By Dr. Larry Berkelhammer
To help you understand how living by choice works in practice, here are a few examples of how I do it myself.
- When I sit down at my desk, I choose to breathe diaphragmatically and slowly. Normally, without consciously making that mindful, intentional choice, my respiration would automatically become shallow and rapid as I dove into my work each day. Healthy breathing improves brain function and physiological functioning in general.
- A caregiver is providing me with substandard care. Before confronting the person, I choose to breathe diaphragmatically and slowly, and I choose to clarify my intention in my mind before speaking to that person.
- Upon waking up I realize I’m thinking that I have to go to an invasive medical appointment. Then I remind myself that I don’t actually have to go: I chose to make the appointment, and I am doing so because I value health and living with a sense of being in control of my life.
- My wife and I are checking out of a bed and breakfast inn. Two petite women (my wife and the desk clerk) carry our heavy bags out to the van where I am already seated. The desk clerk gives me a look that triggers feelings of shame. I recognize that I feel this way because I think I shouldbe able to carry the bags myself. I take valued action and choose to practice self-compassion, reminding myself that I did not choose to develop a degenerative spine condition, and that I am practicing good self-care by not causing further damage to my spine.
Guidelines for Living by Conscious Choice
The essence of living by conscious choice is to practice intention and mindfulness in order to develop an increased sense of control in daily life. This sense of mastery increases as you develop the skill of living with conscious intention and making conscious choices, moment by moment, throughout the day. The following practices can help:
- Ask the fundamental question throughout the day: What am I choosing in this moment? Two examples: I’m choosing avoidance. Or, I’m choosing to reach out to someone.
- Ask: Am I making choices that are aligned with my personal life values?
- Ask: What is my intention in this moment?
- Ask: What action can I take in this moment to improve my wellbeing?
- Every time you find yourself saying have to, need to, must, or should, substitute with I choose to. The fact is, in each case, you have chosen, and if that choice is in alignment with what you value, it’s a choice that enhances wellness.
Remembering to Practice
It can be a challenge to remember to practice these conscious choice exercises throughout the day; it takes time to develop the habit, and even when you can do it fairly routinely, it’s easy to lapse into unconscious behavior. Though it may seem like an easy thing to do, in the beginning it is actually very difficult to remember to ask the fundamental question! Until it becomes a habit, you may find it helpful to set random alarms on your mobile device to prompt you to ask: What am I choosing?
Dr. Berkelhammer is a retired mind-body medicine psychologist. He writes about mindfulness-based practices with a unique emphasis on optimization of wellbeing and health. Dr. Berkelhammer also lectures at San Francisco State University and UC San Francisco, and is currently teaching a class in Marin County through College of Marin. He is the author of the book “In Your Own Hands; New Hope for People with Chronic Medical Conditions”.
Berkelhammer, D. (2015). How I Live My Life by Conscious Choice. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/own-hands/2015/03/how-i-live-my-life-by-conscious-choice/
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