If you were to think back along the timeline of your life, you would come to recognise that there have been moments where you had to make a decision: to do this or that; to go here or there; to have one thing or another.
In NLP, it is frequently said that “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” It is a quotation I love and one I have heard misattributed to a number of people over the years including Henry Ford, Albert Einstein and even Tony Robbins, though I am more inclined to believe it originated with psychologist, Steven Hayes. But, in any case, that certainly does not change the wisdom of the phrase.
On one occasion, I remember being faced with a particular career choice. It was when I worked for the UK’s leading computer company, many years ago. I had to choose between moving to the international company or moving to a different, more senior role within the same company. I chose to move to the international company because it sounded more exciting, I got the chance to do a lot of travelling and I loved it too.
What would my life have been like if I had made the opposite decision, to switch roles into less familiar territory and move to a more senior position at the same company? Of course, I don’t know. It could have been a complete disaster or possibly an astonishing success. We can never really know how much difference that kind of decision would have made; all we can know is that it would have been different.
It is also true that the decision might have made very little difference to the way things turned out; that is certainly another possibility. But there have been many such decisions in my life and there will have been many in your life too. So that means that you are living a life that is only one possible version of the myriad lives you might have led, because these decisions compound to produce your future from an array of possible alternatives.
Consider this proposition: between the position in which you now find yourself and the place you want to be in life there are a number of decisions for you to make that are still in your future. If you make the right decisions, you can get to where you want to be. But there are many alternative lives still left for you to live that will be the consequence of you making the wrong ones.
The discussion naturally brings up the question of how to make the correct decision and, of course, life is not that straightforward. We make the best decision we can at any moment in time and sometimes, we recognise bad decisions only when we are well past the point at which we made the decision. But this article is not about how to make better decisions; it is about understanding that certain overriding considerations have dictated or – perhaps that’s too strong a word – influenced your choices.
If you want something different in the future, you need to develop an awareness of the choices you are constantly making and the rationale that has underpinned your decisions in the past. Have you always taken the safe option, for example? There is nothing wrong with that, of course, except that it has shaped the available options for you going forward. I am not saying you should be more risk tolerant; I am saying you need to be aware of what is driving your choices.
Becoming aware of the underlying drivers that have shaped our decisions can therefore help us to make more informed decisions in the future. One thing is for sure: “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” So, if you want more of the same, you are definitely on the right track. If you want your life to continue in the same direction, if you want to earn the same amount next year as you did this year, if you want to maintain the status quo, then you are using the right methods.
Looking toward the future, with the benefit of hindsight and knowledge of the law of cause and effect, we need to understand that, in order to produce a significant change in our future, something needs to be done in our present to produce the change we want to see. It might not be a big change either because many decisions open the way to possibilities you would otherwise never get the chance to contemplate.
So, from this point forward, try to develop an awareness of the considerations that have influenced your decisions in the past. Then, when you are next faced with a potentially life-changing decision, make sure you give proper consideration to the alternative choices, especially the ones that you would normally rule out of court without too much thinking. And remember that habit is the factor in your decision-making process that is threatening to lead you on to mediocrity.
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