Cultivating Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude

Cultivating gratitude is a powerful way of bolstering psychological health. Here are two ways in which a readiness to show appreciation can bring you peace.

Continue reading

The Choice Point: Building Your Ideal Self

The Choice Point is a simple, yet powerful tool for self-improvement. It can help you build your ideal self by clarifying what’s most important to you, what you’d like to avoid, and how to mindfully build the life you want through meaningful action.

It was developed by therapist Russ Harris as a road map to help you keep track of what you’re doing in your life and whether it’s moving you toward the life that you want or away from it.

The following sections will show you how to use this road map to clarify your options based on what’s most important to you in a given situation.

Clarifying Your Ideal Self

It’s important to get crystal clear on what matters to you and what sort of person you want to become. Without clearly defining this desired future self, you’ll have no compass to guide you through storms when life gets tough.

Choose a domain of life that you believe needs your attention:

  • Work/Study
  • Health
  • Parenting
  • Intimate relationships
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Spirituality
  • Community/Environment

Then consider the following questions:

  • What are adjectives I would use to describe my ideal self within this domain of my life? Click here for a list of virtues for reference.
  • What are qualities of people I admire that I wish I had and would like to apply to my life?
  • What would I like to being doing within this domain that I am not currently? What are my goals?

Think and write for at least 2 minutes, then move on. Don’t get caught up in sentence structure, spelling, or grammar. Just get your thoughts out.

Toward Moves

“Toward moves” involve looking at what you need to do to become the person you identified above and achieve your goals. 

Consider these questions to clarify your toward moves:

  • What do I need to do to move toward my ideal self, specifically when life gets tough?
  • What do other people with these desired qualities do when faced with challenges that I can adopt?
  • How will I know I’m acting on my desired qualities within this domain of my life? What will this look like?

Take 2 minutes and think about what these toward moves would be and write them down. Don’t evaluate them or give yourself excuses for not doing them, just get them down on the page first.

Now spend some time breaking down those toward moves into immediate actionable steps that you can choose to act on.

Do this for as many domains of your life as you feel are in need of your attention. 

Then write about your ideal future that you’ve just imagined for 10 minutes. Write continuously and try not to stop. Dream while you write. Be ambitious. Imagine a life that you would regard as honorable, exciting, productive, creative, and decent.

Away Moves

“Away moves” involve looking at what you do that takes you away from being the type of person you want to be.

They’re motivated by trying to avoid or escape uncomfortable experiences, and when over-used can lead to stagnancy and unfulfillment.

Examples include:

  • Procrastinating
  • Making excuses
  • Social withdrawal
  • Passive behavior
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Avoiding new experiences
  • Defensiveness
  • Overthinking
  • Over-/Under-accommodating
  • Staying in bed
  • Binge watching TV
  • Eating too much/too little
  • Shopping
  • Self-medication with drugs/alcohol
  • Self-harm

Everyone has vices like these that can get the better of us during stressful times. Identifying these actions that pull us away from what matters to us helps to bring clarity to the choices we have in how to respond.

You’ll always have urges to act on away moves, but you can’t cultivate your ideal self if you’re turning toward them instead of your values and goals.

Take some time and think about what you do to:

  • What do I do that takes me away from being the type of person I want to be?
  • What are ways I distract myself or opt out of fully participating in the life of meaning and purpose that I want?
  • Have these choices gotten me closer to my ideal self?
  • What have these choices cost me?

Take 10 minutes to write about what your life will look like in the future if you continue using these ineffective strategies to manage discomfort in your life. This is the future you would like to avoid – if you failed to define or pursue your goals, if you let your bad habits get out of control, and if you ended up miserable, resentful and bitter. Imagine your life three to five years down the road if you failed to stay on the path you know you should be on.

Difficult Thoughts and Feelings

If we aren’t clear about what matters to us, then we’re much more likely to be hooked by difficult thoughts and feelings and pulled off course – pulled into stagnancy, avoiding discomfort, and avoiding life.

You can’t respond productively to something that you haven’t first identified and clarified for yourself, and that includes internal experiences.

Take some time to think about a recent stressful situation. Write down the who, what, when, and where of that situation.

In which domain of your life does this situation fall?

Now explore your thoughts and feelings during that situation that made it more difficult to stay focused on the qualities you want for yourself and your goals within this domain. Make a bulleted list of each, using quotation marks to capture the precise thoughts.

The better you get at identifying these internal experiences that pull you away, the better life gets because you’re taking the difficulties of your life and choosing to carry that burden with you on your way toward growth. No more running. No more hiding. No more pushing away. That’s living the life you want, even with challenges.

Choosing Purpose

The Choice Point is your fork in the road.

If your life isn’t what it could be and you’re discontented with it, there’s likely a choice you’re being called to make that you haven’t yet – something you’re being called upon to struggle against that you’ve been avoiding.

We need challenges like this to push against to give life a sense of purpose and direction.

If we lose sight of our ability to make this choice, then life stalls and we’re at the mercy of wherever difficult thoughts and feelings pull us. We’re no longer in control of life.

We can choose to sacrifice our old selves, our stuck selves that have been avoiding difficult decisions, in order to grow. If life is too secure and too comfortable, what we’ll want more than anything else is a challenge to struggle against to better ourselves. Even where happiness isn’t guaranteed, we’ll still have a reason to continue carrying these challenges forward.


Disclaimer: I am a licensed therapist, but I might not be your therapist and this article does not create a therapist-client relationship. This article contains mental health material for informational use only and should not be seen as therapeutic advice. You should consult with a therapist or other appropriate professional before you rely on this information. I reserve the right to change the information contained within this blog at any time and am not liable for any damages that may result from its use.