You Always Have a Choice. Or not?

Guest blog with Cyriel Kortlieven

Creative Thinking is all about seeing what other people see, but then seeing something different. For example, from a mathematical point of view, the answer to the sum 1+1 appears to have one clear answer. But if you look at it from a more creative point of view, it could also be 11 – if you put the numbers next to each other. Or it could become a “+” if you laid one numeral horizontally on top of the other. For the truly creative, there is never one solution to a problem, which means that we always have a choice in the way that we approach complexity.

You always have a choice. Or do you?

 But, do we have a choice in everything?

We can’t choose the weather and we can’t choose whether our partner will be in a good mood or not. That’s true- but we can choose how we respond to the weather or the mood of our partner. Even in extreme cases – for example being robbed in the street – you have choice. You could hand over your wallet, try to escape, wrestle with the aggressor, or shout for the police. But it is pointless to dwell on theoretical discussions in these extreme situations. In 99,9% of cases, we have a lot more choice about thinking, feeling and behavior than we think.

You rarely have a choice

If you always make conscious life decisions then why are so many people still stuck in situations that they don’t like? Why are so many people not living up to their dreams and aspirations?  Why do many people (unconsciously) not make choices?

That’s where our biology comes in. Only some of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are preceded by conscious intentions. But most of the time, we operate on an autopilot with our unconscious mind at the steering wheel.

Our conscious brains can only handle roughly 40 bits of information a second, while our unconscious minds can handle 11 million bits of information per second. Our unconscious brain is fast, instinctive and emotional. The conscious part of the brain is slower, more deliberative and logical. Our unconscious brain cares about 2 things: survival and maintaining the status quo (because the status quo preserves energy, which increases the chances of survival). The decisions that our unconscious brain is making are highly context-dependent. Whatever is going on at that moment – the weather, your state of mind, the time of the day, the last thing you ate or saw or felt – can influence your thoughts and decisions.

Does this mean that your unconscious brain is sabotaging the conscious brain? No, it’s just a different system.

But how can I make a conscious choice (and change my life for the long-term?)

Does this mean that I just have to accept that my unconscious mind is always the master of my thoughts? Must I stop making conscious choices to improve my life (and get out of situations where I’m not happy?). Absolutely not- but don’t assume it will be easy.

The ‘trick’ is to use the substantial power of the unconscious brain. How? By creating a clear pattern. Our brains are wired to create habits, and if we do something often enough (especially if it’s tied to an external cue and reward), it will become second nature. It’s not will-power or self-control that we need to focus on- it’s all about consistency and perseverance. Repeat a certain habit that you want to achieve.

Jocelyn Campbell describes a 4 step process in her article ‘7 Self-Help Myths that are Keeping You Stuck’:

  1. Create an Intention (be specific, and have a clear vision of the outcome) E.g.: I want to lose 5 kg and will complete a 20 km run in August this year.
  2. Determine how you are going to keep your focus on the intention. What’s the cue that could trigger a certain habit? This is an important step because it’s the moment that puts things into motion. E.g. I will place my running shoes next to me before I go bed.
  3. Identify what you will do WHEN things don’t go according to plan. Be sure that things will go differently – it’s not easy to predict what can happen, but you can probably already imagine three or four scenarios when it will be harder to persevere your new habit). E.g. if it’s rainy, my first task for the day is to go to the gym and run on the treadmill.
  4. Reward yourself when you follow through Eg: I will get a nice breakfast after my run.

You can reprogram your automatic behavior so it aligns better with the conscious intentions of your life. But that means committing to the process, being patient and persevering.

It is possible to make conscious and creative choices in life, but it won’t be easy!


Cyriel Kortleven  is an international speaker and author, and has published four books on creativity & change.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s