The Scientist has proposed a 30-day experiment. He says I need to practice doing what I want to do. He says, in addition to being good for me, it will help him to get to know me better. We’ve known each other for 28 years, so this feels a little late in the game for getting to know each other better. And yet . . .
What really intrigued me about his proposal is how it might help me get to know myself better. If you’re a long time reader, you might remember that last year I wrote about how much difficulty I have figuring out what I want. I often haphazardly make minor decisions, only to find I’m unhappy with the results. Here’s an example, the one that sparked the idea for the experiment:
I tried out a new recipe for dinner last week–a light summer mix of fresh tomatoes, red onions, squash and fried okra from the farmer’s market. When The Scientist tasted it, he said the flavor was too strong for him but he’d make some pasta to toss the veggies with. Since I was already cooking, I made the pasta, and for some reason I mixed all of the veggies with the pasta instead of setting my half aside. The resulting pasta dish tasted okay, but it wasn’t what I had in mind when I chose the recipe.
After dinner I was feeling gloomy, silently perseverating. As we were sitting down to watch TV, I blurted out, “I have no idea why I ate that. It wasn’t what I wanted.”
The Scientist, surprised by how upset I was, asked why I ate it if I didn’t want it. My answer: “I don’t know.”
A longish discussion ensued. The next day. Because we’re slow to process things. One of the conclusions we came to is that I sometimes do things to please other people at the expense of own preferences. Strangely, this seems to be more of a reflex action than a conscious choice.
So the experiment is this: for 30 days, I’m supposed to do whatever I want. This is alarmingly vague.
What do I want? Decision making–even the simplest decisions–can tie me up in knots. My primary decision-making strategies:
1. What do you want? I’ve noticed that other people often have stronger preferences or are more aware of what they want or like than I am. If what they suggest isn’t objectionable to me, I’ll go along with their choice. Decision making by proxy. Simple. Efficient. And probably one of the main reasons I have so much trouble figuring out my own wants and preferences.
2. I don’t want A. By default I must want B. If someone says “do you want Chinese food or Pizza?” it rarely occurs to me that I actually want a burger.
3. This is too hard. I give up. When there are too many options, I don’t know where to start. I choose the first option that isn’t terrible. These are often the choices I end up feeling most ambivalent about.
4. I want A but it’s too much work. I’ll just settle for B. This is how I made decisions when I’m overloaded. I would love ice cream right now but going out to get it sounds exhausting so I’ll have this peach instead.
5. I want this thing and nothing else. This sounds great. It’s not. What I want is often imaginary. In my head it’s this perfect thing. In reality, it turns out to be a pale shadow of what I anticipated.
6. I want A, but I can tell you want B. If one of us has to be disappointed, I’d rather it be me. This makes me sound like such a martyr. Honestly, it’s an annoying reflex response that I need to cure myself of. Done too often, it breeds resentment.
Writing this out helps me understand better why I often feel ambivalent or unsatisfied with minor decisions. I need new strategies. The Scientist says to try just feeling it. This is hard. I’m used to making decisions based on logic and reasoning.
But . . . 30 days of being with this question of “what do I want?” might change that. We’ll see.