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Man in woods between two paths

These Two Things Will Change Your Life

choice control fulfilling life meaningful life Jan 03, 2022

There are two things that play a huge role in our lives. In fact, they are largely responsible for almost everything in our lives: where we live, whom we live with, where we work or go to school—even how full our lives are. Yet these two things are not fully grasped by most people. This is unfortunate, and I believe many of the world's largest and most difficult problems stem from this misunderstanding and the compounding of the negative situations that this misunderstanding creates.


Wherever you are currently in life, it is the result of a series of decisions you have made: in recent days, months, and even years. In fact, most of the time we are making decisions without even realizing it. We fall into habitual behaviors and can easily feel that we have no choice in a particular matter.

Other times we may feel we have no 'real' choice in a certain situation due to fear blinding us to our options. A parent may feel they have no choice but to send their child to school, even though during the current pandemic, there have been many problems and issues that are negatively affecting their child's education. They may not even consider that they have the choice of homeschooling their child, for instance.

Similarly, in recent years I've seen reports that many millennials have moved back in with their parents due to recent hardships including a tough job market, a sluggish economy, and of course the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a choice, even though they may feel as if they have no choice but to move back in with their parents.

There is always a choice. There are often good choices and bad choices, and better choices and poorer choices. If you find yourself in a position where you feel you have no choice—or feel your choices are limited—I challenge you to write down as many possible alternatives as you can think of. If you can't think of any, just write down any idea that comes into your head. As you move through the more ridiculous and absurd ideas you should start to focus and circle in on more realistic and viable alternatives.

Once you have your list, try to play out a scenario for each choice in your head. If you were to make a particular choice, what is the best that could happen? What is the worst? Could you live with the worst happening? How realistic is the scenario you came up with in the worst situation? Is it likely, or are you exaggerating due to the fear of uncertainty?

We all have much more choice over the decisions we make in life than we think. If you find yourself unhappy with something in your life—your job, your partner or another relationship, where you live—please consider doing the exercise above and write down your options. Once you carefully weigh your options I think you'll see that you do in fact have many choices, and I hope you'll make good ones.


Choice and control are related: we choose what to do in situations where we have control, but in situations where we do not have control—or have limited control—we can only choose how we react to those situations. The tricky part, though, is knowing what you have control over, and what you don't.

Trying to control what you have no control over can only lead to negative feelings and situations. You really have no control over other people or external situations. Even if you are a parent, or someone's boss, you only have control over how you interact with that person. You can set a good example and be open and encourage good behavior, but if you find that—no matter what you do—your employee is habitually late and their work is sloppy or hastily put together, there is no use for you to get upset. You can only do what you can to help that person perform better, or let them go and find someone who will do a better job.

The truly life-changing thing about control is hidden in plain sight above:

"in situations where we do not have control—or have limited control—we can only choose how we react"

What this means is that we in fact have 100% control over how we react in 100% of situations we find ourselves in. This is liberating! With few exceptions—such as innate or physiological responses—we have full control over our choices when reacting to people, circumstances, and situations.

This is one of the keys to finding contentment and happiness in your life. You can never control whether or not bad things will happen to you, but when you realize that most things that "happen to you" are not intrinsically 'bad' unless you treat them that way and react negatively, the path your life will take can be very different.

This may sound simple, but it's not always easy. It does, however, become easier with practice. Some things you can do to make it easier involve making better choices when it comes to things you do have control over. For example, you can make sure you get enough rest so you are not irritable. You can eat healthier foods that give you energy and avoid others that contribute to brain fog or give you a temporary boost followed by a crash. You can exercise, take a walk, take a deep breath.

All these things and more will put you in a better state for when the unexpected happens, so that you can deal with almost any situation in a positive and healthy way. And you can catch yourself if you find yourself starting to go down a negative path.


Take some time today or in the next few days to write down some alternate courses of action for a situation you currently find yourself in and want to change, but the situation feels overwhelming. Don't limit yourself by leaving out ideas that sound crazy or unrealistic. Extend your belief of what is possible. Some choices may just have too many consequences that you find unacceptable and cannot live with, but expanding your thinking and perspective could lead you to an answer that could change your life for the better.

Back in the 90s I had become unhappy living in Los Angeles, where I grew up. At the time I was working as a graphic designer, and was talking over lunch with a freelancer who was working out of the same office. She was from Finland and mentioned that her best friend was currently looking for someone to sublet her apartment in Helsinki as she was moving in with her boyfriend. I had been to Helsinki a few times and knew a couple of people who lived in Finland, and the next morning when I went into work I told her to tell her friend that I would take on the lease.

Within a couple of weeks I sold my car to the office receptionist and hopped on a flight to Europe with my backpack. I ended up living in Europe for 11 years, and studied and composed music for orchestras and opera houses in cities that have a rich musical heritage, as well as meeting my wife (we just celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary).

My life changed completely from what it would have been had I not made one choice: to leave Los Angeles. Not everything has been easy—I've had challenges, setbacks, and struggles—but I've had a rich experience that is uniquely my own.

I hope you will find the strength to make profound choices in your life, and continue to learn and test the limits of what you have control over in your life.

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