If you were to ask me what one thing the vast majority of the thousands of clients I’ve seen in my clinical psychology practice over the last 38 years have had in common, the answer might shock you. Almost without exception, what brings people to my office is what turns out to be a disconnect between the life they are living and the life they could be living if only they were empowered by their own choices.
Many come to see me because they cannot seem to find or maintain a suitable love relationship—yet I am not a matchmaker. Others seek my help because their marriages are breaking up—yet I am not a divorce lawyer. As a psychologist, I dispense no medication for people who are anxious or depressed; and I have no magical answers for those who consult me about the self-confidence issues that undermine their ability to pursue a dream or maximize whatever is most important in their lives. What I do have to offer are the tools and strategies for consciously, mindfully and literally taking their lives into their own hands.
And the way this is done is first by looking at each aspect of your life that could be improved along with the situation that would exist if the issues related to that part of your life were resolved. Next, painful as it may be, make a list of and take responsibility for the choices that led you to where you are now in that aspect of your life. Then, the stage is set for you to empower yourself by identifying and examining the choices that now need to be made for your life to be working optimally. For example, are you too dependent on non-empathetic people while going through a divorce or some other difficult situation? Surrendering to feelings of helplessness that lead to depression? Being too passive and approval seeking rather than assertive with your spouse, a colleague or boss? Believing you’re stuck in an unfulfilling marriage, career, or lifestyle with no options? In all of these examples, there is a choice or a series of choices that can turn things around.
What truly can’t be changed, you can choose to accept, which simply means no longer blaming yourself or others and releasing all of that toxic anger that is directed both inward and outward. For what can be changed, you can choose to give up what I have long called your comfortable state of discomfort and accept a little short-term pain in order to make the long-term benefits you seek happen.
Here’s the bottom line: In my field, the closest thing we have to a “cure” is simply to be aware of your choices and to be living by them. To the extent that you’re truly living your life according to your own choices, you’re empowered to take whatever action is in your best interest―when possible and appropriate―as well as to find peace within yourself when accepting a situation that you don’t like is your only real option. To be the master of your choices is perhaps the greatest gift you can ever give yourself. It’s also a great definition of true freedom; and each time you experience it with something new, you’re changed forever!
So the mantra I urge you to adopt for a truly happy New Year is this simple affirmation: 2014 is the year that I choose to do whatever it takes to be the master of my choices.