All about choice

I love the word ‘choice.’  It’s one of my favourite words in the English language.  I see choice like a dog – it needs to be taken out and exercised.  Sadly, it often lies in a corner, unwatered, unfed and neglected.

One day, some years ago, I was driving along a motorway in the UK and the traffic came to a standstill.  I tuned in to the local radio station which told me that, because of an accident further down the road, there was now a 35 mile traffic jam which would take at least an hour to clear.  I had some time in hand, called the client I was going to see to check that it would be ok for me to arrive late and decided to have a sleep.  I turned on some gentle music, tipped back the seat and thought that when it was time to move the driver behind me would sound his horn. I wouldn’t treat it as a rebuke, but as a signal that the traffic was moving again.

I was beginning to doze off and heard a caterwauling outside.  A man was standing on the wheel arch of his 4-wheel drive car shouting and swearing at the traffic to get out of his way, because he was in a hurry.

The man was in his mid-thirties.  I suspect that the stress of living may prevent him reaching forty.  This was a man who had seriously misfiled the traffic jam in his mental filing cabinet.

In any situation, there are three choices – what can we control or be in control of, what can we influence and what simply belongs in the it’s so drawer?  In the case of the traffic jam, the screaming man had filed it firmly in the control drawer.  It belonged in the it’s so drawer.

The one thing we can control in any situation is how we react, as long as we have developed the self-discipline to make a choice, rather than simply reacting. That’s not to suggest that we completely suppress our natural emotions; we are not automatons, and we have every right to feel stressed, upset, angry in certain situations.  What we need to do is choose the most appropriate display of behaviour according to the situation.

In any new or stressful situation, think about the outcome you may achieve by choosing different behaviours.  Will you or others feel better if you take one course of action, worse if you take another?

There are two types of choice – free choice and bounded choice.  We can’t have completely free choice because, inevitably, there are social, moral, ethical and other constraints on our behaviour.  On the other hand, the boundaries which we believe restrain us are much looser than we may imagine.  We often constrain ourselves with our self-limiting beliefs then blame the world for restricting our freedom of choice.

So, feed your choice, water it, take it for a walk and feel that hugely liberating sense as you exercise it.

To discuss any aspect of leadership and management development, soft skills training or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.  Take a look, too, at

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.