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Learned helplessness

If you live your life feeling like events are beyond your control, then the chances are that you are correct. In lieu of taking personal responsibility for how, why, what, where and when you use your time, you have abdicated responsibility. And if you do not make a choice/take control/manage yourself, somebody else will choose for you. This can result in a sense of powerlessness, impotence and stress.


According to the book Smarter Faster Better, we feel better when we exercise control over our lives. This is accomplished by evaluating choices and making decisions. The more you exert control, the more likely you are to accomplish things.


Martial arts require the exponent to rapidly evaluate combat situations and make the best possible choice given the circumstances. The challenge lies with the fact that the situation continually changes.
Our opponent is not static. The opponent's decisions affect our options and our decisions affect their choices too...

Yes or no?

Lao Tzu wrote that if we consider a decision long enough we may come to agree with it. If we think a little further, we might then uncover disagreeable aspects. Yet, further thinking may ultimately leave us uncertain. We can no longer choose yes or no. We realise that we do not know the best course of action. The variables, permutations, outcomes, consequences, ramifications and repercussions overwhelm us.

Chuang Tzu's The Pivot

Chuang Tzu wrote that we can always see things from more than one perspective. It can be useful to examine our motivations, goals and feelings, then flip it around and play Devil's Advocate. We will gain more insight and also see flaws in how we think.


We can choose in some circumstances. We are not always offered a choice. Even if we can choose, do we choose from a standpoint of wisdom or confusion? Will you agree with your decisions in 10 years time?


People think of choosing as being about freedom. But is it? Choosing is only necessary when there is confusion. When the course is clear, you act unflinchingly. When confused, you must choose.
The problem with choosing is that a confused mind by its very condition is not capable of choosing well. If you possessed clarity, you would see. No choice would be needed.

Not knowing

Admitting that you do not have the answer can be quite liberating. Instead of being, fixed, certain and secure, you are free, spontaneous and inquiring. With nothing to hold onto, you are more inclined to consider new possibilities, different options and considerations.


Questions and answers are quite limiting. Both reflect a shaping of reality. But words are not the thing. People imagine themselves to be objective but there is no such thing as objectivity.


Our education, upbringing, memories, experiences and opinions provide perspective - we see things in a particular way - how we are... rather than as they are. We are inherently biased.

Questions shape answers

Our questions determine the answers we are seeking. They formulate the nature of the answer we desire e.g. How? (method/process). What? (description). When? (time). Where? (location). Why? (reason). Which? (choice). Who? (identity). The answers confirm the information we want to hear. Can you see the dilemma?

I Ching

The I Ching encourages us to consider new choices. It suggests that any given situation may offer 8 choices. This number is not fixed or literal. It is simply a device to encourage further contemplation.
Our capacity to see alternatives determines how easily we are able to adapt, change and improvise. You don't have to read the I Ching in order to do this. Just try to see any situation from multiple angles.


Seeing clearly is essential. Unless we can interact with reality without the burden of our thoughts and opinions, we will not respond appropriately.


Choosing without seeming to choose, selecting the most harmonious option automatically - this is called 'choiceless awareness'. We are one with the moment. We see the permutations without thinking, without anxiety. We move without fear, spontaneously and easily. Taoism encourages this 'attuning to the way of things'.


A martial artist doesn't have the luxury of dithering.
Dithering weakens your ability to act. Your mind is divided between concerns. It is necessary to choose rapidly and choose well.


We can hold back neither the coming of the flowers
nor the downward rush of the stream; sooner or later,
everything comes to its fruition.

(Loy Ching-Yuen)

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Page created 21 May 1996
Last updated 04 May 2023