Who is in charge of your life? Is it you, someone else, fate? How much choice do you have when it comes to being in charge? Can you choose to be in control of your well-being? Can you choose the life you want? Are there perhaps choices vital to your well-being and happiness that you may not be aware of?
Suppose we gave you a list of 100 of the most important choices you make daily. Some would seem rather minor and more like a part of your routine than conscious choices. Whether or not you brush your teeth or watch the 11 o’clock news are examples. Choices like your hairstyle, how fast you drive, where you go grocery shopping may seem like simple preferences, but are choices nonetheless.
Then there are those choices that may not seem like choices at all such as how you make sense of the past, whether or not you show your emotions, whether or not things upset you, or how accepting you are yourself. Whether or not you are happy may seem more like the luck of the draw, rather than the result of choices.
We mentioned giving you a list of your 100 biggest choices What would you do with such a list? Our guess is – probably nothing. Most people live their lives on autopilot, simply playing out an unconscious script, reacting their way through life and following a familiar predetermined pattern. Usually, there is little awareness of choices.
Did you know that you can choose how much patience you have, what makes you angry, how you handle conflict, or how calm and peaceful you are? Did you know you can choose to be happy? If you’re like most people, you’re skeptical.
Life Choices Therapy is a major departure from traditional “talk therapy.” Rather than focusing solely on removing the pain and discomfort of stress, anxiety, and depression, Life Choices Therapy looks at your life as the sum total of your choices and your “dis-ease” as symptomatic of a life out of balance, with choices that may be self-defeating or destructive.
Life Choices Therapy is a five step process of mindful awareness and mindful choice. It’s literally a systematic step-by-step process for getting clear on your choices, removing the roadblocks, and transforming the life you have to the life you want. It’s a process of discovering the power of choice and developing the ability to manage your life through managing and living your choices.
Step One: Complete your assessment
We begin the process of Life Choices Therapy with an in-depth assessment covering multiple aspects of 10 choice areas, each selected on the basis of maximum impact on your well-being. Assessing how well you are doing in all 10 areas provides the basis for selectively and systematically learning how to manage your life by managing your choices.
The 10 choice areas are:
1. Breath Awareness and Retraining. This means developing a consciousness of breathing patterns so that you are instantly aware of becoming "uptight," and able to use your awareness of your upper chest breathing as a cue to immediately employ a relaxation response involving diaphragmatic breathing. This step also involves literally retraining the way you breathe, developing a stress reducing pattern of breathing that becomes more effective over time. Breath awareness is a basic relaxation step, and basic to all other choices.
2. Beginning and Ending Your Day Peacefully. Begin your day of anxiety and stress reduction consciously and intentionally, setting the stage for moving through your day in "cruise mode," with ongoing awareness of your intention to have a great day. Ending your day peacefully and settling in for a night of peaceful and revitalizing sleep is perhaps even more important than beginning your day well.
3. Mindful Eating. Beginning with breakfast and incorporating healthy nutrition, mindful eating is about taking the time to focus on food in a pleasurable, non-anxious manner, without distraction. Not only is this the secret to healthy and enjoyable eating, but it also provides stress breaks at regular intervals during your day to reconnect with yourself and regain your balance.
4. Staying Present. Frequently checking in with yourself, with your mind and with your body, is a vital step in cultivating the mindful awareness vital to effective stress and anxiety management.
At least once an hour, if not more frequently, you can check in with yourself with what is known as a mind-body scan, taking stock of your anxiety and stress, your thoughts and feelings, and what’s going on in your body. You can use your awareness of your stress level as a cue to plug-in a learned relaxation response, calming and centering yourself, and readying yourself to move forward in a purposeful and intentional way, never losing sight of the importance of excellent self-care.
5. Engaging in Self Reflection. Engaging in self reflection and dealing with negative self talk and distorted thinking with awareness, acceptance, and realistic corrective self-talk, is a key to transforming a life filled with anxiety and depression to a life that can be fully satisfying.
6. Connecting with and Living Your Deepest Values. Connecting with, and living, your deepest values, and making sure your day includes balance, are often the qualities that are missing.
7. Intentional Relating. Connecting with those who matter most to you, and with others in a purposeful and satisfying way, while masterfully managing conflict, eliminates or reduces perhaps the biggest source of stress in our lives.
8. Physical Activity. Regular exercise that includes aerobics, strength training, and developing flexibility, along with gentle movement with peaceful thoughts and self-calming inner dialogue, is essential to effective anxiety and stress management practice.
9. Utilize Your Life Choices Toolbox. Some form of meditation/relaxation/mental imagery or visualization helps maintain equilibrium and promotes overall well-being. Consider Yoga, Mindfulness Meditation, Tai Chi, Mindful Journaling and other practices for enriching your life.
10. Self-Acceptance and Self-Compassion. Perhaps the most important choice, research indicates that people who are compassionate toward their failings and imperfections experience greater well-being than those who repeatedly judge themselves. Give yourself the same caring support you'd give to a good friend.
Step Two: Score your Life Choices Assessment.
The Life Choices Self-Assessment pinpoints your choice effectiveness within each Life Choice area. Scores are recorded on the following scoring sheet:
Step Three: Complete your profile.
The scoring of your Life Choices Assessment yields a profile that clearly shows the degree to which you are taking personal responsibility for your choices and choosing change and growth in each of 10 areas. An example of the scoring of Life Choice 7 is shown above.
Next, your scores are transferred to your profile sheet. A sample profile follows:
Note that the hypothetical score on Life Choice 7 has been recorded at the appropriate spot on the profile. Similarly, other hypothetical scores have also been entered in the above example resulting in a clear picture of strengths and weaknesses in awareness and management of choices. At a glance you can see that there is much room for improvement, and you can clearly see which areas most need attention. Your profile is the starting point for learning how to manage your choices and live your life on purpose.
Step Four: Where are you on your “Roadmap?”
Adding all scores results in a total score somewhere between 0 and 200. This is an indication of where you’re at on your journey from “dis-ease” to “well-being.”
Take the overall assessment once a month to track your progress. This can be quite motivational, as you see tangible evidence each month that you are making progress toward more satisfying and effective choices. We guarantee that as you move further along the path you will find yourself growing and changing toward having the life you want. The following is an illustration of “the Roadmap.”
Step Five: Daily Practice
The initial self-assessment results in a profile that can be interpreted at a glance. You then choose to focus on a particular "Choice" that makes sense to you.
The power of the process results from what’s done in between the monthly total assessment. The heart of our program is step-by-step coaching in developing mastery for a particular choice area. An Action Planning Guide for each Choice presents in-depth information useful in increasing your performance for the selected Choice.
Working systematically each day on your “Choice” to the point where distress is replaced by feelings of competence and satisfaction, is accompanied by major changes in your life. At the point where you have gained mastery for a particular choice, another Choice can be selected.
Keep in mind you should not be monitoring all choice areas each day. That would be overwhelming and counterproductive. It is far more useful to intensively focus your self- improvement efforts on one area where you are having difficulty. The following is it is an example of tracking your daily performance on just one choice area, in this case: Breath Awareness and Retraining.
Pick a choice that will make a major difference in your life. You don’t have to take the choices in order. You can move around, working on whatever choice strikes you as most important at the present time. You can take as much time as you need to demonstrate to yourself that you can gain mastery over a particular choice. Whatever choice you are working on, simply keeping it in your day-by-day awareness brings about major changes.
Step Six: Follow through and Follow-Up
Choosing your life by managing your choices is perhaps your greatest challenge and you will find that on the other side of mastering stress, anxiety, and depression there is a life of balance and harmony, a life truly worth living.
This book will guide you through an exploration and understanding of the sources of your “dis-ease,” help you identify goals, provide you with an action plan, and give you a way of keeping track of your progress, staying motivated, overcoming barriers and achieving your goals.
This is a book about mindful choice and mindful practice. Everything we are suggesting is an individual choice that will in some measurable way increase your sense of well-being, as well as your satisfactions in life. You will be guided in practices of personal transformation that will help you increase optimism, resilience, and mastery over your own life.
You will experience rapid results and you will find your life situation getting better and better. Over the span of a year or more, you will see how seemingly small and routine daily practices add up to major course-corrections and benefits.
Carpe diem! Enjoy your journey.