How many choices do you make in a single day? Probably more than you realize, many of them made automatically, based on some precedent you’ve set that has become default.
What guides these choices? Some of us, at different phases in life, may feel at the mercy of circumstances or commitments and responsibilities in our lives that seem to limit the choices we can make.
Identifying your overarching values, whether they are spiritual, moral, ethical, or all of the above, can be a good first step to developing a guidepost for navigating daily choices. These values are important to discern because our entire lives are made up of a series of daily choices made over and over again.
I have several specific values that are personal to me that I try to align with my decisions. But I am not always in a position to thoughtfully review my inventory of personal values when I am presented with a choice. Sometimes, I need a quick rubric in which to evaluate the choice I am making and discern if it puts me on the path where I want to be.
Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist known for his developmental model the Hierarchy of Needs and theories on self-actualization. Maslow believed that there were basic human needs that must be met before one could develop deeper levels of being in the world. He asserted the ultimate goal of meeting these needs and growing as a person, was self-actualization. Self-actualization was defined as realizing and living into your full potential and purpose, meeting your peak performance goals in life. In his 1971 book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, he describes one of several ways to successfully move toward self-actualization:
“… let us think of life as a process of choices, one after another. At each point there is a progression choice and a regression choice. There may be a movement toward defense, toward safety, toward being afraid; but over on the other side, there is the growth choice. To make the growth choice instead of the fear choice a dozen times a day is to move a dozen times a day toward self-actualization. Self-actualization is an ongoing process …”
As an advanced society, most of us no longer have reasons to fear for our physical safety, but fear still rules and abounds. There are many reasons we may be tempted to make a decision out of fear.
We fear rejection, ridicule, loss, losing control, damaging relationships, risking our assets, securities, comforts, and conveniences. Our fears are homegrown and tailored specifically to each and every one of us, based on our unique experiences.
When I am facing a decision and the familiar feeling of fear arises, I remember Maslow and I find it helpful to ask myself this question: “Am I making the fear choice or the growth choice?”
You could rephrase it this way: “Am I acting out of self preservation, to protect what I am afraid to lose, or am I acting in a way that positively challenges my growth in this area?”
Or: “Will this choice reinforce insecurities I have surrounding this, or will this choice help give me new insight, experience, and reference for the next difficult choice I encounter?”
You will find the more fear based choices you make, the more protected and removed from your own life you may become. The more growth choices you make, though they may be uncomfortable and scary, the more experiences you have to learn from and the more authentic connections you make in your life.
Making the fear choice may give you temporary relief or comfort at times, but ultimately, growth cannot be achieved when fear is prioritized.
I don’t always use this question before making a choice, as I have gained some momentum in naturally choosing the growth choice. Instead, I use it as a way to reaffirm to myself that the right choice was made because above my fears and insecurities, I value my growth.
Even if it doesn’t turn out the way I thought it might, I can feel good about making the growth choice because I know I didn’t let fear dictate my choices. So, when it all adds up at the end of my lifetime, I can feel good knowing I didn’t let fear dictate my life.