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 find your posts are timely in uncanny ways. I live a lil something and brush across the thought lightly. Then along comes a post of yours and grabs my cheeks and focuses on that thought more firmly for a bit!
Excellent article! I'm in my 60s and have been feeling what you are thinking; if i was your age (25 to 30?) and thinking like you i'd be impressed with myself. We all learn sooner or later.
Great post. I've been doing this for a long time. It started when I was a teenager in bands in London. I was good at what I did so got lots of offers to play in bands. After only a few times meeting up and rehearsing it felt like I was going through the motions and deferring to my identity as a musician in bands. I started refusing offers and moving in my own direction with music and have been doing so most of the time ever since. A valuable lesson to learn early. Also want to add that my wife and I visited Budapest several years ago and I concur that it is a brilliant place and probably my favourite city, although I've not travelled widely. I also like Glasgow very much, a strange choice, but there you go...
Pretty cool post Tynan. I've been kind of thinking along the same lines the past year. But more in the direction of how do you accomplish the things you really want? I've realized finally that I can't do it all... so for example if I'm working on a project and something else catches my attention, I can't allow it to distract me. For example, in 2014 I was working on learning Drupal and building a site. Then I got a chance to buy a bunch of stuff that I could sell via Amazon, which turned into a 6 month long (part time) ordeal. Then had some other stuff come up too. The end result? I didn't get back to working on the site until Feb 2015. At 35 years old, now I'm acutely aware that getting distracted will get me exactly nowhere in life.
This is a sweet post Tynan. You have done SO MANY things in your life, I don't think your realize just how young you are. :o) This is the FIRST Tynan post I have read where I can say to myself, "Hey, I know this! I have learned this already." -- My feedback loop isn't broken. But when I was younger it wasn't as developed as it is today. I stopped watching movies in a theater 2 decades ago. WHEN I watch them, I prefer to watch them with all my personal comforts. (Fortunately, available technology makes it so I can do that.-- Not so much when I was growing up.) As you get older you will hone in more and more on what your preferences are (they change as you age) and more importantly, what your priorities are, so remain flexible. By the time you are old and cranky like me, you will know exactly how you want to spend your time, and it IS all about relationships and human interaction, and not the activity itself. --- I have told many a young person, "You don't stop 'partying' (et al) because you become old and boring. You stop partying when you get older because you change, and your priorities change." The things you have been doing no longer hold the same value as they did when you felt as though your time on this globe was unlimited. --- Nice post Tynan. You are very sweet. <3
I think that http://tynan.com/brainpatterns is a good companion piece to this. Two sides of one coin.
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.
It was with more than enough skepticism, worry and fear, that I went on my first organized group trip. I’ve never hesitated to hire local guides, but I’ve always chosen to travel solo or with friends/family with a flexible itinerary and open mind. So why, might you ask, did I choose to go with a group of strangers to Patagonia? Hopefully, though the cathartic experience of writing this blog, I might just discover the answer myself.
Here’s some obvious reasons WHY:
- Though I had plenty of friends that wanted to go with me to share experiences and costs, none could make the commitment, and I couldn’t wait. So it became a solo or group decision.