Last month, my friend received devastating news. Her favorite cousin passed away suddenly.
But neither she nor her husband had time to grieve. They had to rush to the hospital to hand over the body to the coroner for a postmortem because the hospital staff refused to touch the body out of the fear of the coronavirus. Her husband carried the corpse in his arms to the morgue.
The body tested negative for the virus. But the undertakers refused to dress it up because the hospital had active cases. My friend’s husband and two of his friends cleaned and dressed the body for the final rites.
All this time, her cousin’s home overflowed with people blatantly flouting social distancing and hygiene norms.
Secretly, my friend was frightened. She has a 6-year-old daughter and aged parents-in-law back home. What if she contracted the virus? What if she spread it to them? What would happen to her daughter if she succumbed to the virus?
She shared these thoughts with her father on the phone. He heard her out patiently while she understandably freaked out. Then he quietly said, “You cannot afford to succumb to the virus even if you contract it. You have to live for your daughter. You don’t have a choice.”
“I don’t have a choice.”
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said, “I don’t have a choice.” Each time, I used the phrase as an excuse to take the easy way out.
When I vegged out in front of the TV instead of hitting the gym on days when I felt mentally drained. When I worsened fragile situations by reacting in obvious knee-jerk ways instead of responding thoughtfully. When I prioritized “urgent” emails and scrolled mindlessly through the news instead of working on important tasks.
When we feel low, stuck, or off, we often gravitate towards things that come easily to us. We stay in toxic relationships, increase our junk intake either in food, or content, or both. We take no prisoners when someone says something that offends us or challenges our beliefs. Such obvious actions harm our overall well-being.
In the immediate moment, they feel good. However, once the dust and our emotions settle, we start feeling a pang of guilt. We quickly cover these feelings up with the justification, “I had no choice.” Yet, we did make a choice each time, often the incorrect one. And we don’t realize what we do to ourselves in the process.
Each time we take the easy way out, we throw our willpower to the wrong wolves. We loathe each moment of our existence and take this anger out on others. Life becomes a journey we want to avoid rather than experience.
Then there are activities that improve our moods, but not right away. We never regret them. Instead, we feel better once we’ve done them.
When we get out of a relationship that drains our self-esteem, when we mindfully watch our diets and take care of our bodies, when we choose to engage in meaningful discussions rather than petty arguments.
Each time, we build resilience to stick to what’s important. We raise our levels and the levels of those associated with us. And we embark on the delightful, never-ending journey of becoming better versions of our selves. Thus, each time we make the right choice, we do our future selves a huge favor.
Non-obvious actions taken in obvious moments, difficult choices made when we could’ve taken the easy way out, responses instead of reactions, and most of all, the choices we make when it doesn’t even seem like we have a choice — all of these, taken together, define who we are and the impact we make. — Seth Godin
It’s important to make the right choices.
This takes effort. But here’s the thing. You already have what it takes to invest in this effort. All you have to do is tell yourself: I don’t have a choice. It’s the same phrase as before. Only this time, your intent is different.
When you don’t feel like working on your side-hustle… when you feel tempted to blow a fuse… when it seems like the job or prospect is out of your league… when you would rather watch Netflix than go for a run or hit the gym… tell yourself: “I don’t have a choice.”
Her father’s words made my friend plunge into her responsibilities. She told herself she didn’t have a choice. As a result, she could complete them with a less stressed mind. She took precautions, self-quarantining herself when she returned home. Thankfully, it’s been a month, and she has shown no symptoms of the virus.
We want Nature to exempt us from difficulty. “I have a child so I want to be exempted from falling ill.” “I’m tired so I want to be exempted from turning into a slouch without exercising.” “I want everyone to treat me well though I treat them badly.”
But Mother freakin’ Nature makes no exceptions. She treats every living being the same. She rewards people who do what’s important and ignores the others, regardless of how much they bitch, moan, and rant.
When you have to choose between an easy by damaging action and a tough but useful one, it helps to act like you don’t have a choice.
Success and happiness result from doing the right thing by default, not from moments of passion or brilliance. The agendas we hatch and stories we tell ourselves, define what we do and who we become.
My friend found courage in her father’s words. We can find it too. We can make the right choices to stay on track towards our goals. All we have to do is act like we don’t have one.