Nearly two decades ago, as part of my doctoral program, I took a course on psychometric theory and measurement. It was all about the science of asking the “right” questions to measure accurately and reliably someone’s knowledge (in a test/exam) or attitude (in a survey/assessment). A good question should come with one and only one right/optimal answer. Any compound answer option, e.g., “a and b,” “b and d,” etc., is considered poorly constructed, unreliable measurement. If we ask the question right, it should always yield a single right choice among options. The objective is to have a forced choice of one. “Or” is good, “and” is bad.
Option A or B?
What prompted me to dust off the cobweb around this long archived memory? Last week, I came to a fork in the road, a real-life forced choice between Options A and B. Option A would have me continuing to explore something that has been a source of joy and embodies the potential to fulfill a big intention in my life. However, this path also includes conditions that are incongruent with some of my deeply held values and beliefs. Option B would have me walk away from something that has fed my heart, along with the potential it holds for the future. The upside of this option is that I won’t have to compromise my values and beliefs; I can stay true to myself.
I chose B, which was the better of the two options. To my chagrin, however, “better” still required me to give up something I want, and I most certainly feel the sting of having to choose—and of the outcome of that choice. Why couldn’t the “or” be an “and” choice? That is, why couldn’t I have what I want without having to compromise my values and beliefs? It’s as the popular saying goes, “You can’t have the cake and eat it, too.” Similarly, Oprah said, “You can have it all. Just not all at once.” But why in the world not?
How did the belief that we can’t have something without giving up something else work itself into our social and cultural conditioning? Why do we accept without questions such limitations in our conventional mindset? How does life appear to be a series of forced choices to select only one option, when there are often some truly desirable conditions or features in the other option(s) we must forego? How about more “and” and fewer “or” choices?
Two Types of Mindset
I believe that life is a mirror reflecting back to us our beliefs, whether or not we’re conscious of them. There’s nothing random about life, and every experience serves a higher purpose, if we’re open to seeing it. Since life isn’t a static event but an ever-evolving journey through which we change and grow, forks in the road are opportunities for us to reassess whether our belief system could use any updating. Many unpleasant experiences are meant to shed light on latent limiting beliefs lurking in our subconscious mind, most of which we may not even remember acquiring, let alone recognize how they contribute to creating situations that seemingly force choices.
Tell me if you can relate to the following two levels of consciousness, two alternative types of mindsets:
Our only limitations are those we set up in our own minds. ~ Napoleon Hill
First, it seems that the need to make mutually exclusive choices is premised on a subconscious fear of lack and limitations, that we can’t have it all, that there are always strings attached to what we want. When we’re happy, deep down we fear it won’t last, and we wait for the proverbial other shoe to drop. And, of course, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, whatever we fear becomes reality. This mindset of lack and limitations creates “or” experiences—like the one I outlined above.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. ~ Lao Tzu
An alternative mindset that allows for “and” scenarios is one of abundance, infinite possibilities and limitless potential. The different elements of what we desire in our life don’t contradict one another, nor are they mutually exclusive. As such, there’s no need to make tradeoffs; instead, we can feast on a buffet of complementary options. Applied to my case above, I’d be in a desirable situation that fully aligns with my values and beliefs. It’s a total win-win, an “and” scenario.
Lesson on Making “And” Choices
I recognize that this objectively unpleasant fork-in-the-road experience bears gifts of valuable reminders and life lessons. First, it made me stop and re-evaluate whether any part of my belief system is outdated. After all, over the years, some things I used to believe were non-negotiables had been relaxed. Beliefs stemming from my core values remained. In this case, the values and beliefs being challenged are still critical to me. I made the right choice.
This experience also made me realize that there are still remnants of lack and limitations in my subconscious mind. It’s my opportunity to gut a hidden program in my belief system about life being a series of forced choices with tradeoffs. What’s standing in my way of having “and” instead of “or” experiences is my latent belief that I must give up something in order to have something else I want. I have no illusions that tradeoffs and compromises are necessary sometimes. Nonetheless, this latest forced-choice episode has prompted me to be mindful of cultivating more of an abundance and limitless consciousness in ways I hadn’t thought of abundance before.
My heart still feels tender in the aftermath of the choice I had to make, even though I chose well for myself. I’m grateful for the fact that this experience manifested at just the right time to help me elevate my consciousness to live out more of my best life, one with much more “and” and far less “or” experiences.
Over to you: Do you believe that you must always give up something to receive something else? Which do you find more prominent in your life: “or” or “and” scenarios? What do you do to minimize needing to make forced choices you may not wish to make without burying your head in the sand? How do you embrace with love those choices you don’t want to but must make?
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