This week on the podcast, we’re exploring the choices that we have in every moment. It’s common in our culture to look at our lives in terms of “have-tos,” but staying in that space takes away our agency and our joy. By getting curious about our have-tos, we can figure out what is really important to us and play with ways to make the things we do more enjoyable.
And in difficult moments, when it really feels like terrible things are happening to us, we still have the choice of how to respond, what story we tell about our situation, and what energy we bring to it. Realizing how much choice we have can be so empowering!
We hope today’s episode sparks some fun insights for you and we invite you to dive deeper with our Episode Questions. Join us on Instagram or YouTube to continue the conversation and share your reflections.
Let’s dig deep, challenge paradigms, choose connection, and live joyfully!
- Do you find yourself saying “I have to” a lot? Can you find any patterns around when you see it happening more frequently?
- How does it feel to think about having choices in each moment?
- What helps you find your center when moving through a challenge?
- What choices do you see around the stories you are currently telling about your life?
ANNA: Hi, and welcome to the Living Joyfully Podcast! We’re happy you’re here and interested in exploring relationships with us, who we are in them, out of them, and what that means for how we move through the world.
In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about choice. I love talking about and grounding ourselves in choice, because life is filled with choices from the mundane to the epic. And for the most part, it’s an invisible process. We’re making decisions on the fly throughout the day. Other decisions are made with a lot of deliberation and forethought and take a lot of time, but the ability to choose is something that empowers us. The knowledge that, no matter what, we have a choice.
PAM: Right, and that is so surprisingly easy to forget in the moment. I can find myself moving through parts of my day almost by rote, and sometimes that means I’m in the flow of things, feeling good and accomplishing things I want and choose to do. And other times things start to rub.
When I start hearing myself say, “Oh, I have to do this,” that feeling that I don’t have a choice is a good clue that I’m probably feeling a bit overstretched or under-resourced, and it’s a great clue to step back, take a breath, and just take a moment to look around a bit.
It’s so easy to fall into the “I have to” trap, because it is used so much in our culture. The phrase “I have to,” or, “You have to,” has become so commonplace that we’ve mostly stopped questioning it altogether. It just seeps into our everyday language. We say we have to go to the store, we have to brush our teeth, we have to go to bed, and so many more things. And soon, we start to believe that we have to do all the things, that we don’t have a choice, that we are, in fact, prisoners to a long list of have to’s.
And not only that, when we come to feel that we don’t have choices and buy into this whole “have to” ethos, it’s usually not long before we start to feel pulled to impose them on others. “This has to be done and you have to help,” which then can lead to judging others around the things we think they have to do. Like, “Why aren’t they doing this thing I don’t want to do, but have to do?” It is so disempowering and disconnecting.
So, taking a moment to look at a situation, any situation, even small everyday ones, and noticing that choices actually exist helps us let go of that overwhelming feeling of being trapped in our days. It reminds us that we have agency. We can use phrases like, “I have to,” or, “You have to,” as red flags, signs that it’s a good time to step back and see where we’re feeling pinched, where we’re feeling controlled, because definitely those things can sneak up on us bit by bit.
And then, we can dig deeper to identify our underlying needs, find the choices in the soil of the have to’s and shift things up to meet our needs in ways that don’t include controlling others or even using control tactics on ourselves. Realizing that I always have choices has been such a freeing and empowering mindset shift for me. It’s just been amazing.
ANNA: Oh my gosh. For me, too. It’s been such a critical part. The shift from feeling like life is happening to me, to understanding my agency and navigating this thing called life. It’s funny, I have a good friend whose husband does not buy into this idea at all. So, he believes, “There aren’t always choices, Anna,” but I find it so interesting.
And one of the examples he used was, “Well, we have to do the animal chores in the morning.” So, they have a small farm, donkeys, goats, chickens. And here’s the thing. They don’t have to do that. They could choose to re-home the animals. They could skip the morning chores or do them later. I know the lap of luxury these animals live in and they would be just fine. They could also hire someone to do the chores for them.
There’s always a choice and with each choice, we hone in on our priorities. They don’t want to re-home the animals. They love them. They love bringing the special treats in the morning and moving the donkeys to the track to watch them play and run. They don’t have to do those things. They want to. And maybe they decide it’s not worth the money to pay someone else, or in that choice, they realize that they actually enjoy it and might miss it and don’t want someone else doing it for them.
And so, then it’s like, okay, so if we’re feeling pinched about time, in that exploration, they might find they’d rather free up time in another way, adjusting something they don’t enjoy as much. What a different feeling than to feel we’re held hostage by an obligation. And maybe it’s just semantics and energy, but I really think it’s worth examining our language about any of these have to’s and deciding if that language is serving us.
Is it helping us find joy? Is it helping us enjoy the things around us? Could examining it as a choice help us understand what we actually want to do and how we want to spend our time and resources?
PAM: Yes. I think what can happen over time is that we make a choice and then it’s new and exciting.
We relish it. It’s fun. And then, over time, we shortcut our language down to, “I have to.”
For me, it feels like as the activity becomes more commonplace in my days, “Every morning I’ve got to go take care of the animals,” my internal language becomes more efficient. “I have to take out the animals, I have to take the dogs out,” all the all the things. “I have to go grocery shopping, I have to clean the bathrooms.”
And I think the word obligation is a great way to describe that feeling and the growing weight of it. And I think we can naturally start to resist that obligation and maybe even start to resent it. So, if our internal “have to” language doesn’t catch our attention, eventually that growing weight of obligation or resentment definitely might. So, time to dig in and see what’s in there. What’s the rub?
And what’s so interesting is so often digging in helped me remember my why. So, you had that wonderful example about the animals. I’m going to take a quick moment to look at cleaning bathrooms, because it is a very basic example. But to give you an idea of ways to dig into those festering feelings.
So, I can remind myself that I enjoy the feeling of walking into a clean bathroom. If I realize that’s even feeling a bit stale for me, I can start there. So, maybe I choose to spruce up the bathroom a bit, bringing in a plant or two, or some art for the walls. Maybe I print out an inspirational quote or two that makes me smile, or a couple of pictures that make me laugh and I tape them to the mirror. How can I more enjoy walking into this mostly utilitarian room?
I find that is such a fun way to look at things. It’s like, cleaning the bathroom, what do you mean decorating it or whatever? But that is a wonderful aspect to look at, too.
I can also contemplate the cleaning schedule that I’m holding myself to. There are no bathroom police that are going to come and arrest me if I don’t stick to it. So, what if I change that up, extending the period between deep cleans? How does that feel? I can try it out and see. That’s something you can always play with and is likely to change over time, depending as the number of people rise and fall.
So, just because we’ve done it weekly for years doesn’t mean it has to be weekly forever more. That frequency may well change over the seasons of our lives.
And we can look at the how. How can I make it easier for me to slip into cleaning? Can I keep the cleaning supplies in the bathroom ready to grab quickly? That may mean having more supplies up front, but they each last longer, because they’re only being used in one bathroom. So, it works itself out. Can I make the process itself more enjoyable? I often put on my headphones and listen to podcasts or sometimes upbeat music to help my body get moving. Or we could also choose to pay for cleaning service if that’s an option. There are just so many possibilities.
So, after taking some time to dig in and discover what’s really rubbing for me, so often, I still do the thing. I clean the bathrooms. But my internal language is much different now, because I remembered how much choice and agency I have. It may not be the most fun I’ll have all day, but I remember why I want to do it and I’ve made the process more pleasurable, particularly the bits of the process that were rubbing me the wrong way. My internal language is lighter. Maybe even, “I want to clean the bathrooms today,” rather than that obligatory weight of, “I have to.”
It’s so fascinating to see that we can find choice even in the most mundane bits and pieces of life.
ANNA: And just how different it feels when we do. I mean, those choices all along the way. And I think the money piece that I talked about is a really interesting way to check in. So, do I want to pay somebody to do this? Does it have that value or is it not that big of a deal? Is my time more valuable there?
It’s playing with it, asking questions that we talk so much about. It just opens up instead of getting stuck in the weight of the have to’s. So, yeah, I love that, because again, I just really think it helps us hone in on our priorities and get back to that why, like you said, and then we know, okay, I got these animals for a reason and I like having a clean bathroom and that’s why I’m doing it for me. Whatever those things are, getting back to that why.
PAM: Yeah. And I love that priority piece. That was episode number one, because that is so foundational, playing around with our priorities and the time that we’ve got, the things that we want to do. We can always bring it back there to realize that we have choices with all the things that we think are on our plate.
ANNA: Yes. And it just really changes things. But I do want to talk about times when it feels like there really is no choice, that life has happened to us. There’s a tragedy, a death, a loss of something that’s out of our control, because that’s going to happen to all of us. It’s certainly happened to me and realizing I still had the choice of how I react made all the difference in moving through those difficult events. No, I couldn’t change the fact that the job was lost or the injury happened, but I could decide how I was going to let that impact my mood, how I was feeling, and how I wanted to move through the world.
So, for me, that helped me to put things into perspective and to feel again, that life wasn’t just happening to me. I’ve had some pretty difficult things happen to me over the years. We all have, but the times I’m able to ground back into who I want to be, how I want to learn from what’s happening around me, and how I want to find joy, even in the darkest moments, those were the times that I moved through the events with the most ease. It’s not easy necessarily, but with more ease than when I was fighting and bucking against the reality of what was happening.
And, for me, gratitude was a big part of that. Finding those little spots of gratitude is a choice, and I found that I could find them even in the darkest of days. And with that choice, that first move towards looking for the tiny points of light, the shifts would start and new ways forward would present themselves.
PAM: Yes, definitely. Things happen in our lives that are out of our control. Times where we find ourselves just reacting to things. It can feel like our life has come to a standstill with this big thing. And for a time, that can definitely be helpful, because it needs immediate attention, right? Yet moving through these challenging events often takes time and staying stuck in that emergency mode can have its consequences.
So, for me, once the initial shock and overwhelm began to ease a bit, I found it helpful to gently remind myself to come back to the present whenever I noticed myself getting stuck in my head with my swirling thoughts. Because in the present, I slowly began to notice those bits and pieces of life that are happening around me. Those spots of gratitude, as you mentioned, Anna, even small ones, like how the light comes through the window, a moment of connection with my child that makes me smile. Continuing to bring myself to the present, soon I was open enough to start to see more possibilities, new ways forward that I couldn’t see when I was like stuck in tunnel vision. I began to see choices.
ANNA: Yes. And that’s what it’s all about, finding our way to just seeing the choice in the moments. And so, this leads to another area where our choices influence our perspective. And it’s an area where we often give away our powers. And it’s, we tell our own stories. We’re the creators, we’re the writers, we’re the orators of these stories of our lives.
And digging into stories is so important to us that we’re going to do an entire episode on it in a couple weeks, but I think it’s worth talking about it right now in this context of choice and seeing how it’s playing out in our days, because our stories have a way of defining us for ourselves and for others. For ourselves, they become this sort of self-talk. If that talk is negative and full of worry and distress, then we can become that. If that talk is positive and full of joy and gratitude, then we become that. We start to embody it.
For others, it colors the way they see us. They trust that our story is our truth. And if that truth is steeped in frustration and anger, then we can attract the frustrated and angry, because it’s that whole misery loved company thing. And if that truth is infused with joy and gratitude, we tend to attract the people that are looking for joy and gratitude. And I’ve found that, for me, where I put my energy is the areas that I’m growing. And so, I just want to be really aware of that. And so, again, it just boils down to this choice. How do we want to spend our energy and what do we want to attract with it?
PAM: Yeah. The stories we tell ourselves and those around us have such a big impact on us. So, I am really looking forward to diving into that idea more deeply in a couple of weeks. But it is also a great lens to consider when we’re thinking about choice, because if the story we’re telling ourselves and the people around us is that we don’t have a choice, that we have to do X, Y, Z, that’s most likely going to be the one we all run with. So often, we treat our stories as facts. “This is the situation. Now where do we go from here?” And that’s where people join us.
So, if our story is grounded in frustration and full of have to’s, that’s where they join us, often sharing their frustrations and just generally tossing around in the muck with us. Back to that misery loves company. But if our story is steeped in choice and possibilities, that’s where they’ll jump in with us. Oh, that is a big change. Best of luck with that. Have you considered this? They’re just generally more supportive and helpful. And both stories can absolutely be true to the facts. But we get to choose which one we tell ourselves and others, which one feels better to us in the moment. And that is not a trick question. Sometimes what feels better is to vent, right?
But it is absolutely helpful to remember that it’s a choice and we don’t need to stick to that version of our story forever.
ANNA: Oh my gosh, yes. We can change a story when it stops serving us. That’s another big revelation. Like, “Oh, this story I’ve been hanging onto, I can change it up.” So, lots to consider there.
So, we’re going to leave you with a few questions to ponder.
First, do you find yourself saying, “I have to,” a lot? Really listen, because actually we don’t even always notice it.
PAM: That’s so true.
ANNA: Tune in. Can you find any patterns around when you see it happening more frequently? And kind of like you talked about, Pam, it tends to be those under-resourced moments, where we kind of start clicking off the have to’s and the giant list and all the things.
How does it feel to think about having choices in each moment?
PAM: So, I think that’ll be a big one. You don’t even have to like move forward with it, but just take a moment to think, “Oh, what if I had a choice?” If you can’t see a choice yet. But it could even just be how does it feel to think about, “Oh, what if there were choices?” And that I think can be the first little baby step.
ANNA: I’m so curious how my friend’s husband’s going to think about some of this stuff, because he listens to the podcast. And so, what does it feel like to just think, but what if you did have a choice? What if you let go of that story that you don’t?
So, another thing is, what helps you find your center when you’re moving through a challenge? I think that can just be really helpful, because we’re going to keep getting challenge. So, helping people understand what helps us move through that, what helps it feel a bit more with ease, what helps us find that gratitude, whatever it is that feels good.
And lastly, what choices do you see around the stories you are currently telling about your life? Yeah, that’s going to be good. Because we’re always telling stories. If you’re sitting there listening, going, “I don’t know if I have stories,” no, you do. You have stories. And let’s look at them like, because these can be things we are carrying with us for a long time. And again, check back in a couple weeks when we really dig into stories as well.
So, just thinking about this idea of choice, I think is just interesting. Play with it. How does it feel? What feels better? How does it work? So, yeah, I think it’s going to be fun.
PAM: Yes, I think so, too. And that stories one, too. As you said, if you don’t think you’re telling stories, I think just take a pull back and instead of choices around the stories you’re telling yourself, think about, what stories am I telling myself? Just start to look through the lens of story and see how that feels. See what you see. I think it’ll be so interesting to dive into.
ANNA: Thank you so much for listening, and we will see you next time. Bye-bye.