I was speaking to a friend this week who was complaining about feeling rather stressed. She commented that she felt out of control. But she quickly went on to say that it wasn’t the “I’m a control freak and I need to be in control of every single detail, kind of thing; it’s something else that I don’t recognise.” We talked for a while about what was going on in her life; choices narrowing, lack of good options, pressure to do things that she didn’t want to do at a time that didn’t suit her. She suddenly had an ‘A-ha’ moment and said, “I’m not out-of-control, I’m out-of-choices.”
I’ve found that a lack of choices or more specifically a perceived lack of ‘good choices’ creates huge stress as our brain tries to choose the best solutions from a set of ‘bad options.’ The perceived lack of choice forces us to disregard our personal values & standards to meet the needs of someone else.
When we are forced by circumstances to do something that contradicts our inner wisdom, or violates a closely-held belief; stress results. If you are experiencing ‘out-of-choices’ stress, one of the following situations is likely to be happening:
- You are not getting your needs met in the situation
- The circumstances are violating personal standards, ethics or values
- You are being asked to do something that is beyond your capacity/capability to deliver (usually time or money, but equally it can be anything you value or prize)
- You are experiencing a belief conflict ( I cannot fail, I must be perfect, I don’t deserve this)
This phrase ‘out-of-choices’ really describes the vast majority of situations where I experience stress. In a way it describes the proverbial ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place.’
The way out of ‘stuckness’ or ‘out of choices’ is to change the rules and your thinking. If you’re a Star Trek fan you may have heard of the Kobayashi Maru; a test of character in an unwinnable scenario. Captain Kirk famously won the challenge by changing the rules. You can win (i.e. reduce the stress), by changing the choices and making sure you are in alignment with your inner wisdom.
It is important to remember that there are always choices. It is your perception that there is a LACK of choices, which causes the stress. Stop and consider that you may have more ‘choice’ than you think you do. So how do you create ‘better’ choices , win the Kobayashi Maru and reduce the stress? Ask yourself these questions:
- What is my ideal outcome?
- In what way is this situation good for me?
- What assumptions am I making that limit my choices?
- Are these assumptions valid?
- Whose priorities are pushing the current set of choices?
- Which of my beliefs, values or personal standards are being violated in this situation and are making me feel uncomfortable?
- What would I need to do to change the situation so that my values, standards and beliefs remain intact and healthy?
- How would/could this situation be different if I stood up for my priorities?
- What actions am I going to take so that I feel that I have plenty of choices and to reduce my stress around this situation?
By taking the time to work through this list of questions you may find choices that you didn’t know existed. In considering the questions, you will find that you become clearer about what you need in order to feel good about the situation and control your stress. When you are clear about what you want and need from a situation you can structure your behaviour so that your needs are met and you stay in alignment with your core beliefs and values.
Sure, there may be times when all the choices are bad. But even with bad choices, you can learn something; which may be to never do it this way again.
Remember, that you always have a choice; you can choose to find the best, least-stressful option in every situation.