On a regular basis, I'm surprised to find that what I think I want isn't actually what I want.
Last night I found out that there was a caving tour here in Budapest. The pictures looked great, and so I emailed the people that run the tour. They confirmed that they had spots available the next day, so we booked them.
We woke up this morning, and I started going through the motions of getting ready for the tour. As I did that, I noticed that I felt an obligation to go, not that I was actually excited to do it. How strange, I thought, that something I clearly signed up for of my own volition was now an obligation.
I decided not to go, and to sleep some more instead. As I faded into sleep, I wondered if I was going to regret missing the tour when I woke up. I didn't regret it, though. I slept in, worked a little bit, and then had a nice day in Budapest. I was really glad I didn't do the tour.
We have this feedback loop that's constantly running throughout our lives. We choose an action, take the action, are impacted by it, and then use that impact to do a better job choosing an action the next time around.
But this feedback loop is often broken. We do a poor job evaluating the impact, and an even worse job using it to inform our subsequent choices. Instead, it seems as though we defer to our identities to make decisions, and then suffer the consequences.
I see myself as an adventurous person. After all, the pictures on the caving tour website looked a lot like the ones I took when I went caving with friends in Austin, Texas. The tour wasn't very polished and was run by local cavers, which lent it an air of authenticity that I resonate with. The tour was very "me", so I booked it.
But what do I care about in life right now? I care about quality time with the people in my life, staying healthy, and working on my goals. I know from past experience caving that it's not going to move the needle on any of those fronts.
There's real value in trying new things, of course, but I've already been caving before and know what it's like. It was an interesting experience, but generally a bit tedious, and not necessarily my "thing". Rather than use that information that I'd already gained, I deferred to my identity and booked the tour.
Whenever you're doing something, it's worth thinking about how you feel about it. If you're doing an activity to relieve stress, is it actually making you more relaxed? Are fun activities actually bringing you enjoyment? Are you actually productive when you go to the local coffee shop and sit down for a couple hours with your laptop?
Just by consciously noticing these things, you build up a mental reference library for yourself, so that next time you're going to do the same, or a similar, action, you can use experience to dictate whether or not it's the right thing to do.
Sometimes this process can lead to making rules for yourself which reduce your decision-making burden in the future. I noticed that nearly every time I went to see a movie in the theater, I wished I was doing something else. So I just stopped seeing movies. On the other hand, I noticed that whenever I spent time with my close friends, even if we weren't doing much, I felt as though it was time well spent. So now when close friends invite me to do things, I almost always accept even if the activity doesn't sound like it would be all that great in isolation.
I think the reason that all of this is so hard, the reason that I still book tours to caves even though I should know better, is because knowing what you like seems so easy. It doesn't feel like something that should require time or mental cycles to be spent, so we don't. We run on autopilot and keep repeat mistakes.
Think about what you really want, both in a macro sense, and on individual decisions. Use events from your past to verify that what think you want is really what you want. And when it's not, trust your experience and do something else.
Photo is a nice duck in Tiergarten in Berlin.
I'm now in Budapest for one more day. I love the city even more than when I first visited... it might be my second favorite place to visit after Tokyo.
I'm not sure how many countries I've visited in the past year, but the fact that I have no idea gives you an idea. Four in the past week, if you don't count the US. A lot of good flight deals popped up, and I booked them more quickly than I could ask myself if traveling constantly was really the best use of my time. But here I am, in the air between Budapest and Amsterdam, on the last round the world I have booked.
On these trips I've been to a bunch of new places. There wasn't a single one that left me unable to find something to love of the city, but certainly some were better than others. Budapest, totally unexpectedly, is one of the best new places I've been in a long time.
That's not to say that it's objectively better than anywhere else, only that it fits my peculiar tastes remarkably well. I flew into Budapest without being able to list with certainty a single country Hungary borders. That's a good indicator of how little I knew about the city. I figured, like other European cities, I'd go to museums, walk around the city, admire the architecture, and eat delicious unhealthy food. I did those things, but also found a lot more.
Budapest is beautiful. It straddles the Danube river with three different bridges, and along those banks are beautiful old European buildings. But go a bit further in and you also see really well done modern architecture, sometimes integrated with old buildings.
So last year, I made the courageous decision to turn my life around, give up my full time job and go chase my dreams (finally!) As such I’m starting my dance degree this September, which I am very excited about!
As I’ve had about 5 years out of dancing only starting back up last year, I thought it would be good to invest in an intensive summer programme before university commences. I found a few courses in London pretty close to where I live; the one that shouted at me though was at a conservatoire called Laban. Laban is a well known university/institution that specialises in movement and dance, in fact it’s the centre that I wished to complete my contemporary dance degree at when I left school 6 years ago. As it happens, I never went. My life went off on a tangent, and I sadly forgot how truly passionate I was for dance.
Anyway, so I booked this 2 week intensive summer school at Laban a few months ago in attempt to get my technique back up to scratch before starting my degree. I didn’t know what to expect when I booked the course, but before I knew it I was sat on the train and well on my way to South East London. On arrival I had mixed feelings - very excited but so so nervous.
Monday however was soon upon us - the first day of classes. The teachers and other students on the course soon started to bond and get to know one another, and before I knew it I had made some really good friends. It didn’t take long at all to meet new people; the programme is so international and friendly.
The intensive was amazing, it really helped me get back into the dance world and took me back, reminding me what it’s like to live and breath everything dance, it’s actually been pretty nostalgic. The teaching and support from professionals and other students was outstanding, I'm thrilled that this is the summer programme I had booked. I've taken so much away from the experience. Since leaving Laban however, I feel I’ve taken away far more than just valuable dance experience and training, I have met some truly special people, who I sincerely hope to see again at some point in the future.