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No Choice? Think Again!



How often in life do you face such a difficult situation that you feel as though you have no choice but to take a particular course of action? It might be what feels like a no-win situation at work, an inevitability over which you have no control. Or you might feel as though you are stuck in a rut, in an unhappy relationship or a miserable job, but there is nothing you can do about it because you’ve got a mortgage to pay and mouths to feed.


The feeling of having no control over your circumstances – of effectively lacking a choice – is one of the most significant causes of stress. According to Professor Cary Cooper, renowned Occupational Psychologist at the University of Manchester, research in the last twenty years has shown that people who feel they have no control, no autonomy over the job they do in the workplace are likely to get a stress related illness. In other words, feeling unempowered, having no choice in how you carry out your work, is shown to be so stressful as to cause illness. The same can be said of non-work situations. The feeling of being compelled to do something is much more stressful than if you choose to do it.


When I am talking to clients about the problems they face, the challenges they have to deal with or the difficulties they have with stressful situations, a common theme is the lack of control or feeling that they have no choice in a particular situation, or in life generally. When I ask them how they may approach a situation differently, or make changes in their lives, the response is often that they have no choice. The inability of people to see the opportunity for change is commonplace, particularly when they are feeling pressured and anxious. It’s a bit like not being able to see the wood for the trees.


In my experience, though, there is always a choice that can be made, even if it is one that may initially seem impossible. The key is being able to look at the problem from a different perspective and to ask yourself what would need to happen to achieve a different outcome. The choice may be challenging – like having to sell your house to change your career to something more fulfilling – but by going through this thought process, it may be possible to gain a different perspective on the problem. You may find a better, more creative solution by unlocking your thought processes. Or you may come to see that your current situation isn’t as bad as you thought.


After all, keeping an open mind is a choice in itself.

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