What is the difference between making intentional choices and automatic choices? A lot. On the surface, how you go about choosing between two things can often look identical. You make a choice. Whether you think about it for a day, an hour or a nano-second, it is still a choice. Black or white. One or the other. Right?
No. Choices are instead a stream of interconnected events.
A handful of BBQ chips over an apple. But why did you choose the chips?
I don’t know, I wanted some BBQ chips. I popped a handful in my mouth and ate them. It’s over. Why are we talking about this?
Because, ultimately if you want to improve your life, this seemingly trivial choice is important well beyond BBQ chips, which are horribly bad for you by the way. In life, is how you choose important to what comes next?
Yes. Very much so.
What exactly is an intentional choice?
Good question. Think of it simply. What does this choice lead to? Or instead, what ‘bucket’ does this action or choice go into? If you imagine having a number of ‘buckets’ in your life that behaviors and activities can fit into this will help.
Here are some simple examples. Use this as a template. Spend 30 minutes thinking about this and list some buckets that are important to you. Go back and revisit these later. Feel free to modify them and keep it simple.
When creating buckets try to include buckets for work, play, physical health, mental health, emotional health, inter-personal relationships and self-improvement.
- Is this good nutrition or calories versus bad nutrition or calories?
- Does this activity or choice add to my well-being, reduce anxiety or drama versus takes away from my well being, increase anxiety or fuel possible drama?
- Does this activity or choice improve my self value or self worth versus takes away from my self-value or self-worth (this may include how others view you)?
Matter to who? Matter how?
Let’s explore the chips. It’s a snack. Is it instead a choice that re-enforces an existing pattern of behavior? Or instead, is it a choice that helps to establish a new pattern?
What the hell are you talking about?
In life, all we really have in life are choices. Think about it. We choose to respond to something and then we choose what to do next. That’s really it.
Our life is made up of patterns our brains has logged into its operating system and those patterns run. We respond to them by choosing what’s familiar. Those familiar choices feel safe and re-enforce the existing pattern. That safe feeling releases dopamine in the brain, which further re-enforces the existing pattern, whether it is a healthy one or not.
That is why most people live yesterday again today and so on. They don’t choose to evolve and grow. The engrained patterns keep us going round and round rather than someplace new.
What does this have to do with BBQ chips?
Everything. You chose the chips and re-enforced a couple of patterns. One. Mid-day snacking. Two. Unhealthy nutrition. There are probably more, but let’s keep it simple.
Dude. It’s just a few BBQ chips.
True, but who ate the last bag of them?
Each of those chips was a choice. When the bag was empty, you chose to add a new bag to the grocery list. You chose to open that new bag and eat the first one. It’s now three quarters empty and when it is, what are you going to choose? Buy another bag.
So it’s about more than the BBQ. It’s really about the choice you are making regarding nutrition and beyond that, the choice you are making about wellness and healthy living. It’s not a priority. You have intentionally chosen to not prioritize health and wellness by choosing that handful of greasy crap.
You know you are talking to yourself, right?
Right now, yes but hopefully others will read this transcript and it will cause them to think. Make different choices.
The chips were an automatic choice that was part of the larger an intentional choice you made in the past. You made the choice that because you were 30 pounds overweight, getting fit was going to be impossible.
So you chose to give up instead. Cue the BBQ chips.
These patterns are running every day you don’t even recognize it is occurring.
My point is that with your intentional choice of not prioritizing your health, you now run all these patterns that re-enforce not prioritizing your health and until you choose differently you won’t run new patterns.
Let’s rewind and see how this might play out differently.
Ok, fine but I don’t see how this will change anything though. Like I said, it was just some chips dude.
Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s unpack this. You are in the pantry and there is the bag of Lays. You ask yourself, “If I eat the rest of this bag, is it a healthy choice? After all, it’s almost gone. I can’t throw a bag away that isn’t empty? Right?
No. If I grab an apple instead is that a healthy choice?
But what if I don’t want an entire Apple? I can have just crumbs in the bottom the the bag. Boom. Gone in 1 second. An apple will take like, what? Five minutes to eat!
You are rationalizing your existing pattern that is linked to poor health choices and keeps you in a un-virtuous cycle.
So, cut the apple into slices. Eat as many or as few as you want. Put the rest in a baggie and save them for later. A healthy shack.
By the way, what are you thinking?
I am wondering how I missed this before.
Things often hide in plain sight.
You are now overwriting the old pattern with a new one. Extend it to nutrition and sleep next. Then move on to your content choices. Social media too. Ditch that. Then check off improving physical fitness. One step at a time. Pretty soon, you will have upgraded your brain with a new software program that you will begin to explore further.
The key here is to remember that every choice you make may not be an intentional choice, but every choice is linked to an intentional choice. Everything is linked together to either re-enforce an existing pattern of thought or behavior to overwrite one.
The chips are just a simple, easy to understand illustration provided in order to understand how what can seem like a trivial snacking behavior is linked to other much bigger behaviors in life.
If you pay attention to the little things and actively choose what is best for you, with a little bit of time, magically your mindset will shift because your patterns shifted.
Life will not just seem different, it will be different.