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Why Choice is Consequence


Within every choice, every decision, every intention are the seeds of consequence. You might not wish it to be so, but it makes the statement no less true. If you smoke cigarettes, you might not get lung cancer or you might. If you refuse to wear a seat belt, you might be uninjured in an accident or thrown from the car and killed. If you yell at your boss, you might be forgiven or fired. 

Many of us think of consequence as divorced from choice, that choice is now and consequence is later. That false perception keeps the two unnaturally detached and makes it easy to forget that potential consequence is embedded in every choice. Sure, life’s a crapshoot, but we improve it exponentially when we play the odds. 

When I asked my client Stella if she worried that her heavy drinking would damage her liver, she snickered in her typical fashion. “Lots of people have liver problems who don’t drink. Just because I drink doesn’t mean I’ll get them and just because I don’t drink doesn’t mean I won’t.” True but rather than use logic in her response, she denied her fear because she hates people telling her what’s good for her.

There are reasons we prefer to distance consequence from choice. One is that we don’t want to believe bad things can happen to us, a deeply human (though flawed) trait. Our thinking goes like this: If I don’t believe something bad will happen to me, it won’t. The truth is that bad things happen independent of whether we anticipate them or not. Another reason is that it’s often uncomfortable to consider that what we’re doing today will bring us misfortune tomorrow. It sounds insane that someone would actually choose to harm themselves because they can’t bear to recognize they’re the agents of their own demise. But that’s what people do when they separate consequence from choice.

If you were to accept that the food you put into your mouth might help or harm you, it would require a great deal of mindfulness and focus, but it would certainly improve the outcome of your life. You might choose to have a piece of birthday cake because it will taste great and you want to feel part of your best friend’s celebration. Or you might intentionally decide not to have that piece of cake because you had waffles with syrup for breakfast and you don’t want more sugar and fat in your body.

How would it improve your life to consciously accept that the choices you make hold undesirable consequences, to not say, “I don’t care” when you do care, and to be uncomfortable now rather than later when you’re suffering from poor decisions. Sure, to an extent, your life predicts your choices, but your choices also predict your life.