Conventional wisdom and decades of psychological research have linked choice to various blessings. Providing one with the ability to choose increases an individual’s sense of personal control and feelings of intrinsic motivation. This personal control and intrinsic motivation, in turn, has been associated with numerous physical and psychological benefits. Yes, indeed, choices have powerful motivating consequences. Conversely, the absence of choice and control has a variety of detrimental effects on intrinsic motivation, life satisfaction, and one’s well-being.
The benefits of exercising choice and control are well illustrated by a study with elderly people in a nursing home.
Researchers divided the nursing home by floors. On the first floor, the residents received extra control of their lives, and extra choices. One day, the director gave a speech to the residents: “I’d like you to know about all the things that you can do for yourself here at Shady Grove. There are omelets and scrambled eggs for breakfast, but you have to choose which you want the night before. There are movies on Wednesday or Thursday night, but you must sign up in advance before going. Here are some plants; pick one out and take it to your room, but you have to water it yourself.”
The director then told the residents on the second floor: “I want you to know about what we can do for you here at Shady Grove. There are omelets or scrambled eggs for breakfast. We make omelets on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and scrambled eggs on the other days. There are movies on Wednesday and Thursday night. Thursday nights, residents from the left quarter go, and on Wednesday nights residents from the right quarter go. Here are some plants for your rooms. The nurse will choose one for you and take care of it.”
Thus, the folks on both floors had the same things, only those one the first had choice and control while those on the second had neither.
The researchers found that those with choice and control, as opposed to those in the “no-control” group, thrived in most every way. They also found that fewer of this group had died 18 months later than in the control group. This amazing fact strongly indicated that choice and control could save lives.
Yes, the power of choice can be stronger and deeper than we often realize.
Another important power tool in making good choices is knowledge. Seeking knowledge should be a way of life. We cannot responsibly go through this life intellectually idle. We should always be learning something new, always increasing our store of knowledge. Read, listen to audio books, watch informative programs, use the Internet wisely; find ways that appeal to you and fit into your lifestyle that can help you grow intellectually. As a result of this growth, you will ideally be better equipped to make wise choices that impact your life in many positive ways.
Another very important tool is the use of reason. We can’t always have all the information we would want about any particular situation; nor can we know all there is to know about everything. Thus, we must also exercise reason. We can use what we do know about the situation and apply the principles that we live by, the rules we have to keep, the laws that we are bound by, and good old common sense. These can help us make good choices.
We can use deductive or inductive reasoning to develop various rationales that, in turn, can help to guide our decision making. Just as we need to always increase our knowledge, we also need to constantly work on improving our reasoning abilities. Take a class on logic, philosophy, debate, or classical reasoning. Meet regularly with a group of friends and engage in stimulating and constructive debate/discussions/conversations. Practice reasoning with yourself about different things throughout the day. The more we practice these critical thinking skills, the better we will become at making good choices, even when we have relatively little information available to us.
“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself.” – Jim Rohn
Sometimes we make poor choices because we think that we have no choice. When we find ourselves in a very difficult situation, it is easy to think that we have very limited choices, or no choices at all. This is because stress can impair our thinking ability. All too often, when we perceive ourselves in a situation where we have no control, we feel helpless.
Scientists have demonstrated that animals can develop what is called “learned helplessness” in response to persistent adversity. Martin P. Seligman demonstrated this in a series of experiments with dogs. The dogs were placed in pens where they could not escape from periodic electrical shocks delivered via the floor. Initially the dogs tried to escape when shocked. After repeated shocks, and having learned there was no escaping them, the dogs quit trying to escape. They simply endured. Seligman then removed the barrier; the dogs now had an escape. Yet, amazingly enough – when shocked, they still did not try to escape! Having learned that they were helpless, the dogs remained helpless – even after their circumstances had changed. These dogs’ locus of control had shifted from being internal to being entirely external. They had “learned” that their external environment, and not their own decisions or behavior, determined their fate.
Don’t let this happen to you. Resolve to always exercise your powers of choice, no matter how persistent the adversity. This determination will undoubtedly improve your circumstances, no matter how dire. An internal locus of control has been associated with many benefits such as an increased ability to stop smoking, lose weight, stick to a medical regimen, and attain higher academic achievements. You have the power to make healthy, life-giving choices. Choose life!