“I know of no more encouraging fact, than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour” – Henry David Thoreau
The life you are currently living is a direct result of the decisions you made and the actions you took in the past. Your past decisions and actions led you here and created the life you now have. What this ultimately means is that the decisions you make now and the actions you take now will create the life you will live in the future. You get to consciously author the next chapter of your life. Or, you could choose not to take any specific decisions or actions. That also becomes a choice that will lead to a default life that you might not necessarily be happy with in the future, because you are letting the environment direct your life instead of choosing to shape your own destiny.
According to Tony Robbins, it’s our decisions, not the conditions of our lives, that determine our destiny. We all know people who are born with certain advantages: they might have physical and genetic advantages, environmental advantages, family advantages etc. However, the number of advantages you are born with in life doesn’t determine your overall success and happiness. We have also heard those zero-to-hero stories of people who, against all odds, have exploded beyond the limitations of their own circumstances – or the conditions of their lives. In the words of Robbins, “they’ve become examples of the unlimited power of the human spirit.” What separated these individuals from everyone else, was the fact that they decided what they wanted and set their intentions on getting exactly what they want.
Not only do you have to decide what results you want to accomplish; you must also decide who you want to become in the process. If it’s that simple, why don’t more people take decisive action? Mostly, because people often don’t know the difference between expressing an interest in something and committing to a specific course of action. Most people express their decisions as mere interests, e.g. “I’d like to lose weight”, “I’d like to be closer to my kids”, “I’d love it if I could make more money”, but that is equivalent to saying “I’m interested in having this happen, if I don’t have to do anything.”
A real decision is a commitment to yourself and the outcome. It’s a proclamation of your own personal power. It’s a way of setting a standard for what you will and will not tolerate in your life. If you don’t have clear standards, based on your own personal values, you will find it easy to get side-tracked, or to make excuses for not following through on your commitments.
However, if your commitments are directly aligned with your core values, they become guideposts to how you choose to live your life, no matter what happens. Even if all your plans fail, even if the stock market crashes, or your lover leaves you, or no-one supports your endeavour, you must still stay committed to the decision you’ve made and hold yourself to your highest standard of living. That’s real commitment – a determination to reach the goal or be the person you want to be, no matter the conditions currently present in your life.
Unfortunately, most people never commit to a higher level of existence, because they are too busy making excuses. What they fail to see, is that these excuses are nothing but embedded – and usually outdated or dysfunctional – belief systems. These belief systems represent but one way of looking at the world. You have the power to choose a different perspective. By making a conscious decision, you can change any part of your life instantly. Often, people complain about their jobs or their partners etc., as if they have no choice; as if they “have to” do that specific job, or live with that specific partner, or settle for that specific body shape. There are very few things in life you “have to” do. Almost everything is a choice.
Tony Robbins calls this suffering from “Niagara Syndrome”. He postulates that life is like a river. Most people jump in the river without deciding where the want to end up. Very soon, they get caught in the current: current events, current fears, current challenges. When they reach forks in the river, they don’t consciously decide which way to go. The merely “go with the flow”. Before they know it, they hear the raging water of the Niagara Falls and realise it’s too late to change course. They end up falling. Sometimes it’s an emotional fall. Other times it’s physical or financial.
It’s likely whatever challenges you are currently facing in your life, some of it could have been avoided by a conscious decision upstream. When you find yourself caught in the momentum of a raging river, you can either put both oars in the water and start paddling like crazy, or you could decide to plan ahead, knowing that you will face the Falls at some point. So, consciously set a course for where you want to go, have a map and make quality decisions along the way.
Your brain already has an integrated neural system for decision-making that was shaped by past events, decisions and actions. Most people haven’t explored their system for decision-making and it therefore remains mostly unconscious. According to Robbins, your decision-making system is comprised of five core components: 1) your core beliefs and unconscious rules, 2) your life values, 3) your references, 4) the habitual questions you ask yourself and 5) the emotional states you experience in each moment.
By exploring each of these elements and changing just one of them, you can redirect your neural decision-making system towards a more conscious way of life. Knowing what your core beliefs are and replacing dysfunctional beliefs with more empowering beliefs, sets you on course towards changing your life. By evaluating or identifying your core values, you can make decisions that align with what matters most to you and derive more meaning and joy from your life. By changing what you focus on, you can alter your experience of specific events. By paying attention to the habitual questions you ask yourself, you gain insight into what your underlying dysfunctional beliefs or unconscious rules might be. By changing how you react emotionally to events in your life or reframing negative events as opportunities for growth and learning, you can change the level of energy that you bring to your decisions and actions.
Additionally, take note of your own language. Instead of saying “I have to go to work”, or “I have to do the laundry”, or “I have to cook dinner”, or “I have to take the kids to school”, realise that you choose to, because you can choose NOT to do it. So, “I choose to go to work to earn an income or make a difference”, or “I choose to do the laundry to ensure I have clean clothes to wear”, or “I choose to cook dinner, so I can eat something healthy and take care of my body”, or “I choose to take my kids to school so they can learn and grow”. Just try it and you will be surprised at how much more empowered you feel by simply noticing that everything is a choice. You choose to do certain things, because you either want to avoid the consequences of not doing it or obtain the benefits of doing it.
The word “decision” comes from the Latin root words, “de”, meaning “from” and “caedere”, meaning “to cut”. So, effectively a decision is a commitment to a specific outcome or result whilst cutting yourself off from any other possibility. When you truly decide something, then that’s its. There is no way around it anymore and no room for excuses. When you decide to quit smoking, it means you no longer even consider the possibility of smoking again. You are now a non-smoker. It’s what James Clear calls a change at the deepest identity or personality level. You fundamentally change who you are.
According to Tony Robbins, making decisions is a muscle you need to strengthen. How do you strengthen your decision-making muscle?
- Make more decisions, more often. Decision-making, like any skill, improves the more often you do it.
- Act on your decisions. A true decision is one from which action flows. Otherwise, it’s simply a preference.
- Make sure to learn from each one; especially the ones that don’t seem to work out. Ask yourself “What’s the gift here?”
- Most importantly, spend time figuring out what your most important values are and make decisions that align with your core values. The difference between those who live fulfilling lives and those that don’t, is people who find fulfillment in their lives make decisions and take actions that align with their core values. They know who they are. They know what matters most to them. And they know who they want to become.
- Stay committed to your decisions, but remain flexible in your approach. Once you’ve decided who you want to become, don’t get stuck on the means of achieving it. It’s the end goal you are after and there might be many paths to this end goal. Too often, when deciding what people want for their lives, they focus on the best way the know at the time. Consequently, they have a fixed map and shut themselves off from alternative routes to the same goal/destination. Don’t become too rigid in how you pursue the goal. Rather adjust your approach every time you learn something new from reflecting on a specific decision or action. Trust the process. You don’t have to have every step mapped out before taking action. You can take the next step that is right in front of you and that aligns with where you want to go.
Anthony Robbins claims that there are three important decisions you need to make that will control your destiny and whether you achieve what you set out to do or not. These three decisions are:
- What to focus on. You can focus on what’s broken, or frustrating, or not working in your life. Or you can focus on what you are learning, and what is working, and what you want to accomplish. Your focus determines whether you stay stuck or move forward.
- What things mean to you. You decide the meaning of every event and every action in your life. You decide what you will learn from every experience, and how you will either use it as an excuse to not move forward, or as fuel to drive you towards your greatest dreams and aspirations.
- What to do to create the results you desire. You know deep down what needs to be done to achieve what you want to achieve, or to become the person you want to become. The question is, are you willing to commit fully with no possibility of finding excuses or looking for a way out; even if it means the actions you take will be hard and will require the daily decision to recommit to your higher self?
What’s empowering about deciding, is that it is an ability that you already possess. The impetus in deciding what you want to do and who you want to be, is available to you right now. It is not reserved for the select few with the right credentials, or money, or family background. All three these decisions are decisions you can take right now, in this moment. You can create the meaning in your life, and you can drive the outcomes by just taking the first step. So, make today the day that you finally decide once and for all, to align your life with your inner values and purpose. Proclaim to yourself and others: “This is who I am. This is what my life is about. And this is what I’m going to do, starting today.” Decide that nothing will stop you from achieving your dream and from becoming the person you want to be.
I challenge you to commit fully. Don’t linger on nice-to-haves. Choose today, to live more consciously and to avoid the inevitable fall down Niagara Falls when you fail to live consciously. Take the rudder in your own hands and start steering in the direction you want to go; the direction you know deep down will reward you with an authentic life aligned with your core values; a life of meaning, purpose and real joy.
- Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones. New York: Penguin Random House.
- Robbins, T. (1992). Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny. New York: Simon & Schuster.