In his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes that people have only three options when they are presented with a situation that is intolerable: they can change the situation, walk away from it, or accept it. I’ve formed these three options into a tool I call Three Sane Choices.
This tool can help you regain a calming sense of sanity in the middle of an upsetting situation in which you have little influence or no control. Moreover, it can prevent the lower brain from wrecking your sanity by saturating your higher brain with a flood of stress hormones.
The choices are simple, straightforward, and sometimes easier said than done. But when applied, they quell your anxiety and restore your sense of control: not necessarily over another person or an event, but in terms of yourself and your ability to choose your own way.
Choice #1: You can decide to change the situation, working to shift matters in a constructive direction.
This choice means you haven’t given up on the situation. You’re willing to work to regain influence over what you want to have happen. Equally, it means you’re willing to adjust to conditions as opposed to rigidly pushing your own agenda.
For this choice to work, it could mean you have to become less rigid, less defended, and more open, flexible, and creative with the situation you want to change. Often, it requires a willingness to look at the problem with fresh eyes that are open to new information. It might even entail the willingness to look at what might need to change in you, in terms of your attitude and your approach to securing what you want.
Choice #2: You can decide to walk away from the situation.
The second choice is walking away from a situation that has reached an impasse or completely broken down, in order to recover your clarity and emotional balance. Walking away can also mean closing the chapter on a part of your life that no longer serves you. This choice can be painful and hard to face. It may even require the help of a good therapist to work through the fear that has kept you stuck in an unfulfilling situation or unhealthy relationship.
The litmus test for walking away is the feeling of peace that resonates in the quiet of your heart when you consider the choice to move on. Then the challenge becomes having faith in your choice and the courage to follow through with it.
Choice #3: You can accept the situation completely, exactly as it is, without anyone or anything needing to change in any way.
The third choice is to surrender, but in the best sense. It might mean that you don’t have a better answer to the problem, or that the current situation isn’t as bad as it could be, or that you’re willing to admit you don’t know what’s best for another person.
Acceptance is total. It means the end of complaining, judging, blaming, or demanding. Acceptance is an inward shift that challenges you, as Gandhi did, to be the change you want to see in the world.
The Three Choices Are A Process
These three choices are not necessarily fixed decisions; they can also be seen as a process. For example, you may try to change a situation, then find that you’re up against another person’s resistance to change. So you make the choice to stop banging your head against the wall and accept the person as is. Your reward is inner peace.
Later, if the situation gets worse, you may decide to walk away, or if the other person’s attitude changes, you may again decide to work for change. Your choice can fluctuate as the situation changes or as you change your mind.
Another benefit of this tool is the self-reflection it can facilitate.
The Process in Action
Imagine a situation that has been difficult for you for a long time and where there is little hope of things changing. It might be about a job or a relationship.
When you look at the three choices, your rational mind tells you it’s time to move on. Yet despite the clarity, there is another part of you that’s insecure or even frightened about making this choice. This leaves you feeling confused and inadequate, or maybe even cowardly.
When you look back at the three choices, you now realize the relevant choice at the moment is accepting yourself as stuck. You might consider counseling to help you understand the forces at play within you, which means the decision has shifted to changing the situation, not on the outside, but inside you. If you take that step, by definition you are no longer stuck.
©2014 Don Joseph Goewey. Reprinted with permission
from Atria Books/Beyond Words Publishing.
All Rights Reserved. www.beyondword.com
The End of Stress: Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain
by Don Joseph Goewey.
With this simple, straightforward solution, you can switch your brain’s autopilot from habitual stress and anxiety to a mindset that is calm and wired for success. In The End of Stress, Don Joseph Goewey offers an easy, four-step method that will increase your brainpower and end anxiety.
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About the Author
Don Joseph Goewey managed the department of psychiatry at Stanford Medical School, ran a regional emergency medical services system, and for twelve years headed an internationally recognized institute that pioneered an approach to catastrophic life events. He has worked with some of the most stressful situations on earth.