We make an infinite number of choices every day. What will you have for breakfast? What car will you buy? Which Netflix show will you binge tonight? We’re faced with many choices, big and small, throughout our lives. But rarely do we think about choice when it comes to managing our feelings, emotions and moods. In fact, most people erroneously believe feelings, emotions and thoughts just “happen.”


You aren’t just who you are

I recently had an executive coaching client who said she’s a negative, pessimistic person by nature. “That’s just who I am,” she told me. But that is absolutely not who she is. This negativity she embodies is simply a habitual pattern of self-talk she has practiced for years. It’s so pervasive, it’s now the frame with which she views the world.

Let me explain. Suppose something negative happened to you early in life. You might become hyper-vigilant throughout your life to be prepared for other bad things to happen. To protect yourself from these unknowns, you may constantly think about what can go wrong. Unfortunately, you unconsciously apply this negative lens indiscriminately and universally.

Here’s where the power of choice comes in. Even though you’ve unconsciously trained yourself to think this way, you can choose to consciously minimize, extinguish and reverse these patterns.

Identify your Moods

One of the first steps in changing your lens is being able to accurately identify your moods. This is so vital, I spent months compiling a comprehensive list of over 850 words for feelings – including emotions, moods, and physical sensations. It’s a great reference tool for learning and building emotional intelligence.

Identify your thoughts

Another critical step is being able to identify your thoughts. You have an internal “voice” that you have lived with so long that you think it is your “self” that’s talking. Many people think they are mindful and self-aware. But once they learn to actually tune into their thoughts and understand how those thoughts are creating their moods – they are stunned.

In fact,  that internal “voice” is responsible for:

  • How you feel about yourself,
  • How others experience you,
  • What’s possible and what’s not possible for you, and
  • How you show up in the world.

These thoughts form the development of your moods, which in turn affect your behaviors which ultimately influence your results. You have a choice in how you feel, how you act, and how you perform!

Understanding this power of choice is critical to self-development. Why? Because right now, it’s likely you’re not choosing; you’re reflexive. You’re not Teflon, you’re reacting. You’re not conscious; you’re unconscious.


Change your Choices

What would be possible for you if you changed your choices? If, when you look at a situation, you actually chose how to respond instead of just reacting.

When you find yourself making a choice to feel negative about something in your life, try these techniques to choose a more positive outlook instead:

  1. Use your phone or pad and paper to log your negative thoughts. You’ll likely begin to see patterns, and you may also be able to see what triggers the negativity. This increases your self-awareness.
  2. Whenever you find yourself having a negative thought, remind yourself that you are in charge of your thoughts. Ask yourself if there is another way to look at this situation that would evoke a different feeling or response.
  3. Replace the negative thought with a positive thought. You may have to get creative as you learn how to execute this, but by choosing to look at a situation and react in a more positive way, you are allowing room for self-development, growth and learning.

The choices we make help define who we are. Applying a deliberate practice of self-awareness, mindfulness, reframing, and repetition will help you determine that person.

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This article was originally published on Careers in Government.