Are you Choosing your Circumstances? Or are you a Victim of them?

Have you noticed how different something feels when it’s your choice, versus when it seems forced upon you?

It’s a popular phenomenon in psychology, actually. When we think we chose an option of our own free will we like it much better than if it was given to us without our input. Exact same outcome, the only difference is our perceived level of choice.

It’s why your kids like spaghetti much more if they have the opportunity to choose it for their dinner. It’s not what they actually eat, it’s their ability to choose it. Same spaghetti, but less whining when they got to picked it themselves.

It’s likely why your boss gave you a choice of 3 different health care plans. And why signs that say “Please do not litter” are more effective than signs that say “You must not litter”.  Being told what to do never sits well.

The good news is we do have a choice in most everything. And in the instances where occurrences are out of our control, we always have a choice in the way we respond.

The relationship that’s strained and difficult…you have a choice in that. Yep. You can end it, if you want to. You can see them less, stop answering the phone, walk away…

Where you live, that’s a choice too. Even when you’re under water in your mortgage or your kids love their school or you care for an elderly parent…you know you’re there by choice, right? You do have options.

And that job you hate. I won’t even go there. You get the picture.

Of course…and here’s the rub you’ve clearly caught on to by now…there are consequences. You are where you are because you choose it; because the payoffs are greater than the costs.

You always have options. Always. And that doesn’t mean you have ideal options. It doesn’t mean cutting ties with your brother or foreclosing on your house or taking a different job with fewer benefits are perfect options, but they are options. You have a choice and you are making it. Always.

So, there are a few things you can do.

First, examine the payoffs. Anywhere you are less than thrilled in life, look at the payoffs that are keeping you there. Sometimes the payoffs are obvious. Other times they are less clear. And many times, they are unexamined and due for some re-evaluation.

For example, why do you keep in touch with your “best friend” when she has become negative and cynical and you have nothing in common anymore? If it’s “because we’ve been friends since kindergarten”, well, is that a worthy payoff?  Upon conscious re-examination, it may not be.

And is “ruining your credit” really as important to you as you’re making it out to be? Or is it a gigantic no-no that was planted in your mind by someone else, who lived a very different life than yours in very different times?

Make sure the payoffs are yours, and make sure they are truly worth whatever you are putting up with.

After you’ve examined the payoffs, sit with the reality that you are choosing them. Again, your less-than-ideal relationship or job or city may be the best choice among a bunch of crappy options. That happens.

But even when that’s the case, you can remember that you’re choosing it because it’s the best option you have available right now.

You’re not a victim; you’re an empowered person making a choice among crappy choices.

You’re not forced to do anything; you’re choosing to do something. And hopefully—just like with the kids’ spaghetti—knowing that it’s your choice can lead to a little more satisfaction and a lot less whining.

Dr. Amy Johnson is a psychologist, master certified life coach, and motivational speaker. She is the author of Modern Enlightenment: Psychological, Spiritual, and Practical Ideas for a Better Life. To find out more, visit



Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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