Life is like a restaurant, you have to choose what you’re going to get.
Have you ever been to a restaurant where nothing on the menu appealed to you? Or perhaps you experienced the opposite — you had so many options that you were overwhelmed and couldn’t decide what to eat.
Life can be a lot like that. Have you ever looked around at your circumstances and nothing appealed to you? Or perhaps you saw what everyone else had and wondered why your life couldn’t be more appetizing. The difference between a restaurant menu and your life is that you get to decide what gets prepared because you’re the chef. Sometimes life puts us into situations where we feel we don’t have any choices but to stay depressed and stuck. But the truth is, we can create choice.
Last year I got stuck a few times. Work became a burden, finding another job implied moving (which I didn’t really see as an option) and the mortgage still had to be paid. I got depressed. It was only when I started to generate new possibilities that my life began to take a turn.
The possibilities can be concrete like finding a new job closer to home. They can also be conceptual such as realizing that my job can change over time or that I don’t have to stay at that job forever. I even learned and applied some new ways to cope with difficult situations. By exploring new possibilities, more choices become available and bring flexibility to your life and behaviour.
Are you stuck?
The first step is recognizing that you may be stuck. This might not be as simple as it sounds. Take a look at your thought life, your attitudes, and the behaviours that stem from them. If you have a default that you seem to frequently land on, you may be stuck. For example, every time you get frustrated at your kids you end up yelling at them or every time your boss critiques your work you feel sad. These are more micro in that they are small knee-jerk reactions that happen frequently in your life but don’t last for very long each time. You might also be experiencing a more macro type of being stuck — such as feeling trapped in your job or depressed about your current stage of life or circumstances.
How to generate new possibilities
Now that you’ve identified which aspects of your life are stuck you can begin to create new possibilities.
1. Recognize that options are available to you. There is no such thing as having no options. There are always options. Even if you can’t see them right away doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Start by looking into your personal history for times when you were able to come up with new solutions when you were faced with difficult situations. Seeing that you have successfully identified or created possibilities in the past will give you the confidence to do it again.
Solutions reside at different logical levels of thinking. For example, you think that your job is awful because you always get mad at Bill (sorry, Bill). The first level solution might be for you to quit your job or get rid of Bill, and that might not be a realistic possibility. The next level of thinking would be for you to try and avoid Bill to prevent yourself from getting angry, or else ask your supervisor to change teams or departments so that you’ll no longer be working together. Finally, your last level of possibility could involve exploring strategies where you take ownership of your emotions, placing none of the responsibility on Bill. This could include studying effective communication techniques or managing anger and learning to let go. There’s no need to split hairs, it isn’t about identifying which logical level to find your possibilities, it is just about knowing that there are aways more solutions and if you can’t find any, maybe it is time to think outside the box.
2. Make a list. Once you’ve identified your options, create a list. It doesn’t have to be a physical list, although that might help you to see your thought process. Resist the urge to evaluate them, some may not be useful but others will surprise you. Create as many options as you can.
If you find it hard to come up with solutions for yourself, think of someone you know who has other resources and generate a list as if you were them. By thinking through the problem as though you are someone else who has different time, money, energy, contacts, intelligence, experience or any number of other resources, you will create solutions that will very likely work for you but you may not have allowed yourself to think of before.
3. Assess yourself. Ask yourself if you are still stuck after making the list. Sometimes just knowing that you have choices will be enough to lift your mood and change your perspective.
Making up your mind
What if a decision needs to be made? In the case of eating at a restaurant, even if you are sitting in front of a lavish buffet, you still need to choose what to eat.
Now that you have more possibilities, you have the flexibility to choose the ones that seem the most appropriate. You need a choosing strategy. The strategy can be as simple as making a pros and cons list and having some ranking system, for example the one with the most pros wins. Keep in mind that the strategies you will use will vary depending on the situation. For a choosing a meal at the restaurant, it’s probably okay to only consider what will taste the best, although you might want to imagine how it’s going to make you feel after you’ve finished eating. For a life changing situation, it’s better to consider other factors, such as your loved ones and how the decision will impact your future.
When can you use this?
As you become more comfortable generating new possibilities, you’ll surprise yourself by doing it unconsciously when you start feeling stuck. This takes practice. I suggest you to take some time every day or once a week and go through situations where you felt like you had limited choices. For each situation, generate new possibilities and this simple process will improve your mood and will help you be more flexible when similar circumstances arise.