8th November, 2022

You Choose

With Rachel Morris

Dr Rachel Morris

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On this episode

Do you sometimes find yourself thinking that you don’t have a choice? Your circumstances and obligations seem to prevent you from taking any course of action except for one. But the thing is, we always have a choice. We choose all the time. Life is made up not of the big choices we have to make but of the little, compounding choices we make on a daily basis. So what choice will you make today? You choose.

In this You Are Not a Frog Quick Dip, Rachel delves into choice. She shares the one thing healthcare professionals get wrong about choice and why we find its concept difficult. She discusses the concept of the Zone of Power and how it can help us assess what’s in and out of our control in making choices. At the end of the day, we only have one wild and precious life — it’s your choice how to spend it.

If you want to know how to begin making choices with unclouded acceptance, tune in to this episode!

Show links

Reasons to listen

  1. Discover what it means to live a wild and precious life.
  2. Learn how to get out of the victim mentality that we don’t have a choice.
  3. Understand the concept of the Zone of Power.

Episode highlights


You Choose!


Making Choices


Living a Wild and Precious Life


What Healthcare Professional Get Wrong about Choice


Recognising Your Zone of Power


Choice and Losses


Embracing Serenity


Why We Find the Concept of Choice Difficult


Regrets of the Dying


Zone of Power Exercise

Episode transcript

Rachel Morris: This is a You Are Not A Frog Quick Dip. A tiny taster of the kinds of things we talk about on our full podcast episodes. I’ve chosen today’s topic to give you a helpful boost in the time it takes to have a cup of tea, so you can return to whatever else you’re up to feeling energised and inspired. For more tools, tips, and insights to help you thrive at work, don’t forget to subscribe to You Are Not A Frog wherever you get your podcasts.

When my kids were little, there was one book that I had to read to them every single night. It was called, You Choose by Nick Sherratt and Pippa Goodhart, and it came in one of those Free Book Week bags that we used to get from nursery. So every night, we would open this book, which started off saying, If you could go anywhere, where would you go? And there were pictures of the jungle, pictures of cities and deserts. And they were off there in a hot air balloon.

It was asking you, who would you like for family and friends? Which was quite an interesting concept for my children that they can actually choose their parents. I think my son often chose gangsters as parents. What kind of home would you choose? And when they got to choose what job they would do, how they would travel around. It was always things like rockets, or horse and cart, or race cars, really. And when they got hungry, what would they– was mainly jelly and sweets.

Every single night, we had to read this book. And I wasn’t quite sure what the attraction was in it, until now. Until I started thinking about the importance of choices. And I’ve become really quite obsessed with the choices that we make in life and how actually when we want to think about how to thrive rather than just survive at work and in life.

It’s all about the little choices that we choose to make on a daily basis, rather than some massive, new, resilient systems and massive, new concepts that we lead to learn. But I think, people work in healthcare, and other high stress jobs, we get a lot wrong about choice. You see, when I was little, I thought I had all the choices in the world just like my kids when they were reading that You Choose book.

As we get older, we find our choices get much more limited. Now my daughter is 17. She’s having to choose universities, and yes, her choices are limited, because she took certain A levels, and she’s only looking at certain cities. But she’s still got a massive amount of choice. Fast forward a few years from there and you end up in a job where you have more and more responsibility. You end up with a family of your own. You end up with a mortgage. You end up financially tied down.

It’s quite easy to feel like you don’t have a choice at all. And this was me six years ago. I felt I had no choice. I was in a job that I enjoyed some of it, but not all of it. But I genuinely thought I wasn’t able to do anything else. And it wasn’t until new year when I said to my sister and my husband, I said what are your New Year’s resolutions? And they said, well, we haven’t got any, but they looked at me and said yours, Rachel, your New Year’s resolution is to get yourself a new job.

That was the first time I’ve even thought I had any choice in the matter. You see, as a girl who quite liked science going through school and A levels. I also knew I liked people. And my parents were both doctors. I just sort of got funnelled into medicine. I think there was a choice in there somewhere, but I don’t seem to remember being given the choice really to do anything else. And from that I funnelled myself into general practice because I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do.

Then I got into medical education. And I found myself just working and working and working with three children in a city, which I love, but not really able to go anywhere else. And I thought I had no transferable skills. So when they said to me, your year’s resolution is to get a new job. That was the first time I’d ever thought, really? Could I do that? Do I even have the choice? So I went on my journey. Fast forward a couple of years, and I’m on a retreat in the Alps.

It’s a business retreat, and someone was talking to me about what I wanted to do, and how I wanted my life to look. And again, I thought to myself, “Oh, I would love to live out here.” There’s a community of businesses out here, people that have chosen to come and live in the Alps, to spend their mornings working their afternoons, rock climbing or skiing depending on the time of year. I would love to live out here. But I can’t.

I don’t have a choice about it because I’ve got three kids and I live in Cambridge. And then I realised that I do have a choice about it. I could go and live out there if I wanted to. I could live here. I could go set up a business there. But I’m choosing not to. Why? Because I love my family, and I want to support them where I am. And I was reading the poem by Mary Oliver, The Summer Day.

The last line of that is that amazingly and very often quoted line, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” And that really struck me, I thought, what does a wild and precious life look like? I can see what it looks like out here in the Alps. But what does it look like, on a Monday morning, in Cambridge, in the job that I’m doing?

My quest since then, is to think about actually what does a wild and precious life look like, right here, where we are in the jobs that we’re already doing? Because I think if we wait until our lives are totally sorted, we’re living in the most beautiful environment with the absolutely best people and there’s no problems around. If we wait till then, to feel that we’re going to be okay, then we’re going to be waiting a very, very long time, because that is never going to happen.

It is perfectly possible to choose even where you are to have a wild and precious life. Now, one thing that healthcare professionals get wrong about choice is thinking that you never have a choice, that you don’t have any choice about things. I remember a coaching colleague talking to me about a talk that she did about choice. She was talking about life being made up of the choices that you make, and someone came to her after the talk.

He said, “Well, in my country where I grew up, we had compulsory conscription into the army, and I had no choice about that.” Well, she said to him, “What would have happened, if you’d have said you weren’t going to go into the army.” He said, “Well, I’d have gone to jail.” She said, “Well, that’s your choice. It was the army or jail. But you always have a choice.” And that’s really, really difficult to hear.

But it is true, we always have a choice, even in the most difficult of situations. And Viktor Frankl and Edith Edgar are Holocaust survivors who were in concentration camps. And Viktor Frankl talked about the fact that you always have a choice when– even when everything has been taken away from you, you have a choice about how you’re going to respond to a situation.

Edith Edgar has written a book called, The Choice. All about the choices that you can make, even when life has dealt you a really, really hard hand. And I’m not denying the very, very difficult situations that many, many people are facing right now. And there is a lot of stuff that is outside of our control. So I talk a lot about the zone of power. That’s a very simple concept about recognising what’s in your control and what’s outside your control.

The simplest way to do it is to draw a circle on a piece of paper and outside the circle, write everything that’s outside your control. So the economy is outside our control. Politicians are outside our control. COVID’s outside of control. The changes in the NHS, largely outside our control. And what other people do is outside our control.

There are lots of things that happen to us in life that are outside our control. Bereavements, illness, loss, we don’t have a choice about the country that we are born into. Who our parents are, if we have a disability, that is not a choice that we have. But how we are able to accept the stuff outside our control is a choice.

If you are somewhere where you have some freedom about what job you can do, about what faith you can believe in, about how you spend your time during the day, how you spend your money, then you always do have a choice, even if it feels like you’ve got lots and lots of obligations. Now Henry Newman, a spiritual writer, talks about some of the choices you have, even in those hard times. This is him talking about loss. Every time there are losses, there are choices to make.

You can choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression, and resentment. Or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, something deeper. You see how we accept that stuff that is outside of our control? That is also a choice. And in my life, I have been guilty of absolutely railing against that stuff that I can’t control. That stuff that’s outside my zone of power. And this is where I find the Serenity Prayer really helpful.

God grant me the serenity to accept the stuff that I can’t change, the courage to change the stuff that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Now when I looked up the meaning of the word serenity, on this occasion, the word serenity means unclouded acceptance. I love that idea of unclouded acceptance. I’m getting a bit obsessed with how we accept the stuff that we can’t control, without tying ourself up in knots without getting really, really anxious and really, really worried about it.

But I think unclouded acceptance means that we make some choices about how we are going to accept that stuff that is outside our control. So that might be by making sure that we’re not putting ourselves in situations where we are constantly dwelling on it or constantly encountering it. It might be getting the help that we need to get through it. So why do we find this concept of choice so difficult?

There’s always one bit in some training that I do, where people get pretty shirty. And that’s when I asked them what’s in their zone of power. And one thing that’s often suggested that is in your zone of power is what time you leave work. And when I do this with GPs, there’s always a few people in the audience that get quite annoyed, that we might be suggesting that they are in control over what time they leave work.

But it’s logical, if you think about it. There’s nobody else in control over when you leave work because nobody can force you to stand up and go out to your bike or your car and get in it and drive home. It’s you that makes that decision, unless someone’s got a gun to your head about doing it.

But the reason why people get so cross is it they say, “Well, I can’t leave. I can’t leave because I’ve got all these patients to see, and I have to do these test results. If I don’t get to the test results, that could cause severe harm to a patient.”

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a choice, you do have a choice. But what’s happening is you are choosing to stay at work, so that you can be a good doctor, and make sure that those patients are safe. Because choices have consequences. And this is why it feels so hard sometimes, because the consequences often are out of our control. And they can be quite scary.

Nobody wants to cause a patient harm. Nobody wants to get a complaint. No one wants other people to think badly of them. No one wants other people to be put out or inconvenienced. But these are the consequences of the choices that we make. And often when we make choices, other people are put out, or they don’t understand, or they want us to make a different choice. And that is where we find it so difficult.

That is where the fear of making these choices stops us. And so what happens is we stay stuck. We stay stuck and helpless in a victim mentality thinking I don’t have a choice here. I can’t make the choice to do that because what will they think of me? I can’t make the choice to do that because what will happen there? Now, in a previous podcast with Gina Scull, we talked about The Regrets of the Dying, the book that she’s written. She interviewed a lot of people in their final year of their life.

You know what their biggest regrets were? Their regrets were the choices that they had not made, rather than the things that they had done. They regretted not choosing to get out of situations. They regretted not being courageous and taking those steps. The main thing that held them back was the fear of what other people thought of them. Whether that the choice was the wrong one, it was the fear of other people.

The things that hold me back I know are people pleasing, are a bit of perfectionism, always wanting to do it really right or not at all; the fear of failure. It’s actually very rarely things that are really significant, like causing patient harm, or something severe, that’s actually really holds me back. And often the other thing that holds me back is the time. The time needed to think things through.

But also, the other thing that holds us back a lot when it comes to choices, is that what we are trying to change, what we’re trying to make choices about is stuff that’s outside of our control. Stuff that we don’t have choices about. And so we end up getting really angry and spending all our time and focus on trying to change systems that won’t change or trying to change other people’s minds, instead of focusing that time and energy on ourselves.

I want you to try this now. If you are feeling stuck in a situation, if you’re in a situation where you feel you have no choice about something, then just download the free Zone of Power Canvas from the link in the show notes. Get a piece of paper, draw a circle in the middle and do a Zone of Power on it. Ask yourself, what is outside of my control here now that I need to accept, that I need to have unclouded acceptance about, and what can I do to accept that a bit better?

Then in that Zone of Power, in that circle, I want you to think, what choices do I have in this situation? And brainstorm every single choice, even the totally unpalatable ones that you are never going to do. It’s good to see your options out there, though. And once you get to the end of your list, ask yourself, well, what else could I do? Or ask a friend, what else could I do in this situation now? What are my other choices? And then work out what your next step is going to be.

What is your next powerful step that is in your control? Because life is made up, not so much of the really big choices that we make, but of all the little choices that we make on a daily basis. And if you don’t design your own life, then somebody else is going to. So what will you do with your one, wild, and precious life? You choose.