The Big Idea
Choices, no matter how big or small, reinforce the idea that we get to be the decision-maker in our lives.
Questions I Answer
- How can I make more confident decisions?
- What are the steps I need to take to make better decisions?
- How do I figure out which choice is the best one for me?
Actions to Take
- Make better decisions with these 5 tips:
- Be aware that you have a choice even if the choice isn’t your favorite, it’s not your first choice, or it’s just a choice to merely change how you look at things. You can also choose the ways to which you find help and you can choose what ways you choose to cope.
- Review your options by making a list of all the possible courses of action. Don’t evaluate each option, just write them down. You can evaluate them later after your initial brain dump but sometimes it helps just to sit down and come up with all the options that are possible. You might be surprised how many choices you really have.
- Ask for ideas from a friend. Sometimes it’s so helpful to get an outside party to look in and help you out. Make sure it’s a supportive friend of course and then you really need to listen. Don’t interrupt or argue back about why something isn’t a choice, just write down all their suggestions. They’ll have a different way of looking at the choices then you do.
- Choose what’s best for you. When you start making choices, don’t get bogged down into weighing the 5 million options. We already delved into that back in episode 43 with analysis paralysis. Start by focusing on the best choice for you.
- Remember that you do have choices. Everything is a choice. Getting out of bed every morning, that’s a choice. Choosing to smile at the lady who passes you on the street, that’s a choice. Life is a series of choices so enjoy getting to choose. Honestly just knowing that you have that option of choice is enough to begin building up that internal locus of control.
Key Topics in the Show
How ‘learned helplessness’ may be a major factor getting in the way of working towards and accomplishing your dreams.
What internal locus of control is, and how it will help you be more successful and make improvements for the future.
Examples of people who have little to no choices, and how they deal and develop.
5 steps for strengthening your internal locus of control and creating motivation for yourself.
Resources and Links
Welcome to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press, a podcast focused on finding true fulfillment and happiness through the power of productivity. To get your free checklist, “Five Minutes to Peak Productivity”, simply sign up at inkWELLPress.com/podcast. And now here is your host Tanya Dalton.
Hello hello everyone! Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, owner of inkWELL Press, and this is episode 45. Today we are talking all about the power of choices and how important it is to understand the choices you have as you’re pursuing your big goals and dreams. Before we get started I want to share with you that today’s episode is brought to you by FreshBooks. If you are a freelancer or entrepreneur FreshBooks is the simplest way to be more productive, get organized, and most importantly, get paid. FreshBooks is offering a free unrestricted trial to my listeners and I’ll be sharing more about that later on in the episode. But let’s go ahead and get started talking about the power of choices.
So let me begin by asking you this: When you’ve been listening to this season of the podcast, which is of course all about the pursuit of big dreams and goals, do you find yourself thinking, “That sounds great but I’ll never be able to do that.” Or, “Sounds nice but there’s no way I could make that happen.”? Or do you use my least favorite word, “lazy”? “I’d love to but I’m lazy.” Why do we think we have no choice in our future? Why do we feel it’s so out of our control that we have no say? Or why do we fall back on that word “lazy”? Well it’s called learned helplessness. Learned helplessness means simply that you don’t feel like you have any choice in the matter. Sometimes it feels like our life is so rigid and made up of so many rules that we don’t really get to choose the life we live, we just sort of follow it where ever it takes us. Symptoms of learned helplessness may include passivity, giving up, procrastination, decreased problem-solving ability, frustration, and low self-esteem. Do any of those things sound like you? Do you feel a little bit out of control?
Learned helplessness has been documented through scientists who found that animals and humans are more likely to experience this learned helplessness after they’ve endured negative or painful situations from which they’re unable to escape or avoid and after these experiences they simply stop trying to escape or avoiding the negative situations even when opportunities to escape arise. The human or the animal has accepted that it’s lost control and it simply gives up trying. Let me give you an example of learned helplessness that you may have experienced in the past. While in school you study for an exam only you receive a poor grade. If you believe that grade was out of your control, often times you may fully give up on participating and studying altogether. After all, why study if you’re only get a make a poor grade, right? So you make a blanket decision, “I studied, I took a test, and I failed.” So you blame the studying because, well, it’s easy to blame the obvious factor instead of really reflecting and looking at the other factors, maybe that you studied but you stayed out too late the night before the test or you studied in front of the TV. So you decide not to study as hard in the future because, well, the grades feel like they’re out of your control.
©Productivity Paradox Page 1 of 5
The problem is is that this then spreads, this feeling of helplessness starts to generalize into other aspects of your life and it can cause a loss of motivation to succeed because it’s believed that success, just like that grade on the test, is out of our control. Whether that’s true or not, this can develop your explanatory style of optimism or pessimism. People with a pessimistic explanatory style tend to see negative events as permanent, they see them as personal or pervasive. “It will never change.” “It’s my fault.” “I can’t do anything correctly.” If you’ve ever uttered any of those phrases, there’s a good chance that you’re affected by this learned helplessness. But here’s the paradox: You do have a choice. We have a choice in everything we do; how we act, how we perceive things, how we move forward. And this is so important to note because really we need choices. Why? We need them in order to motivate ourselves because we need to have a little bit of an element of control in our lives. When people believe they are in control they tend to work harder and they push themselves more.
One way to prove to ourselves that we are in control is by making decisions. Choices, no matter how big or small, reinforce that perception. When you feel like you do have some say in your life that’s called an internal locus of control, it’s a belief that you can influence your destiny through the choices that you make. People with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame themselves for successes and failures, they don’t assign responsibility to things outside of their influence. And people who have an internal locus of control believe that they have the freedom and the ability to make their own choices and determine what happens to them and those people tend to be more successful in life. You aren’t reactive to what life throws at you when you have a strong locus of control, you’re actually proactive, and that is what is highly correlated with success. When things go well, like making a good grade on a test, these people tend to credit the things that they can control. They blame it on the studying rather than just being naturally smart and when things go wrong they take ownership over what happened. They look and they figure out why the studying didn’t work and then they take ownership to improve their studying in the future.
When you don’t have this internal locus of control you have an external locus of control. In other words, the control is not within you but within something else even if that something else is, well, the universe. The poor universe gets the blame all the time for things it didn’t do, right? We say, “Oh, blame it on the universe.” People like this often feel like they’re a victim, they’re quick to blame everyone but themselves so they avoid responsibility and they are more prone to stress, anxiety, and depression. What we want is we want to strengthen that internal locus of control because people with this strong internal locus of control, they exhibit higher self motivation, they have lower incidence of stress and depression, they even have a longer lifespan, they tend to make more money, they stay married longer, and they report higher happiness rates in professional and personal life.
So which one do you want to be? Obviously we want to live that great life, right? How do we do this? Well it starts by making choices and I hear you already, “I don’t have a choice.” I hear you say it. But you do. Even when you don’t think you do, you have choices. Let’s talk for just a bit about people who don’t seem to have choices and how they deal with it.
©Productivity Paradox Page 2 of 5
Prisoners are a great example of people who don’t have choices. Prisons and penal institutions require that inmates relinquish the freedom and autonomy to make their own choices and decisions. Prisoners usually adjust to this in their own way but it could make them increasingly dependent on these daily routines that are decided by someone else and the longer their sentence the longer they are going to be affected by this. So when this external structure is taken away, this routine that someone else is pushing on them, for example, when the inmate is released, severely institutionalized people find that they no longer know how to do things on their own. In other words, they’ve completely lost their internal locus of control. And we’ve seen this when prisoners get out, these ex-prisoners report they have trouble making even the most simplest decisions.
Pat Nolan, an ex-prisoner, shared a story about how after he was released his friends took him to lunch at a local deli and while all the orders are being taken Pat knew he needed to make a choice but the number of options was overwhelming. He was paralyzed by the options and he ended up choosing the next thing his eyes landed on even though that wasn’t even what he wanted. You see for two years Pat hadn’t been allowed to make any decisions about what he ate and thus he had a really hard time with this simple option, an option that most people face on a day-to day basis. The penal system has started to take note of this and they’ve begun to offer programs that give inmates choices and exercise their brains because that’s been proven to reduce the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend. This means that giving choices to prisons has avoided repeat offenders because when they’re released back to the general public they can assimilate and make choices, better choices.
Not that long ago there was an amazing episode of This American Life titled “Act V” and it followed inmates at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center, which is a high security prison. The inmates there were putting on a performance of act five of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. These inmates chose to audition for the characters they wanted to play, they chose to practice their lines, and they chose to learn more about the play, about Shakespeare, and through doing that they learned more about themselves. One inmates reason for being in the play was that he had a third-grade education level and he was surprised to find he wasn’t stupid he was just uneducated and really made him feel a little bit more in control. And while the inmates in this prison had to be strip-searched before and after each class, they still felt like they made a choice and in their own words that made them feel a little more human. Because of this play and having the choices within the play, they seemed to develop an internal locus of control even if it’s over just one part of their lives in prison.
Nursing home residents are another example of people who often have limited to no choices. Many times there are rigid rules in place for safety so administrators often restrict the choices of those who live there and the residents react in very different ways. Researchers began studying why some of these senior citizens were thriving in their nursing homes while others experienced rapid physical and mental declines. The difference was those who flourished made choices and often times these were choices to rebel against the rigid schedules, the set menus, and the strict rules within the nursing homes.
©Productivity Paradox Page 3 of 5
One group in Santa Fe started every meal by trading food items, that way they could make the meals their own design instead of just eating the set meals that they had been served. One of the elderly gentleman shared with the researchers that he had traded away his chocolate cake, not because he didn’t like cake, but because he could. He wanted to make the point to the staff and to himself that he still had choices. A group of seniors in a Little Rock nursing home moved their furniture around going so far as to use crowbars to detach the wardrobes from the walls. These subversives on average walked twice as much as other residents, were better at complying with doctors orders, visited the gym more often, and maintained relationships with family and friends though they had just as many health problems as their peers. But because they were making choices they live longer, they reported higher levels of happiness, and they were far more active and intellectually engaged. The only difference was they sought out opportunities to choose.
Now I want to talk about how we really start making choices in just a second, but first I want to share a word from our sponsor, FreshBooks. I’ve talked a lot about the importance of tracking your time in this podcast but it is even more important if
you’re getting paid by the hour, right? The FreshBooks team have made it really easy to make sure you’re getting paid for the time you spend working. They have a complete time tracking feature within the accounting software so it can immediately track the amount of time you spent, plus it seamlessly ties it to your clients or customers so making invoices is a breeze. I love how this program makes sure you’re spending time on the things that matter most and less on counting up your minutes. Want to give it a try? FreshBooks has kindly offered a free unrestricted trial for my listeners, just go to FreshBooks.com/paradox and in that section that says, “How did you find us?” Type in Productivity Paradox.
Okay let’s get back to talking about choices. Now here’s the good news, the good news is that this internal locus of control is a learned skill, which means that even if you don’t think you have one now, you can gain one. The first step in strengthening the locus of control and thereby creating more drive and motivation is giving yourself the opportunity to make choices and this will begin to provide you with a sense of autonomy and self-determination. Making better decisions involves thinking probabilistically, that is envisioning multiple futures and figuring out which ones are more likely to happen and why. Once you know which possibilities are likely, you can begin to see how the choices you make right now influence that future to come true. You start thinking ahead more, where you not just focusing on this afternoon, you can make choices around your afternoon for the next six months. This is really similar to how poker players think. They might not win this hand of cards in front of them but if they make the best choices over time they’ll win more often than they lose.
So let’s talk about how to find and make choices that will make you feel back in control. And the first thing I want to share with you is be aware that you have a choice even if the choice isn’t your favorite, it’s not your first choice, or it’s just a choice to merely change how you look at things. You can also choose the ways to which you find help and you can choose what ways you choose to cope. The second thing you can do is review your options by making a list of all the possible courses of action. Don’t evaluate each option, just write them down. You can evaluate them later after your initial brain dump but sometimes it helps just to sit down and come up
©Productivity Paradox Page 4 of 5
with all the options that are possible. You might be surprised how many choices you really have. The third thing you can do is ask for ideas from a friend. Sometimes it’s so helpful to get an outside party to look in and help you out. Make sure it’s a supportive friend of course and then you really need to listen. Don’t interrupt or argue back about why something isn’t a choice, just write down all their suggestions. They’ll have a different way of looking at the choices then you do.
The fourth thing you can do is choose what’s best for you. When you start making choices, don’t get bogged down into weighing the 5 million options. We already delved into that back in episode 43 with analysis paralysis. Start by focusing on the best choice for you. And the fifth thing you can do is remember that you do have choices. Everything is a choice. Getting out of bed every morning, that’s a choice. Choosing to smile at the lady who passes you on the street, that’s a choice. Life is a series of choices so enjoy getting to choose. Honestly just knowing that you have that option of choice is enough to begin building up that internal locus of control. Now these five tips that I just shared with you I’ll have written out in my show notes and you can find that under inkWELLPress.com/podcast under episode 45.
You remember at the top of the show when I said the word “lazy” is my least favorite word? You know why? because being lazy is a choice. So realize when you say you can’t do something because you’re lazy, you are actually making a choice. You just didn’t realize you were. The key is if you can link something hard like a goal or a big dream to a choice that you care about, it will make those tasks so much easier. Make a chore into a meaningful decision and that self-motivation will begin to emerge. Once people know how to make these choices into a habit, motivation becomes more automatic. Link small choices to tasks and build that into larger aspirations. Really what I want you to remember at the end of the day is this: You do have a choice.
And in Friday’s mini episode of the Weekender I’ll be talking about how to instill an internal locus of control in your children. When I started researching and really digging deep into choices and how that affects our drive and overall emotions, I found there were some amazing insights on how to instill a strong internal locus of control in your children and I wanted to share that with you. So that mini episode will go live on Friday. And next week, wow, have I got a guest that you are going to love. Erik Weihenmayer will be chatting with me about how he summited Mount Everest, how he kayaked the Grand Canyon alone, and did I mention he’s blind? Talk about inspirational. I cannot wait to introduce you to him and hear his amazing story of overcoming what some would consider adversity and he calls an advantage. That will be airing next week.
All right, I’d love for you to start making choices and really looking at your life as a series of opportunities for you to choose. So until next time, happy planning.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To get free access to Tanya’s checklist, “Five Minutes to Peak Productivity”, simply register at inkWELLPress.com/podcast.