By Ismail M Taher...
...You’ve probably uttered this phrase at least once. After all, many of us have inevitably fallen into the trap of repeating and even religiously believing in one of the most destructive phrases of all time. That phrase is so powerful that it can magically turn your life upside down (in a bad way), and hinder any sort of progress, achievements or even dreams you’re working on. That phrase is...
“We’re merely a product of our circumstances”
Now, before you start protesting and blaming me for saying that, allow me to adequately explain to you why that phrase or belief is one of the most toxic beliefs and statements you can ever hold.
First of all, let’s examine the history of that belief and why did it actually start becoming a real belief for many people.
The reason is, simply put, human beings are natural complainers, and they like and enjoy complaining about everything. From the slightest inconveniences all the way to real and major problems that debilitate their lives. Humans have for years found comfort and solace in resorting to that one only friend, the one that can bring them short moments or relief after hours, days, months or even years of pain and suffering. That old friend is, complaining.
Since we now established the fact that humans like to complain, we should also mention thatcomplaining physically changes your brain structure, and rewires it’s neurons for more and more complaining. Essentially, complaining locks you in an endless vicious cycle of complaining, complaining, and even more complaining.
But for now, we won’t be talking about complaining and its dangers (we’ll save that for a future article), and at the meantime, I’m only mentioning the act of complaining because it relates directly to one of the most important concepts that can make (or break) your life and success. It’s the concept of “Choice”.
Going back to that dreaded phrase, which suggests that humans are not capable (at least to a significant degree) of making their own choices and shaping their reality.
In other words, the concept of ‘We’re just a product of our circumstances’ suggests or implies, that humans are merely results of everything else happening outside their control. To put it another way, it suggests that humans do not live life, but life actually happens to them.
Now, I’d like to be all clear on that, I’m in no way suggesting that humans are 100% in control of each and every thing happening in their lives, because if I claimed that to be the case, I’d be obviously a liar, or a delusional man. What I actually am saying is that, humans have much much more control of their lives than they might think.
To make my point even clearer, I’d like to mention one of the closest quotes or to my heart, which says:
“Life is not what happens to you, life is how you react to it”
This phrase brilliantly sums up the concept of choice, and its importance of your life and everything else. The concept of ‘Choice’, simply suggests that humans are capable of creating or changing their reality, based solely on the choices and decisions they make.
The element of ‘Choice’ is one of the key terms and cornerstones of modern economics, but its significance and impact extend way beyond that, as it relates directly to your life. In fact, there is a whole branch of science that was created to understand and explain the motives and impact of choices and how human action impacts everything from day to day life to important economic and political decisions.
That science is called ‘Praxeology’, which was first created by the French social philosopher Alfred Espinas, and later developed by notable economists such as Ludwig Von Mises. The science of ‘Praxeology’ studies human choice and action, thus implying that our choices hold much bigger weight than previously thought.
To stay on our point, I’d like to take you on a short trip back to your childhood, when everything was simply and easy, and you wouldn’t have to decide or make any choices whatsoever on any matter. Years passed, and now you’ve become an adult, you’re suddenly supposed to make your own choices, and at that moment, many people prefer to escape.
The kind of escape we’re discussing here is the deliberate escape from reality. Why would you force yourself to believe that life is a product of your choices and action, when you can simply blame any misfortunes or hardships on external and arbitrary factors?
That simple notion is notoriously standing behind every failure, every give-up, and every defeat. It’s the notion of powerlessness, and absence of control.
The way people like to blame external factors can vary a lot. Some people might just blame their negatives on plain old ‘Bad luck’, while some others might prefer a little more sophistication and blame their hardships of God, the universe, the government, the society, the family, and the list goes on and never ends.
I get it; some people are born with much more misfortune and difficulties than other people. I’m not in any way discrediting your pain or invalidating your suffering. What I am doing is that I’m telling you, that in spite of the pain and suffering, only you hold the key to the escape from that.
When people experience any sort of misfortune, hardships or pain; they essentially have only two choices. The first one, is to shift any kind of blame to the external world, like we mentioned earlier, thus bearing no responsibility whatsoever to anything that happened or is happening with their lives.
Adopting such a mindset will only leave you more powerless, and feeling that the world is actually happening to you, versus you living it. It’ll only set you up for more complaining, more destructive blame, and no action whatsoever to elevate yourself from that suffering.
On the other hand, albeit a little trickier, lies the second choice; which’s accepting whatever pain and suffering you’re currently going through, and wholeheartedly believing that only you can get yourself out of it. I know, such belief is extremely hard, and requires a great deal of acceptance, inner-peace and wisdom.
But if you adopt the second choice, you’ll be set up for real constructive action, and that’ll be your one and only shot at resolving and/or escaping whatever difficulty you’re currently going through.
The problem here is that a large portion of human beings spend their entire life adopting either willingly or subconsciously the first option, which totally programs their minds that their lives are somehow ‘unfair’ and ‘unjust’ and that they’re only a product of all the misfortune that they’ve experienced during their lives.
However, the thing that drives me absolutely crazy, is that for a great deal of time, the very people complaining about their lives and unfortunate fate, are the ones that have actually taken those deliberate choices that have put them wherever they are now.
To elaborate, many people succumb to the society’s or the family’s pressures, going to college and ending up in a lot of debt only because they could not think of a better thing. Or, getting married and having kids then complaining all the time about how hard raising the kids are, or how awful their romantic life is.
One other example is taking up a boring job, a soul-sucking ordeal that dims their soul every single day and yields them a great deal of stress and anxiety, then complaining about how unfair and sinister life and fate are.
I know that this article is going to be a little controversial. After all, many of us automatically get into the defensive mode whenever we are confronted by truth and reality, the reality that we refuse to accept because it exposes us, our choices, and our vulnerabilities.
Once again, I’m not implying that all of your problems and hardships are simply a product of your own conscious decisions, because for example, many mental health problems happen absolutely out of our control. I’m only trying to enlighten you to the very important realization that in spite of whatever might be happening to you, only you have the choice to either remain where you are or chance and move forward.
In fact, a renowned American psychiatrist, Dr William Glasser, developed what is referred to as ‘Choice theory’ or ‘Reality therapy’, a form of therapy that is mainly based on the impact and importance of conscious choices and decisions making. I’ll quote a brief summary about the theory from an informative article published on Psychology today.
“Based on the work of psychiatrist William Glaser in the mid-1960s, reality therapy is founded on the idea that everyone is seeking to fulfill five basic needs, and mental health issues arise when any of these needs are not being met. The five basic needs are:
1) Power, or a sense of self-worth and achievement
2) Love and belonging, or being part of a family or community of loved ones
3) Freedom, or independence
4) Fun, which includes a sense of satisfaction or pleasure
5) Survival, or the comfort of knowing that one’s basic needs—food, shelter, and sex—are met.
When one or more of these needs go unfilled, the resulting problems occur in present time and in current relationships, so it makes sense to act and think in the present time. Reality therapy is also based on choice theory, the principle that humans choose to behave in certain ways and that these choices can help or hamper your ability to satisfy essential needs and reach individual goals. You cannot change or control others, so the only sensible approach to solving problems is to control yourself and your own behavior by making choices that help you achieve your life goals.”
As you’ve just read, Dr Glasser’s therapy is a notable and respectable example of how strongly your choices influence your reality and circumstances.
Moreover, in an article published by William Glasser institute US, the ‘choice theory’ is summarized in a simple and easy to understand words, I’ll quote them here”
“The 1998 book, Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom is the primary text for all that is taught by The William Glasser Institute. Choice theory states that:
All we do is behave,
That almost all behavior is chosen, and
That we are driven by our genes to satisfy five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom and fun.
In practice, the most important need is love and belonging, as closeness and connectedness with the people we care about is a requisite for satisfying all of the needs.
Choice theory, with the Seven Caring Habits, replaces external control psychology and the Seven Deadly Habits. External control, the present psychology of almost all people in the world, is destructive to relationships. When used, it will destroy the ability of one or both to find satisfaction in that relationship and will result in a disconnection from each other. Being disconnected is the source of almost all human problems such as what is called mental illness, drug addiction, violence, crime, school failure, spousal abuse, to mention a few.
Relationships and our Habits.
Seven Caring Habits Seven Deadly Habits
1 .Supporting 1. Criticizing
2 .Encouraging 2 .Blaming
3. Listening 3. Complaining
4. Accepting 4. Nagging
5. Trusting 5. Threatening
6 .Respecting 6. Punishing
7. Negotiating differences 7 .Bribing, rewarding to control
The Ten Axioms of Choice Theory
The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.
All we can give another person is information.
All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.
The problem relationship is always part of our present life.
What happened in the past has everything to do with what we are today, but we can only satisfy our basic needs right now and plan to continue satisfying them in the future.
We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our Quality World.
All we do is behave.
All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.
All Total Behavior is chosen, but we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.
All Total Behavior is designated by verbs and named by the part that is the most recognizable.”
To wrap up, I’ll quote some of the most value-packed words written on the impact of choice, in an article published on Thought Catalog by Apoorva Gupta:
"Our existence comprises of choices that we make. From drinking milk in the morning to attending your least favorite lecture, from buying a blue shirt instead of a green shirt at your favorite store to adding an extra spoon of sugar in your coffee, from painting your bedroom wall pink to drunk-dialing your crush — you take a plethora of decisions, make choices, and bear the consequences. Choices are everywhere.
Despite our parents making most of our decisions for our better and brighter future when we’re very young, we start learning how to choose between the options placed strategically in front of us and make decisions.
The choices you make and the decisions you take have a long lasting impact on your life. They make us special, put a bar of distinction between us and everyone else. Our lives are a series of choices we’ve made so far. We live with those choices for the rest of our lives — and believe me when I say this, the rest of your life is a pretty long period. Whether you feel it immediately or not, your life is being shaped by the choices you are making in the present.
Whether you decide to go to college or take that painting class you always wanted to or get your hair colored in shades of rainbow or travel to foreign lands alone — it’s your choice. It is all your choice. It has always been your choice. The past is unalterable yet offers you an insight on the mistakes you made. The present is a gift you need to make the best of, and the core of your future comprises each and every decision you have ever taken."
...As we explored earlier, it’s crucial that everyone becomes aware of the power and significance of choices. Those choices can be some simply day-to-day choices like deciding to smile to a stranger, eat a specific type of food for breakfast, or go out for a short run, all the way to the bigger choices that craft and create our reality, such as getting into a relationship, cutting a toxic person from your life, majoring in a specific discipline, or starting the business you’ve always dreamed about.
Regardless of the type of choices you make, you have to become conscious of every choice and decision you take no matter how small you think it is, because a few small bad decisions can quickly add up, and it’ll only be a matter of time before you’re asking yourself: “Why’s my life so unfair”.
If you have asked or currently asking yourself this question, it’s worth sitting down and going back to your past and tracking down all those choices you’ve made and still making. As there’s a very high probability that you’ll be successful at finding the root cause behind some of the major difficulties or dissatisfaction you’re currently complaining about.
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