According to Robert Fritz, in Path of Least Resistance, the creative process has three stages: Generation, Assimilation, and Completion, and the chief characteristic of the Generation phase is the act of making choices.
He then goes on to say that if we are stuck in reactive-responsive mode (as opposed to creative mode) "there are eight common ways in which people avoid or undermine effective choice and by which they lose the potential power of choice."
I'm thinking this is pretty critical information: it seems to me that the reason people feel trapped in situations is because they feel they've lost the power to choose. So how does that happen?
Here are the eight ways -- or actually nine -- as Fritz sees them:
1. Choice by limitation -- choosing only what seems possible or reasonable. Yup, seems like that would be an easy trap to fall into -- but if you limit yourself that way, by settling for less than you really want because you don't think what you really want is possible, then all you have left is compromise, and it's pretty hard to feel enthusiastic about that.
2. Choice by indirectness -- choosing the process instead of the result. We all know people who make this choice; people who get stuck on the way to health or wholeness because they get caught up in the intermediate steps: always trying new diets, or going to workshops, or undergoing therapy as a way of avoiding actually getting thin, acting on their learnings, or releasing old wounds and getting on with life.
3. Choice by elimination -- eliminating all other possibilities so that only one choice remains. This one often takes the form of consciously or unconsciously demonizing a person or situation so that your only choice is to leave. What's really going on is that, for whatever reason, you want to go, so you justify that decision by exaggerating the problems you've decided to walk away from. What can I say? I've definitely done this...
4. Choice by default -- the choice not to make a choice, so that whatever results happen seem to occur without choice. Because of an inability or unwillingness to choose, the person in this mode assigns the power to the situation -- i.e., you miss a deadline, don't follow up on the job offer, don't prepare -- or even show up -- for the interview... I think chronic procrastinators are particularly good at this one.
5. Conditional choice -- imposing preconditions on choices. We've all done this one, I think: "I'll wait to start doing X (whatever X is) until I meet Mr. Right, or until the kids are out of school, or until the economy gets better. Sometimes it's reasonable to wait, but often we manufacture excuses to avoid making a change.
6. Choice by reaction -- choices designed to overcome a conflict. These are the choices that are made, not to start something new, but to relieve pressure or discomfort: pulling a kid out of school rather than addressing their problems, going along with decisions you don't really agree with, avoiding relationships, friendships, or intimacy when things get sticky...
7. Choice by consensus -- choosing by finding out what everyone else is willing to recommend and following the results of that poll. This one is usually preceded by some heavy PR on your part: you tell people about your situation, weighting the description heavily on the side of your intended choice, and then following the suggestions you've encouraged them to make (and blaming them, not yourself, if that choice turns out to be not a great one). Yup, done this one, too.
8. Choice by adverse possession -- choice based on a hazy metaphysical notion about the nature of the universe. This is the one where you think you're doomed; the one where you blame your environment, or your upbringing, or some self-defeating part of you, for whatever situation you're in, and take it as inevitable.
9. Choice by negative results. Though he doesn't include this one in the list, he does mention it a page later; this is the one where you base your choice on avoiding something you don't want, as opposed to choosing something you DO want. This avoidance choice often becomes a lifestyle, one characterized by a state of conflict, always aware of what you're fearful of or angry about.
Fritz believes that the way you choose reflects your thinking on where power lies in your life: all these types of choices assume that power lies somewhere OTHER than in you, but he insists that we can actually consciously choose results.
I like his idea in theory, but I worry about it a bit precisely because it seems to me there will always be some circumstances you can't choose -- although I guess I do believe that to some extent you can choose how you react or respond... but then that puts me back in the reactive-responsive lifestyle. What DO you do if you're in an abusive situation, or if you lose a child to a life-threatening disease? I applaud my friends who, having been in those situations, choose to dedicate their time to efforts that will help others cope in similar circumstances. I suppose you could claim that is a response. But I also see these friends choosing to live busy, healthy, productive lives, open about their grief and willing to share; perhaps that is where the choice lies.
At any rate, these feel like intriguing questions to pose for yourself when you're making choices -- and so I share them here.
Have a great day!