I’ve been pondering how the choices we make can impact our lives in very big, and very real, ways.
Most choices are so small, so innocuous, so seemingly innocent, that we often make them without really thinking at all.
We dismiss the voice of caution. We disregard the impulse to wait, to think it through. We get swept up in the moment, and it seems harmless enough, so we just go with it.
What really got me started on this journey was my second book. Many years ago, I became intrigued by a question. I had heard of a young mom who had cheated on her husband. To all casual observers, they seemed like a happy couple. They were in love. They had a beautiful family. She was a good person.
What does it take to get a person, a good person who loves his/her spouse, to take that step?
I wasn’t curious about the casual cheaters; that’s a whole different animal, but the ones who aren’t wired that way, who aren’t narcissistic, who do try to do the right thing–how do they choose such a devastating path?
As I contemplated, I attempted to put myself in the head of a person like this. It very quickly became obvious to me that it isn’t a single decision; it’s a slow slide into a choice. It’s not one choice made in a vacuum. No one wakes up and decides to take that step unless they have already been riding the landslide of dissatisfaction.
It starts with the little choices. The seemingly innocuous ones. It starts in the mind.
Depending on the person and the situation, that journey can look, and be, very different, but I believe, it all starts with careless thinking.
As a Psychology professor, I have long had a fascination with the mind. The mind is powerful. What we think can literally change who we are and how we live.
I’ve explored this topic multiple times in terms of self-talk, the lies we tell ourselves, and the false narratives that we adopt as truth, but I think there is another angle that gets less attention. It’s even more subtle, and it is a breeding ground for dissatisfaction.
Our daydreams. Our wishes. And our comparisons.
Alicia Britt Chole puts it this way in her book Anonymous.
Consider a new parent drowning in diapers who daydreams about the freedom and time he would have if he were still single or childless…who wakes up with less patience and more resentment toward his spouse and children. Or a woman lost in daydreams of being swept away by an attentive Prince Charming…who wakes up, rolls over, and wonders why her husband is looking more and more like a frog. Or a young professional smiling, lost in a daydream about high-profile companies fighting over him with ever-increasing pay scales…who wakes up somehow less satisfied and motivated in his current job (Chole 122).
Thoughts like these start the landslide. They fester. They breed dissatisfaction.
Not everyone has the affair, chooses a divorce, or makes a huge devastating choice of one kind or another, but MANY live in a haze of discontentment. Dissatisfaction that steals their joy and kills the love.
And it starts with such small choices.
Reading too many romance novels.
Chatting with someone who isn’t your significant other through social media (hey, it’s just talking–no harm no foul).
Daydreaming about the what if’s (what if I hadn’t married her? What if I’d stayed with so-and-so? What if I’d taken that job instead?).
Comparing your spouse to your friend’s spouse, or your job to the job someone else has–social media is terrible in this regard. The photoshopped version of our “friends” lives always make the grass seem greener somewhere else…anywhere else.
And before you know it, dissatisfaction has begun to grow.
Chole puts it this way:
Vain imaginations make us discontent…we often dismiss our daydreams as harmless, as though our minds were some sort of locked vault (Chole 122).
The thing is, we know better. Psychology has shown us again and again that our mind is a HUGE influencer. What we think is what becomes. What we think infiltrates our emotions, our lives, our decisions, our families.
Our minds are not contained environments; they are controlling environments (Chole 122).
We need to pay attention to the stray thoughts we think, to our daydreams, to the comparisons we make–because they influence everything.
Terrible life destroying decisions start here.
Perpetual dissatisfaction and discontent start here.
Our tomorrow starts here.
We need to pay more attention to these stray wishes and dreams. And sometimes, we need to make a choice to stop wishing, stop dreaming, and to remember why we chose to be exactly where we are–because there was a reason, and very possibly that reason still exists if we only take the time to remember it.