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Awareness of Choice Improves Health and Wellbeing

James F.T. Bugental, PhD, wrote extensively about living with intentionality.

Awareness of Behavior Leads to Awareness of Choice.

The goal is to increase awareness of our behavior in order to assess, throughout the day, whether our behavior is the most effective behavior to help us meet our needs and goals.

Also, is our behavior in harmony with how we want to live our lives—with what matters most to us?  When we observe that our behavior isn’t in harmony with our personal life values, or that it isn’t contributing to helping us meet our needs, we can then use that behavioral awareness to help us consciously choose behavior that is more likely to help us meet those needs and that is in accord with what matters most to us in life.

There are always at least two choices. Behavioral awareness and a commitment to behaving in the healthiest ways involves also being aware that in every moment, we have choices available to us, and the behavior we choose determines what follows.

We’re better at observing the behavior of others. Notice that much of the time when we talk to others, we’re discussing the behavior of others rather than our own behavior. We’re more likely to discuss our plans, desires and goals, but not our behavior.

Also, most of the time, we fall into automaticity, where our behavior is the result of unconscious choices. Form a practice of noticing how you react when things go wrong. Notice your reactions to the behavior of others. Notice your reactions (behavior) to your thoughts and feelings.

Behavioral self-awareness, awareness of the choices we make, and the ability to consciously choose our behavior in every moment is cultivated through mindfulness practice. What I’m advocating requires living intentionally and setting an intention to train our attention on our moment-to-moment behavior.

Very Simple Examples of Living by Choice 

  • When I wake up in the night to pee, I consciously choose to be aware of my steps to the bathroom in order to avoid bumping into the wall, which could easily happen without that conscious choice. 
  • I sit down at my desk and choose to breathe diaphragmatically and slowly. Normally, without consciously making that mindful, intentional choice, my respiration would automatically become shallow and rapid as I dive into my work each day. Healthy breathing improves brain function and physiological functioning in general. 
  • A caregiver is providing 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. 
  • I’m feeling great frustration, even anguish in my attempts to get enough exercise. It seems like everything I try exacerbates my pain and disability.  I then choose to shift my focus to my values of health and mastery rather than on what is clearly not working for me. This serves to clarify my intention, thereby creating an environment in which I am considerably more likely to be creative and find a mode of exercise that works for me. 
  • Upon waking up I realize I’m thinking that I have to go into San Francisco for an invasive medical appointment. Then, I remind myself that I don’t actually have to go. I remind myself that I chose to make the appointment, and that I am consciously choosing to go because I value health and living with a sense of being in control of my life. 
  • I realize that I’m feeling grumpy; I then consciously choose to alter my behavior, which could mean taking a nap, exercising, stretching, meditating, or arranging to meet someone for coffee. 
  • I’m feeling deep sadness because I lost a friend as a result of my illness. People grow tired of having me cancel get-togethers at the last minute because of fatigue or malaise. I choose to take action and practice authentic self-expression; I arrange a get-together during which I can express my true feelings and ask for their understanding. Regardless of the outcome, this valued action gives me a sense of being in control of my life once again. 
  • My wife and I are checking out of a bed and breakfast inn on the island of Nantucket. Two petite women (my wife and the desk clerk) carry all our 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 should be able to carry the bags myself. I then take valued action and choose to practice self-compassion, reminding myself that I did not choose to develop ankylosing spondylitis, and that I am practicing good self-care by not causing further damage to my spine.

Ellen Langer, PhD, proved that exercising our power of choice improves health.

I hope these examples were helpful. The important point I want to make is that by becoming aware of our actions/behavior, we can live with conscious choice and experience a sense of life mastery.

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