‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where ‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘- so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.”
I have often wondered why some people find it so difficult to change, whether it’s their habits, their attitudes, their behaviors or their lives. It can be as simple as getting up in the morning for a walk or run or giving up an addiction, to changing behaviors at work. There are some who make the change with great resolve only for it to last as long as the fizz from a newly opened bottle of soda. And there are the others who change and make those changes last.
The dialogue above between Alice and the Cheshire Cat is from Lewis Caroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and pretty much explains the choices we make in life.
It is ultimately a question of choice and what we decide to focus on. All of us have choices. Which one we decide to take will determine our destiny. Simone Biles, considered the world’s best gymnast, possibly of all times said “I could choose to hit snooze…or choose to be awesome”. Isn’t that powerful? Jean Paul Sarte said, “We are our choices”. Come to think of it, from the time we became capable of thinking independently, hasn’t our life been a journey of choices? We choose our friends at different stages in life, we choose to study medicine or engineering or accounting or as most young people do today, choose to pursue our passions, which is the right thing to do. We choose the companies we work for and the company we keep, we choose our partners in business and in life. And we choose our beliefs.
So the question really is, why do we make the choices we do? There are two reasons which Tony Robbins explains in “Awaken the Giant Within”. One is the “pain- pleasure” principle. Everything that we do, we do for either deriving pleasure or avoiding pain. So, unless we associate massive pain with not changing our destructive behaviors and massive pleasure to changing, we will continue to do what we did. So, if you choose to quit smoking, associate immense pain with continuing to smoke and immense pleasure to being fit and full of energy.
The second and the more powerful reason is ‘Identity’. To quote Tony Robbins, ‘what we consider we can or cannot do or what we consider possible or impossible is rarely a function of our capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are’. ‘Choosing to believe that one has developed a drug addiction is different from believing one is a drug addict. The former can change, but the person who believes himself to be a drug addict will usually return to the use of drugs even after weeks or months of rehab because he believes that is who he is. As we develop new beliefs about our identity, our behavior will change to support the new identity’.
We also tend to generalize some of the beliefs we choose. For example, if one of my investment decisions turns out bad, and I say ‘I’m bad at making investment decisions’, I have then made that a self-fulfilling prophecy and will forever be afraid of making investment decisions. If, instead I say that ‘one of my investment decisions went bad’, then I have identified the problem as relating to a specific situation and created an avenue for choice.
‘I lost the ABC deal’ is different from ‘I am a not a good Sales guy’.
‘I couldn’t get through the Math exam’ is different from ‘I am a failure’.
Sometimes, our choices are influenced by what our friends, family, peers, and colleagues do or recommend. Some of those choices may turn out to be right decisions and some, wrong. The question then is, what should one do when faced with a dilemma of choices? In such situations, I go back to what Paulo Coelho said in ‘The Alchemist’. When you come to the crossroads and do not know what to do, always listen to your heart. You will never go wrong. It is always best to choose the path most suited to you and what you believe is right rather than choose to go where everybody goes. I’m reminded of the poem ‘The road not taken’ by Robert Frost, which goes as follows
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
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