From when we are very young, we pick up the idea that life is all about choosing between alternatives, the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer or decision. At school, we all learn quickly that there is a right answer to everything and that it is not acceptable to think outside the box.
Yet the majority of decisions we make in life do not have a clear-cut right answer. The person to partner with, the home we decide to take on, the job we apply for – in these sorts of major life decisions, we really don’t know if it’s the ‘right’ one or not. And we have the same dilemma at an everyday level: curry or pasta for dinner, household chores or visiting friends, do this task now or leave it till tomorrow..
If we stop and consider how we make decisions, we realise that we do a lot of binary thinking – the posh way of saying either/or! And our final decision is often driven by non-logical arguments we use with ourselves: better to be with someone than on my own; it’s what my mother would approve of; people will think I’m mean/lazy/selfish if I don’t – and so on.
Science got beyond this a long time ago, when it was discovered that, at a sub-atomic level, there was not a right answer, only possibilities: light could be both a wave and a particle, depending on the circumstance and what you were looking for.
What if we started to consider possibilities instead of alternatives?
The first thing that happens is that we begin to extend our choices. Instead of asking ourselves if we should do the household chores or visit friends, we start to ask:’ What could I do today?’ Now we can add in other things: do nothing; do some gardening while the sun is shining; go and buy that new freezer I’ve been thinking about.
By opening up our choices, we move our thinking patterns away from binary and habitual to a more creative possibility. Now we can consider the choice from a both/and point of view. For example, we may decide to do a couple of the more pressing household chores, then go to visit friends, and buy the freezer on the way!
At a life-changing level, we may decide that we can begin to experiment with that business we would love to get going, while still carrying on with our present job, or that we could reduce our hours at work gradually rather than just give the job up.
Both/and thinking extends our choices and helps us to bring more possibilities into our lives. It shifts our mind-set into a more creative place, where we can see how we could blend duty and fun, kindness and selfishness, the old and the new.
So start practising on a simple level. Don’t ask yourself: ‘Which should I do?’, ask yourself: ‘What could I do?’ Don’t ask yourself which choice is right, ask yourself: “How can I blend them together and have elements from each to make a new whole?’
If you feel you have no choice, you’re a victim. If you have to choose between two alternatives you are on the horns of a dilemma. And if you have more than two possibilities, you can create something new.