Chapter 2: What is Mindful Choices Therapy?
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 of your own life? Can you choose to be in control of your well-being? Can you choose the life you want? Are there choices vital to your well-being and happiness you may not even be aware of? Can you choose to be happy?
Suppose we gave you a list of 100 of the most important choices you make daily. Some choices would seem rather minor and more like part of your normal 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, how much you worry, or how accepting you are with yourself. Whether or not you are happy may seem more like the luck of the draw, rather than the result of choices.
So it might surprise you that at least 45% of everything you think, feel and do is the result of choices that have been repeated again and again until they have become habitual and automatic. Does that mean we’re simply prisoners of our habits?
William James said: “Habits are what you choose them to be,” and at first glance, this quote might not seem all that sensible. That you are a creature of habit is easy enough to accept, but are your habits chosen? Our premise is that you can have the habits you choose, and you can mindfully change habits you choose to change. In fact, we believe the ultimate habit is the habit of mindfully changing habits.
Most people live their lives on autopilot, simply acting out an unconscious script, reacting their way through life and following a familiar and predetermined pattern of habitual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Usually, there is little awareness of choices, and little awareness that routine behaviors as well as stubborn habits are in fact the result of learning and therefore subject to new learning.
Did you know 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 happier? If you’re like most people, you’re skeptical.
Matt had just finished plotting the results of his Mindful Choices Self-Assessment on the profile sheet. The assessment had taken nearly 40 minutes and now he sat back and reflected on the results. A jagged up-and-down profile line ran across the page, showing widely varying results for 10 Mindful Choice areas.
Robin had said that the 10 Mindful Choice areas were selected because the Shearers had concluded from decades of clinical experience that these 10 areas were not only crucial to managing stress, anxiety and depression, but also presented huge opportunities for personal growth and transformation. Matt hadn’t realized how important each area was and how interrelated the areas were until actually going through the assessment. Now, gazing at the results, he could see for the first time what Robin was talking about — the complexity of his life and the possibility of systematic, step-by-step, transformation.
Where do I begin? Matt was excited and eager to get started – but where? Robin had said this was only the first step. Next would come establishing goals and figuring out priorities. He would get to decide which Mindful Choice area he’d tackle first. Then each month he would take the assessment again, evaluate his progress, recalibrate priorities, and if necessary, establish new goals. Each month growth and change would be accompanied by greater life satisfaction.
Matt had already looked at several Action Planning Guides. Each was an in-depth manual for growth in a particular Mindful Choice area. He remembered Robin saying that Mindful Choice 1 was a necessary starting point and foundational to all other choices. Breath Awareness and Breath Retraining were so important that Mindful Choice 1 was the one choice area that would be an ongoing focus. Beyond that, Matt would be selecting one other Mindful Choice area to work on at a time until ready to move on to a new area. Having already made some important changes, Matt was excited about the next step.
Mindful 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, Mindful Choices Therapy looks at your life holistically as the sum total of your choices, and the resulting habits. We see your “dis-ease” as symptomatic of a life out of balance, with choices and habitual behavior that may be self-defeating or destructive.
Mindful Choices Therapy is a six step process of mindful awareness, mindful choice and practice. It’s literally a systematic step-by-step system for making clear choices, removing roadblocks, and creating the life you want.
Step One: Complete your assessment.
We begin the process of Mindful Choices Therapy with an in-depth assessment covering multiple aspects of 10 choice areas. The selection of these particular choice areas is based on our belief that these choices have the most 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 — and your habits.
Filling out the Mindful Choices for Well-Being Self-Assessment Scoring Sheet and the Mindful Choices for Well-Being profile Sheet provides a starting point. You will have a foundation upon which to base life-skill development and life-planning. We believe you'll find the assessment invaluable in providing useful insights, managing and resolving stressful situations effectively, and becoming a calm, peaceful, confident person. You will find yourself living a purposeful and meaningful life, and experiencing greater life satisfaction.
Each Mindful Choice area has 10 statements. Your task is to read each statement and decide the degree to which you agree with the statement or believe that the statement typifies your thinking or behavior.
For each statement, you will choose one of five descriptors, each with a different point value. The choices are:
- Virtually never true, or 0% (0 points),
- Rarely true, or 25% (1 point)
- Sometimes true, or 50% (2 points)
- Often true, or 75% (3 points)
- Consistently true, or 95-100% (4 points)
Our intent is to provide a user-friendly self-assessment that is both educational and therapeutic. It's obvious that the "correct" score for each statement is "4," and knowing the "correct answer" can have a powerful and compelling effect on your thoughts and behaviors as you regularly re-visit the assessment.
It’s a “self-test.” Be completely honest with yourself. In doing so you will readily identify things you can do that will dramatically improve your life. Imagine what you would have to change in order to score yourself as "4" on a particular statement. Now imagine systematically practicing that behavior to the point that powerful and habitual life skills have been developed. Self-assessment and focused awareness guide you to what improvements are needed.
Don't let yourself be discouraged. The first time you work through the Mindful Choices for Well-Being Self-Assessment you may discover a number of problem areas. Perhaps you didn't even know why the choice was important or what needed to happen to reduce stress in a particular area. That's okay. Remember, this is educational. Working the "Choices" helps you discover areas for improvement and establish clear and achievable goals. You will see where you are headed and have a realistic plan for getting there. The complete assessment is interpretable at a glance and serves as a ready-made treatment plan for managing stress and anxiety, reducing depression, and even more important, creating the life you want.
Also, don't let yourself be in too much of a hurry. You may have been anxious or stressed for a long time, perhaps for most of your life. Additionally, many high stress and anxious people want things to happen NOW and tend to be very self-critical in the absence of immediate and perfect success. Perfectionism and impatience will almost certainly get in the way. As we frequently tell our clients, "Over-control is out of control." The solution for “fixing” a high anxiety and a high stress lifestyle is nothing less than sweeping lifestyle change. Such change, if it is real and enduring, always takes time. In our therapy groups, we often work on one specific step for weeks, fully mastering that step before tackling still another. Over time, impressive changes take place, but such lifestyle changes are never immediate. Buddhist teachers caution against "pushing the river." We urge people to "slow to grow." The kind of changes we’re talking about require patience and acceptance rather than volcanic struggling. In fact, it's often the struggling, rather than acceptance that slows recovery and create more stress.
The Mindful Choices for Well-Being Self-Assessment should take 40 - 45 min. to complete the first time through, and only 15 - 20 minutes once you are thoroughly familiar with the questions. Our recommendation is that the assessment be completed once the first week and thereafter only once every four weeks.
Step Two: Score your Mindful Choices Assessment.
The Mindful Choices Self-Assessment presents you with one hundred statements divided into ten major categories.
There are ten statements (a – J) within each category. On the following page you will find a sample Mindful Choices Self-Assessment Scoring Sheet. Additionally, you will find a snapshot of hypothetical responses to Mindful Choice 7, Intentional Relating.
You will notice that all 10 responses, a-j, are added together for a total of 25, which is then divided by 2 resulting in a score of 12.5. This is a score that will be transferred to the profile sheet.
Step Three: Complete your profile.
The scoring of your Mindful Choices Assessment yields a profile that clearly shows the degree of your choice effectiveness in each of the 10 Mindful Choice areas. An example of the scoring of Mindful Choice 7 is shown above.
Next, your scores are transferred to your profile sheet. A sample profile follows:
Note the hypothetical score on Mindful 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 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, build powerful and positive habits, and live your life on purpose.
Step Four: Where are you on your “Roadmap?”
Adding all ten total scores results in a grand total 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.”
In an exciting discovery, we found that almost all of our clients steadily progress along the pathway toward well-being. Initially, total scores are quite low, but month by month scores increase, and this progress is accompanied by significant gains in their sense of well-being. As clients pass the 100 mark, a score we consider to be “normal” in this society, they are clearly enjoying their lives more. This is led us to talk about being “above the line” and “below the line.” Above the line is well-being, or “thriving” as you get in the 150 range. Below the line is the area we consider “dis- ease,” where life seems unsatisfying and often overwhelmingly difficult.
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 assessments. The heart of our program is step-by-step guidance in developing mastery for particular choice areas. An Action Planning Guide for each Choice presents in-depth information, specific suggestions, and a detailed plan which you will find useful in increasing your effectiveness.
Working systematically each day on your “Choice” to the point of competence and satisfaction, is accompanied by major changes in your life. At the point where you have demonstrated solid progress, another Choice can be selected.
Let’s again check in with Matt on his journey of transformation. In this vignette Matt will be introduced to tools and strategies we have found useful in bringing about lasting change. Tools such as Rational Emotive Therapy, Memory Reconsolidation or Coherence Therapy, Mental Contrasting, and Visualization Meditation will be briefly described. Altogether these tools and strategies make Mindful Choices Therapy transformational. Details on how to use these tools will be provided in Chapter 9, Self-Reflection and Dealing with Negative Self Talk, and Choice Seven: Intentional Relating
It had been only five days since Matt completed his Mindful Choices Self-Assessment profile, but he had looked it over many times. This evening as he settled back in his chair, he felt a mixture of optimism and concern. The optimism resulted from scores that were already quite different than they would have been a month ago. The first choice area, Breath Awareness and Retraining was a 13 out of 20. Not bad, thought Matt. When I started my score was 3, and I’m getting better and better. What a difference! If this were the only choice area the effect would still be impressive. I’m much more aware of my breath, moment by moment, and that awareness has become a powerful tool for managing my stress. Not bad!
As he surveyed the other scores, Matt noticed that all Mindful Choice areas had room for improvement. He felt pleased that five were in the “good” category. The remaining five however were in the “attention needed,” or “urgent attention needed categories.” Yes, Matt thought, there was definitely room for improvement, and he felt confident that he could in time improve on everything. However, he needed first to prioritize.
He recalled Robin saying: “All of the choice areas are relevant not only to stress, anxiety, and depression, but to your overall quality of life. Over time, as you improve your scores, you’ll notice liking your life more and more. Everything will seem to be working better, and you’ll feel solidly in charge. However, and this is really important, please don’t try to do everything at once. Let’s focus on one area at a time, build strong new habits in that area, and then move on. Anyway, the choices are interrelated and as you improve on one area, you’ll find other scores are improving as well. Let’s stay focused and work on what matters most. Trying to do everything at once is not only overwhelming, but much less effective.”
Matt stared at the profile. Mindful Eating had the lowest score. At 4 out of 20 It was definitely a problem area. Matt recalled Robin saying: “Matt, the way you approach food is a metaphor for how you approach your life. You eat on the run, skip meals, eat junk food, eat in your car, eat rapidly and routinely engage in high stress problem solving while eating. Think about it! How
you eat is a reflection of how you view your life. Furthermore, it’s literally impossible to have solid self-care and effective stress management if you don’t have a peaceful relationship with food. Mealtime needs to be approached calmly and peacefully and can even be a form of meditation. It’s a chance to call “time-out” from stress and worry, a time to recharge your batteries and reconnect with what’s important, to reconnect with yourself and with your life.”
Matt had already resolved to practice Mindful Eating. In fact, despite Robin’s insistence that only one area be worked on at a time, he was already making changes simply out of greater awareness and understanding. He’d stopped eating in his car and working through lunch. He was trying to slow down his eating. It was difficult, but he was confident that he would keep making progress now that he was more self-aware.
However, Mindful Eating hadn’t been his first choice.
Not his lowest scoring Mindful Choice, but the one generating greatest concern by far was Intentional Relating. Totally in love with Beverly, his wife of 17 years, Matt was aware of all too frequently being irritable and sometimes downright unkind. How could this be? She was the love of his life. He’d be lost without her. She’d stood beside him through some very difficult times.
She was the one person he knew he could count on, no matter what. So why was he so hard to live with? Only this morning he had apologized for one more quick reaction, one more sarcastic comeback. Beverly had responded, not in anger, but in a way that made Matt feel deeply ashamed. Beverly simply smiled and calmly responded: “That’s all right. I’m used to it.” She shouldn’t have to be “used to it,” thought Matt. Why am I like that and why can’t I change?
Two days later, sitting in Robin’s office, Matt proclaimed: “I need to change. How do I go about getting my score up on Intentional Relating?” Robin responded: “Well first of all, it’s a matter of becoming more mindful, more fully aware of what you’re thinking, feeling, and doing when interacting with Beverly, and with others as well.” She continued: “It’s a bad habit. You habitually respond as though you’re on autopilot, and before you fully realize it, you’ve said mean or hurtful things.”
“That’s true,” responded Matt. “Often I’m not even aware of what I said or how I said it until Beverly calls my attention to it, then I feel bad. How do I become more mindful? Robin responded: “This ties in with Breath Awareness and Retraining. It’s very likely the responses you’re trying to change occur most often when you’re stressed, or even in in fight or flight mode, when your anxiety has gotten the better of you, when you’re most likely to respond reactively and defensively out of habit – when you’re on autopilot.”
“Here’s the formula,” said Robin, and she began describing the tools of Mindful Choices Therapy. "First you need to continue practicing your breath awareness so you can catch yourself being uptight and defensive when talking to Beverly. Next you need to become very aware of thoughts and beliefs you have which drive you to be inconsiderate or unkind in your responses. For example, people often are defensive when they’ve embraced a belief earlier in their lives that they have to fight back when they feel threatened or attacked. It’s as if not doing so is confirmation that they are truly incompetent, unlovable, and a bad person, so of course they have to fight back. In actuality, it’s only a learned belief, and a belief that’s destructive.”
Using a technique called Rational Emotive Therapy or RET*, Robin and Matt uncovered several beliefs that led to Matt reacting automatically with anger and defensiveness whenever he perceived himself to be criticized or attacked, perceptions usually unwarranted.
The most blatant beliefs were written on 3 x 5 file cards, utilizing the following formula from Memory Reconsolidation** otherwise known as Coherence Therapy:
If I didn’t defend myself against any and all criticism, then by default I must really be incompetent, unlovable, and a bad person.
So, I have to fight back in order to defend myself.
Even though this belief creates problems in my relationships, I hang onto this belief to keep from feeling bad feelings about myself.
Matt was instructed to carry the card with him for the following week, reading it frequently and making note of how erroneous and destructive the belief was. It’s a contention of Coherence Therapy that this juxtaposition of non-rational core beliefs or maladaptive schema with reality leads your brain to actually rewire neuronal connections as you cannot hold opposing ideas in your head without something changing.
Robin explained to Matt that the essence of transformational change is self-assessment, visualization, practice, and repeating the process daily until strong new habits have been developed. “Is there a daily sequence I should be following,” asked Matt? “Yes,” Robin replied, and she presented Matt with the basic structure for Mindful Choices Therapy:
- “Early each day complete the self-assessment related to the Mindful Choice area you are working on. In this case Matt, you’ll be doing the Intentional Relating Self-Assessment. This should take you about five minutes or less. You be looking back on the last 24 hours and assessing how well you’ve done on each of 10 defining statements, rating each one from 0 to 4. Don’t forget to enter your score on your Intentional Relating Profile Sheet.
- Next you’ll be looking forward and visualizing the day ahead in great detail. You will practice a combination strategy known as Mental Contrasting + Intention Implementation + Visualization* which we’ll talk about in detail before you get started. It’s only one of many research and evidence-based tools for transcending your past rather than merely re-creating it, instead creating your future with awareness and choice. We will discuss and practice this and other strategies as we continue.
- Throughout the day you will regularly connect with positive affirmations related to your choice and utilize some of the other tools you have been given, staying aware of what’s happening moment by moment, and remaining powerfully connected to your intention.
- The next day you will repeat the process, and again the day after, and so on, until strong new habits have been developed. The whole process will take very little time each day. It’s simply a systematic way of sharpening your awareness of what you want, changes you’d like to make, and effectively following through until you’ve achieved powerful new habits and transformation, breaking free of the past and creating a positive future.”
‘Okay,” said Robin. “Ready to get started?”
*Described in more detail in Chapter 9 , Self-Reflection.
**Described in more detail in Chapter 11, Intentional Relating.
As you can see from our example, you can freely choose what to work on. As was the case with Matt, your choice may not be the lowest score on your Self-Assessment. Instead, Matt decided to work on the Mindful Choice he considered most urgent and important.
Again, 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 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. In doing so, you discover that beyond 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. 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. The Mindful Choices System produces transformational change as you grow in your ability to quickly turn to familiar and practiced Mindful Choices rather than old dysfunctional coping behaviors.
The Mindful Choices System is about cultivating strengths, not merely managing stress, anxiety and depression. The 10 Mindful Choices, not only represent values guiding you in all aspects of
your life, but also skills for coping with all that life can dish out – and with resilience, confidence, skill and optimism.
The Three Questions
In beginning anything as ambitious as changing old habits or developing a new life style, there are only three important questions:
- Where am I now? Where am I on the dis-ease/well-being continuum? What is the impact of stress and anxiety on my life, on my health and well-being, on my relationships, and on my future? What is the cost of my stress and anxiety and do I want to keep paying it?
Our 100 item Mindful Choices Assessment will pinpoint where you are on your journey from dis-ease to well-being. The assessment will reveal areas of strength and areas you might choose to work on. Moreover, the assessment can be completed again and again so that progress is readily observable and a source of renewed motivation.
Working our plan will result in being further along your “Roadmap” each month. You are a work in progress, and your answer to “Where am I now?” will change as you work the program.
Chapter 4 will introduce the Mindful Choices Self-Assessment and provide instructions on recording responses and completing your Mindful Choices profile.
You may want to skip ahead and complete the Mindful Choices Self-Assessment, and then resume reading this chapter. Totaling your scores, and seeing where you are on your Life-Planning Roadmap gives you an estimate of where you are now, and will also serve as a reference point for future progress.
Where am I going? Where do I want to be on the dis-ease/well-being continuum? Where do I want to be in my ability to effectively manage my stress and anxiety? How calm, peaceful and fulfilling do I want my life to be? We will guide you in identifying an inviting future, a future where stress and anxiety are manageable and life is satisfying and enjoyable.
Each of our 100 statements is an ideal and responding with a 4 can be seen as being at the level most desirable. A score of close to 200 points could take months to achieve, but steadily moving in that direction will have a profoundly positive effect on your life. A total score over 100 points (we refer to this area as “above the line”) characterizes an increasing sense of well- being. A total score of between 150 and 200 points can be your “vision” of the ideal future.
- How do I get there? What are my choices and what is my “Roadmap” for getting there? Our 10 Choice areas cover almost every aspect of achieving well-being. Our Action Planning Guides will keep you moving step-by-step toward actualization of each "Choice." Repeated assessment will reassure you that you are on track and making progress toward effectively managing your stress, anxiety, and depression, and going even further toward achieving well- being and happiness.
We suggest taking the total assessment once a month to see how far you have traveled on your “Roadmap.” After doing your initial assessment, pick a choice that will make a major difference in your life, and work with that choice until you are pleased with the changes. You can then move on to experiencing another choice.
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 grow within a particular choice area. It may be surprisingly
easy. Whatever choice you are working on, simply keeping it in your awareness brings about major changes.
If you feel stuck, it’s okay to leave a particular choice for a while and work on another. Many find that doing so helps them move beyond barriers so that when they come back to their original choice they find progress easier. Remember, the choices are interrelated so progress on one almost invariably means progress on others.
Many feel challenged when they see the gap between where they are present, and where they want to be. Some feel overwhelmed. The gap can be experienced as either emotional tension or creative tension. Emotional tension means more anxiety and stress and there is a natural tendency to reduce the stress by lowering the vision, or avoiding dealing with needed changes.
Creative tension on the other hand, means recognizing the challenge, rising to the occasion, and committing yourself to steady growth toward well-being. We guarantee you will never regret making this choice.
Remember, you cannot, not choose. The most natural thing in the world when faced with extreme stress or anxiety, is to avoid all things associated with that stress and anxiety. Note however that this is precisely what keeps you stuck.
It’s all about choices, and perhaps the biggest choice is a choice to simply keep moving forward with personal growth, confronting your dis-ease head-on and committing yourself to action.
Real progress comes with a great many small changes, most of them relatively easy.
Mastering your stress, anxiety, and depression can be a great challenge and may seem insurmountable.
isn't! We sincerely believe that on the other side of such mastery
there is a life of balance and a life truly worth living. We will
guide you through an exploration and understanding of the sources of
your stress and anxiety, 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 program about mindful choices 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. Over time you will see how seemingly small and routine daily practices add up to major course-corrections and benefits.
“In our lives, change is unavoidable, loss is unavoidable. In the adaptability and ease with which we experience change, lies our happiness and freedom.”
Action Planning for Life-planning
“There is no way to prevent dying. But the cure for the fear of death is to make sure that you have lived.”
Although it’s a reality, it’s probably not high on the list of your favorite topics. In fact, chances are thinking about death isn’t on the list at all if you’re still relatively healthy and busy living your life.
Still, it’s a useful exercise to imagine you’ve been told you only have six months to live. Would you feel unfinished? Would you have regrets? Would you be looking back on a life of satisfaction and fulfillment, or a life of frustration and disappointment? Were you happy? Did you make the right choices? Looking back on your life, would you engage in thoughts of: “If only…”
Take a moment to reflect on these questions. Imagine looking back from nearing the end of your life. Identify several “If only” thoughts. These are important and can lead to major insights about needed changes. Make a list and write them down. Try to come up with as many as you can.
How do your imagined looking back “if onlys” align with your present goals? Your values? How do your “if onlys” match up with the results of your “Mindful Choices Assessment?” Your Mindful Choices Roadmap? Is the gap between the life you have and the life you want possibly the stuff of future “if onlys” if you fail to act?
Years ago Bill was completing his MBA at Pepperdine in a program called the Presidential/Key Executive MBA Program where everyone in the class held an important position. During one class meeting someone asked the question: “What is it that is really, really important anyway?” As Bill recalls, everyone in the class found the question unsettling. It was a group of high achievers and each member had to take a serious look at whether their relentless striving and competitiveness really had much to do at all with deeper values. Each had to address the cost of their volcanic struggling for success. Each had to face important aspects of life that were being neglected. Each realized these undeveloped areas might become the “if onlys” later in life unless there was a major course correction.
Our Mindful Choices Assessment leads to the identification of gaps between where you are and where you want to be in 10 major choice areas. What do you want to do about the gaps? Do you believe you can make choices to close the gaps? Do you know what the important choices are? Are you empowered to make those choices? Do you have the power to make the choices that will change your life? Can you be the architect of the life you truly want to have?
Many believe they must play the cards they’ve been dealt, and see little opportunity for making different choices. Many do not believe they have the power to make far-reaching, transformational choices – and so they settle. They reduce stress and tension by lowering the vision. Henry Ford once said: “Whether you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you’re right!”
We feel like the Ghost of Christmas Future confronting Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol when we do the “if only” exercise with our clients. Scrooge was shown a future that disturbed him, unsettling him enough to motivate him to make solid changes. That’s what we’re trying to do here.
We’ve talked previously about the three most important questions: where are you at present, where do you want to go, and how are you going to get there? The Mindful Choices Assessment
answers the first question. Scoring consistently in the optimal range for most choice areas can be an answer to the second question. The third question is perhaps the most important. How are you going to get from where you are to where you want to go? How are you going to hang onto your vision and continuously ratchet up your present experience in the direction of that vision?
What is your plan? What are the daily, weekly, and monthly steps? What might get in the way? How do you get motivated, stay motivated, and follow-through to achieving your vision?
Your “if only” list points the way to what’s needed in your life right now. Take a moment to write down your wishes for your present life. What’s needed now that, if neglected, will later lead to consequences that limit your happiness and well-being? What are your goals?
Try to identify the things that are getting in the way of fulfilling needs, resolving problems, and achieving goals. For every goal, write down everything you can think of that is a barrier to goal achievement. You may discover fears such as fear of failure, fear of making a mistake, fear of looking foolish, fear of disappointing others, or a host of other real or imagined consequences.
Here’s a useful exercise – make a list of the choices that would take your life in the desired direction. Next, beside each choice indicate the level of difficulty from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most difficult. Finally, ask yourself the following questions:
- If it’s an easy choice, why haven’t I made it already? What’s preventing me from making the choice right now?
- If it’s difficult, what can I do to make it less difficult? Can I break it down into simpler steps? Can I devise a strategy for moving through the roadblocks?
The Mindful Choices Assessment makes the process easier by identifying 10 areas where the most crucial choices affecting well-being are made. The assessment results in a profile illustrating how well you are doing in 10 choice areas, each of which has a major impact on your life. Low scores indicate stress, anxiety, and depression. High scores indicate well-being, satisfaction, and happiness. You can see at a glance where you are making the most effective choices, and also where more positive choices and actions are needed. If over time you are able to get most of your scores in the optimal area, you’ll find yourself leading a terrific life, and it will be hard to imagine ending up with very many “if only’s.”
The Action Planning Guides are designed to help you make rapid progress in mastering each of the 10 choice areas. Each of the 10 Action Planning Guide chapters covers one of the 10 choice areas. Each chapter has the following format:
- “Imagine” – what would it be like to be masterful in this choice?
- Why have we included this choice?
- A vignette or story to illustrate the choice.
- A pre-test taken from the overall Mindful Choices for Well-Being Self-Assessment.
- A look at the thoughts behind each self-assessment statement.
- A deeper discussion of the mindful choice area.
- Quick Start — things you can start doing today.
- Your Personal Development Toolbox
- Suggested resources.
Take the assessment. Identify a choice to work on. Use your Action Planning Guides to help you focus on and master your choice, and then choose again.
Remember – you are what you do! Carpe diem! Enjoy your journey.