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Posts Tagged ‘choice’

To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.
Kofi Annan

This little insighting was heavily inspired by Barry Schwartz’ TED talk on The Paradox of Choice. I watched it a few months back, and although it did strike a chord, I didn’t really think I’d be coming back to it.

And then our bassist left the band. Which meant that the rest of us had to face the task of finding another bassist.

The Courtship

In a way, finding a new member for a band is like going back on the dating scene after a long-term relationship. You have to get yourself noticed, first of all. Then you have to weed out the promising candidates from all the ones whose phone numbers you’ve received. And then you have to go on a date.

When a new band member is concerned, there are a few subtle differences to the whole dating scene. First, it’s not just my opinion about the person that matters, it’s the consensus.

Second, the date  (or as you might call them in a non-relationship terminology, audition) will have to include songs that are typical to the style of music we play. In a sense it’s similar to a date in that we’re trying to portray ourselves the way we really are. However, there is a definite imbalance in terms of power in the sense that the existing band members already know the songs, and the newcomer does need to prove him- or herself by being able to play those songs. Granted, there was an element of proving ourselves to the newcomer as well, which slightly balances the scales.

Third, we’re mainly looking for someone we can really get creative with. Being an all-round nice guy or gal just doesn’t cut it, unless they’re skilled enough as well. And then there’s the whole group dynamics jungle that I won’t even start to analyse. Suffice to say it’s important to take into account the type of people we are and the type of person the bassist is.

Finding out all this takes time in any relationship. The tricky thing is that you can’t really keep dating several bassists at the same time, not even casually. So after the first dates, it was time for a decision.

The Darn Choice Thing

The problem was – and as I write this, still is – that we ended up with two very different but very promising candidates. The basics are in check: they’re both skilled and nice to hang out with, judging by the brief time we spent with each. They are different, though.

Different strengths, different styles, different musical aspirations. We could go with either and probably get a good thing going, both musically and socially.

This is where the paradox of choice comes up.

No matter which one we choose, we’ll end up regretting losing the other possibility. You’d think having a choice here would make us happier, but it only makes us a bit more miserable in the end.

Had we only had one of them over for an audition, we would’ve been beside ourselves with joy and couldn’t have believed our luck. Now, though…

Also, the fact that we have two amazing choices makes us wonder if there’s still someone else out there that’s even better. It’s difficult to commit to one choice when the options are seemingly endless.

I’m currently having this same dilemma with my wedding gown. I have one already – a simple, white, trainless, beautiful gown. It matches my Mom’s veil from the 1970s (that I’ve been planning to wear down the aisle since I was twelve). Now, though, I’m itching to go and try on other dresses – just to see if they’re better. That darn choice thing again.

I’m pretty sure I won’t be any happier after I’ve tried on a dozen other dresses, even if I find one that’s perfect. Because then I’d have to give up this one, and with it the wonderful story that it was The First And Only Dress I Tried On.

I’m sure this enormous freedom of choice has something to do with the way people impose restrictions on themselves. About food, about the people they date. You have to have some limitations to the choices, otherwise you get paralyzed. I know I do.

If I have the whole day for myself to do whatever I want, I get nothing done. If I have a choice between two things – doing the laundry or reading for an exam – it’s easier. If the exam is tomorrow and I haven’t read a single page, the choice is easy, and there’s no room (or time) for me to get anxious about what to do.

Or, you know, “I don’t date men/women who are shorter/taller/smarter/dumber than me, blondes/brunettes/redheads/baldies/musicians/jocks/nerds/party girls, who have glasses/a speech impediment/weird hobbies/no siblings/too many siblings/no social life/too much social life…” Pick your favorites or add your own. 🙂

I once dated a guy who was awesome, except for the fact that we had completely different communication styles. Had we lived in a smaller town, we’d probably have gotten married, made a dozen kids and lived semi-happily ever after. There was too much choice in that single respect for the both of us, though, and we went our separate ways.

Or food. Ever since my fiancé and I started buying organic, local, or Fair Trade whenever we could, our shopping trips have become shorter and shorter. If the tomatoes have traveled more miles by plane than I have this year, we’re not getting them, even if they are the only tomatoes in the store. Far from being a sacrifice, these kinds of restrictions actually free up some of our brain capacity – instead of spending energy on making tiny decisions like these, we’re free to think about something else while grocery shopping.

On the big decisions, though, there’s still the whole choose one, lose the other -conundrum. I’m sure, though, that we’ll find the “right” solution for our bassist dilemma eventually. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for choosing to stop by – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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Our circumstances answer to our expectations and the demand of our natures.
Henry David Thoreau

The story

So Mom and Dad came back from their trip to Vilnius, Lithuania, where they celebrated her 60th birthday. Naturally, I was eager to know how they’d spent the actual birthday, because I know that Mom wanted to do something special even though she didn’t want to throw a party back home.

During the beginning of their trip, she’d managed to spot a beautiful restaurant for her birthday dinner. It was apparently a bit of a walk away from their hotel, but since my Mom and Dad tend to walk everywhere when they’re on holiday, it was not a problem, as they knew the way there.

Then it started snowing. Like, blizzard snowing. And it was impossible to hail a cab. They kept on walking for a while, but then the snowfall got so heavy they literally couldn’t see where they were going. As they weren’t dressed for a polar expedition, they decided to abandon their original plan and go to the next restaurant that came up.

My Dad is not really one to complain about food. The most negative comment he’d say of food he doesn’t like is “well, I’m not quite sure”. So when Dad said the food in the restaurant they ended up in was dismal, and that he could have made a better pizza himself – he never cooks, ever – you know he’s being serious.

Mom’s birthday dinner, then, ended up being a bad pizza in a Lithuanian corner restaurant. Not what she’d expected, I’m sure.

Fortunately, they did find a lovely restaurant right next to the hotel for their lunch next day – a riverside view and delicious food. It was unanimous that this lunch was the celebration, not the actual birthday dinner itself.

A moral to the story?

In one of my previous relationships, we’d always end up having the worst anniversaries. Both of us were expecting a lot from the day. More specifically, we were both expecting that the other person make the day special without our own effort. We’d end up eating noodles on the couch and sulking, or even having dinner at a restaurant and sulking, because the whole day was somehow “wrong”.

The problem was that we were expecting a lot from the day but we weren’t really prepared to a) talk about our expectations or b) put in the effort ahead of time. Furthermore, we were c) convinced that if the day doesn’t play out like we expected, it’s ruined.

Yesterday, as we were talking about the birthday dinner fiasco, Mom mentioned that of course they could’ve booked a cab to pick them up from the hotel and waited for the cab inside, warm and cosy. They just hadn’t thought of it. Or they could’ve gone straight to the beautiful restaurant next to the hotel, had they just looked at the city guide earlier on.

Despite falling for mistakes a) and b), they fortunately didn’t fall for c). Rather, they let the dismal dining experience slide and decided to restore the situation as best they could the next day.

Mom did have the choice of throwing a fit and spending the rest of their trip sulking in the hotel room because things didn’t go according to her expectations. She chose not to. To me, that’s awesome.

Have a wonderful weekend, and until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got.
Lee Iacocca

We had a conversation with my mom about spending time yesterday, specifically about choosing to spend your time. She is an entrepreneur who loves her job, and so she naturally spends a lot of time working. The bulk of our conversation revolved around how much choice she has as to how much she works and how much she does other stuff.

This got me thinking about choice and values. I think a sign of what you value most is what you choose to invest your precious time in. Someone who spends three hours a day exercising must value his or her body higher than someone who spends three hours a month exercising, right?

Don’t get me wrong, the person who exercises three hours a month (let’s call her Wendy) might well think her body is very important to her – it’s just not very high on her hierarchy of values. She has twenty four hours every day just like the three-hour-a-day exercise buff, Lauren; she just chooses to spend that time differently.

So far, so simple, right?

Contrasting values

What about obligations? What about work? What about all the other things that Wendy has to do, like feed her four children and work?

Already, we know something more about the values in Wendy’s life: the well-being of her family might be a high priority, as well as work.  She probably has at least fifteen to twenty other values – friendship, learning, justice, peace, reputation, wealth, for example – that she has to juggle every day, every week, just like the rest of us.

The more things we value, the less time we can dedicate to acting according to each individual value. Even more so, if our values contradict each other.

By dedicating time to improve her health, Wendy is forfeiting the time she could be increasing her wealth. When she spends a night about town with her friends and takes the kids to Grandma, she is catering to the friendship value, but might be undermining her reputation as a mother, if Grandma is very strict about such things.

I notice I very easily start ignoring my loved ones when I have a lot of work to do. Case in point: last fall. Even though I value my relationship with my fiancé very highly, I’d routinely get home after a long day at the University and slop down on the couch, exhausted. I’d have a few hours left until I have to go to sleep, and those hours I’d spend in front of the TV or at my laptop. Hardly inspiring.

Recognising values

The thing is, I chose to take on each activity that exhausted me during the day, and I knew it. I didn’t have one single item on my time table that I couldn’t have declined, had I wanted.

But since I’d promised the people I’d do my share, I did. And there were so many shares to go around I finally had only the shreds left when I got home.

This was not the scary part, though. The scary part came when I realised that my time spending patterns reveal something about my value hierarchy. And, as much as I hated to admit it, I seemed to value my schoolwork, band, and volunteering more than my health or my relationships with my fiancé, my parents, or my friends from outside school.

This is when I realised I had to start making conscious choices about my scheduling. Just like values guide our choices, our choices guide our values as well, and I wanted to steer my focus more towards the important people in my life.

Aligning and balancing values

I’m still a work-in-progress with the whole values and spending time part. I realise that I can’t divide every single day into equal increments of friend time, spouse time, school time, family time etc., especially since I’m more a project person than a routine person.

I suspect that someone who thrives on routine would enjoy having a “friend hour” every day, be it for a coffee date, a phone call, or a thoughtful email – spending time contacting someone you haven’t heard from in a while.

As a project-oriented scatterbrain, I need to include friends, family and fiancé into my mental todolist along with my more “official” obligations such as school and band stuff. In practice, this means saving some time every week on my calendar to actually meet people and do nothing special. Whoah, that might well be a routine right there. Who knew!

As for the health part – that’s where I definitely thrive on routine and habit. Remembering to eat every now and then and doing some form of mind-and-body exercise same time each day keep me functioning properly without me thinking about it.

And before there’s a habit, there’s choice. Over and over again. Why do I want to do this? Why is it important to me that I remember to eat? Why do I really want to see my mom and dad a few times a week?

Which reminds me: go eat something and call Mom. 🙂

Have a happy New Year’s celebration, and until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Winston Churchill

I have one or two acquaintances who are self-proclaimed pessimists. As in, whenever they encounter a new situation, they promptly declare that it’ll never work because of this, that and the other reason. And whenever someone challenges their negative attitude, they proudly state that they, as pessimists, will never be disappointed.

As an optimist, it’s really hard for me to relate to this attitude. Which is exactly why I feel I need to try.

In addition to pessimists, I’ve noticed a lot of people have a weird group identity pride about perfectionism.

“How come you haven’t returned your essay yet?”
“Well, as a perfectionist I can’t turn in something that’s not ready yet.”

I’m a kind of recovering perfectionist – I do notice perfectionistic features in my behavior, but I try not to label myself as a perfectionist, at least in public. I’m also recovering in the sense that I no longer feel I have to do everything in one go and deliver an impeccable result.

The Safety of the Label

“Pessimist” behavior and “perfectionist” behavior don’t often resemble each other on the surface.l It occurred to me a few days ago, though, that in some way, perfectionism and pessimism stem from the same source. They’re both about “why bother, if it won’t work out exactly like I want it to”. In other words, a fear of less-than-perfect.

If you’re a perfectionist, you can never really feel satisfied with the results of your actions. Nothing we do in this physical universe will ever achieve perfection. Deep down, most perfectionists know this. Or they think that even if perfection is possible, their own skills will never be enough to achieve it.

For me, the logical train of thought was
1. Perfection is the only thing worth achieving.
2. I will never achieve perfection, no matter how hard I try.
3. Why should I try at all?
End result: the things I was most perfectionistic about were the exact things I’d never get around to.

For a pessimist, the thought process is maybe slightly different. I’d imagine something like
1. New possibility. Hmmm.
2. There are at least seventeen things that can go wrong about this project because I’m not good at/experienced in X, Y, Z.
3. Why bother doing it at all, if it’s going to go wrong anyway?
End result: the things you might learn most from are the ones you’ll reject first.

The best part of such a label – pessimist, perfectionist – is that it gives you (me) a ready-made pattern to deflect scary challenges with. It keeps you (me) in the safe realm of no disappointments. It also keeps you from achieving anything of any value, though. And that might lead to a bigger disappointment in, say, ten years’ time.

Scratching the Label

I’m not saying everyone should jump at every chance to experience failure and disappointment. What I’m saying is that identifying as a perfectionist or a pessimist may affect your behavior so that you can’t move forward. If this is the case, it might be a good idea to try and scratch off that label a bit.

A lot of what I’ve done (and am still doing) to recover from my perfectionism comes from Havi and FlyLady. I’ll try to give you a few ideas here, but I’m definitely not saying I came up with all this. I don’t know if these things work for pessimism, too, but I’m guessing they might – if you actually do them. 🙂

1. The label is not you.

The first thing I’ve learned about teaching and leading a group is that when you give  feedback, you should always criticize the behavior, not the person.

Telling someone they are stupid, lazy or impossible doesn’t really encourage them to change. That’s who they are in your eyes, apparently, and no amount of work will alter the situation.

If you tell them they are behaving in a way that is unacceptable or less than desirable, you’re giving them a chance to change their behavior without threatening or defining their actual identity. You can still give them positive feedback as well and not end up contradicting yourself and confusing the other person.

This is where the self-proclaiming comes into play. If you always go behind “I’m a pessimist, I can’t X”, you’re rooting the thought deeper and deeper into your mind. A simple change in the sentence – “I tend to think like a pessimist, therefore I think I can’t X” gives you a choice. You can either continue thinking like a pessimist, or you can change your behavior and try thinking like an optimist for a while. You don’t necessarily have to. The choice alone makes a huge difference.

2. It’s a fear. Hear it out.

This idea comes straight from Havi. If you’re afraid of less-than-perfect, then somewhere in your life it was useful for you to be afraid and avoid less-than-perfect. The fear is there to protect you from something.

Admitting that it’s a fear, of course, is a big step. It’s not considered cool to be afraid. It’s a lot cooler to just despise, look down on, not care about or scorn a person or an activity than it is to be afraid. Depending on the culture, some people would rather saw off a limb than admit they’re afraid of the pain. Or they’d rather insult a loved one than admit to them they’re afraid of losing them.

Recognizing the fear doesn’t necessarily require other immediate action. Except maybe going to read Havi’s article about the fear knight. And then slowly considering if there’s a deal you can make with the fear so you can take small steps forward.

3. Something about the big picture

This goes under the perfectionism heading, but I guess pessimists can relate to this as well.

Holidays are coming, and with them the stress to clean out your house. A wonderful chance for every perfectionist to guilt themselves into a burnout. Everything has to be clean, since that’s how Mom used to do it.

A few days ago, I read my favorite holiday cleaning tip in the newspaper. It comes from the Finnish Marttas, although it might be a universal one as well.

You only need to clean out the kitchen closets if you plan to spend your Christmas in them.

Think about the past month. Was there anything you wished you’d done but didn’t, because your perfectionism or pessimism stopped you? Was there anything you wish you’d participated in? What were those things?

Then think about the things you’re really proud of achieving this past month. How did your perfectionism or pessimism feature in that picture?

Finally, think of the moments you were really happy during the past month. How did perfectionism or pessimism come to play there?

I can’t give you a stock answer on how to get rid of the perfectionistic or pessimistic behavior. As I said, I’m still struggling with it myself. But I guess considering the big picture – what will stick with you in a month, a year, ten years – could be a good way to communicate with the fear and put it into perspective.

I don’t even remember the essays or projects I was stressing about three years ago. I don’t remember one single instance when I was happy I didn’t participate in a project or a trip because it failed.

I do remember, however, the thrill I get when I realize all my projects are handed in and I have the weekend off. Or the satisfaction of a horribly difficult job pretty well done. Or the moments we’ve had people over and enjoyed their company, even if there were dust bunnies in the corners and a pile of dirty clothes piling on top of the hamper.

Whenever you hear yourself saying the words “I can’t”, it’s time to stop and think. Do you want to? Is this important? Is there a little itty bitty piece you can do? These are the things you might want to say to your fear and see if it’ll shift a bit.

My perfectionist side is urging me to write a wonderful closing paragraph that draws the essay together perfectly. I’ll gently remind my fear that I can always edit the essay later, and that if my readers want to clarify some point, they can do so in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by again, and until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings.

Love,

Sari

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This is a series of posts about motivation, based on Richard Ryan and Edward Deci’s Self Determination Theory. In each post, I will talk about one of the three key needs that are linked with intrinsic motivation: Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness.

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.
Zig Ziglar

Situation: I’m in the middle of battling a severe case of demotivation, and I’ve summoned the Three Motivation Musketeers – Competence, Autonomy, Relatedness – to my rescue. In the previous post, Competence proved himself valuable, but was faced with obstacles he could not overcome. It was time for his accomplices to step up and prove themselves worthy.

In strolls Autonomy with all the confidence he can muster. Together with Competence, they assume their battling stance.

Want to know one of my fastest demotivators? The words “you must” and their inflections. It doesn’t matter who says it – a teacher, my mother, my fiancé, or me. As soon as the word hits my consciousness, any motivation I had deflates like a cheap balloon. Fast.

On the other hand, getting to pick and choose between a nasty job and another nasty job makes doing the one you choose feel slightly less, well, nasty. It’s like the classic example of asking children whether they want to wear their blue dungarees or their green dungarees. Whichever they choose, they’re now wearing dungarees when they sit in the puddle outside. Mission accomplished.

In the same vein – my fiancé often speaks of “embracing the suck” – and no, you potty-brain, that’s not what it refers to. Ever since Dave Navarro originally posted about this, I’ve been going back to the mindset of “I don’t want to do it – I’m allowed to hate doing it” and then hating something and doing it. I know Havi is all about this kind of not-being-impressed-about-things approach, although with less hating and pushing through involved.

Here comes the Musketeer! [insert jingle]

In terms of Autonomy, you could rephrase this approach as consciously choosing to

a) admit it’s not something you’d otherwise do,

b) remind yourself of why it is that you’re doing this.

I need to write that essay because I want to reflect on the things I’ve learned and make sure I’ve actually understood something. Not to mention the fact that I need study credits to graduate and be able to work as the super-motivational teacher who sparks the flame of creativity in everyone she meets and/or teaches. And I need to do the dishes because it gets really funky really fast in the kitchen if I don’t.

I could choose…

…not doing the essay and getting my credits from somewhere else.

…not graduating as a teacher, going back to selling cigarettes and lottery tickets to drunks at the newsstand, or starting another study program on something completely different.

…cooking in a funky kitchen until I’ve used up all my clean kitchenware.

Bleurgh. Looking at it through the lense of “what choice do I have in this matter?” usually helps me out.

Motive and Motivation

When it comes to learning something, it’s even more important to find the reason (or motive, or motivation) behind it all. If it’s just to pass the exam or get the credit, you can bet your dungarees, blue or green, that I won’t remember much of it six months on.

Figuring out why I am choosing to spend my time on learning French vocabulary or Level 2 hand movements in Shiva Nata gives the whole thing a context, which then helps me link whatever I learn with my pre-existing knowledge. That, in turn, helps me dig it out and use it the next time someone asks me the way to the harbor in French.

It’s also about responsibility. If I have a choice about something, I’m also responsible for that thing to eventually happen. And with responsibility comes the pleasure of a job well done.

No matter how much I hate doing the dishes (and believe me, I do), the sight of a shiny kitchen fires off endorphins from a very primitive nesting area of the brain. If I choose to do something that I would’ve “had to” do anyway, I can be proud of it in a way that’s completely different from the “There. Done.” -approach.

Combining Forces

It’s also important to remember that no matter how good i.e. competent you are at something, the less choice you have the matter, the more your motivation will fizzle. It’s much less appealing to write a compulsory essay on one assigned topic than choose from three topics – even if you know you write kickass essays on whichever topic.

So when Competence and Autonomy combine forces, they form quite a team. The next post will introduce the third Musketeer – Relatedness, a big softie with the amazing Demotivation-busting ninja skills.

Until then, keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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