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Life Lessons: 5 Tips On How To Choose When The Road Forks

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In previous posts, we have covered the importance of having a clear Desired Outcome and how Awareness is one of your tools to gauge how you are doing. But how do you actually get to the Desired Outcome?

It's all about Choice. Now this may sound way too simple, but as I have mentioned before, simple isn't the same as easy. Choice is not only about what you choose, but how you go about choosing and equally important what you don't choose. Choice is where Awareness and Desired Outcome begin to come together.

You may remember in an earlier post we talked about the notion of "if you don't know where you are going, any road will do." What happens when you do have a good idea about where you are heading and you come to that fork in the road? How do you choose which fork to take? The trite answer is that you choose the fork most likely to get you to your Desired Outcome. Makes sense, doesn't it?

This is where the simple becomes more complex. What options do you have? How do you know which choice will take you closer to your Desired Outcome? How do know which ones will lead you astray? How do you assess your options? What criteria do you use? There are many levels to this, and we are going to address them in increasing depth over the next few weeks.

The first key element we need to examine is that of Responsibility.

For most of us, the word responsibility conjures up images of blame or fault. For others, it is more about duty and obligation. In our usage, we will follow the lead set by Fritz Perls as spelled out in his super little book, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. Fritz defined responsibility by creating a new spelling for the word: response ability. With this change in spelling, the word takes on a whole new meaning; it becomes less about blame and fault and more about having the ability to respond.

Step 1: Notice when the road forks

As you navigate the road toward your Desired Outcome, you will undoubtedly find forks in the road. At any given fork in the road, you will find yourself with different responses (choices) along with different levels of ability or capability to exercise those responses.

Sometimes the challenge is simply noticing (becoming Aware of) the available options or choices; other times, the issue is more about denying that a choice or response is available.

Failing to perceive an available option or denying that any are available both tend to wind up in the same unsatisfactory end result - feeling stuck, trapped and at a dead end Both are extremely ineffective and eventually sap us of our strength, creativity and sense of ability.

We'll look at the choice or response side of response-ability in a later post; for now, let's examine the ability side of the equation.

Step 2: Getting clear on the options you have and where they will take you.

There may be a handful of options in front of you, any of which might get you where you are going. Start by assembling as complete a list as you can of all the options that are available to you. Write them down if you have to, especially if this is a big decision. Now examine each fork in the road, and make your best guesstimate about where it will take you and which one seems most likely to get you to your Desired Outcome.

Don't worry about getting it perfectly right, just about being directionally correct. If things don't work perfectly, you can always return to the fork and make a new choice. Or perhaps make other choices downstream.

Step 3: Evaluate your ability to make those different options work

Now that you are aware of choices that are available, the next step is to assess your ability to exercise any particular option. If you don't do an honest self-assessment, you may wind up ill-equipped to handle what lies ahead.

A key question to ask when faced with different choices: "what is my current ability to exercise each of the options?" The answer can range anywhere from "of course I can" to "not even close."

Pretending to have capability when skill, experience, or ability is lacking can get you into big trouble. Imagine pretending you can fly and exercising the choice to fly off the roof top. Ouch! Whether it is the fanciful notion of jumping off a building to fly, or getting into a cockpit without actual flight training, it is pretty easy to see how much trouble you could create for yourself or others by pretending to have an ability not actually held.

Equally troubling can be the denial of ability. Often heard as the complaint of "I can't," denying ability to exercise a response can be extremely limiting and self-defeating. The tricky part of "I can't" is that it is sometimes pretty close to the truth.

If we are talking about flying from rooftops, most of us will have to acknowledge the truth of the matter and go with "I don't have the ability to fly unaided." If the choice is about flying an airplane, the current truth might be that I am not presently qualified to fly the plane, (although I could be if properly trained).

When I tell myself that "I can't," what I am really saying is that I do not have the ability to exercise the choice. At a deeper level, I could be saying that I am filled with self-doubt, perhaps accompanied by a fear of failing. Not being able to flap wings I don't have and fly from rooftops is pretty much true; not being able to fly an airplane is something that might be changed through another set of choices.

It is very disempowering to claim a lack of ability through the "I can't" approach to choice. Henry Ford used to say something like: "it does not matter whether you believe you can, or cannot do a thing, you are probably right." The underlying notion: if you believe you can do something, you will actually work at it; if you believe you can't, you probably won't even try. Of course, if you don't try, it's pretty hard to produce any change at all, much less progress down your path to your Desired Outcome.

Step 4: Determine which option best lines up with your Desired Outcome

You may have to ask yourself if you are better off getting additional training or choosing a different option. Sometimes it will be worth the effort and possible delay to get additional training, coaching or support to develop the capability necessary to exercise your preferred option. Other times, you may choose to exercise a less "perfect" option because of timing issues, budget issues, or other factors. The key question has to do with how likely is the option to get me where I am heading, both in terms of substantive outcome and quality of experience. There are no "wrong" answers here - just preferences coupled with likelihood of success.

Step 5: Pick one and notice what happens

Once you have elected a path, just keep noticing what shows up along the way (Awareness). Do you seem to be "on course?" Are you on a detour, or is the road just bending along the way? Is it really working in terms of your criteria of success? If you find that you are on a detour, dead end, or it isn't working the way you had hoped, you can always stop, reassess, and make a different choice.

Next week we will dig ever deeper into the process of choosing.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my new book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)