Mastering the unruly art of choosing
Making important choices is never simple, but it can be a lot easier and more fulfilling if you pay attention to ?where the choice is coming from.? That?s the advice of personal coach Henry Kimsey-House, co-founder of the Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael, California (www.thecoaches.com). Kimsey-House is the co-inventor of the ?co-active? approach to personal coaching, which adapted techniques from the kind of coaching commonly used in business settings to the needs of people in all walks of life.
Circumstances: ?Most people who are having trouble with choice are trying to make choices from circumstances, and casting themselves in a victim role,? says Kimsey-House. ??I?m unemployed, so I?d better take this job! And I?d better not explore other avenues of making a living.? But coaches help people make choices from their vision and their values.?
Values: So how does that work? ?Coaches begin work with their clients by helping them become aware of their values,? says Kimsey-House. ?And that doesn?t mean putting a laundry list of values in front of them and asking them to pick. If you see the word loyalty, you?re probably going to pick it, because you?re supposed to. Instead, we might ask them to tell about peak experiences they?ve had, or imagine themselves landing on an uninhabited planet?what?s the first thing they would want to have happen to them there? From these stories, the coach helps them pull out the values they really care about and live from; if your peak experience was a trip in nature, you value nature; if you see yourself running a company in five years, having power is important to you, whether it should be or not.?
Perspectives: ?If you?re choosing from circumstances,? he says, ?you might think this way: ?I?m unemployed?gosh, I?m unemployable!? Unemployment is a circumstance; the idea that you are unemployable is a limiting perspective on that circumstance. Coaches help you develop other perspectives from which to base your choices. One perspective on unemployment might be: ?I?m free, available to possibility?; another, ?I?m a member of the unemployed?a significant group of Americans with real political issues.? Or: ?I?m unemployed?my need to support myself could jump-start a freelance career.? You can eventually settle into the perspective that has the most energy for you.
Exploring and Acting: Say that you?re energized by the political perspective on unemployment. Kimsey-House outlines how he would then approach your situation. ?I might brainstorm with a client various aspects of the perspective, throwing ideas up for further inspection, or even doing art or collage. Again, we?ll eventually hit on one or more things that really excite the client. Maybe there?s excitement around the idea of working in a group for political change. As we explore it, it might turn out that group work becomes the main source of energy, and politics fades. Or vice-versa.? Step by step, by remaining flexible and conscious of her values, the ?chooser? comes closer to a choice that will provide maximum energy and honor her values. Then comes concrete action. ?A choice without action is a fantasy,? says Kimsey-House.
A or B Choices: ?When you?re down to a difficult choice between two alternatives?say, marriage or college?both of them probably honor your values, so it?s more difficult,? says Kimsey-House. ?I advise a client to ?try on? each choice like a coat. Spend several days imagining what life will be like in each. If I?m married, I?ll share all my space. I won?t have exclusive use of the car. There will be someone waiting for me every night . . . and so on. With time, this trying-on will usually give you a feeling of greater comfort or discomfort.? The point, as with all choosing, is to slowly align your deepest self with the choice.
But what if it?s too hard? What if you make the wrong choice? Kimsey-House laughs. ?Sometimes you do just have to choose, flat out. And when you do, it?s good to remember the distinction between failing and being a failure. ?Failing? because of your choice is a wonderful thing, a way of learning, and the sign of trying. It has nothing whatsoever to do with being a failure. If you keep those ideas totally separate, you can really enjoy choosing.?
Jon Spayde is a senior editor at Utne.