Living by choice is not a mystery; the steps are simple. But it doesn’t come easily, especially at first. If it did, everyone would drop their old habits and start living with intention so they could reap all the benefits and live healthier, happier lives. The challenge of living by choice is to make the commitment to practice the following steps faithfully, and consistently over time.

Set an intention to make conscious choices throughout the day, each day.

The first step is a matter of focus, of deciding how you want to direct your thoughts. Since most of us live quite unconsciously most of the time, setting the intention to make conscious choices is a necessary step that needs to be revisited again and again.

Cultivate an awareness of how often you make unconscious choices throughout the day.

For this step, notice those times when you are engaged in doing something you didn’t deliberately decide to do: eating a food that isn’t healthy for you, eating until you feel full, or obsessing over an upcoming medical appointment. You don’t need to change anything with this step; simply notice when you’re doing something you didn’t deliberately set out to do. This can prove very illuminating, and you will get better at it with practice.

Notice how often your behavior is not aligned with your personal values.

This is where the real power of living by choice lies: discovering the things you think, do, and say that don’t line up with what you value most—those qualities and behaviors you began to identify in the preceding chapter. This disconnect is the source of great emotional distress and physiological stress, and when you develop the ability to recognize the discord, you gain the opportunity to choose a different, much more health-affirming course.

Make conscious choices as often as you can.

Over time, you will learn to recognize the great variety of decision points you reach throughout the day. When you notice that there is a choice to make—whether to continue ruminating about an upcoming medical procedure, perhaps, or whether or not to call upon a friend for support—you will improve your skills in living according to your personal values. In the preceding examples, the values are peace of mind and support.

Make conscious choices throughout the day that are in harmony with your personal life values.

With this step you can fulfill the promise of living by choice. If you value self-care, for example, and you find yourself presented with the conscious choice of what to have for lunch when there is little time, you can decide to select something that’s nutrient dense, yet light and quick to eat—some leftover tofu, rice, and vegetables, perhaps—and then drive past that fast-food place instead of through it. If you have been practicing loving self-care, you will have prepared such nutritious meals in advance, cooking a little extra food the evening before and setting it aside in order to have a healthy lunch each day instead of eating in a restaurant.

As another example, say you’ve been avoiding asking for a friend’s help for fear of being a burden. But when you consider your personal values, you recognize how much you value support, loving self-care, and authentic self-expression, so you pick up the phone and make the call. Taking valued action not only serves to allow you to live by your personal values, it cultivates a strong sense of mastery: mastery results when you make conscious choices that are in line with your personal life values. It is in such seemingly minor decisions that the promise of living by choice is found, because all the choices that line up with your values contribute to your health and wellbeing. And they add up!

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