Decisions are the worst

This is going to be a bold statement, but I need to say it anyways. Decisions are right up there with filing my taxes. Yes, I say this as an individual who bought and returned approximately 6 laptops when picking one and who nearly signed two leases when hunting for an apartment in Windsor. As a tangent, this was after seeing 21 apartments in 42 hours, as far as my father could tell the tour was approximately 24 hours too long and could have ended with the first apartment we saw that was livable, not 3 days after the lease was signed as I continued to peruse Kijiji for apartments. So maybe I am not qualified to make such a statement, perhaps I am just a poor decision maker and the fault is entirely my own. I swear the fault is not entirely my own though. I blame the internet and the culture we have created surrounding choices and their rude cousins, decisions.

I read Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance this summer and it really struck a chord with something I have been attempting to articulate for months – there are too many choices and because there are so many choices we are plagued by a belief that there has to be a better model. There’s always something better, so we are perpetually disappointed with what we have. Choices and decisions are a luxury, one we should be grateful for, but instead we have allowed them to become the bane of our existence.

We live in a world essentially without limits. If you are willing to search hard enough and/or pay enough, you can have anything. Our world is rapidly advancing, new technologies are being invented every day, and things exist today that my grandparents only dreamed of (and in some cases never dreamed of, but hey – progress is creating something people didn’t know they needed). The cellphone I hold in my hand is relatively new – it just came out this calendar year, and yet already there are phones with better cameras, faster processors, or a screen that drops off the edge so my icons don’t get in the way. With the knowledge that newer and better phones are constantly being released it’s probably a good thing my boyfriend bought mine for my birthday so that I didn’t have to face the sea of options and drive him nuts for 3 weeks trying to pick one.information_overload-2

This not so tiny device, which only properly fits in the pockets of two pairs of my pants, can tell me not only singles in my area, it tells me what my friends are up to, it tells me about the wedding that girl I like to stalk on Facebook went to (don’t lie we all have at least one of those). It can also tell me the reviews for the 20 nearest restaurants, what movies are playing at the 3 nearest theaters (and buy the tickets), and answer just about any question I throw at it with 2.4 million hits in 0.25 second or less. Surprisingly all this info doesn’t make anything easier. Even a restaurant review must be taken with a grain of salt (see what I did there? ;)). In psychology we talk about sampling bias, in this case, maybe only people who really like reviewing things or who REALLY hated the service (they may have been rude customers too) reviewed the restaurant. So we’re not getting a clear picture of reality. We’re just getting a lot more opinions involved in our decisions.

The internet makes me more aware of the world around me (you know, when I am not using it to look up cats and pigmy goat videos) and it makes me aware of the 2.4 million ways I could sort out whatever problem I brought to it; but it also makes me aware of how poorly my plan was and how fabulous some other people’s lives are. Hello, Facebook, I’m looking at you.

I got into grad school. Six years from now I should be walking out with a PhD in clinical psychology, but I mean there are other schools – what if this wasn’t the ideal option? Let’s be real – with my boyfriend now 8 hours away from me, ideal is not how I would describe Windsor. Really, “GRAD SCHOOL! Yay! With a supervisor available in my desired research area!! Double yay!” That’s where my head should have been. Instead it was wandering the halls of Queen’s libraries and gazing at the Ottawa skyline.

I hem and haw over a lot of “good decisions;” afraid there would be a better one just around the corner. This culture of comparison leads to a lot of progress to be sure, but it also breeds a lot of disappointment and a generally non-committal generation. We are all waiting on the next best thing so why would we settle on what’s best right now. Even worse is when we know there is a better choice out there but it is inaccessible to us. Like the newer, shinier faster, cell phone that we can’t have because we are locked into a contract. Or your best friend’s boyfriend, who is totally swoon worthy. Or the vacation spot you saw but in no way can afford.ursula tough choices

I am here to let you in on a little secret though. In social psychology we talked about the principles of decision making and one of the most fascinating things I learned (aside from how to make someone do what you want – but that’s classified information) is that people become polarized with their decisions. Once we make a decision we perceive to be final and irrevocable, we start to accept our decision, and then we start to become more confident that we made the right decision. For a cool TED talk on this topic click here.

So the lesson is simple. Accept that you can never have access to every option, be it due to time constraints, financial situation, geographic location, point in your career, or even point in your cup of coffee. So at the end of the day – pick something you like and accept that. Pick something you like and get off the internet.

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Why I’m Really Happy Sad Life Doesn’t Have a Handbook

Life is not simple.
No part of it is.
No part of it should be expected to be purely simple.
Unless you’re an amoeba. Then life doesn’t get much simpler.

That being said, it might get complicated if these two are going for the same nano-food. See complicated stuff.

That being said, it might get complicated if these two are going for the same nano-food. See complicated stuff.

Even the inhilation of oxygen and the exhalation of carbon dioxide is incredibly complex.
The tangle of neurons bathed in a soup of hormones and neurotransmitters that somehow has allowed us to cook, speak, bathe, run, sleep without worrying about bodily functions, is amazing. But it is the most complicated and poorly understood organ of all. And it controls everything.

Which really puts complicated situations in a whole new light.

We are complicated enough physically, but then all the social complexities and the nature of how we have evolved to live get in there and it gets even messier.

And sometimes I really wish there was a little Handbook of Life, we all do. Some neat and tidy manual that instructs us how to feel, act, and choose when faced with the most complex and emotionally challenging moments.

Pinterest tells me someone else feels the same. Too bad I can't order this at Chapters.

Pinterest tells me someone else feels the same. Too bad I can’t order this at Chapters.

But as I’m realizing, there’s no fun in that. And the reason no such book exists is because we humans are simply too complex. We come perfectly uniquely packaged. Even identical twins who come with matching DNA and fingerprints come with their own personality, their own behavioural and emotional tendencies.
Once we’re out in the world, our experiences shape who we see ourselves as, how we behave, and in turn the sorts of situations and decisions we encounter.
Our entire existence on this planet is based on a web of individuals’ experiences, woven together with occasional commonalities. With that many variables and possible outcomes, how COULD a Guidebook even exist? Our experiences shape how with think and feel about, and react to the world. Even if a guidebook existed it would never be exhaustive.

Fact is we’re human, being this complex and interactive and dynamic entitles us to a few hundred mistakes and more than a few disappointments.

Yet we live in a world where we are being trained to “Google it” if we don’t know the answer. And fact is you pretty much can ask Google anything and get 1.2 billion answers in 0.23 seconds.  What’s great about Google is that it doesn’t tell you THE answer, it tells you all possible answers everyone else has come up with. Some, admittedly are completely useless/irrational. But it gives you your options, gives you access to someone else’s story, a chance to see how others reacted so you can make a decision with all the options. I love Google, but sometimes the answer can’t shouldn’t be found on Google. And sometimes the answer Google fails to give you isn’t the one you want, but it’s the best advice – sit tight and it will sort itself out or the answer will at least become apparent.

And that’s all we can hope for.

I go to my friends for advice with the tough stuff. We all do. Occasionally it’s big enough stuff that we just want our mom/dad so we can sob in their lap like when we were 5 and milk and cookies made it better. We want to revert to when they made the decisions because the one we’re facing is too complex.
I mean how on earth is one to decide between marble or medium cheese?! That’s complicated stuff. Jokes.

But we go to people, and until a few weeks ago I thought it was because I wanted them to tell me the answer. Sort of like when you’re in grade school and you go to your friends for help, but really you just want the answer so you can scrawl it down and be done with your homework (I mean now odds are you don’t even need to accumulate social IOU’s, you could go on Google, but I’m sure younger kids haven’t got on that yet).
What I realized Monday, was that I didn’t want my friends to tell me what I should do, because I already knew that, or at least I knew how to figure it out. I wanted them to remind me of things I might need to make my own decision.
Because let’s face it – it’s your decision. You’re the one that has to live with it.
If someone told you what to do and things went south, you would blame them. If you always had to do what the book told you to do (i.e. we were programmed like robots), you might end up getting stuck with some decisions you’re not happy with, some decisions you wish you hadn’t made. In which case being a robot may have it’s advantages, because at least then you probably wouldn’t feel regret per say. Emotions, I am told, are uniquely human.

So like it or not the tough decisions teach you a lot of things. And sometimes those things suck. But imagine if you didn’t get to make those decisions. You never got to learn to make better ones. You never learned what the results of a bad decision looked and felt like.

So yeah, sometimes I want a Handbook – The Dummy’s Guide to Life Decisions (probably spread out as the Chicken Soup for the Soul series) – but really, reading a textbook doesn’t always prepare me for exams either. So I’m happy that I’m left to stumble through and pray I pass at the end. Even if it makes me a little happy sad or just plain sad at times.

Decisions, Villages, and People Watching

This is legit a thing. They have a website.

I finally caved. I had to watch Grey’s Anatomy. I put off the premiere for almost a week. Afraid that once again, it would take over my life. And it sort of has. At least it’s only available once a week. It could be available on Netflix. My productivity levels would be D.O.A. About halfway through the episode, an incredible moment happened:

“We’re all going to die, we don’t get much say over how or when, but we do get to decide how we live. So do it. Decide. Is this the life you want to live? Is this the person you want to love?

Is the best you can be? Can you be stronger? Kinder? More compassionate?

Decide.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

And decide.

The waiting can kill you. You make a decision and then the world has to turn. The consequences unfold, out of your hands. There’s only one thing that seems clear in those quiet moments while you wait, whatever you chose was wrong.”

I will not spoil it by telling you who said that, why they said it, or if someone died just in case some of you have yet to make friends with your PVR since the episode aired. But this thought struck me deeply.

It sounds horribly morbid, thinking about the fact that we are all going to die. But so is the fact that I took a course on “Death and Dying” last semester. But it’s a fact of life. Death is a fact of life. That just sounds oxymoronic.

So if generally we don’t get to choose when we die. And all we can do is choose how to live. Then why do we spend it worrying about what can go wrong. I spent the day today worrying about all the things I had to do, rather than just starting to do things.

Nope, I laid staring at the ceiling last night, tossed and turned my way through the early morning, and then waffled between plans for date night this week trying to maximize work time. And then I got on the bus to come home and my iPod shuffled to Louis Armstrong. And instantly the world calmed down. And I became a productive… ok you caught me. I had a nap when I got home, but then I was productive. And then got distracted mowing my lawn and weeding. I mean studying ecology and environmental studies?

In my defense, I finished everything anyways.

I will eventually figure out a way to spin off watching Grey’s as an educational activity. Studying anatomy and medicine in case I change my mind on psychology? Sounds good.

Before it seems like I am going to come full circle back to my post two weeks ago about living your life and forgetting about the “shoulds” and “what ifs,” I swear I’m not. What stood out for me, wasn’t exactly living life to the fullest and loving people to the max. It was the moment where Weber starts to talk about decisions and being the best you can be, and asks a lot of questions about if this is the you you want to be, if you could be kinder and more compassionate. Which really resonates with me for several reasons

1) I often suck at making decisions. For the exact reasons this quote points out – I don’t want to choose wrong. Yet here I am, poised to make some of the biggest decisions of my life. Decisions that will decide where I am going to be for the next 6 or more years and where I will end up. Decisions that will be largely out of my hands. I have chosen a program that is more competitive than med school. So the odds of me getting in aren’t really in my favour. The odds of me getting to choose between multiple schools even slimmer. It’s going to be a bumpy ride the next six months, but I am sure by the end of it some decisions will have been made.
2) I am a people watcher. I LOVE riding the bus, because there are so many interesting people to watch. Back when I was driving to Credit Valley Hospital every day, I used to love driving up the 401 and watching the planes taking off and landing – imagining where the passengers were going or coming from and why? Were they happy or sad to go? Happy to be back? Do they have a family waiting to pick them up? Or is their family with them on the plane? Or is there going to be a taxi driver taking them to a random hotel?
I do the same thing on the bus. I love to watch and wonder. It’s more entertaining when you can actually see the people, especially when they’re not aware you’re watching. Oh God. That sounded so creepy. I swear I am not some sort of crazed window peeper. I just mean when people don’t know they’re being watched you can see more of the real them. Or you can see that they have retained the adolescent spotlight effect and are clearly always posing.
Problem is that I’m not always kind in my thoughts. A lot of it comes from what I’m going to pass off as being a female in a society that values appearance above all else. Which is sort of it. It’s also sort of on me though. I won’t tell you some of the thoughts, but don’t even try to tell me that you never have ill thoughts of random strangers on the basis of appearance or current behaviour. I will psych student you into the truth. I know someone who is trained in hypnosis and has access to a polygraph machine. I know.
Whenever I catch the thoughts I try to chastise myself. Tell myself I need to be nicer. After all, for all I know, someone is judging me the same way. And I would hate to be judged on my sweatpants days. Or the day last week I got on a bus still in my dry-fit. Or the days I forgot to put on make-up and was so tired I looked like death warmed over. And it’s not like I sit around thinking nasty things about everyone, but I really shouldn’t be thinking those nasty things at all. So can I be kinder? Yeah. I’ll just be the only one that knows.

3) I am generally content with who I am. I know I am strong because it took a hell of a lot of strength to make it through some of the stuff I made it through. And yet hearing that – I thought can I be stronger? My Achilles tendon and IT band certainly think so. Really, this just reminded me that I need to remember that I actually am a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. In the moments where I am panicking, thinking I can’t handle something – I need to remember what I have done so far. I know I’ll be happy with the person I am working towards being, but am I happy with who I am? I don’t hate myself. It just never occurred to me to think about whether or not the me I am today is the person I want to be right now. I am so used to thinking in the future. So it kind of reminded me to think of both the future and my present. Being miserable with who I am now for the sake of who I want to be just doesn’t make sense.

4) I come from a “village.” Which isn’t exactly a village, but it still has the small town atmosphere. You know – people say hello to each other when they pass on the streets, you’re not afraid to leave the door unlocked while you go for a 3 hour hike up the hill, and neighbours will ask each other for a cup of milk or an egg and that’s totally cool.

And yeah, I might be looking with my retrospective rose coloured glasses. Or maybe this sort of thing only applies to the smaller area just outside Barrie that I come from. But here in Ottawa, I would never leave my front door unlocked even if I’m only going out for a 20 minute run. When people walk by my house while I’m outside, I avert my gaze, out for a walk I don’t say hi to people, and when my parents are here and say hello to people I look at them like they’re crazy.

And I ask myself – is this the me I want to be? I still say thank you to the bus driver every time I get off and good [insert time of day here] every time I get on. I hold doors open for people, while most people seem to be in too big of a rush. But I am losing my soft spot for homeless people, I am afraid to say hello to random people, and I seem to be morphing into some hardened city slicker. Is that who I want to be? Or would I rather be the slightly quirky city person, that occasionally stands out like a sore thumb, but at least still has the values and behaviours I was raised to have?

 

So. I need to learn to make a decision, and be cool with someone else making the decision. I need to edit my thoughts and be nicer. I need to think about me now and be happy with that before I think about future me. And I need to hold onto that trusting and caring part of me that was born and bred in the village. Even if it means being known as the girl who sometimes says strange things. Like “up shit creek without a paddle.” Someone please tell me that’s not a village saying.

Please.

This is legit a thing. They have a website.

This is legit a thing. Apparently this store is somewhere in England.

Where you can buy this.  Legit.

There’s even a website. Where you can buy this.
Legit.