The Power of Choice

In college I had a roommate who was obsessed with the TV show 'Friends'. She's the only person I've ever known who actually knew how to set the timer on the VCR so she could tape reruns of the show. She eventually managed to record every episode and would constantly watch them.Over and over. And over.

Chances are you have now been hijacked by my references to both 'Friends' and VCRs. So, before we continue I will give you a moment to refocus.


Personally, I hate reruns. Once I have seen an episode, I am ready for something new, for the story to progress. So, when Carlee and I sat down at the recent International Coaches Federation event, I was a little disappointed to see a familiar topic on the agenda. However, I did not leave the event feeling disappointed or as if I had just watched a rerun. Instead, I felt like the information had finally sunk in.

The topic was simple and familiar: we always have a choice. For example, when the little old lady at the grocery store rams her cart into the back of your ankles you can turn around and scream at her, or politely smile and limp away holding back tears of pain. This is a purely hypothetical example, of course. The man limping and crying in the cereal aisle just happened to look like me.

The difficulty in not only making these choices, but also remembering that you have a choice, is that it requires overriding our most primitive of neurological responses. And perhaps that is why the topic of choice is discussed so often; because the rational, logical parts of our brain that understand choice shuts down when faced with a hijack-inducing stimulus. Yet, it is possible to re-wire our brains to see the choices available to us in even the most stressful of situations.

I another life, I practiced and taught emergency medicine. One of the first things you learn is that when something bad happens, you should stop and smoke a cigarette, as the saying goes. In other words, take a moment to assess the situation before rushing in. I always found it interesting that I had the ability to remain calm and rational in the midst of a true emergency, but could become completely irrational in response to a one line email from my boss. I guess I need to smoke more often (metaphorically, of course).

So, the next time you go to a conference or workshop and the topic is a rerun it may not be because the presenter has no new material. It may simply be because we, the audience, haven't learned our lesson yet.