Make good choices

Sitting at dinner at a small yacht club – sounds grand and it was and also was incredibly humble – and I’m on holiday. My husband and I live in Italy and we’re visiting family and friends in Australia.

My sister and brother-in-law have invited us to a weekly themed dinner. The main celebrated culprit is “Parma” as in Chicken Parmigiana, Veal Parmigiana, even a veggie option. Italians, please refrain from judgement. It’s a dish Australians have taken to heart and kinda ‘had our way’ with it. It’s good!

Back to our table. Men up one end, women on the other – all looking out to a bay view. Very old-school Australian. There’s a lot of happy chatter and my Italian husband is adding laughter lines to a few male faces as he recalls another tale from his past adventures. I can hear the volume rising – it’s Tuesday night so not many people are in the club yet and the laughter is appreciated.

In true Aussie style, the women’s conversation turns to parenting. We don’t have children but we still have most of our own childhood memories… I listen carefully. Issues are quite different from when I was little. Drugs seem to feature heavily in most environments and kids are responding in diverse ways.

I know I should just listen but my filter fails me at some point. A mum, and my sister’s very good friend, is talking about her teenage kids going to a concert in the city. That means an hour of bus travel and return. Worrying, I get that – remembering how I didn’t travel more than 20mins on my own until I was 17!
The mum is worried about the entire day – travel, festival entry, time at the festival, sunscreen, eating well or not, staying hydrated, influential ‘friends’, avoiding alcohol and of course, drugs.

And then comes the phrase where my listening becomes ‘active’:

“I tell my kids constantly to MAKE GOOD CHOICES”.

There’s a healthy pause while the other women digest this before nodding in agreement.

I’m gob-smacked. That’s it? The big phrase that makes all the world of difference? Can’t be! Me:

“[repeat phrase] but how does that work? They’re kids, how do they know it’s a good choice or not?”

You know when you’ve said something that’s better left unsaid. That was one of those moments. An almost undetectable snort is delivered from the initial sender of the message. She is clearly unhappy with me but I don’t notice then.

Later my sister tells me my questioning needed work. I’d offended.

I’m left shamed. I must think before I speak! Dam that faulty filter of mine! I really did wonder if that phrase worked. What evidence do we have that it does?

A few years later, I’m still whizzing that phrase in my head. I use it on myself quite a bit now.

Turns out there is a part of our brain that can process “good” from “bad” choices. Largely dependent on the model and information that have gone in during formative years but not only. There’s a ‘system one’ brain response – reactionary and impulsive. Then there’s ‘system two’ that lets us rationalise and explore the choice. Training to get into ‘system two’ mode is key here. Thanks “” for some very interesting reading*

Make good choices.

A simple phrase that can shave years off undoing a “bad” choice or “less-than-ideal-for-me” choice. Starting with giving our brains something to search for. This phrase above makes our brain ask a question “How good is this choice for me?” which triggers a ‘system two’ response.

Thanks Liz for sharing your wisdom. My humble apologies for the way I delivered my question. If I had had kids, I’d like to think I would pass on this incredibly useful phrase.

Make good choices.


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