18 Jun The fork in the road series – past and present
I love the Muppets. Yes, I’m an unabashed Jim Henson fan!
As a kid, I remember watching one of the Muppets movies. In one scene, they’re driving along in a car, looking at the map. One of the Muppets says, “There’s a fork in the road!” And the next thing you know, a large fork appears, right in the middle of the road.
While this was all in plain good fun, I think each of us has experienced a metaphorical fork in the road many times throughout our lives. Sometimes, they even look a lot like the one in the Muppets!
We tend to see forks appear because we are conditioned to think in a binary fashion. That is, there are two choices, two possibilities. We can turn one way or another. The decision we make will be either right or wrong; it will lead us to a negative outcome or a great one.
You often hear people reminisce, “If only I’d made that choice instead of this one, my life would be different now.” You have probably thought this about a decision you’ve made. I know I have in the past.
It’s true that some forks in the road are significant. We should recognise that and respect those truly “binary” times. Some decisions do lead to challenging or wonderful outcomes. But too often, we see that fork as a single pivotal choice, to be made in one window of time, forever immutable. A choice we cannot change.
And because of that, after the decision point, we often tell ourselves, “I can never be, I can never do, I will never be able to do.” These statements then become the stories people live their lives by.
And yet, there’s a world of science that shows us not only can we physically change our bodies, we can change our brains. Therefore, I would argue we can make new decisions and choose new behaviours. Past choices or consequences do not solely define your future pathways.
- Body. We now know more than ever before about how our body reacts to the food we fuel it with and to exercise. There are myriad ways to manage our health better – all it takes is that first step.
“It’s never too early or too late to work towards being the healthiest you.”
- Brain. Neuroplasticity is the process of the brain forming new neural connections, essentially reorganising itself throughout life regardless of the context it operates in. The brain responds and adapts to new situations and environments, even compensating for injury and disease.
“Where attention goes, neural firing flows and neural connection grows.”
– Daniel J. Siegel
- Behaviours. We also know we can change our thoughts and behaviours through neuro-linguistic programming. This is where an individual’s thought patterns and unconscious mind are reprogrammed so they can overcome issues they have been struggling with.
“Do not give your past the power to define your future.”
– Dhiren Prajapati
So, with this knowledge around brain plasticity and change, why do we get stuck in the past, at this binary fork in the road?
I would offer that it’s because of the stories we tell ourselves; the things we hold as truths. Many of us have chosen to incorporate these “truths” into our story.
When we perceive the fork in the road as a choice between a “right” turn and a “wrong” turn, one choice being successful and one being failure, we consider our choice to be final. If we fail, we believe it is something we can never change. This is not true. One “fail” does not mean we are a failure, and it does not mean we can’t turn that fail around. This is something we need to really think about and confront inside ourselves. I know I have had to address this particular un-truth.
I’m not saying choices can’t have significant and lasting impacts. They can. But we do have the choice to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and chart a new path.
Many wise men and women have observed that failure is a stepping stone to moving forward. As the great Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” And author and leadership expert John Maxwell says, “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”
So, how do we actively forge a different path? How do we, as Maxwell says, fail forward, so it becomes a more useful experience?
I believe at the core of this is the need to develop resilience and understand what resilience is.
In an earlier blog post, I talked about the three pillars of resilience: EQ (emotional intelligence), IQ (intelligence quotient) and LQ (learning quotient). The three pillars are about how effectively you learn from every situation. How do you learn from an event? How do you apply that learning in a way that is useful to you, so you aren’t paralysed by that fork in the road?
Think back to Fozzie Bear and Kermit in that crazy Muppets car. If they had taken a wrong turn at that fork, they could have easily stopped, made a U-turn, and headed in the other direction. We can do this, too.
Too often in life, we continue to barrel down a certain road, deciding it’s too late, we’ve gone too far, we can’t change our path. But this does not have to be your truth. The choice is yours.
I know I’ve had some serious challenges or “forks” in my life. If you feel stuck on a past decision, I’m more than happy to share with you my experiences and learnings.
And, as Kermit would say, “The show must go on!” So, get out there and live.