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Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.
Blogs about inhabiting this present moment

Choice - Level II: Developing a Workable Structure For Choice

Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 26th 2013

3D figure with 3 paths to choose from"Life is like a game of cards.
"The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will."
—Jawaharlal Nehru

"God has such a profound respect, nay, reverence, for this freedom He bestowed on us that He had much rather see us go freely to hell than compel us to go to heaven."
—Desmond Tutu, God has a dream

Your choice—four options to respond to any request from you, others or life

In the face of any request, idea, bid, question, suggestion or verbal trial balloon floated in your direction by someone in your general vicinity, exactly what options do you have? Observe for yourself and notice that you retain at least four options, alternatives and choices in almost any situation: yes, no, counter-offer and postpone. Saying "Yes" is a statement of ascent, agreement and participation. Saying "No" communicates no agreement or participation and effectively creates a structure by setting limits or boundaries. Difficult as it oftentimes is, you can communicate "No" in setting necessary limits with abusive, hurtful and inappropriate behavior, even be ungratifying and protectively firm, and keep a genuinely open-hearted and loving attitude. You might wisely use postpone rather infrequently since it can be easily, if inaccurately, perceived as stonewalling and procrastinating. Postponement is useful when further information or research is necessary before making an intelligent choice.

Clearly the one option that is the core of all negotiation and most underused is counter-offer. To come back with an alternative formulation is to be assertive, know yourself, and know the set of circumstances sufficiently to let the negotiations begin.

Everything in life that stands any chance to work operates by agreement, one of give and take. The point: to see whether you both can find a common ground to do what is true to your inner compasses. What is a counter-offer other than a bid to design your life and human connections to be practically and emotionally satisfying. Every encounter is unique in presenting its own constellation of hazards, challenges and opportunities. If the Pope has been granting dispensations for about two millennia and this tradition has continued in the forms of waivers, easements and exceptions with all level of society, then what stops you from orchestrating some of our own? Only giving yourself permission.

Conscious choice and blind decision - Accepting the consequences or not

On some level most of us know that to make a choice is to accept the consequences that result from it. The molecule of choice intrinsically includes the outcomes or results that come forth, whether anticipated and planned, wanted or unwanted. The classic illustrations are justifiable homicide, premeditated murder and the conception of a child. Each illustrates a critical distinction:

Conscious choice means to make a deliberate choice and accept responsibility for the ensuing consequences by owning your personal words and actions, in addition to asking forgiveness and making repair if any injury ensues. Forgiving the past is admirable. So is equally forgiving every moment. That way you carry no resentment and no baggage to interfere with choice. Forgiveness means to give up the right to make the other person wrong and yourself right! Forgiveness is remembering without undue pain.

Conscious choice is inherently responsible and forgiving.

Blind decision means to make a un-thought through decision and not accept responsibility for the consequences through blaming others, rationalizing what you said or did, denying, avoiding and making excuses when injury ensues, and offer no apologies or repair for them. Duplicity is doing what is untrue to you. This occurs out of habit and seeming reasonability, on the level of our ego-minds. "Non-conscious decisions" is another name for blind decisions since it is rooted in old patterns of environmental conditioning and programming outside of conscious awareness.

Choice defined-To choose is to freely exercise the ability to respond

"It is the nature, and the advantage, of strong people that they can bring out
the crucial questions and form a clear opinion about them. The weak always
have to decide between alternatives that are not their own."
—Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Resistance and Submission

Choice is when you generate two or more viable options, consider the consequences of each, weigh the trade-offs and reflect, and pick one. If the mind operating on the level of ego operating as a mistaken identity is in the thick of this process, then choice is abandoned and deceptive illusion takes over. Sometimes the options will include different unwanted, disliked, crappy and dissatisfying evils. You may even believe those are the only ones you possess. Believe it or not, several desired ones are usually present also. Keep looking.

The cutting edge of choice is the opportunity to first shed all those negative, destructive and unenlightened alternatives, and then purely generate affirmative, constructive and loving options you can evaluate and pick among these. There are increasing numbers of people on this planet this very moment that are living this template. Choice only comes with presence, that is, being present here-and-now. It is a matter of being true to who you are while insuring a responding in the present instead of a reacting to the conditioned past being projected into the future.

Five cognitive-behavioral revolutions to own choice

"When confronted with two courses of action, I jot down on a piece of paper all the arguments in favor of each one-then on the opposite side I write the arguments against each one. Then by weighing the arguments pro and con and canceling them out, I take the course indicated by what remains."
—Benjamin Franklin

Perhaps only 2% to 3% of humankind may qualify as living out of choice. What are choosers doing differently? Choice or "free will" is and will remain revolutionary. Choice is conceived as requiring five revolutions in thinking, doing and mainly being:

1. PAUSE and wake up NOW. While this initial step of stopping and showing healthy restraint through inhibitory mechanisms doesn't sound like much, it is without doubt the essential door opener to the entire process of choice-making. To pause is to let go, at least for the moment, and be in consideration and deliberation. Without the ability to be present and meaningfully pause in reflection for several minutes or longer to gain perspective, people act impulsively and destructively, forfeiting choice, inner observing, and being in real time or now. Pausing and reflecting through healthy exercise of inhibition is not valued as a part of our Western socialization, not part of our daily "to do" list, and not a regular part of our day. You now have entered the city.

2. You generate one viable, do-able option and develop the probable results or consequences, both the positive assets and the negative liabilities or using any other criterion, values or principles. Let yourself be intuitively guided in this process and let it spontaneously unfold. Although not on the playing field of choice, you've entered the arena for launching choice.

3. You generate a second or more viable options or alternatives, and again generate probable consequences (Benjamin Franklin's pro's and con's, value-based, and so on). Now you have entered onto the playing field of choice given the critical defining element of you selecting TWO or more workable options and evaluating them. Congratulations. If you allowed anyone else to generate the alternatives for you, including your conditioned ego mind, you have said good-bye to choice. Let options be revealed very naturally. You are now on the field and close to the playing field.

4. Stand back reflectively and give yourself some time to intuitively muse on the trade-offs of your selected options. Since there is virtually no flawless, ideal option (with the exception of choosing love, light, truth, the Good and God), all else has its upside and downside. Begin to ask yourself, well if I pick option A there are these gains, yet these losses, while with option B there are these other advantages and these other costs. Start to notice your truest priorities. What are the most important, non-negotiable, most desired values in these outcomes? These will help you weigh the options and their respective trade-off's. You are now actively in the choice process and just on the verge of actually being on the field of play.

When making a business decision, consumer choice or personal preference, consider the sign that says, "Successful businesses run on quality services or products, timely delivery and competitive costs. You can have any two!" If your top priorities are quality and speed, then be willing to be flexible in paying a premium price. If your needs are low price and quick delivery, then expect to take a hit on the quality. If you most want low price and quality, then expect it to take some more time. When you demand all three, you may have very limited business, few purchases and fewer friends, unless you're independently wealthy with money, customers and friends to burn. The 17th century English poet Andrew Marvell knew the value of weighing matters, as can be seen in these lines:

"Choosing each stone, and poising every weight,
Trying the measures of the breadth and height;
Here pulling down, and there erecting new,
Founding a firm state by proportions true."

5. Using any intelligence or way of knowing, pick what will best serve everyone, particularly what will open natural happiness for everyone. Through this process, the choices that have the deepest emotional resonance and which provide the most sustaining satisfaction are those we just know "feel right" and we go with them. In a way, they happened all by themselves. St. Francis of Assisi once said, "To choose is to renounce," meaning that choice is the letting go of something or firmly saying no, since it simply is not possible to pick all options at the same time.

It's fine if you operate out of self-interest, and there is even greater wisdom to operate out of mutual or enlightened self-interest. Amazingly, it doesn't cost you a penny more! How can you lose going with the grain of your soul? It is common to pick a career path, house, investment or candidate not on the basis of the most desirable, but on the basis of the least objectionable. Idealists and the riskier favor the former, while conservatives and the less risky seem to favor the latter. It is you alone who will bear the satisfying fulfillment, the luke-warm pleasure or the disappointing pain. There is no choice without Awareness. To live is to choose. Let's choose wisely.

Since you will be the principle one to experience the outcome of whatever you pick, you may have great interest in how you can make that decision, instead of non-consciously defaulting to your past conditioning, history and decisions. Anybody can be duped by knowing the outcome at the start and just "playing along." Many would say that is exactly how the government program of affirmative action operated in practice by going through the motions, while it was clear from the start who would receive the job.

No choice, only self-deception

The outcome from authentically moving through this rational and intuitive, deliberative and natural process is that whatever you pick, it's counts as a choice. So even if you pick what you might have called conformity looking at it from the start, by the end it is no longer this. It's now a choice. Same with rebellion. Now it's a choice. Same with the option to do nothing. It's no longer passivity, it's a choice. Even if what you pick is foolish and nonsense, that is your choice too. Of course, you may prefer making really smart, wise and contributing choices. That's O.K. too. If you can bear it, so will the rest of us. Our True Self only smiles at naturally and spontaneously doing whatever is now, no different than having a thirst to drink water or a hunger to eat food.

Three Levels of decision-making and two levels of choice

"Choice, not chance, determines human destiny."
—Hebrew Bible, Deuteronomy 30:19

"Liberty, taking the word in its concrete sense, consists in the ability to choose."
—Simone Weil

In this investigation of choice it became ever clearer that there were at least three different levels of decision-making, each having the two components of a mentality and a behavioral expression. These three levels progress from deciding among harmful options and rises up to non-harmful alternatives. The one level of choice transcends decision-making options by selecting among non-harmful and good, helpful options.

Higher levels of each occur only when lower levels have been successfully transcended and released as no longer necessary or appropriate. There still may be moments of regressing given the person's developmental learning curve. Here is a direct way to obtain an accurate readout about what level of decision-making or choice one is operating on:

  • You choose purely among harmful options (for example, how many trees to cut down in the forest without reforestation);
  • You choose among non-harmful and harmful options (for example, choosing the number of healthy trees to cut and new trees to re-plant);
  • You choose only among non-harmful options (for example, review several strategic cutting and reforestation options)
  • You choose among good/helpful and non-harmful options (for example, you do the same as #3 and include realistically optimal long-term plans)
  • You choose purely among good, helpful options (for example, you do the same as #4 with only considering the options with best long-term results).

Priorities in choice making are simple—What is essential to life functioning?

What exactly do we mean by priorities? Priorities are purely what is valued or perceived as important in actions. Say whatever you will, your honest priorities are exactly what you give or invest resources into, like time, money, energy, passion, and interest. In fact, you could say that how you actually live is a fingerprint of your priorities.

Priorities are as simple as driving a car. So long as you pay attention to what will best preserve and enhance everyone's continued presence and quality of life on this planet, that's a priority. There is a long list of things that can break, malfunction, intermittently screw up or simply not work. That in itself usually won't unduly burn you or kill you. Not having functioning steering, brakes, tires and lights can be life threatening in reality. It's simple-what is essential to life functioning are priorities in choice making. This does not stop anyone from disregarding life functioning. It just clearly points toward foolish or unwise choice. Alternatively, creating the best benefits on the upside at the lowest cost on the downside is productive, quality Choice making.

The "no-choice alternative" that can actually be a choice

Have you ever run into this? Someone who is very assertively outspoken, even bordering on verbally aggressive, says, "We absolutely need to do this activity, and I want your feedback." Something's funny here. On the face of it, there is only one option being presented, and that one picked by someone else, so it surely wouldn't qualify as remotely close to operating out of choice. Right? Possibly.

If the person is from a region and background that strongly presses their option as a starting place for negotiation and, if the other party acquiesces, then the person receives two for one-getting what they want and efficient use of their time. However, if the receiver sees through the statement as merely the opening salvo to a frank discussion, with ample room for other alternatives to be introduced, evaluated, weighed and chosen, then this hardball negotiation stance would qualify as choice since it was a strategy to be worked with and not a fait accompli.

The truth is you always have a choice somehow, somewhere and someway, at least in the attitude, intention, perception, words, actions and thoughts you entertain, in any situation you face. You might not like the alternatives or results, and you may lose out in any particular negotiation, and you receive what you receive. In other words, when you or anyone offers a no-choice alternative, consider whether it is a "my way or the highway" hard line demand with no room for anything else, or a starting point gambit in what can be a give-and-take negotiation in hammering out a mutually satisfying common ground. While the former obviously is bereft of choice, the later is squarely on the playing field of choice. It's valuable to know which is which.


Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.

Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician in private practice in Pleasanton, CA in the East San Francisco Bay area. Licensed as a psychologist in California since 1987 and in the field since 1976, he specializes in Presence-centered therapy principally with adults and couples. Presence-centered therapy is a conscious attuning to the richness of this present moment (sometimes called mindfulness or wakefulness) along with witnessing, that is, observing what the mind is up to now by looking from outside of it. His practice is centered upon inhabiting this present moment, witnessing and "buying out" of the ego-mind's unworkable patterns, desensitizing root emotional charges, and gaining effective tools to thrive in the world. He specializes in providing therapy for adults facing anxiety, significant stress, work issues, relationship challenges and depression as well as couples with marital issues, communication issues, self-defeating behavior, divorce mediation, co-parenting and pre-marital counseling. Core to his approach is installing, building and developing strong internal resources, an enhanced capacity to hold, bear and tolerate strong emotions, and highly adaptive tools to better thrive in the world.He can be reached directly through his website (featuring over 215 articles, 27 YouTube videos and pages upon pages of highly practical annotated resource links) or by email at . Dr. Friedman is available for business consulting, business training and executive coaching (detail on his home page).

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