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PREFACE - “I’m trying to become the protagonist in my own life.”
INTRODUCTION - Choosing with your eyes wide open
Some helpful tips for reading this book
PART 1 - Choice, awareness and well-being
Chapter 1 - Our starting point: choices that make us happy
Chapter 2 - Choice’s fundamentals: meaning, mission in life, awareness
Chapter 3 - Tools to make long-lasting choices
PART 2 - Our body and our emotions in decision-making
Chapter 4 - Our body and our emotions: precious, though sometimes dangerous, tools
Chapter 5 - Habits and addictions: the egg and the hen
PART 3 - The limits of our choices
Chapter 6 - The dice are loaded: the social limits of our choices
Chapter 7 - The "5 U's": what we cannot choose
PART 4 - The impact of our choices in our life
Chapter 8 - Understanding the benefits of our choices to improve our well-being
Chapter 9 - We are always accountable
My aunt had just arrived to visit me a couple of months after she lost her life partner to illness. I had just asked her how she was doing and this was her answer. She continued that she was basically okay, though of course having a hard time, and then added, “My manager is gone.” Her wisdom struck me. Here, in the midst of a traumatic life change, she was able to see clearly the difference between placing herself under someone else’s direction and placing herself at the center of her own story.
Maryvonne Lorenzen and Anna Gallotti have written this book about making that discovery —that our path to our own freedom, to our own liberty, is paved with self-awareness and recognizing the choices that we have available to us. Each of us may choose to become the central character in our own life story and write our own tale.
Choice, as presented in this book, is a key concept from a body of work called The Human Element®, a methodology designed to help individuals, teams, and organizations remove blocks and achieve their full potential and exceptional results. Choice is a pragmatic assumption I may make in order to increase my awareness and reorient my search for solutions to problems. It pushes me to take responsibility for myself and thus to be in the driver’s seat of my life.
To assume I am choosing my life is the same as searching for what is happening for me on a deeper level. On the other hand, if I assume that I am a victim of circumstance and other people’s whim and that I do not choose my life, I stop looking for solutions to my problems. Assuming I am choosing prompts me to ask, “How am I creating the situation in which I find myself? Why would I do that, if it is not something I want? What choices can I make to get more of what I want?” Assuming I am choosing, even when it seems preposterous, can lead me to new insights and be both practical and empowering.
As the head of the worldwide community of The Human Element®, I have the pleasure of hearing many stories about the effects of this work. In over 35 years of The Human Element® being used around the world in a wide variety of settings and organizations, the concept of Choice has proven to have a huge and positive impact. As Lorenzen and Gallotti know from their experience, learning the concept of Choice is not an event. It is the beginning of a journey. I have found that the concept of Choice deepens and grows richer over time. At first, the concept of Choice sounds simple, and it is. I assume that I am choosing my own life, including what I do and what I do not do. But, as I delve deeper into the implications and the details, the concept expands, like unpacking an overstuffed suitcase. It can feel confusing and overwhelming for a time. But then, as I continue to explore, to make connections, and to question my assumptions, I find that the concept becomes simple again, packed back in the suitcase, only now I have knowledge of the contents. In The Human Element®, we refer to this kind of idea that is first simple, then complex, then simple again as a profound simplicity — a simple idea with far-reaching implications, yet practical and widely applicable.
This book unpacks the profound aspects of Choice. Starting with the concept of Choice as it is presented in The Human Element®, the book expands upon it, clarifies it, lays out the details and implications of it, enlivens it, explores the nooks and crannies of it, and organizes it into a practical and comprehensive means for us to claim our power, our happiness, and our freedom. It can help us to adopt the concept of Choice as an attitude, a stance we may use to discover ourselves, reduce our pain, liberate ourselves, help us reach our full potential, and become fully joyful.
Maryvonne Lorenzen and Anna Gallotti are highly experienced consultants, trainers, and coaches who have consulted to top organizations successfully for many years and belong to the community of practitioners of The Human Element®. They have drawn upon many sources, especially their own experience and insights, to create a book suitable for people making changes in their lives and in their work, such as leaders and managers, as well as for people involved in the fields of organizational development, human development, and the helping professions, including consultants, coaches, trainers, and practitioners of The Human Element®.
This book is for you if you want to take charge of your own life and write your own story. You will find a wealth of ideas and approaches that will help you to discover yourself at a deeper level, question your assumptions, reframe your experiences, and make positive change. It is also a significant contribution to The Human Element® body of work and for people who have been touched by its power.
By the end of this book, you should have repacked your bag and be ready for the adventure that is your life.
I hope you choose your journey well!
President & CEO
The Schutz Company
“I choose, and I have always chosen, my own life. I choose my behavior, my feelings, my thoughts, my illnesses, my body, my reactions and my spontaneity.” Will Schutz
To choose or not to choose: it may seem simple at first glance and yet it is a question that forces us to delve into the depth of our souls. We make choices every day, from the simplest (I get up in the morning to go to work; I have lunch with this or that person…) to the toughest (I change jobs, I get married…).
Our self-analysis, our view on the world as executive coaches, our reading and our research have led us to the conclusion that the real question is not WHAT to choose but HOW to choose.
Whenever we take a professional decision, the “how” may seem obvious since we often have to explain to others how we arrived at that particular decision. Yet we will see that, even though the reasoning that leads to choosing is often clear, the emotions that are involved in all our decisions, whether professional or personal, are far from being unequivocal and clear, even when presented under the guise of very rational reasoning.
Similarly, the most important choices in our life are thought out, but our thinking is often polluted by multiple factors (our education, our family background, the desire to please others, social conventions), that lead us towards paths which a posteriori may not necessarily be the most profitable for us.
In this book we put forward a strong hypothesis: understanding HOW we choose is the key to choosing in agreement with ourselves and, consequently, to doing what is good for us and to leading a happy life.
In the first place, the HOW enables us to improve our self-knowledge and, secondly, to confirm that our choices, whatever they may be, are coherent with our being. Most of us have experienced choices which seemed difficult at first, but which in the long run turned out to bring us happiness. For these choices were “good” for us.
This book will explore paths leading you to make choices that “are good for you” in the broadest sense of the term (and not in the sense of immediate hedonistic pleasure).
The second premise of this book is that in order to understand HOW we choose we need to have a better knowledge of ourselves. Throughout this book we will discuss AWARENESS. By awareness we mean not only awareness of self, but also awareness of our interaction with the outside world, of who we really are, of our virtues and our flaws, of the influence of our education, our values, our experience, our emotions, our body, our spirit and all those factors that make us unique in the world. Choosing also means asking ourselves: what kind of person do I want to be? What are my values? How can I live in harmony with my fundamental values? How do I want to use the time that has been allotted to me? What do I really want?
Let’s start from the premise that a benefit is expected behind each choice. An improved knowledge of our benefits will lead us towards increased awareness which will in turn help us to clearly understand the deep motivations behind our choices. Sometimes we make a choice that we later regret, because we forget that it brought us a benefit that suited us at that particular moment. Sometimes our choices will result in long-term benefits.
In fact, there are no “good” or “bad” choices in absolute terms. In this book we have carefully avoided to assign moral connotations to this or that choice. Our purpose is not to make you feel uncomfortable or guilty because of your choices, but to invite you to look at your life from a neutral standpoint, without passing judgment. What really matters, and what we are hoping for, is to lead you to explore your past, present and future choices in order to widen your possibilities and improve your present and future well-being.
We have conceived this book as a source of practical tools for our readers. We will re-examine certain theories on choice and freedom and will make a link with practice in order to give everybody the keys and examples leading to a better life.
This book is meant for anybody who wishes to reconsider his or her past choices, while keeping in mind present and future choices. Any reader can have access to this book and for this purpose we have carefully avoided the use of “coaching jargon”.
Because of our professional experience, we believe this book is a valuable tool for people who occupy positions of responsibility within organizations.
One thing is certain: how can we change if we think that we don’t have any choice in life?
Awareness is a powerful lever to help you bring about changes in your life. Only you can choose the level of awareness and self-determination that will make you move forward.
This book comprises four parts:In the first part “Choice, Awareness and Well-being”, we illustrate the main concepts that the reader will find throughout the book, the basic requirements to make choices leading to well-being and the practical tools to effect these choices.In the second part we explore what goes on within our body on an emotional level when we make a choice. We will show that body and spirit are a single entity. Finally, we will offer solutions to make sure that, whenever we decide to change a certain type of behavior, “what’s bred in the bone doesn’t come out in the flesh”.The third part deals with the limits of our choices, both social and physical, as well as the limits inherent in our world, such as the unchangeability of the past and the unpredictability of the future, in short, any situation which we are powerless to modify. We will offer some thoughts to help the reader live happily, notwithstanding.In the fourth and last part we submit two essential elements of choice: benefits and responsibility. The full understanding of their meaning and their impact on us are important factors in making choices over time.
In keeping with the principle of choice, we invite the reader to pick from this book whatever he finds useful. The book includes several possible lines of thought and action. We hope it will help you make better choices and thus increase your well-being.
Anna and Maryvonne
In each chapter you will find three features:
1/ The text explaining the main concepts
2/ Case studies exemplifying particular situations
There are different ways of reading this book. Having received useful feedback from readers of the French version, we can suggest three approaches, although we already know that yours will be the best!
1/ If you just want to enjoy the book, read it from cover to cover!
2/ You can choose to do the exercises gradually, as your reading progresses
3/ Finally, you can split the reading into two stages:Stage one: understanding the concepts and the themes developed in the book;Stage two: taking the time to do the exercises.
For an in-depth analysis of the exercises and a thorough understanding of the concepts developed in this book, we strongly suggest that you sign up for one of our two-day seminars which will be held both in French and in English.
These seminars will help you:to put into practice the exercises in order to improve your capacity to make the right choicesto learn to use them for your clients or friends so as to lead them towards the right choices
For more information, click on the following web site:
Or, if you prefer, e-mail us at the following addresses:
This book is translated from French by
Ester Rota Gasperoni
« I decided to be happy because it’s good for my health”
Think about all the beauty that still exists around you and be happy,
Anne Frank, Journal
Figure 1: Throughout this book we will follow the progression of choice, which includes seven steps enabling us to “make good choices”. In this chapter we will explore the first step, i.e. “happiness and well-being”.
We have chosen (it goes without saying!) the following definition:
"The exploration of desire and the implementation of an action or inaction while waiting for a benefit which will have a fairly powerful long-term impact." It contains several fundamental elements: the concepts of desire, implemantation (action or inaction), benefits and long-term impact.
Choice comes from the desire to fill a need
According to Plato, desire is the expression of a need that must be filled. We make choices to bring about a change of conditions or else to make sure that those conditions do not change. In both cases, there comes a moment when an internal drive pushes us to choose.
This desire, this drive, may be conscious, i.e. the realization that we have to fill a particular need. But it may also arise on an unconscious level: in this case we are not aware that we have a need. Or rather, we do know, but this knowledge has not reached our conscience. In both cases, the desire to fill this need will push us towards a choice.
Choice out of spite
It sometimes happens that we make a choice “out of spite” or “because there was no viable alternative” or again “because we had to”. At other times primary needs force us to choose. In such cases, can we still talk about “choice”? Nevertheless, even when choice doesn’t seem like an option, we can always choose. In fact, we are sometimes responsible for not having a choice. For example, we find a job that “forces us” to make choices that we do not approve of, because they go against our values. Nonetheless, we did have the choice of accepting or not accepting this job, of looking for another job within a company that wouldn’t force us to compromise our principles. In this case, what we really want is to be in harmony with our values.
Choosing our attitude
On other occasions, even in uncomfortable situations, we can choose the attitude we want to adopt. Victor Frankl recounts the three years he spent in concentration camps during the Second World War and describes with great lucidity how he chose the state of mind, which enabled him to cope in spite of inhuman conditions. His was a choice made in full awareness. Therefore, even when going through difficult circumstances, we can choose between acting as destiny’s puppets and being prey to negative emotions or resorting to a positive state of mind, which may give us the energy to try our luck instead of abandoning all hope.
The reader may think that it is simple to write that “we always have a choice”. How many times during a coaching session have our clients described very complex situations to explain why they didn’t really have a choice? How many times have we justified our actions by claiming that we had “no choice”? All this, however, is just a show to keep us from admitting our responsibility in life. Of course, we may or may not be lucky, but, ultimately, we are the only ones who can decide our own destiny. Any other excuse is just a dodge to avoid accepting life’s responsibilities.
We will see that accepting this burden is not easy. That is precisely why we spend our life inventing excuses to escape it. Aided by our unconscious, we are in denial when confronted with situations that we will not or cannot face at a particular moment of our life. Hence the unconscious choice of not knowing or not seeing that this choice stems from a need that we must satisfy: finding a way of tackling a problem, re-discovering desire, fear, but sometimes also the need to find time to think things over and do some self-examining, and, last but not least, the need to steer ourselves towards improved self-awareness.
Awareness as a key to happiness
Self-awareness, which we will also call lucidity, is the awareness of our inner self, of what is good for us, what can help us accomplish our destiny as we want it, through a succession of positive choices. Self-awareness also means knowing ourselves thoroughly and accepting ourselves as we are with our strengths and our weaknesses. Through self-awareness, which means self-understanding, we can make the right choices. We are going on a long journey. We have no use for immediate, ready-to-use, well-polished know-how. The pleasure of self-awareness follows an endless path, a mountain path, with ups and downs, successes and failures. It is not straight, but steep and winding; we can get lost and then again find our way, depending on the different moments of our life.
The concept of desire is strictly linked to awareness: thanks to an improved alertness vis-à-vis life, I will knowingly choose what is good for me and shape a destiny that suits me. Being at peace with myself will in turn help me understand what is right for me and so forth. In fact, a choice whether conscious or unconscious, always leads to a result. The question is to know whether this is the result we really want, whether it makes us feel happy or unhappy.
Questions and exercises to move forward
An improved understanding of our desires
Take a notebook and jot down all the book’s exercises and your answers.
Think about the past week. Reflect on your choices, be they major or minor, and write a percentage sign before each type of choice. How many choices, percentage-wise, belong to each category?1. Choices that satisfy our primary needs: eating, sleeping, feeling safe % 2. Choices out of spite/duty choices % 3. Choices not to choose % 4. Choices originating from a desire to achieve a positive result % Total100%
Analyze the choice percentage under 4 and ask yourself if you are satisfied
Deciding to act or not to act
According to a Japanese proverb: “Knowing and not acting is the same as not knowing at all”. Aristotle maintained that “we are what we do repeatedly”; in other words, we construct ourselves through doing. We should add that we also construct ourselves through inaction. After the desire to fill a need, action and inaction are the other constituents of choice.
Here are three instances.
We react in response to an external stimulus
When facing a stimulus, we can choose to act or not to act. Each one of us has his own way of moving forward, with different results. Those of you whose children don’t want to do their homework will understand the meaning of acting or not acting when facing an external stimulus.
We create the external stimulus, which enables us to choose
The creation of a stimulus is in itself a choice. Business owners find a stimulus in their concept of enterprise. Anybody, regardless of his job, can create the solution or the conditions leading to making choices that will push him forward. We can interact with our environment more often than we think. We must widen the field of our awareness to open doors that seemed inexistent or impenetrable. The key to getting there is always the same: increasing one’s awareness, knowing who we want to be, daring to consider what is good for us.
The delayed effect of choice and the benefits of inaction
A choice isn’t always followed by a visible action. Sometimes choices will cause a pattern shift that will reflect upon our life much more strongly than any deliberate and active choice.
Virginie: choosing to let things happen
Virginie is a willful woman, a bundle of energy. She has built her career on her constant desire to improve herself and do a good job. Unfortunately, at 45, she began to realize that this kind of life no longer suited her. She felt empty and no longer knew how to reconcile her professional life with her private life. She would have liked to find a life partner but to no avail. The more she tried to find one, the more she became frustrated at her failure. Instead of insisting on trying to find an impossible solution, she reached the conclusion that it was preferable to stop thinking about it and to put an end to her search. She let her unconscious take over. Six months later, quite by chance, she met a man who represented the beginning of a beautiful love story. A year after her unsuccessful attempts to change her life, she has a happy relationship with the same man, she has revised her priorities, she returns from work at decent hours, does not work on week-ends except on rare occasions, and, what’s more, she obtains excellent professional results.
What happened? Virginie made a conscious choice enabling her to start an invisible though deep search on an unconscious level. This in turn allowed her to open herself to an invisible yet powerful change, which at last led to a visible result - a well-balanced life. Thanks to her conscious choice, she relinquished her need to always be in control and to reach perfection and her heart opened itself to new encounters. Sharing her life with a man made her reconsider her priorities, without in any way sacrificing her professional life. The final result, i.e. a well-balanced life, was exactly what she had been looking for. While Virginie’s profound change is not visible, its impact is tangible.
Figure 2: Working consciously on our awareness
Taking action is a decision we make after choosing. Deciding and taking (or not taking) action are different facets of the same mechanism: making a choice. Even if decision-making and taking (or not taking) action are invisible, their effects eventually become visible.
Questions and exercices to move forward
A better understanding of our attitude vis-à-vis choice
Take a notebook and jot down all the book’s exercises and your answers.
What has been your attitude vis-à-vis choice up to now?
Write a percentage sign before each attitude. The result must be 100%.1st case An external stimulus makes you react % 2nd case You create the external stimulus enabling you to make a choice % 3rd case Both external and internal stimuli are present % 4th case You take time for an in-depth choice % Total100%
Analyze these results and ask yourself if you are satisfied with them.
Benefits, results and consequences of our awareness choices
When we talk about choice, it is important to distinguish between results and consequences.
A result is the tangible follow-up of a choice. If I go on a diet, I expect a weight loss as a result. If I am promoted, I will have more responsibilities and a salary raise as a result.
A consequence is the logical follow-up of a result. When we go on a diet, the consequence is getting into a smaller-sized dress and having to buy new clothes (a wonderful opportunity to go on a shopping spree!). The consequence of my promotion will be the purchase of a larger car, a deluxe vacation, a well-filled supermarket trolley.
A benefit is something positive that we wait and hope for after a choice. It is the “reward” which motivated my choice. When I go on a diet, the benefit is feeling better, younger and so forth. If I am promoted, the benefit is my increased influence within the company, improved recognition, etc. The benefit is psychological, whereas the result and the consequences come from outside.
Awareness as a path towards well-being
When we continue smoking even though we know that it is harmful for our health, we display inaction by saying: “I’ve always smoked. If I smoke one more day, what difference will it make?” And so time goes by without our deciding to stop smoking. A greater awareness of the benefit for our health could be the first step towards a constructive choice. Our purpose is to suggest ways for identifying and then accepting both our responsibility and the fact that a part of our choice will always originate in our unconscious.
Inaction can also derive from the regret of having made the wrong choice: “I started to smoke, too bad for me. I have smoked for so long that smoking for one more day, one more week, won’t make any difference.” And that is how we postpone our decision. Blocked by inertia, we are unable to act. The stronger the regret of having made the wrong choice, the more powerless we are to change the course of events and to take decisions that would make us feel better. The vicious circle of regret and inaction may continue non-stop as long as we persist in making the unconscious and thoughtless choice of denying our unconscious benefits and of feeling regret for our past choices. In such cases, the main blocking factor is fear: either fear of not being strong enough to bring about change, or fear of unforeseen results, or again fear of both. Or simply fear of change itself. The final benefit is unknown since we cannot foresee the future, especially when other people’s reactions are involved. We are often unaware of this fear, because we have the protective shield of denial. Since courage does not exist without the awareness of our fear, it is difficult to extricate ourselves from this vicious circle.
In this book we will see that knowledge of unconscious benefits and an improved awareness of the fear that blocks us can lead us to make choices that will benefit us in the long term.
The impact of choice on the long run: the sustainable choice
A “good choice” will have a positive and long-lasting effect, even when immediate consequences are difficult to deal with and may raise doubts. How can we recognize this kind of choice? To begin with, it is only a posteriori that we find out whether a choice has really been good for us. A priori it is through self-awareness that we are able to build a conviction, which will in turn imbue us with the strength to make certain choices. Nevertheless, awareness is not fully developed when we make a choice, especially if it has an impact on our life. It is constructed over time as we grow along with that choice.
Carla: a difficult life choice
45 year-old Carla decided to divorce the companion with whom she had lived for twenty years. Even though the divorce was a considered decision, she acted out of the desire to put an end to her relationship. It took her a long time to understand why that choice had been good for her. Over the years she understood that she had needed to feel free and independent and that, by continuing to share her life with her companion, she would never have been free from her twenty-year subservience. She had to put an end to it to build her life on a new basis. Over time she finally managed to verbalize the profound reasons of her choice, which reinforced her conviction that her choice had been the right one.
In order to have a better comprehension of that life force, let us find out what philosophers have written. Their wisdom will help us understand what exactly is a “good” choice and what was the life force that sustained Carla.
What is a happy life?