When It’s Not My Choice

Gorilla Thinking

I used to have a sign above my desk that said, “Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” There are other versions of this but they all carry the same message: “I have no intention of becoming stressed just because you are.”

It’s a bit like this gorilla. He has very little say in what happens to him. He has been captured and placed in a zoo. So he accepts his situation, eats what he is fed, and seems to be content with his lot in life without worrying about the zoo keeper’s stress.

Dealing With Someone Else’s Decisions

Now that we have dealt with the concepts of solitude, having a confidante, and having a support network, what do you do when faced with someone else’s bad planning, or even poor decision-making by your network group? How do you stop it from upsetting your day?

We need to make a basic distinction, here. Some psychologists like to look at our lives as being at the centre of concentric circles of concern and influence. Outside the circles are those things that we probably know nothing about. We could not influence what happens there even if we knew anything about it. Therefore, why worry about it? Perhaps we could illustrate this in terms of someone in another country who is overweight. We don’t know about it and we couldn’t do anything about it if we did.

Concern and Influence

The inner circle holds those things that concern us and that we can influence. So, going back to our illustration, we may be concerned about our own weight. That’s something over which we have an influence.

Between our inner circle and the outside world there are areas that we may know about but over which we have varying degrees of influence. So if our young children were overweight we would be in a position to change their diet. But if our partner was overweight we might struggle to influence him or her.

From this we can see that there are matters that may cause us concern but which we cannot influence. In such situations we can often beat ourselves up over our inability to act. So what can we do about it?

First, we may be able to bring it to the attention of someone who can exert an influence. That might even be the person at the centre of our concern. We might tell our partner that we are worried about his or her weight. Or we take our child to visit the doctor when they are sick.

But there will always be times when we can do absolutely nothing. Let’s take obesity in a distant land. We may hear about it from news reports, and we may be concerned. But most of us are in no position to do anything about it. What now?

Now we act on those things that we can affect. We look after our own weight, setting an example that may spread. And, if enough people follow our example, it may eventually influence someone in that distant land. The gorilla in our picture may not be able to do much about his fellow gorillas’ feelings, but his example of calm sets the tone for everyone else’s day. He only steps in when there is something he can do to ease the situation.

I Have Enough Worries of My Own

The important thing, here, is that we don’t worry about things that we cannot affect. We have enough worries of our own. It wasn’t our choice that led to the other person’s problems. And it is never a good idea to try to shield people from the consequences of their decisions. Remember that. It was their decision, not yours. They must accept the consequences.

Of course there are times when their decision has repercussions for us, just as the gorilla was affected by a trapper’s decisions. What then? Then we learn to accept the situation and look for ways to deal with it. But worrying about it will not solve the problem. Accept the situation and deal with it. That’s the only way to find peace.


13 thoughts on “When It’s Not My Choice

  1. Michael, another thoroughly engrossing and informative post. But there must be some mistake!

    You identify the lovely being in the first photo as a gorilla, but I’m certain that it’s a photo of a girl I used to date! Please check as I’m trying to get in touch with her to give her a crate of bananas for her upcoming birthday.

    Thanks for your help,




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    • I think it’s a question of the level of worry. If we worry about things that we cannot affect, we take time and energy away from the things we can affect. I think it’s a matter of being able to dismiss it at the appropriate time so as to focus on those things that we can influence. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. It means that we are using our resources wisely.


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