your daily life. When we appreciate what we already have, it allows more goodness to flow to us; we also focus less on what is going wrong, what we haven’t yet done or what we don’t yet have. It connects us to the present moment and allows us to see our lives from a more positive perspective.
4. Choose to be healthy over being perfect
Following strict diets or an “all or nothing” approach can set you up for feelings of failure and lack of control. Each meal or snack is an opportunity to make a different and healthier choice. Rather than trying to control your lifestyle and diet for the next several weeks or months, just focus on the next eating opportunity. Always remember that each time you eat, you can make a different choice.
5. Choose to forgive yourself when you slip up
Whether it’s eating something you regret, not going to the gym, forgetting to do something or not doing it as well as you had hoped, forgiveness is key to feeling in control. Forgiveness allows you to move past whatever went wrong and choose to try again. When you fail to forgive yourself you end up focusing on the problem, and as a result feel stuck and powerless to change. You can’t change the past, but you can choose to move forward.
6. Choose to get right back on track
Closely linked to forgiveness is the choice to get right back on track. Once you have decided to forgive yourself, don’t allow too much time to pass before you get right back to working on your goals. By doing so you maintain momentum and take immediate control of the experience. If you wait, you are choosing to allow other things to get in the way. The more time passes, the harder it becomes and the more it may seem that life is taking over again.
7. Choose to ask for help
One of the fastest ways to achieve what you want, whether it’s weight loss, career or personal goals, is to realize you can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. By delegating some of your responsibilities, duties and errands, you create the time that you need to work on your goals. Asking for help is hard, but once you do you may be surprised by the amount of support that is available. If you have been struggling to do it on your own, ask yourself if you are willing to make a different choice and ask for help.
8. Choose to say no
The ability to say “yes” or “no” in a given situation is often more a matter of perception than reality. Most of the time we are afraid to say no because of our own expectations, beliefs or fears about what others will think of us. We must make time for ourselves, our priorities and our goals. Otherwise, in our fear of letting others down we can often let ourselves down. Only when you are at your best, can you give your best to others.
As you begin to see your life as a series of small choices, you begin to see the power you have over your experience. It’s important to remember that while you cannot control what happens to you, you always have control over your response. In this context you reclaim control of your life and fully embrace your personal power.
Victoria Joanna Bailey is a life coach and nutritionist, committed to helping people make lasting changes that lead them on the path to health, happiness and a fulfilling life.
Web exclusive October 2010 Best Health magazine