The key to discipline is the relationship between the primary and the secondary choice. Once we know what is primary (first), we may need to make strategic secondary choices in support of our primary choice. If we want to create health, we may need to make a series of secondary choices such as eat a healthy diet and exercise. We might not make these secondary choices if we didn’t have health as a primary choice, but we gladly do them when we know our higher order organizing principle: in this case health.
But there is another type of choice upon which all other choices rest, and that is the fundamental choice.
1. Relating to or affecting the underlying principles or structure of something
2. Serving as an essential part of something
1. A basic and necessary component of something, especially an underlying rule or principle
A real choice means we can do it (whatever the it is) or not. If you must do it, you have no choice. Some people use the word “choice,” but they don’t really mean you can do it or not. Sometimes they think that a choice is forced upon you, and if you don’t do whatever the it is, you will pay a price until you wise up, and finally make “the right choice.” The thought here is “yes, you have a choice to get it wrong, pay the consequences, and finally come to your senses and do the right thing.” But this is not in the spirit of a true choice. It is just a life-manipulation which presumes there is a “right” path and you must take it – this notion of choice is held by those who have some dogmatic belief system that they feel is the only truth. They think anyone with a different view will eventually be forced to adopt their worldview.
But in life we do have many choices we can make. Some of these choices can make all the difference. If you haven’t made the fundamental choice to be a non-smoker, any method you choose will eventually fail. If you have made the fundamental choice to be a non-smoker, just about any method you choose will work, and you will be attracted to those methods that work especially well for you.
Fundamental choices are about orientation, states of being, the ground you stand on. There are four major fundamental choices we recommend to people. They are:
The choice to be healthy
The choice to be free
The choice to be true to yourself
The choice to be the predominant creative force in your own life
The choice to be healthy
When it comes to health, we are not all created equally. Some of us are, by nature, healthier than others. Our starting point is whatever it is. But, that having been said, all of us can still make the fundamental choice to be healthy. What exactly does that mean? It means that we take on the job of creating health for ourselves. Most of us do not do that. I didn’t do that until I was in my late thirties. I, like most of us, somehow had the notion that my body was kind of like a car. If I got sick, I would bring my body to the doctor in the same way we bring our cars to the mechanic. It is the mechanic’s job to fix the car, and it was the doctor’s job to fix the body. I was just a passive consumer. Once I had made the fundamental choice to be healthy, I was the one, and the only one, whose job it was to see to it that I created health for myself. Others could help by their advice, their medical service, their research, and their support. But, truth was, it simply wasn’t their job, or responsibility, to see to it that I was healthy.
Once a fundamental choice like this is made, our orientation changes. We cannot play the passive victim of circumstances. We have the critical role in how we live our lives, on the primary and secondary choices we make, on changing habits that do not support our health, and on adopting habits that do. No one else is pulling the strings. Life may deal us a different situation than others, but it is our job to see to it personally that we make the most of the raw material we are given.
Choice versus Commitment
We need to point out that a fundamental choice is very different from “making a commitment.” People who talk about “commitment” often are not really making a fundamental choice, but rather trying to manipulate themselves to do what is good for them by entrapment. Once you “commit” you are pledged to follow through with whatever you committed to: i.e. now you have no CHOICE! You are stuck. But a true fundamental choice is still a choice: you can do it or not. The power comes from this simple reality. You do not force yourself to be healthy.
You look more deeply at reality and see that health is one of your deepest values. You could turn away from it at any time. What would lead to consistency is being in touch with the truth that it is a choice, and that you want health. No trick, just truth. Commitment is something that describes what it looks like from the outside looking in, not the inside looking out. Those who have made a real fundamental choice do not talk or think about commitment, they think about their deepest values and highest desires. Those looking on, but not privy to the inner workings of their heart, misunderstand, and think these people are highly “committed.”
Playing the piano is one thing from the point of view of the pianist, another from the audience. To the audience, the pianist is pushing down black and white keys. If they gave advice based on what they can observe from the outside looking in, they would say, to play the piano, push down black and white keys. Their advice would not lead many to become virtuoso pianists. Likewise, just because from the outside looking in, some effective people can look like they are pillars of “commitment,” the advice to “become committed” will end up as self-manipulation that structurally will lead to oscillating patterns. First the person seems capable of more productive behavior, but then they backslide. Commitment is not sustainable. The fundamental choice is. While superficially they can look alike, they are miles apart functionally.
The choice to be free and the choice to be true to yourself are pretty clear. The choice to be the predominant creative force in your own life could use a little explanation.
Once a fundamental choice is made, anything that is inconsistent with that choice sticks out like a sore thumb. You cannot live with the discrepancy. The fundamental choice is an organizing force, creating hierarchy of what’s essential and basic and what is not. If you were to make the fundamental choice to be the predominant creative force in your own life, you would no longer be able to play the victim of circumstances.
That’s not to say that no one is ever victimized by their circumstances or other people. Sometimes they are. It is to say that whatever cards you are dealt, you are taking on the job of making the best of it in favor of your life-building process. For some people, once they make the fundamental choice to be the predominant creative force in their own life, they have to give up complaining about their lot in life. They may have to abandon an “entitlement mentality” – thinking they are owed a good life. They might need to develop certain skills they need, but don’t have. They cannot afford themselves the luxury of feeling sorry for themselves, something human beings love to do. They reposition themselves, and place themselves in the center of their lives.
They are open and happy to learn from their mistakes, and they also learn from their successes. Like all fundamental choices, once made, any processes they choose can be made to work, and they are especially attracted to those methods that work particularly well for them. Other may think of them as committed, but they are conscious that they are organizing their lives around their deepest values and highest aspirations.
Once you make a fundamental choice, everything changes, even if everything looks the same. You are on solid ground and you no longer are subject to the changing circumstances that life brings. Your creative process is driven by the generative love of the outcomes you desire to bring into the world, and the situations you find yourself in are simply the raw material you begin with.