Burger or salad? Go for a jog or meet a friend? Get divorced or keep trying with your marriage?
Every day we are faced with choices, big and small, that can influence how we feel about ourselves and our lives. In Acceptance Commitment Therapy or ACT, a counselling method I use a lot in my work, these situations are called choice points. Today I want to explain a little about what they are and how utilising them effectively can support you to live the life you want.
A moment in time between being consistent or inconsistent
A choice point is a moment in time when we get to choose between being consistent or inconsistent with our values. In ACT, this is referred to as moving toward or away from the person you want to be. It might be a moment where we face the eternal conundrum of ‘to eat cake or not to eat cake?’ or the choice between staying in a job we hate or seeking a more fulfilling one. The choices we make in these situations can make a big difference as to whether we experience more moments of ‘Yes, I am a superstar living my best life!’ or ‘Ugh! I suck! What is my life!?’. It’s not always easy to identify when these choice points occur, but with practice and support, it can be easier.
Three things to consider
Let’s take a look at an example and how to apply choice points in daily life. Say you want to live a life where you take care of yourself, this is the value you want to move toward. Then, one night you’re watching Netflix and you realise it’s pretty late, and you need to work in the morning, but you want to watch that last episode. If you stay up and keep watching then you won’t get enough sleep, and you’ll be tired at work the next day, but the anticipation is killing you, and you’d get a lot of joy from watching that last episode. This is a choice point, and at this point, there are three things to consider; the situation, your inner experience and your values, skills and strengths.
First, the situation. Begin by defining the situation, maybe asking yourself questions like ‘What’s going on?’ or ‘What’s the challenge you’re facing?’. Being able to describe or frame the situation will help you be clear about the choice you’re faced with. The example above could be defined as ‘Do I or don’t I keep watching Netflix?’.
After defining the situation, it’s important to consider your inner experiences of it. What are your thoughts, feelings, sensations and beliefs? What is going on in your mind and body? In the Netflix example, you might be excited and curious about the show, frustrated that you have to go to bed and unwilling to get up or do the things needed to finish your night (brush your teeth, turn off the TV, and so on). Identifying these experiences helps us identify factors that may be influencing our decisions or how we feel about a situation.
The third and final thing to consider is your values, skills, and strengths. It involves being clear about the values that apply to the situation and the skills or strengths you have to help you act in a way that moves you toward acting consistently with those values and the person you want to be. In the example above, this might mean identifying that staying up and being sleep deprived the next day would be inconsistent with your value and desire to take care of yourself. You might note that the anticipation you feel could make watching the episode tomorrow pleasurable and that you’ll appreciate feeling rested tomorrow.
Having considered these three things, you then need to decide, in that moment, what kind of person you want to move towards and be, and what action to carry out. Then…take action! Each situation is different, and there’s no need to aim for perfection. The important thing is to make the right decision for you at that moment.
This is a relatively simplified example of a choice point, but the process can be applied to more complex and serious situations too. You can go through the process mentally or by writing things down using the Choice Point tool, either alone or as part of a therapeutic process, with your therapist’s support. One of the things I love about the tool, and this idea is that it emphasises the power we all have, every day, to make meaningful choices and influence our lives. If you want to learn more about choice points, go here.
This is a video I often show to my clients to explain the idea of choice points:
So, does this sound like something you could use? What are some moments in your life when you’ve applied this, or it could have been useful?