Choice Time

Our brains naturally rebel. We all know this from experience, and it starts from childhood, certainly noticeable through the teen years, but also prevalent as adults. And often we rebel against ourselves. (If you prefer video, scroll to the bottom of this post.)

As examples:

  • We know how to eat healthy but choose unhealthy options.
  • We know to exercise, but don’t maintain a long-term routine.
  • We have many things we “should” be doing besides scrolling on our phones.

I’m sure you can insert many examples of rebelling against yourself.

I found this excellent article that explains our need to rebel as “psychological reactance.” Our brains don’t like to be told what to do, so they automatically rebel and wish to do the opposite. The more we “should” ourselves, the more we sabotage our own wants and wishes.

So, how do we rectify this?

I was taught about “choice time” from my performance coach, Lesley (Waypoint Coaching.) By giving our brain choices, it doesn’t feel the need to rebel because it’s not being told what to do.

Rather than saying I’m going to the gym every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. I look at my calendar each Sunday and determine which days work best for me this week to go to the gym. Rather than a rigid schedule, I have a fluid schedule and my brain doesn’t balk at the idea of working out. (It also helps to find something you really enjoy doing, more on that later this month!)

When we want to eat healthier, it helps to reduce the unhealthy choices in your home to eliminate the impulse rebellion, and then have a few healthy choices to choose from. Additionally, when menu-planning, I don’t plan Monday we eat this, Tuesday we eat that. I plan four or five meals for the week, grocery shop for those meals and then determine the day before what I’m in the mood to make the next day from my menu list.

You can see there are boundaries to the choices, it’s not a free for all, but flexibility to reach the goal is key. It’s not “Do I want to go to the gym this week?” It’s, “What days work with my schedule this week to go to the gym?” It’s not, “What do I want to eat?” It’s, “What do I want to eat from these choices?” This is setting yourself up for success.

I realize there are those who would strongly disagree with this idea, saying we have to do these things, we have to commit to doing certain things daily if we want results and habit creation. And I can see that, I tried to work under that idea for years, most of my life actually, until the last year, when I accepted that this was not working for me. The rigidity of this commitment was inflexible. Any hiccup in my routine sent this sort of thinking out the window. So whereas this may work for some, it won’t for everyone because each person is different. For those people reading this, this is an alternate idea to consider. This may be just what you need to hear. There doesn’t need to be “should’s, have to’s, and must’s.” There’s a way around the feeling of burden that these words instill, by giving yourself choices.

Where Lesley and I were really focused on for me was planning choice time as recreation. I live by the philosophy of “work first, play later.” Play is the reward for work. However, I also have very high expectations on myself for productivity which means I often work, work, work but never meet my threshold for deserving to “play.” I would not classify myself as a workaholic, but if my production standards aren’t met, selfcare and “me time” is the first thing off my table. And I’m not alone here, I believe this is how many people operate. This is why we are stressed, overwhelmed and burnt out.

Bringing in life balance has been a huge part of my burnout recovery. Dealing with constant exhaustion made me focus more on doing activities I enjoyed doing, because they helped work on my focus. The only creative activity I seemed to latch onto during burnout was crocheting. And crochet I did – I spent a year crocheting an eight foot dragon! It was therapeutic. Simple stitches, a big project, that took me WAY longer than I expected, but none the less I was determined to finish. There were days during my early recovery where I either slept or crocheted all day. And I’ll be honest, I had to fight guilt for much of the journey – “You should be…, instead.” Oh, those “should’s.” But I kept pushing them away knowing that what I needed was down time and sleep, and crocheting accomplished that as I found it relaxing.

However, as I moved through recovery, I was able to add more and more things to my choice time list. I was able to see the benefit of work for a bit and then play. I set boundaries around my schedule and now block out my time every day and every week for a mixture of activities that I enjoy in balanced bursts. Choice time is utilized during my workday and my leisure time.

I determine my current projects for my work, and then prioritize them for the day and week. Each day, I determine what I’m most in the mood to work on, keeping deadlines and priorities in check. Most importantly I set a time deadline when I choose to stop working. Then I can move onto creative projects. Where again, I get a choice of which projects I want to work on.

A side note with creative projects – my artist friend gave me the advice of always having at least three art projects on the go because you’re always waiting for something to dry! This is sage advice and works perfectly with choice time.

Choice time can be applied anywhere in your life where you rebel against yourself. Maybe you need five or six workout choices to help you stick to a workout routine, with nothing predetermined until you reach your workout timeslot and say, “What am I in the mood to do for a workout today?” Write a list of your options so you don’t have to remember your ideas and add to your list as your interests grow.

The same can be applied to food choices. Have healthy options available and then when you’re hungry, ask yourself, “What would I like to eat from these options?”

I made a choice time list of all the things I could do in my free time. So far, there are 25 things listed. Ideas range from complicated to simple, but they are all things I enjoy. A few examples from my list are:

  • Paint.
  • Rub down a dog.
  • Play a game of solitaire.
  • Work on a digital album on
  • Meal plan.
  • Watch a movie.
  • Text a friend and set up a visit (even over Zoom).
  • Play Cradle of Rome on the Wii.
  • Go for a hike, take the dogs.
  • Watch a TedTalk/Listen to a podcast.

The list goes on and it gives me great reminders of things I might be in the mood to do.

Choice time is an ultimate exercise in selfcare. Giving yourself the freedom to choose. Reducing your brain’s psychological reactance and giving yourself permission to balance your time through both work and leisure. I encourage you to practice choice time in your day-to-day life.

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