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A person standing in front of a fruit stall, holding a green apple in each hand. The choices we make

The Choices We Make

Free will or choice-less

Every day we make choices and each of those choices will affect our life, in one way or another; from whether to have a tea or coffee or water, to whether to accept the new job opportunity or stay where you are.

In a previous post we spoke of fate and if we really have choices – this is a matter of free will. Do we really have free will or are our choices predetermined? In other words, do we really make choices or are they already “written in stone”.

Recently I read an article by Tom Stafford in “The New Scientist”, about the female digger wasp and how she will repeatedly carry out the same action prior to pulling her prey into her burrow. It shows us how the mind of this wasp is inflexible. It’s actions are repetitive, it doesn’t think of change, it doesn’t recognise a different option is available. It is a form of “determinism” which means that even though we think we have made a choice, it’s actually the result of factors, such as beliefs, that we already have.

For many, this is a fearful idea. It means that we don’t have control of our life at all, but something else does. What is it?

Mind control

Our subconscious mind controls those actions. Infact, it is believed that most of what we do, about 90%, in an unconscious action. For example, if you have a drink near you whilst reading this, where is it positioned? Do you always put it there? Why do you do that? Was it an unconscious action or a conscious one? If you believe it was a conscious action, was it really or just a repeat of a previous thought or experience?

Mine is almost always on the right side of where I sit, unless there is an obstruction I cannot resolve. I’m right handed, including the hand I pick up my cup with. You, on the other hand may be right handed, but, you pick up your glass or cup with your left. Why?

All these actions, the automatic ones that we do without putting a second thought to them, are embedded into our subconscious mind. In there we have beliefs that we now hold to be true as a result of experiences and what we have been told, which we have chosen to believe.

In his book “Awaken the giant within”, Tony Robbins speaks of pain and pleasure – we avoid pain and get attracted to pleasure. He explains of how our beliefs are orientated towards those words and how we are more likely to o pleasure over pain. For example, you are more likely to go for the chocolate than the carrot, even though you know that the carrot is better for you (did you know that carrots were originally purple and not orange?).

Daniel Kahneman in “Thinking fast and slow” speaks of biases and how they are the factors that determine the choices we make.

All in all, the concepts are the same – we don’t really choose consciously but tend towards choices that are inline with the beliefs we hold in our subconscious mind. We unconsciously decide what we will do before we have done it.

What about when I make a different choice?

Think of this situation. You’ve decided to get healthy. So you change your way of eating and join a gym. This is what we know we should do to improve our health. Have you changed the way you look at yourself or is your self image the same? Until you make that change your old beliefs will override anything you do and you’ll need up where you started.

Recently, more trainers have become aware of this and have started to include the mental side of training into their programs as well. It was a massive move, because the changes become permanent and the trainers have a better outcome with their clients.

Until we change our belief systems, our outcomes and our choices will always be a result of those old beliefs embedded in our mind.

What of intuition

Intuition is the feeling we get when something is right or wrong, whether we should do something or not. Is our intuition always right?

I believe that when it comes to danger our intuition is rarely wrong. We can be overcautious, but that is a result of experience. The freeze, flight or fight part of our brain is the oldest part, and it’s about survival.

What about business decisions? Is it always right then?

I believe that, again, it’s down to experience. We build an intuitive knowledge to be able to determine if something is good or not for the survival of our business. But if those ideals are false to start with, our intuition will also be wrong.

When it comes to right and wrong, I think that most of us know the difference. On the other hand, if that is in some way distorted, then again, we will have a different perspective and what we feel to be right and wrong will be distorted. The result of this is that our intuition is going to end up distorted.
Experience will tell us if our intuition is right or wrong. Rather than ignoring it, however, it’s better to teach ourselves to relearn and reprogram our intuitive mind, to respond in a way that is helpful and conducive to our needs.

When our intuition gets it wrong, realise it, acknowledge it and in that moment you begin to change that intuitive belief.

Free will?

Okay, I think you get the idea that our beliefs are what control our choices. But do we have free will? Well, as long as you let your beliefs to control what you choose and do, in reality, no we don’t.

But the is not necessarily a bad thing. Can you imagine having to make conscious choices for every second of your life? If you know how to type, even the single finger typing or chaotic one that I use, if I had to think about every single action I need to carry out, I would end up typing a lot slower than I am doing now.

The point is, we need the lack of free will to be able to carry out certain actions that we have already learned – eating, drinking, walking, driving, riding, reading and so on. These are examples of certain actions that we don’t want to have to think about but just do.

On the other hand, there are actions or inactions and beliefs that we need to change to get to where we want to in life.

Now, if you are where you want to be in life, then your belief system, your mental software, is as it needs to be and the actions you take are, in reality, not consciously taken but a result of those beliefs, and, consequently, lacking free-will – they are unconscious actions, even the choices you make which result in the outcome you want. The choices are still a result and consequence of your beliefs.

The bottom line, is that we are creatures of habit, only as far as our beliefs are concerned. Tea or coffee? Down to the pub/bar for a drink after work or into the gym? The chocolate or the carrot?

We can change our beliefs, our biases, choose short term pain over long term pleasure, but, free will goes only as far as we look at it from another perspective:

We are moving towards what we want in life rather than away from it or staying the same.

We exercise our free will when we decide to change what we believe in and what we hold true, in our subconscious, to the point that our unconscious actions and thoughts reflect the way we want our life to be. From then on, we let go and let it be, allowing our mind to take us to the ideal life we have chosen.

Free will is our ability to choose how we want our mind to serve us. We lose free will when we allow false beliefs and external circumstances determine how our life will be.

It really is a choice.

Free will is not as free as it seems. We are free to determine the direction of our life. But most of us choose to give this freedom to external circumstances, either unwilling to make a change or not knowing that we can. Either way, it’s still a choice. And it’s a choice to have no free will, but live as the digger wasp; repeating yesterday for life.

Free will exists only when courage and effort are used, to change ineffective, inefficient and counterproductive beliefs, choosing instead for short term pain and log term pleasure.

What you link pain to and what you link pleasure to shapes your destiny.
Tony Robbins

Photograph by: Raquel Martínez on Unsplash


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