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What Drives Our Choices?

What drives our choices?

Much of our lives is spent in reaction to others and to events around us. The problem is that these reactions might not always be the best course of action and as a result, they can make others unhappy, make things worse for us or make the situation worse in general. These reactions shape our futures and our lives.

We are victims of emotions, expectations, contexts or social norms.

Recently I have been the victim of some people’s emotional reactions, one where my dog was overly friendly and a second time when I asked someone to respect social distancing. The individuals  allowed a cloud of anger to overwhelm them and they lost control. I am often asked if we are pawns to our emotions and our biases.

Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Lao Tzu

It baffles me how so many people live their life repeating yesterday and expecting a different result. They think they are in the driver’s seat and are steering the course of their lives, but they are wrong. So many are actually the victims of their instincts and impulses. They procrastinate. They underestimate. They let fear make their decisions. They spend 80% of their time worrying about things that may never happen. They fail to grasp opportunities because they allow others to pollute their minds with negativity. They react and do not take the time to respond.

You are only one decision from a totally different life. Anonymous

Our behaviour is the direct result of our emotions, fears, biases and instincts.

As a worldwide practitioner in behavioural economics, a doctor in change and transformation, a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship, I have spent more than 25 years trying to figure out what really influences the decisions we make.

We choose our behaviors based on what we expect to happen after we have displayed the behavior, made the decision or taken the action. It would be good if  all these actions were conscious decisions, but for many they are not.

Life doesn’t just happen. Instead, our lives are defined by the choices we make.

Some of these choices are ours and some choices are made by other people; we just accept those decisions and follow along. Many of the choices are emotionally driven and many are influenced by the negativity we feel, the problems we carry, the opinions of others or perceptions or our own experiences and biases.

There is a story that often comes to mind when talking about this topic.

People visit a wise man complaining about the same problems over and over again. One day, he decided to tell them a joke and they all roared with laughter.

After a few minutes, he told them the same joke and only a few of them smiled.

Then he told the same joke for a third time, but no one laughed or smiled anymore.

The wise man smiled and said: “You can’t laugh at the same joke over and over. So why are you always crying about the same problem?”

Why is it that we are all born with limitless potential, yet few people fulfill those possibilities? Abraham Maslow

All the choices you make have a consequence. Even choosing to do nothing has an impact. The reality is that the quality of your life is in direct proportion to the quality of the choices you make every day.

And it’s not just the big life decisions that genuinely shape your destiny. It’s the small incremental choices that make the difference. The compound effect of those small choices every day will have an exponential impact on the quality of your life.

It you want to make real positive changes in your career and life, here is how to start:

  1. Live for the now. Accept where you are, stop blaming others for what happened in the past and take personal control of your life. Only you have the choice and power to change your destiny.
  2. Choose a mindset. Do you have a positive mindset or do you view life in a negative and critical fashion? If you truly want to become more successful, or follow that dream, or just be different, you will need to address these and related questions honestly.
  3. Get Rid of Vampires. If you feel that certain friends or relatives are hampering your development, you may need to have a serious conversation with them or start seeing less of them. Substitute these types of people with those who are positive, motivated, uplifting and root for you to succeed.
  4. Identify why you want to change. Ask yourself some in-depth questions as to why you are making this commitment to begin the difficult process of change. When the change feels challenging and you want to stick to your commitment, you can reflect back on these reasons to help you hang in there.
  5. Understand how behavior serves you. It’s hard to imagine that an unwanted behavior could actually help you in some way. But keep in mind that ‘helping’ you does not mean it’s good for you. It means it’s helping you to survive day-to-day. Understanding how this behavior works for you can help you understand the discomfort you experience during the process of change.
  6. Bin the baggage. The past is a place of reference not residence. If you tend to be self-critical and allow negative thoughts to race through your mind, try to develop a more positive outlook that will help you in remarkable ways.
  7. Take baby steps. Change only one thing at a time. If you’re looking to change one area in your life, keep it to one area – especially if what you’re looking to rework is a major part of your current life. Trying to change many things all at once can be a set-up for exhaustion and defeat.
  8. Start acting! It is easy to say that you want to change, but the real challenge is to actually do it. Once again, there is a choice. You can plan, talk about your goals with people, wish that everything will work out the way you want it to—or you can start acting right now. Choose to be assertive and bold. Go after your goals with grit and steely determination. Don’t let the nay-sayers hold you back from your dreams.
  9. Learn to Unlearn. Read self-help books and watch thoughtful podcasts to pump you up and learn new skills and the means to becoming a better more successful person.
  10. Implement knowlegde. Many of us have the knowledge but don’t have a method or motivation to implement the process to achieve the change. Now is the time to start.

It is never too late to be what you might have been. George Eliot

I was recently coaching some pensioners and they said my messaging was for those who had time to change, but their journey was now settled. Change is for everyone, available to everyone, and the footprints you leave can be made, varied, changed any day you choose to do so. Why not now?

The greatest victory is over self, and we should always  aspire to rise above our limitations?

THE MENTAL FILTER – 3 questions to ask yourself

  1. Do you want to make this change?
  2. Why do you want to change?
  3. What baby steps will you take today?

If you are looking for coaching on change for yourself or your organisation, or would like more information on the work we do on Personal, Professional, or Organisational Change, please contact us on

About Dr Maurice Duffy

Irish. Author, Professor, Coach and Business strategist. The person Australian Captain Steve Smith credited with helping him back from his cricket ban. Coach to two Ashes wins. Coach to CEOs, Politicians and some of the best know international sports starts including Olympians. BBC ‘Thought for the Week’. Coached business leaders and organizations in 80 countries. Works with charities to do with Mental Health. Lives in North East England with his wife and 11-year-old son.