Every day, we’re called upon to make lots and lots of decisions. Big decisions, little decisions. Important decisions, dumb decisions. When you think about it, making choices is really what consumes the vast majority of our mental energy every day (and, upon consideration, quite a bit of our physical energy as well, actually).
Today’s lesson is about choices. Because in the end, we only have control over a subset of our own choices– and it’s how we make those choices, those decisions, that will determine the ultimate quality of our lives.
A lot of people expend an awful lot of energy detailing for us how limited our choices are, limited by forces beyond our control. And they’re right. There are absolutely forces bigger than all of us at work that limit our options, in ways that vary from very practical to very profound.
For example, I’m very aware that I’m an educated, middle aged white guy with a few bucks in my pocket. I’d never be so arrogant or blind to my own cultural privilege as to suggest that everyone as the same options or opportunities that I have, or have had, in this culture. I’m not saying the playing field is socially, culturally, or economically level. It’s not.
That said, I’m not a believer in directing anything other than the bare minimum of focus or energy toward forces I cannot control. Why? Because my resources, as a human being, are finite–I don’t have the time or energy to blow on mourning the unfairness of the world. I have a fucking life to design, here.
Making distinctions between what is and isn’t worth your effort to impact is key. People who can make those distinctions and act accordingly stand a much greater chance of shaping their world to their liking. People who can’t make or act on those distinctions stand a very good chance of feeling frustrated, angry, and helpless on a daily basis.
Check this out: a lot of the time, we like to pretend that we’re somehow not responsible for certain key decisions we make every day. A basic example of this is the decision of what we expose our attention, our conscious focus to, during the course of a day. It’s very easy for many people to say, “Look, I simply don’t have control over a lot of what I’m exposed to every day. My social media feeds make choices about what I’m exposed to; my daily news sources make choices about what I’m exposed to; advertisers make decisions about what I’m exposed to. I have to engage with the world every day, and thus I don’t have a choice about what goes into my mental ‘inbox!’”
And, sure enough: we can make the decision to let our social media feeds, news sources, and advertisers, among others, choose what goes into the our mental inbox. We’re free to make that choice.
However, we’re not free to avoid the consequence of that choice. Namely, if you let other people choose what goes into your mental inbox, you’re necessarily letting them choose the raw materials you have to work with when it comes to shaping your vision of the world. You know, deciding what is possible, deciding what is important, deciding what is worth expending your time and energy toward today.
Make no mistake: no matter what other forces are operating in your world, your time and energy are the two resources you, and only you, are totally responsible for.
It may be difficult to avoid altogether the barrage of potential influencers– social media, news sources, advertisers, whomever– coming at us every day. But that makes it even more essential that we take complete responsibility for carving out opportunities every single day to actively choose what goes into our mental inbox. To expose ourselves to influencers of our own choosing– influencers that align with our priorities, our visions, our dreams.
You can choose to let someone else direct your attention today. But know when you choose that, you’re also choosing a specific consequence– your resources, from your intelligence, to your skillset, to your physical strength, are all then placed at someone else’s disposal, not yours. You’re free to make choices, in other words– but you’re not free to avoid the consequences of your choices.
Maybe live according to your vision, not theirs.