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Strategies, advice and opinions helping to define and develop the role of IT leaders and their staffs.

Feeling stuck? How to recognize choices and explore greater possibilities

Choices. We always have choices but sometimes they become impossible to see. Today, let’s discuss why choices are important, what stops us from seeing our choices and how to explore possibilities instead of feeling stuck, resentful or powerless.

What does choice mean?

Choice means power, freedom and responsibility. It’s making a decision and living with the consequences. We can’t always make the right choice and sometimes we’re in a situation where our choices are not optimal—but we’ve always got a choice. Recognizing this is essential to our well-being.

Even young children know this. If you tell a toddler to put her shirt on, you might find yourself in a power struggle. But it’s a whole different situation when you ask, “Which shirt do you want to wear, the blue one or the red one?” The child becomes empowered by her own choice and she somehow knows that choice is more valuable than limits (and the demands of a tired parent).

Yet, as we grow up, it’s common to no longer see the choices we have.

What gets in the way of seeing our choices?

When we’re unable to recognize our choices, it’s often related to emotions, stories we tell ourselves, the past and doing things the way they’ve always been done.

Fear is such a powerful emotion; it paralyzes us or makes us think we don’t have a choice. We always have a choice. Fear can make us believe we’re not enough or that there’s only one way to do something. When we limit our thinking like this, the obstacles we see show us it’s impossible to accomplish what we’re trying to do. Of course, this is false because there are multiple ways to do something, whether it’s making a career change or running your household more peacefully.

Other emotions such as resentment, frustration and anger can also blind us to our options. In my coaching practice, I often see women burden themselves with the expectation that they can do it all. Yet, they become frustrated, angry and even resentful when nobody (at home or at work) steps in to help out. They feel the pressure to continue to do it all and can’t see any other options. I’ve caught many clients by surprise by saying, “Do you really have to do it all?” If they say yes, then you must ask “where does that come from?”

Stories and our past experiences can also make it more difficult to see our choices. We get blocked by our parents who are often just trying to keep us safe. Parents say, “Oh, don’t do that, don’t do this, you’ll get hurt, etc.” After all this conditioning, we create stories that prevent us from living in so many ways and reaching our fullest potential.

We put these limits on ourselves and spend our adult years trying to overcome our inner critic who clouds our vision when it comes to seeing possibilities. (For more on inner critics, you might like my article, Managing your gremlin: Transforming your inner critic into your biggest cheerleader.)

Finally, rules and repetition can make us blind to other possibilities. My kids have a history of doing math problems a different way. They get the right answer, but when they don’t follow the exact steps the teacher gives them, they lose marks. Thinking critically or outside the box is disincentivized and when that happens often enough, it’s common to stop looking for other ways of doing things.

Why it’s so important to see your choices

When we can see our choices, we feel empowered. We make better decisions and reduce the resentment we feel about the things we “have to” do. We don’t “have to” do anything; we have choices and by recognizing those choices, we put ourselves back in the driver’s seat of our lives.

We can see this play out by studying super-successful and innovative people. I love the story of Elon Musk. Here’s this guy sitting in rush hour traffic in LA and says to himself, “I’m going to build a tunnel and a high-speed train so I don’t have to sit in traffic.” Plus, he sent two astronauts to the International Space Station in a SpaceX rocket ship. The man knows his choices are near limitless.

Four methods to help you see your choices more clearly

Even if you’re paralyzed by fear or past conditioning, you can move beyond this to reveal the choices you have right now.

To see your choices more clearly:

1. Get enough information to make a good decision – You won’t always make the right decision but doing your homework lets you make the best decision possible right now. This gives you confidence in your decision and confidence in your ability to make a new decision if things don’t work out.

2. Ask yourself “what if” questions – Lack of clarity is stressful, and you can reduce this stress by thinking things through. Start your questions from a positive, expansive place. If you’re making a bold career change, you might want to ask, “What if I take this job and it’s the most meaningful position I’ve ever had?” or “What if I take this job and I build a high-performing team?” After this, you can also consider the challenges. For example, “What if I take this job and move across the country and I hate it?” or “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Ask and answer the questions for the scenarios you think of and you’ll see that you can handle whatever comes up.

3. Make a pros and cons list – This is a timeless decision-making tool. When you’re considering a decision, write down all the pros and cons you can think of. Stretch yourself into that expansive place and come up with at least three pros for your decision. It’s often much easier to see the cons which might not give us a true picture of the situation, especially if we’re a little fearful.

4. Get a coach to help you – If you’re stuck and you don’t want to do these self-directed exercises (or they haven’t helped you), it’s time to get some assistance. A good coach doesn’t tell you what your choices are. She helps you navigate all the possibilities, so you gain more clarity around the choices you make. If you’re always in your comfort zone but not quite satisfied, you can benefit from talking to a coach and uncovering what’s stopping you from moving forward. Your coach will help you to turn the invisible into something visible so that you can see possibilities.

So many times, we just go through the motions and we don’t even think about it. Then we get so comfortable it’s hard to see that other possibilities exist. To live our best lives at home and at work, it’s essential that we keep an open mind that recognizes the choices we always have.

Vicki Bradley is an executive coach who helps businesses attract, retain and develop talent to support bottom-line results in the retail, IT and finance sectors. Vicki works with presidents and CEOs to build strong executive teams and with women in or pursuing executive roles.

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