Last week I was watching a very unhappy little girl in the airport, and praying that she wouldn’t be on my plane. She was screaming and crying at the top of her lungs in the waiting area for over 15 minutes. On the one hand, I was surprised that her parents let it go on for so long without intervention. On the other, my immediate thought was – I bet they didn’t give her a choice. Her very public tantrum was her way of having some say in the matter.
Not that we can give children choices about getting on airplanes, but we can offer them choices in a lot of other things. When Anne was small she went through a period of existing on Mac and Cheese. We wanted her to eat some vegetables, so every day we gave her a choice. ‘You can eat frozen peas, or you can eat carrots with your meal.’ That gave her some small measure of control. We didn’t offer her a choice to noteat vegetables. People like choice. Frankly, I didn’t care if she ate frozen peas every day for the rest of her 3-year-old life – she was eating a vegetable and that was a small victory.
At some point in time, most of us stop thinking we have choices about things. We “have to do this” for work by a certain time. We have all kinds of deadlines, some of them self-imposed. We stay in dead-end jobs because we think change would be more difficult. We accept physical limitations and aches and pains as the cost of living. We have ways that we habitually react to people, and that’s just where we go. In relationships we develop “buttons”, which our partners can push easily to get a reaction out of us. The idea of choice, freeing as it is, disappears out of our lives unless we’re on vacation. When choice starts to feel like a gift, friends, we’re out of balance.
During that time in my life when I began to recognize the abundance available to me out in the world, the idea of choice was a revelation. I hadn’t realized there could be a difference between a reaction (ie a startle, a strong emotion) and a response. Wait – I could sense my reaction, and then choose a different response? Somewhere along the way a friend emailed me this piece from Ralph Marston, which changed my life, quite literally.
Choose your response. Nothing is inherently annoying, yet you can choose to be annoyed by just about anything. Similarly, no situation is inherently embarrassing, or stressful, or frustrating. Embarrassment, stress and frustration are some of the many ways in which you can choose to respond.
Keep in mind that your response to any situation is always your choice. After all, it's you doing the responding. And it is in your best interest to choose wisely. Those who consistently respond with anger or envy, annoyance or frustration will reap the bitter rewards of those bitter responses. Yet when you choose to respond with understanding, with patience, with confidence and courage, the rewards will be far sweeter.
The situation does not determine the response. You determine your response. In every moment, in every circumstance, you can choose the response that will move your life positively forward. As such, nothing can bring you down unless you choose to be brought down. Nothing can annoy you, or frustrate you, or keep you dismayed.
You always have the choice to respond in the best and most positive way. Each time you choose your own positive, creative, empowering response, whatever the situation may be,
you move yourself and the whole world forward.
- Ralph Marston
This is now the approach I take to teaching the Alexander Technique as well. You always have choices available to you – FM Alexander called them “directions”. You can continue hanging out in your habitual slump, or you can choose to allow your head to rest gently on top of your spine. You can think up through the crown of your head, and suddenly find yourself with room to breathe. You can lengthen and widen across your back, and your front.
Next time you think you have no choices available, just stop. Pause.
Notice your initial reaction - does that have to be your response?
Allow your mind to consider any other possibilities that might exist.
Play with how it might feel to make a different choice.
What will you choose now?