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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The Swift Injustice of Human Memory

So I have debated this for many months. Memory has always fascinated me. It’s so fallible and yet so crucial to our everyday lives. So crucial that we take it for granted and assume it to be correct.
This has been a theme to a lot of my understanding of how flawed science and our general logic capabilities, but it wasn’t until my grandfather’s second wife developed a dementia that I realized just how tragic this entire scenario is.
In this I have realized four “truths.”

When I went to New York this summer I took well over 1500 photos. I am pretty sure my mom was contemplating murder by the end of it, but I had to capture every moment in bytes. When I got home and realized how many photos I had taken I was shocked, it’s a lot to go through an pare down for sure. What surprised me was that I realized I had been taking the photos not as much so that I could post these photos online for all my friends to see what a fabulous time I had, but because I wanted to remember those moments. Like I was expecting in that moment to forget. Aware that one day I would be unable to recall everything we did and the colour of the sky as I ran in Central Park for the first time. The unfortunate part, I soon realized, is that the pictures, my memory, or both failed to do the moments justice. This is the first truth – we live expecting to forget, and thus we live constantly trying to grasp the past. And then the second truth hits – we lost the moment the instant we begin to reflect on its existence. Never again will you be able to perfectly recapture in any form that moment.

Photo number #1137

Photo number #1137

I am a little young to be worried about lost memories, but our brain, as much as we are told is virtually limitless in capacity, is limited by our ability to retrieve what is stored. Like losing the key. And that is tragic. I have been very fortunate to have some amazing experiences in my life. I have traveled, I have met some amazing people, I have eaten some amazing things, but somewhere in the jumble of hectic mornings running out the door we lose a chunk of our lives – we only get to keep the very best and the very worst moments. But sometimes the small moments are the best moments, or at the very least, they are the moments that tell the world who we are, what we want, and what we fear.
What I want most to remember, is the taste of the first time I had penne alla vodka at a restaurant in Mont-Tremblant. I want to remember the feeling cuddling against my boyfriend watching TV – the way his arms curved around me, making me feel safe. I want to remember all the afternoons playing “Little Skunker” with my grandmother. Instead, I have the third truth – We only get a vague recollection of the small moments that add up to who we are. As time goes on the memories get thinner and thinner.

As mentioned, my grandfather’s wife (step-grandmother? Is that a thing?) has been diagnosed with a dementia. I have studied it in school many times, even considered dementias as a potential area I would like to do my graduate studies in, but it doesn’t feel the same when it’s no longer a dry passage in your textbook or 2 hours in a lecture and 3 questions on the final. And now we come to the final, and most painful truth in memory – our memories help us to define who we are. I am a runner, I am a psych major, I am a daughter, aunt, sister, and girlfriend, I have a best friend with amazing taste in wine, I have a friend with an infectious laugh and a love of Disney, and I have a friend I have known since birth. I have accomplished some pretty badass stuff in my life, if I may toot my own horn so to speak. To forget how amazing I have grown to be. To forget all the things in my life that make me happy, heck to forget how I like my coffee and have to suffer through the experimentation again – that makes me sad.

Dementias show you just how tragic memory is. How apparently flawed the evolutionary system is. We have this massively powerful machine capable of remembering almost anything – it’s a large part of what has enabled us to have complex social relationships. Yet, your brain can deteriorate. This is not a unique thing, all the other organs can break down, but, unlike any other organ that can break down, when your brain deteriorates, it takes pieces of you with it. I have never strongly cleaved to the idea that the brain is responsible for “me-ness” – I have struggled to accept this reductionist argument, but perhaps in dementia I can see things a bit more clearly. My grandfather will have to watch as the woman he loves slowly forgets their life together and who she even is. And that is the most painful moment I think – having someone right there, they are still alive and breathing but merely a shell of who they were – alive but dead in a sense.

While I do not have the training to even begin to identify where consciousness is in the brain, perhaps I don’t need it. I wrote several months back that consciousness might be where you-ness lies, where the seat of our being independent of the brain can be located. But I seem to have trapped myself in a corner again, because it seems that as the brain and its memory deteriorates, so too does the self. So perhaps consciousness is the seat of the self, but perhaps it is not alone. Perhaps mind-body dualism had a point – the two interact to create a self that cannot survive without the other.

Cupcakes, and other tips for Surviving your 20’s With Your Sanity Intact.

Hey so remember that time I got so insanely busy that despite jotting down ideas and taking pictures of all my new recipes, I didn’t actually blog for 6 months? Me too. Cool times. Not. Anyways – with graduate applications completed and a new village to call home I am back! (This one is legit a village. I heard the cashier at the grocery store say she had to go to the city, and by city she did not mean Toronto. She meant Barrie. True story.)

This is the view from our new place!! It was worth moving in a snow storm.

This is the view from our new place!! It was worth moving in a snow storm.

Something that has been on my mind a lot for the last few months, has been this idea of “I’m doing it wrong.” I’ve written before about how “should” is a really annoying word to say to yourself, but what I have been noticing lately in myself and others is this tendency to look to other’s lives to see how we are doing or to tell ourselves where we should go next.

You ever have that moment of self-doubt when you’re thinking, my God! Look at these other people’s lives – they’re so freaking perfect! What the heck did I forget to do to get there at this age?!

Don’t lie, we all go through it. And it’s worse thanks to the internet and it’s boundless amount of information all waiting to gnaw away at your insecurities.

I moved back home this summer. And I was feeling okay with this decision. It’s not like any of my friends had really big kid jobs right? And then they started getting really real big kid jobs as I call them. And in a fit of desperation I bought Adulting: How to  Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps (By Kelly Williams Brown if you’re interested!), which helped, but didn’t settle the unease I felt when my cousin got a job as a Director of Physician recruitment. And my high school friends started their Master’s degrees and at least half now had corporate jobs. People were growing up and going out in the world and getting real jobs. Then at least once a month I started noticing all my high school friends/acquaintances getting married and some were pregnant (or had kids). I mean I don’t really know how I feel about the kids thing, but they clearly had their lives together! Right?!

But in all this self-doubt and Facebook dream crushing there are four very important truths to remember:

  1. You Can’t “Win” Looking at Your Neighbour’s Test. 
    No seriously. Just like that grade 10 math test – you could be sitting next to the smartest kid, but they may still make a mistake. Except in this case, you’re not even writing the same test. Life is different for everyone. I have a friend who is several years younger than me and in a mild panic about what she should do with her life. And because she wants success, she looks at what others call success and wants that. Even if it’s never been an area of interest for her. Even if she’s really good at something else.
    What makes sense for my best friend who just completed teacher’s college makes no sense for my friend who is halfway through his engineering degree. Just because a friend is married and working doesn’t mean that answer A was the only correct answer.
    B) Stay at home and save up/figure out where you want to be,
    C) Go to school some more,
    D) Have a job and be single and awesome,
    E) Eat cookie dough from the freezer because you don’t know what to cook for dinner, and
    F) All or none of the above
    Are all valid answers. Really they could all be summed up into – find what makes you happy and do that. That’s the right answer. As long as it doesn’t involve routinely consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, ever consuming illegal drugs, electing to never clean your home/self ever again, or something that would seriously harm someone else, then by all means – continue. You’re doing fine so far.

    You're probably gonna fail with this strategy, but at least the internet is entertained.

    You’re probably gonna fail with this strategy, but at least the internet is entertained.

  2. Don’t expect a road map. (but if you’ve got a tour guide, feel free to ask questions)
    If you are confused at this point see (1). When I started university, I was (and still am) the first and only member of my family to attend/complete university. I had no freaking clue was a DGD was (similar to tutorials I think, but everything at uOttawa is bilingual, so we end up with a lot of palindrome shorthands). I also did not know what shawarmas were and had never eaten poutine. There were a lot of things about surviving and doing well in university about which I was totally clueless. I was lucky and clearly figured most of it out on my own, but I still graduated kicking myself for missing out on  lots of opportunities and wishing I had known things sooner. That’s life. Sometimes you have to accept you have no clue where you are going, sometimes you’ll follow bad directions (like the time my cousin told us “turn left and go up!”… we’re not all great at map reading. I can barely even point north when asked.). But pick where you want to go, ask for help when you find it, and accept that odds are at least 22.8% of the time you’ll feel at least a little lost, but I promise you’ll get wherever you are supposed to be eventually.
    uphill
  3. Success generally takes longer than it takes to make cupcakes. 
    By all means try the cupcake trick. I mean you probably will be at the same life point afterwards, but you’ll at least have cupcakes. Which nudges you ahead just a bit. In reality, success is a slow and drawn out process that requires focus, drive, and general motivation (because not everything you need to do to become successful is fun to do but it has to be done). The only rule to this is that you have to keep going. At this point in my life I am at least 59.2% sure that the bulk of our problems with success and life in general are caused by impatience and unrealistic timelines. Chill. Plan ahead. But seriously – chill. And go buy a cupcake.
    kid president
  4. The Golden Rule Applies to you too. Talk to yourself like you talk to your best friend.
    (Really, just talk to everyone like that. But let’s go ahead and keep the inappropriate stuff to the actual best friends. The Starbucks lady needs you to be nice to her, but she doesn’t need to know about the epic sex you had last night.)
    When things go wrong or we screw up, a lot of us have a tendency to do one of two things: A) We get mad at the world, or B) We get mad at ourselves. Both are destructive, but at least the other guy can walk away when he’s had enough.
    I’ve talked about this in the past, but be nice to yourself. A trick I use is I ask myself – would I say this to my best friend if she came to me with this exact story. Odds are I wouldn’t tell anyone, let alone my best friend that he/she is a total failure at life because they didn’t [insert crushing disappointment/failure here]. I might give her some advice, reassure her that this was a mistake, but I’d tell her it’ll be fine and she’s still a cool person.  So be a little kinder to yourself. And as my mother says to me, “Stop making mountains out of molehills.”
    On the flip side. Imagine someone, say your ex or some human being who missed the manners memo, kept texting you or calling you or spamming your social media to mock or berate you. How many times would you listen before you blocked their number or reamed them out for their general lack of decency? Probably not long. So be nice to you…

    Rule #1

    Rule #1

And that’s all I got. I’m not perfect. My life is a hodge podge stuck in limbo still at this point. And at least 10% of my brain is consumed with thoughts along the lines of “oh-my-God-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-I-am-going-to-live-with-my-parents-forever!!” and a further 12% is consumed keeping those thoughts in check. But I trust it’ll all work out eventually. Fifteen years from now, my life will most likely look nothing like what anyone else’s “perfect” looks like. It’s going to be chaotically perfect.
And overly caffeinated.
With at least 3 more throw pillows than Aaraf considers functional.

For now I’m going to dance around my kitchen to “Shake It Off”
T-Swift knows what’s up.