The power of choice; what you need to know

I once sat in a CEO’s office to discuss the direction of the product. I was the product manager, at the time. I felt sick to my stomach. I was so uncomfortable, it prevented me from thinking strategically. I understood the direction being discussed was at conflict with the company, the customer and our team objectives. I felt I had no choice. I did what I was told. I remember leaving the office feeling completely dejected. I had done nothing to bring what I knew to the table. I had zero presence of mind to respond with the information I had on the topic.


As a coach, now, my role is to help my clients become aware of their actions through asking questions. Consider these following questions. What resonates?

  • How often are you aware of your choices?
  • Do you make decisions based on what others expect?
  • Do you give away your choice by reacting to a circumstance?
  • What if you could stop the reaction to get to a response?

The difference between reaction and response is simply a choice. A choice you make to determine how you will respond to the situation/circumstance.

Decisions are the result of choices. We make decisions routinely. Some are more a transactional decision on a semi-automatic basis. For example, what to wear to work on Monday or what brand of shampoo to buy. While personal decisions impact our lives. The big ones are where to live, what career to pursue and such. Another is what we say or do in our business lives. Let’s address what we say or do in our careers.

A choice may be visible or invisible to us. You may not realize you have a choice, invisible, yet you may have a reaction to an event or circumstance in the course of your day. Your boss approaches you with a statement regarding how you completed a task. You may react with a defensive statement, such as “I didn’t know you wanted it done differently”. An alternative, “can we discuss how you do this task, so that in the future I can address your requirements better”, allows for collaboration between you and your boss. This alternative is only available if the choice is visible to you.

This reaction is often tied to an invisible choice. When this happens, where do you feel it in your body? Is it an uncomfortable feeling when you are struggling with a situation? You are likely at a place of choice in this moment.

The key to recognizing that you have a choice lies within yourself. It is a trigger or catalyst that recalls a time you had to make a choice between something, even if it wasn’t an obvious choice. Likely you had an uncomfortable feeling along with the situation.

An encounter may leave behind a memory. After my encounter with the CEO, I become anxious when I meet someone with a bullying personality. I suspect, my brain remembers how I felt when I didn’t settle myself so that I could recognize my choice. When this happens, I am unconsciously protecting myself from uncertainty of the outcome that is inherent in the face of a similar personality. Will I lose myself to this person with an overpowering personality or will I have a presence of mind to remember I always have a choice about how I respond?

Geek alert: there is science behind what is happening in the brain. When we are uncertain or uncomfortable our brain releases cortisol which results in tunnel vision of our pre-frontal cortex (our executive brain). It happens to everyone. We need a way to counter act what’s happening and open our executive brain so that we can think broader, more strategically.

I find that I rely heavily on my logic. If I can justify a decision, I jump. If I can’t, I walk away or avoid the situation. Is this a choice? No, I am rationalizing or avoiding which is a form of resistance.

So what? The decision does not go away. It’s possible our brains hold onto the situation and begin to build a story about why we need to resist. You know our rational brains have to do something to justify inaction. For me, the decision becomes riskier, bigger and more difficult to make. Worse yet, it rolls around in my head like a snowball growing bigger. This will lead to a higher chance that when I do choose, I will not make the choice and hence the decision that is right for me. As the simple snowflake of a choice snowballs, it becomes harder to deal with.

When we resist we are not moving ahead. We are limiting ourselves to what is known. What if I used this resistance in a new way? What if it were a catalyst to move me forward into a new place where I will make the best choice for me?

Most people face a choice about how to respond to a situation. The decision to react or avoid/resist is relatively easy. The decision to respond is much harder. What do you want to know about this situation to bring some certainty to how you choose to respond? How will your decision impact others in this situation? Many questions arise if you have the space to get out of reaction. Each question can give you clarity and present you with more choices that were previously invisible to you.

Someone else’s answer may or may not be your choice. How do you get to the place of making your own choice that serve you? There is no one right answer. Everyone has their own memories which will impact what may or may not work for you. Working with a coach will help you learn, what work for you to make space to move from reaction to response. Without this space, you will likely miss the choices that are available to you. The result is a decision that may not be in your best interest.

I would be honored to support you on your journey to gain awareness of your choices. Remember when you rise, you raise those around you to be a better version of themselves.