The Illusion of Choice – Be Happy

I had a conversation with a good friend recently about the nature of choice. I realized that many of us have this idea that choice is a good thing, that helps us find happiness and peace.

After all, if I can choose what I want, then I will choose that which will make me happy. We fear being limited in our choices or from having our choices taken away from us. We are jealous of people who have more talents, more money, more friends, and more opportunities, because we think they have more choices than we do.

We believe if we were like them we would be happy, because then we could choose the things that would make us happy. But is this really true? If we had the ability to choose whatever life we wanted, would we choose one that actually made us happy?

Or maybe even more importantly, why do we think the choice to be happy is the same as the choice to choose whatever lifestyle we want?

Lack of choice is a human rights issue for many people, especially people who suffer under poverty or oppression. I’m not suggesting that promoting oppression would help people be happy, but I think it’s important we dispel the illusion that, more choices make us more happy.

I have had a lot of jobs in my life, probably just shy of 100 or so. I was able to have all those jobs, because I pick up skills quickly, I was raised in a stable healthy family, and I received a good education. I had lots of resources and I could have chosen almost any kind of path I wanted, but for years I made a choice to avoid life in subtle ways and to choose dissatisfaction.

So many people do this in all walks of life. Instead of choosing to be happy with whatever they have they choose to be unhappy with it. We live in a country with untold comfort and luxury.

Most of us don’t have to fear violence, starvation, rampant illness, or societal instability. Yet we choose to be dissatisfied with our lives. We are told that we should be smarter, wealthier, have more friends, drink more kinds of coffee, buy more organic food, be more beautiful, be more fit, and more, more, more.

Yet this more rarely makes us happy. We are hiding the fundamental choice. The choice to be happy.

This is the simplest and hardest choice in a way. It is really a choice of faith. It’s a choice of choosing our own flawed, complicated, imperfect, silly, awkward lives. It’s the choice to smile, simply because smiling both manifests happiness and is the manifestation of happiness.

It’s a choice to appreciate what we have even if others have ‘more.’ It’s a choice to let others have ‘more’ and be happy for them. It’s a choice to love ourselves and our lives just as they are. Sounds simple right? Yet it is a very hard thing to do, because there are so many forces inside and out that point out what’s wrong.

Our civilization is built on the ability to solve problems, but that means sometimes we try to find problems when their aren’t any. We have the brains of people who have tamed nature and crossed the globe, but most of our problems now aren’t at that scale.

At least the problems we focus all of this BIG MIND energy on aren’t aren’t to that scale. Instead of using this sledgehammer to pound at our little anxieties, what if instead we chose to work on a more fundamental problem: the problem of being able to choose to be happy.

Take time this week to look at places in your life where you are choosing dissatisfaction. What if you chose to be satisfied instead? Try smiling during the day even if you don’t feel like it. When you are walking around ask, “What look do I have on my face?” It can feel fake and forced at first, but remember smiling does create happiness. They’ve done studies. It’s like totally science and stuff. Try it out for yourself and see what the effects are.

If choice is something you value, try everyday to make the choice that is always available  Make the choice to be happy, at first is small ways and eventually in bigger ways. You will be surprised how this simple intention manifests itself in everything you do.

Thanks for reading and Be Well.


Being a NEWB: The practice of being a new person

We’ve all been there before. It’s the first day of school, a new job, a bicycle riding group, fitness class, etc. and we feel lost, confused, and helpless. Here is this group of people that know each other talk the same language, share similar values, wear similar clothes, and know the in’s and outs better than you.

Every time, even if we’ve been the new person a 1000 times, it’s weird awkward and down right scary. We want to be accepted, we want to be in the know, and more than anything we wish we felt comfortable. Very often we feel like little kids all over again.

I recently joined a masters swim club to improve my swimming time and ability. I’ve joined many new groups and know how these things go, but without fail I end up feeling lost, weird, and awkward.

So I decided to write a post about the practice of being a new person, because it is a very interesting practice and it actually reveals alot about who we are.

Step 1: Admit you’re scared and step forward.
When we enter a new group old habits of protection arise, old strategies emerge, old insecurities are abound, because we are unsure we will be taken in by this tribe.

In traditional cultures not being taken in could mean isolation, hunger, and even death; so our fears are well founded. The first step as you enter a new group is to just admit to yourself it’s scary. Trying to act like it’s not scary just makes things harder.

Now that’s not to say that you should be shy, timid, or hesitate. What it means is that you should admit you’re scared and then do your best to go for it. Hesitation only breeds more fear and hesitation, but confidence breeds confidence.

Step 2: You don’t know what you’re talking about.
Whenever we enter a new group it’s best to take the attitude that we don’t know what were talking about. Even if you’ve been in a similar group or setting each group has some specialized language or gestures that you will need to learn.

If you don’t feel comfortable asking questions right away, and I often don’t at first, then just watch very carefully. See what other people are doing and do that. When I first started doing group rides, I learned quickly what hand signals meant. People pointed out potholes and debris, people warned others when they were stopping.

So I would watch and then imitate, imitate, imitate.  Then whatever terms you don’t know just ask about. I don’t know how many times I floundered around in a new group until I figured out what the hell they meant. Just remember it’s cool, you just don’t know what you’re talking about. In reality most people don’t know what they are talking about at some point.

The key is to admit it to yourself, forgive yourself for the awkward mess you may very well be and keep at it. What you shouldn’t do is act like you know what’s going on, esp. if you don’t actually know whats going on.

You may come off a cocky and you set yourself up for quite a fall if you miss a key cue. There are people who can act like old pros and they are old pros. If you are one of these you know it and if you aren’t don’t try to act like one. People love an underdog, so just be an underdog.

Step 3: The trick is to keep going.
Very often in new groups, people are slow to warm up. They may even be pretty skeptical of new members. If you’ve been a part of a public group for a long time you know why this is.Most people who join a group quit within a week or two.Why? Well there are lots of reasons why people don’t stick around, but most people quit because it’s hard to be the new guy and it’s hard to stick with change.

If you have been the veteran member of a group it’s hard to take these new people seriously because most of them quit pretty fast. Why invest time in someone who may very well be gone next week?

Instead people will often wait a few weeks to see if you will stick and then they will get more friendly.  Remember that you are scared of all these new people, but in a way these new people are scared of you too.

You are an unknown entity and value. You could be cool as Elvis and as Saintly and John the Baptist or you could be the exact opposite. The only difference between them and you is they have safe people to talk to instead of you. While you only have yourself to talk to, which I wouldn’t recommend doing out loud when you first join a group.

Remember that every person in this group was the new person once. They were scared and uncomfortable just like you were. The biggest difference between the newbie and the accepted teammate is time.

Take some time and reflect on when you tried something new.

What about it was really scary and what about it was really exciting?

Think of something you have always wanted to try, but never did.

Why not try it now?

What exactly do you have to lose?

Finally, in the groups that you already attend, think about what could you do to help new people feel more comfortable.

The easiest way to get to know people in a group you join, or to get to know new people in your group is to ask open ended questions. Be curious about the people around you, in fact even if you think you know the people in your group now, you’d be surprised what you will find out if you just ask then open ended questions and take the time to really listen.

One thing we often don’t give space for is other peoples lives, hopes, and dreams. We are so caught up in our own agenda we don’t take the time to really hear others. Try to hear one friend or family member this week in a deeper way. You might be surprised with what they have to say.

Thanks for reading and Be Well,



How to Exercise In the Rain – the Whiny Voice

Here in Portland the winter months are coming. The hints are there, the occasional overcast skies, the cooling morning. That means that the rain will soon be here and thus a built in excuse not to get outside and exercise. No matter what part of the country you live in, the weather can be a reason to get out of your workout routine. Partially this is natural. Traditionally changes in activity would be dictated by the conditions, though most weather demanded more effort from our ancestors than we have today. Winter meant getting fire wood to chop, summer may have meant walking and carrying water, spring time planting or hunting, and fall meant harvesting.

In our modern times it is so easy to be comfortable, so little is required of us, physically, to survive. Which is why it is all the more important to stay active in the winter months or whenever the weather is less than ideal. And let’s be honest the weather is often not ideal, unless of course you live somewhere the weather is often ideal (I’m looking at you San Diego), in which case you can skip this post. I’ve decided to write a few posts about how to maintain an exercise routine even when the weather is bad. If you have other ideas please feel free to share them.

The hardest this about exercising in inclement weather, is the hardest thing about ever doing exercise, GETTING STARTED. There are many techniques to work with less than ideal circumstances, here is one of my favorites.

Paying attention to who is talking.
* Scroll down for a note on voice and voice dialog if your not familiar with this concept.

You are supposed to go for a bike ride, but it’s cold and rainy outside. You sit inside staring at the rain and think, ‘ah man it’s going to be so cold a rainy out there, I don’t want to ride my bike, I’ll get all gross and have to wear stupid bulky rain gear.’ Etc.

The first step to working with this part of your mind is to ask, “How old is this whiny voice?” For me the voice is usually about fourteen. I can even imagine that 14 year old saying the above, crossing their arms, and huffing. We often equate ourselves with the little voices or energies in us that resist doing what we know is, ‘the best thing for us.’ This can lead to guilt and to thinking that we are weak, but we aren’t weak, we just have a 14 year old voice living inside of us. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but we have to work with that energy when it arises. When I notice this part of me arise, I   talk to that 14 year old. I might even imagine myself as 14 and  say out loud, “I know that you don’t want to go outside in the rain, but you know that if you do you’ll have a good time. I promise that when we get home, we’ll take a warm shower, and we’ll feel really proud of ourselves.” Does this always work? No. Sometimes the teenager wins and I stay inside and watch TV, but more often then not, when I am aware of that whiny voice and acknowledge it, I can find a wiser part of myself and get out the door.

How old is your whiny voice? Can you visualize yourself at a certain age when it’s up? In what other areas of your life do you hear it?

Next time you find your whiny mind arising, try to talk to it in a gentle way to help get yourself out the door. Remember what worked to motivate you at that age, it might work for this part of yourself now. Yelling at it, criticizing it may work in the short term, but since it’s a part of you, you are better off learning to love and respect it. Try different techniques to work with it and see what gets the most traction.

For extra credit try and notice other voices that arise when you exercise.  Maybe sometimes you have a little internal coach or cheerleader. Maybe you have an internal champion, or perhaps an internal underdog. I’m sure most of us have a critical voice or energy that arises. Paying attention to the parts of ourselves that arise, in exercise and life, can help us know what our mind is up to. We can learn to access the voices and energies that help us and to help the voices that hold us back. No voice or energy is wholly bad, but some are trying to help us in pretty messed up ways. By hearing and working with these parts of ourselves, we gain more knowledge of our mind and more peace in our lives.

Thanks for reading.
Be Well.

*A quick note this post talks about different voices or energies that we encounter as part of our being. It is based on the philosophy of voice dialogue which acknowledges that we are all made up of a mixture of different energies and motivations. These voices or energies are what makes us able to play different roles in our lives and move from being at work to being at home. These energies or voices can be discovered and brought forth as a way to understand different aspects of our being. For a list of different selves check out this site-


Listening to Language/Limits – 7 Habits

Whenever we do or don’t do something, it is rare that we are compelled or prevented from doing it. In reality we are making a choice of one action, over another.

We do this primarily because: 1. We don’t want to suffer the likely consequences of the choice, or 2. We don’t want to put in the effort to manifest that action in the world. In my last post we discussed language that fell into the first category. In this post I’ll look at the second case.

We often portray ourselves as having some limiting quality, that prevents us from achieving what we want. You might hear someone say, ‘I’m too old to get in shape, ‘ or ‘I’ve tried to lose weight I just can’t do it,’ or maybe ‘I’m too stupid to get a good job.’

In most cases these limiting qualities are our negative self image and talk solidified into some fixed view about what we are capable of. We do this ,as an excuse, to not make the effort it takes to get to where we want to go. It hurts less, in a way, to say ‘I can’t quite smoking,’ instead of ‘I tried to quite smoking, but when it got hard I chose to give it up, because I was unwilling to deal with the discomfort.’ To take responsibility means that we are admitting we made a choice. If we make ourselves the victims, maybe we don’t have to feel bad about our perceived failures.

Changing your life isn’t easy and if you’re serious about it, you are likely to fail in some way before you succeed.

We’ve been told that failing is bad, but failure is the ground that leads to success. I don’t like to fail, but every time I have a perceived failure at a job or a relationship I have moved closer to what I want.

I have gained knowledge about what job I don’t want and how to work more skillfully with a partner. It’s not the mistakes, rather it’s not learning from mistakes that we have to fear. We must be willing to fall short of our aspirations.

We must take responsibility of our choices. If we have any hope of changing, it will be us that manifests that change. No one can manifest change for you, you are the only one who can truly change. That is the burden and the gift of a human life.

In the examples above we can change our language to reflect our ability to choose. We can say, “I’m old so working out is harder than it used to be. I choose not to work out because I don’t like the discomfort it causes. ” or we can say, ‘I’ve tried to lose weight before, but chose to stop, so I’m choosing not to try again right now, because I ‘m afraid I might fail.’

When we read these statements now, we see that the speakers are making a clear choice, which means they could make a different choice. It also reveals the motivation behind their choice. In the first case it’s the discomfort of exercise, in the second it’s the fear of failure.

When we see these choices, we can weigh our options better. For example, for the first speaker maybe not being active is actually causing more discomfort than exercise would cause. Then again maybe not, but until we knowledge the possibilities a serious examination can’t happen.

In the second case, perhaps the fear of diabetes or other health risks is greater than the fear of failure, but if I’m not empowered to make that choice, it’s hard to see that I could actually prevent that from happening. Few things are as inevitable as we perceive.

By reframing the way we think and talk about ourselves and the things in our lives, we gain access to more power and more choice. We can acknowledge when we are limiting ourselves and see other possibilities.

Perhaps the greatest effect that can come from this change is a perception of control. I heard recently that higher level managers suffer from less stress, not because they have less to do, but because they had a greater sense of control.

Notice when you use language that portrays you as weak or that limits your capability. Take some time and reflect on the beliefs that limit what you think you can do. Ask yourself Is this true? Then ask, Is it really true? Finally ask, What if it weren’t true, what would that mean?*

Often the solidity of our beliefs are based solely on the strength we give them. We can use this truth to both bolster the beliefs that empower us, and to deconstruct the ones that hold us back. Fixed ideas lead many of us to suffering.

The world is a variable and changing place and our minds must reflect that or we are doomed to fight against the current of being. By seeing our choice and having a flexible mind, we become more free and more nimble in our response to life’s big and little challenges.

Thanks for reading,
Be Well

*disclaimer – This technique is one I heard somewhere, and is in a book, but I don’t remember what book or who wrote it. But I felt I should acknowledge it didn’t originate with me.

Hey Like My Blog, Have Something to say? Leave a comment below or email me. 
 Know someone who would be helped by reading this blog?
Send it on to them.


Listening to Language / Consequences – 7 Habits

Again just a reminder I am reading the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey right now. I am using my blog as a way to take in the material with a mind towards teaching it to others.

There is a part of 7 Habits where Covey talks about listening to our language. Specifically paying close attention to when we use reactive phrases, as opposed to proactive ones. Very often when I talk about fitness or training I hear reactive phrases from people.

When I tell people about training for and racing triathlons, I usually get one or two reactions. Most people say some version of, ‘That’s great, but I could never do something like that,’ or ‘I wish I could do that, but (enter excuse here: I’m too busy, I’ve got a knee injury…).’

Few people acknowledge that they are making a choice not to do triathlons. Now I’m not advocating everyone should do a triathlon (seriously you should though), I’m merely saying in most cases not doing a tri is a choice, rather than the result of some outside force.’

Whenever we do or don’t do something, it is rare that we are compelled or prevented from doing it. In reality we are making a choice of one action, over another.

We do this primarily because: 1. We don’t want to suffer the likely consequences of the choice, or 2. We don’t want to put in the effort to manifest that action in the world. In this post I’ll talk about the first case and I’ll discuss the second case in a later post.

A clear example of the first case can be found in this statement: “I can’t work out in the morning, I have to be at work at 9:00am.” What choices does this statement hide?

For one the choice not to wake earlier before work or the choice to get more sleep. Another would be the choice to be on time to work instead of working out. Another would be the choice to go to work at all, instead of spending time on fitness.

Many of us would think the last choice is a reasonable and prudent one. The choice to keep my job, or to be on time, instead of working out seem like wise ones, but we still choose.

In truth I could choose to lose my job and work out instead. But if I don’t want the consequences of losing a job, then I’d be wise to choose work over working out.  In many instances changing our language wouldn’t mean changing our choice, but it does reveal that we are making a choice.

To use proactive language in the example above, you could say “I choose not to work out in the morning, because I want to get 8 hours of sleep and get to work on time.”

When we read this phrase we can see all the possibilities I’ve overlooked. Maybe I could go to bed earlier, so I can wake up earlier. Maybe I could choose to get less sleep and use the extra time to exercise.

By using reactive language we disempower ourselves. Instead of taking responsibility for our choices we paint ourselves as victims who can’t choose anything else. When we use proactive language we paint ourselves as capable people who are choosing what we want in our lives.

Listen this week to yourself and others, and notice when reactive language is being used. When you catch yourself or others take some time to think about the hidden choices.

How could you restate the some thing and acknowledge the choice involved? When you see those choices can you see other choices you could make?

The Buddha talked about karma starting with thought. Before any volitional unskillful act occurs an unskillful thought must occur first. By listening to our language we can reveal the illusions and delusions in our thoughts.

By taking responsibility for our language we can learn to take responsibility for our lives. Covey talks about this as the ability to choose our response. Change comes from choosing a new response to our lives and language lies at the door to this change.

Thanks for reading,
Be Well



Hey! Like my blog? Leave a comment and let me know, or better yet send it to a friend or colleague, or even better do both.

I’m new to this blogging game so any help you can give me is really appreciated. Thanks!