One of the most effective ways to reclaiming our personal lives, is by reclaiming our personal power. As long as we keep giving our personal power away, we are at the mercy of others and the external world. This is a major source of suffering in our world, as it causes us to feel helpless and/or powerless.

Over the centuries and thus to date, we have given a lot (if not most) of our personal power away. We have given it away to governments, banks, the medical system, corporations, and religions, just to name the common major ones. We see the consequences of this playing out viciously today. The human being has been pushed to an extreme state where we feel too many others dictate the state of our happiness and well-being. In one sense, we have been given more choices than ever before, but in another sense, everything from our food quality to our personal freedoms has been restricted, limiting how we exercise personal choice. The choice illusion, as I like to call it, is a very real and prevalent part of life today, whether we are consciously aware of it yet, or not.

So how do we get our personal power back? By exercising personal choice. But given the illusive nature of choice today, this is obviously not as easy as it may sound. Hence no surprise why there are so many revolts, uprisings and protests as people continue to awaken to how much personal power has been given away (some would even argue forced or manipulated away). We have to understand though, that no matter what happens in our lives, or the world, things are never hopeless, and we never have “no choice”. We always have choice where it matters most – our every thought, word and action. And even in the most “choice-less” situations, like being imprisoned in a cell, we still have the choice of how we choose to perceive the situation, through our thoughts, which will in turn guide our emotions. If you have a hard time with this last concept, just read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning or acquaint yourself with the work of Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. Therefore today, the biggest challenge and solution is seeing through the illusory choices in our society’s systems, and exercising real choice to gain back our personal power.

A Matter of Choice

When it comes to exercising personal choice and reclaiming our personal power, one of the main ways that people think of doing this is through voting. By casting our vote in political and similar elections, many people think they are exercising their choice in terms of what kind of leader they want, and in turn what kind of country, economy, etc. But given the system that is set up in our society today, we have to consciously consider if we really even have a choice?

Many people of course think that we do. After all, the political parties do everything they can to win us over and show us that each party is “different” from the other and you have the free will to “choose” who you want to represent you. Thus many people who support political parties are still intent on seeing the world from this dualistic view. Us versus them. Liberals versus Conservatives. Republicans versus Democrats. And on, and on it goes. Regardless of who you support, one of the biggest impressions most have is that we actually have choice in the current system, and every time we vote we exercise that choice. However, it isn’t until we do a little digging both outside and inside of ourselves, that a new picture begins to form where we come to realize, we don’t really have real choice regardless who we vote for. For the most part, politics today has become a hashing out of “petty issues” to keep us conveniently distracted from real world concerns.

Let me put it another way through the following simple example. I don’t eat meat. So let’s say I go to someone’s house and they put chicken and beef and fish in front of me and ask me to choose. From my perspective they are not giving me a choice, but from their perspective they are. Let’s say a meat eater comes in. They will most certainly feel positive about the great choice of meals they are being served thinking nothing of it. It isn’t until we step back to see this situation from a bigger picture perspective, where we realize that the choice we were given is a very limited one, if even a choice at all. All three options are a type of meat (even the fish which our society conveniently tries not to pass as meat). So is there really a choice here? Of course the answer to this depends on our reference point and perspective.

Sheena lyengar has been studying how humans make choices for decades and in her TED lecture entitled, The Art of Choosing, Sheena presents various data from her personal studies. One example that I found particularly compelling, which further elaborates the above example I shared, was what happened when she was interviewing some participants from Eastern Europe. In a simple act of hospitality that had nothing to do with her interview, Sheena offered the guests some soda and invited them to choose which one they wanted. To her surprise, one of the participants replied “Oh, but it doesn’t matter. It’s all just soda. That’s just one choice.” This is a startling realization not just when it comes to Sheena’s studies, but for each of us in how we each perceive what choice is. After all, how can we exercise choice, if technically we don’t have any choice to exercise?

To Vote, or Not To Vote?

So let’s go back to our political voting example. With a major election coming up in the United States in 2012, many people are anxiously awaiting their turn to vote, thinking that this *new* leader will make *the* difference. But given the current system, as I already mentioned it really doesn’t matter who we vote for. Between one candidate and another, it’s all just soda, or all just meat (no pun intended). Unless we expand our decision making space, we cannot evolve any further and will simply revolve around the same “stuff”, like a hamster on a wheel. Today however, we need to do better. We have evolved to a state where choice is not found between political leaders. Today, real choice exists between new systems, and new ways of thinking and doing things.

In his book Peaceful Revolution the author Paul K. Chappell states something very noteworthy of our attention:

“Voting is just one tool in the democratic toolbox, and we cannot build a house with just a hammer. Realistic hope tells us voting is only one of many ways to participate in democracy.”

This statement captures some of the reasoning needed to realize that for real change to take place, it isn’t only about voting. It is instead about expanding our consciousness and making our actions count. This is why to expand our perspective of real choice today and being able to exercise it, we have to understand that not much will change as long as the current system of things is in place. The current model of the economy, the current banking system, the current medical system, the current religion systems, etc.

Today, to exercise real choice, we need to be given real choices. Not pseudo choices, disguised as choices to make us feel as if what we do (as in voting) matters. Whether you vote Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative, it is all part of the same system which we know without a shadow of a doubt is not working for us, or the greater good. Today, we as the people of this planet, who are expanding our consciousness and moving into a heart-centered way of life understand that it is not just about me being okay. It is about all of the Earth’s inhabitants being okay—humans, animals, plants, etc. This is why if we really want real change—change that means something—we need a new system. A new way of thinking, a new way of being, and a new way of living on planet Earth.

Living the Solution: A New Way of Exercising Choice

I don’t vote—at least not in the typical sense—and I am actually at peace to share that publicly today. There was a time when I wasn’t, as it is no doubt a delicate issue for people to hear that someone is “not upholding the values of what it means to be a good citizen.” Of course, each of us should be able to do whatever feels most right to us at any time, given our personal journey, or evolution without guilt. Judging others, based on our ideals gets us and our world nowhere. However, we cannot forget that we live in a consequence-based system of reality. That means that each and every single one of our actions (even words and thoughts) matters, and creates some form of our reality. This is the part we need to learn and correlate with the state of our personal life, and the global world we perceive. Hence the reason the great masters and sages have continuously shared the teaching – be the change you wish to see.

Democracy doesn’t come from the top. It comes from the bottom. Democracy is not what governments do. It’s what people do.

Howard Zinn, Historian

Given what I shared above, don’t get me wrong though. If, and when, there is a choice to vote for a new system versus the old (current) system, for example something like a resource-based economy, I will proudly cast my vote. In the meantime, I choose to exercise choice and reclaim my life through my everyday life choices. I am simply not interested in playing games that promote the illusion of having a choice.

In his book Peaceful Revolution, Paul K. Chappell also states the following:

“Hope for a brighter future is only realistic when we exercise many democratic methods such as protests, petitions, boycotts, pressuring the legal system, and changing people’s attitudes for the better.”

Now this strongly resonates with me, because to me it is part of the tool set to cause real change, and exercise real choice. You may have already heard numerous times that we are more powerful that we believe. Whether it is just a saying to you, or your personal, experiential truth, I invite you to consider the idea. You see, there may not be official voting polls set up for each of the things I am about to mention, but the truth is that we ALL vote and exercise our personal power every single day through the everyday choices we make. In doing so, we make the most difference to the state of our life, community, country and world. It is the most powerful way to reclaim your life.

The key to being part of the solution, rather than the problem and reclaiming our personal power is through conscious participation where it matters, and non-participation where it works against the greater good. Every time you walk into the grocery store, or a department store, or any store and purchase something, you are either reclaiming your personal power, or giving it away. If it is a food product grown with pesticides, you vote for that. If it is a product or service that harms your health, you vote for that. If it is a choice that harms the environment, you vote for that. If it is a product that is made overseas, you vote for that. If it is a service or product that exploits a human or animal, you vote for that. If it is a product or service that benefits corporations, while it harms the greater good, you vote for that. When we begin to see things this way, reality, accountability, the ability to affect change and personal power take on a whole new meaning.

Of course it doesn’t take long to also see how much of our choice, even when we would like to exercise it positively is limited under the current system of how the world operates. Either way, every action, no matter how small matters. And every choice in a better direction makes an impact and shapes the present and future outcomes. Therefore, this is not the time to practice despair, apathy, hopelessness, and potentially even anger. This is the time to connect with your heart in all that you think, say and do, and realize that you are either giving away your personal power, or reclaiming your life through each of those personal areas. Choose that which will improve your life, not make it even worse.

Yes, I get it, these are big shoes to fill to take on that much personal accountability. And truth be told, with most of us rushing around to “make a living” and get “more”, it leaves us stressed, rushed and chronically “busy”. The last thing we seem to have time, or make time for, is to be conscious of how much each of our choices impacts our life, and the state of the greater good. And yes, I get it, not everyone is ready for such personal accountability. But the good news is no everyone has to. The idea is to keep evolving, keep expanding your consciousness to keep getting a broader view of the bigger picture. When we shut down to growth, or dismiss new ideas, we only end up hurting ourselves.

So for anyone who has ever said that their personal everyday choices or actions won’t make a difference, I invite you to read the Starfish Story. Every positive action—meaning one that benefits the greater good—no matter how small, benefits the collective consciousness. In this system of reality, everything matters. The system is too efficient to have it any other way.

Start wherever you are today. Start with whatever you can. But don’t sit back and continue to give your personal power away. As I said before, we have more power than we realize to change things around and make a difference. Only you can reclaim your life by reclaiming your personal power, which comes through exercising your personal choices for the highest good of all. As long as you keep giving your power away to other people or organizations, you leave yourself at the mercy of others and find life to be a struggle, because you feel things are outside of your control.

Reclaim your life today by exercising your personal choice where it really matters most—from within you.