Making the “Right” Choice

No matter the scenario before me, I find myself stressing over making the “right” decision. Even seemingly simple choices are blown way out of proportion. Should I take a walk or not take a walk? Should I order take out tonight or cook? Should I clean today or tomorrow? When you break life down into these small decisions, it can become overwhelming quite quickly.

It appears as though everyone around me is moving through life intuitively, with confidence in their decisions. Even big life-changing decisions like leaving a job, getting married, having a baby, going back to school. I guess it’s not fair to say these are easy situations for others to navigate. Maybe they are just as tangled up inside as I am. I just only end up seeing the final result. Still these decisions are made firmly, as if they truly know it will be the right one. When it comes to big decisions in my own life, I can’t say I’ve ever even made one. Looking back most major life-changing decisions were made for me like getting a scholarship to college. Or I just find myself gently pushed into one like when I decided to do yoga teacher training with a friend from work.

It feels like all this time I have just been allowing life to happen to me, rather than playing an active role in directing my own experience. I guess I’ve always felt safer not being in control of these things. I’d rather feel like a victim than feel at fault. Perhaps one of the reasons it’s so hard for me to make decisions is because I know how hard I am going to be on myself if I make the “wrong” one.

I go through each day in a precise set of activities. Even though it might be nice to break away from my normal routine once in a while, I’m always too afraid. It’s not even so much about the tasks themselves, like I once thought. It’s more about not having to contemplate what to do next. When I have a schedule to follow, that takes away a lot of the decisions I’d have to make in a day. Take away the routine and I feel like I’m at sea, drowning in an ocean of possibilities.

The real issue here is thinking that there is a “right” decision to be made at all. Especially about such insignificant choices like whether to go for a walk or not. Rather than just thinking, “Oh, a walk would be nice” and going, or, “Eh, I don’t feel like going for a walk today,” and letting it go, I agonize over whether or not I should. I use up so much mental energy arguing and debating with myself about the smallest things.

I take life, and all the decisions that comprise it, far too seriously. I blow each little moment way out of proportion. Most of the thoughts I suffer over for hours or even days, won’t make a difference in the long run. It’s like I have this delusion if I can choose what to do with each second of my life perfectly, all my problems will go away. I know that isn’t true though. There is no perfect answer. There are no “right” or “wrong” choices. There is just me and what I want. And maybe the problem is I don’t know what that is. Or maybe the problem is I’m always looking for problems, so that’s what I find.

What’s the problem with being indecisive anyway? I can choose how I frame even this dilemma. I could take pride in this “flaw.” I’m quite careful and conscientious. These are excellent qualities. I want to make the most of this precious time I’ve been given. I don’t want to be wasteful with a single second. I am insightful and capable of self-reflection. Already, this mental shift has put me in a better mood. Now instead of feeling afraid and broken, I feel happy and proud to be the way that I am.

It’s so easy for me to look outside of myself for answers. I feel like in order to be happy or to love myself, I’ve got to change something outside of me, like the situation or my behavior. That’s always just another distraction though. I don’t need to change anything external to be happy. All I’ve got to do is give myself the space to find different perspectives of the same “problem.”

When I find myself sweating the small stuff today, I’m going to return to one of my favorite mantras: Can I love myself even though…? Can I love myself regardless of whether or not I go for a walk today? Certainly. Can I love myself even though I have a tendency to choose the path of least resistance and default to routine? Absolutely. Can I love myself even though I often take life too seriously? Of course. Can I love myself even though I spend so much time worrying about making the “right” decision. Yes I can. And that’s all that really matters.

Sinking Ship

This year my place of employment took a huge hit financially. The state drastically cut our funding. On top of that we haven’t really been able to fundraise like we normally do because of Covid. It seems like everyone has been staying pretty positive on the surface. Up until recently I’ve just been trying not to think about it and hoping it will all turn out okay somehow. This place has been around for over 11 years after all. But with our therapist leaving for another job this August, I’m really starting to wonder if I should be exploring other job options too.

I really would like to stay here forever. I’ve said that many times, but it’s true. This place is better than I ever imagined any job could be. I actually look forward to coming here everyday. I feel like I’m just spending time with friends most days. However, I know that’s going to change somewhat without our current therapist being here. It’s really going to be sad to see her go. I hope that we’ll be able to remain friends, but she seems so busy and I’ve never been good at maintaining friendships in the past.

Mostly I am starting to wonder if I should go back to actively pursuing a teaching job. I did pay quite a pretty penny for the certification that I’ll have to be renewing here in a few months. I’m not sure that I would enjoy being a teacher as much as I enjoy being an advocate here, but it would still be nice to get summers off. Not to mention I’d get paid a hell of a lot more, plus better benefits and job security.

Honestly money has never been a big motivator to me though. I seem to be doing just fine with the ridiculously low wages I’ve always made so far. It’s much more important for me to like my job than to make a lot of money. I hardly ever feel like spending more than I need for the bare necessities anyway. The people I work with here understand me and appreciate me, oftentimes more than I feel I even deserve. I truly feel blessed to work with such incredible human beings. Which also makes the thought of leaving hard in another sense as well. I don’t want to put them in an even shittier position by abandoning them in their hour of need.

It really feels like standing on the deck of a sinking ship, trying to decide what to do next. The hardest part is I’m not sure that the ship will really go down or if we can salvage it. I suppose that my plan for now will be to ride it out. I refuse to give up on this place. It’s simply too amazing. I’ll do what I have to do to keep my teaching certification in the meantime, but I won’t worry about applying for any more teaching jobs. Then if in a few years this place does go under, I’ll become a substitute teacher while I search for a permanent position. Hopefully, in the end all of this worrying will have been for nothing.

Ten Scientific Reasons Why You're Feeling Depressed - Melanie Greenberg

Overriding the Algorithm

Everything that we consume becomes integrated, it all becomes a part of us. Whether its the food we eat, the things we drink, the substances we use, the physical atmosphere of the space around us, or even just the things we watch and listen to, all of these things effect us. Often in ways we don’t intend for them to. I’ve been contemplating this idea a lot lately. I’ve always been hyper aware of the things I put into my body. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean I make the right choices in that area often enough. My primary concern was always with the effects these things have on my weight and physical appearance. The subtler aspects of how what I consume effects my mental and emotional wellbeing always seem to remain largely overlooked.

Without looking at the scientific data showing correlation, it can be very difficult to even connect the way we feel with what we are consuming day to day. It is probably effecting us more than we realize, especially when it comes to anxiety disorders. In addition to cutting back on processed foods, artificial sweeteners, sugar, caffeine, and nicotine, I also want to start changing the content that I consume online. It would be interesting to make these changes just to see if I notice a difference. To log my mood and anxiety level throughout this process to try to gauge just how different I might feel without all of these harmful influences being so enmeshed in my life.

Knowing what I do now about the way our internet experience is basically tailor made for us by algorithms, I would like to try my hand at making that algorithm serve me instead of steer me. I’ve always been someone who enjoys the grittier side of movies and series. So the videos that are offered to me for easy access are primarily about murder mysteries, drug addiction, mental illness, homelessness, social injustice, civil unrest, etc. And while these topics are very interesting, they can also be very upsetting and depressing. When this is the only content that is readily available to you, it can start to feel like all that there is. I wonder how much of what I think and feel every day is directly impacted by this endless background noise of destruction, violence, and despair. Would I be a different person, would I think differently if I actively sought out different content?

One of the reasons the idea of the algorithm guiding our hand has been on my mind so much lately, is because of what’s currently happening on my Netflix account. Somehow I fell down a rabbit whole of watching English dubbed, foreign TV series. Don’t get me wrong, quite well-produced and intriguing stuff, but after awhile I get tired of the voiceover and the dialogue not lining up with the actors’ lip movements. Much to my dismay I seem unable to extricate myself from this issue. Netflix continues to suggest only these shows, and due to my general laziness I put up with watching another one rather than put any effort into finding a good American made show instead. Thus furthering Netflix’s propensity toward offering me foreign series and films. The algorithms that were created to assist us, eventually start to direct and limit our ability to make our own decisions. Only with great, intentional effort can we overcome this endless loop.

Another reason I am interested in the idea of changing the content I consume is to discover just how difficult it would actually be to do. How quickly would the algorithm adjust to a drastic change in interest? The only reason I haven’t done this sooner is because I enjoy the content I consume as I’m sure we all do. I don’t feel confident that I will be able to find more positive content that will interest me as much. I worry that I won’t be satisfied if I limit myself to only watching lighthearted, fluffy shows. I suppose if that ends up being the case, I can always transition away from it again. Perhaps I’d even be able to establish a nice balance between these opposing genres.

I’m going to do some investigating and see if there are any useful resources already out there online for ways to go about shifting your internet experience so that you are exposed to more uplifting content. It seems that someone must have already had the idea to consciously manipulate the algorithm for the benefit of their mental health already. It will be interesting to expose myself to a whole new side of the internet that has remained hidden from me until now. Who knows what I may uncover? I’ll be sure to make an update to this post once I implement this new plan and discover how this seemingly innocuous change effects me.

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Mental Energy

I remember someone telling me once that the time you spend mulling over your options in your head is actually using up energy. He told me that he thinks that’s why by the time I get around to doing something, I feel exhausted and uninterested. This made a lot of sense to me. I spend so much time, and energy apparently, agonizing over even the smallest decision. By the time I finally decide, if I ever do, I have nothing left to put into the activity itself.

While I found this idea very fascinating, it didn’t really help me to address the problem. I may know now that I’m wasting energy when I run through everything in my mind a million times, but how do I stop? How can I teach myself to be more impulsive? Intuitive? I wasn’t always so neurotic. I still remember being in high school making plans with friends. We always agreed that whenever a plan fell together all of a sudden, last minute, it ended up being more fun. Now it’s been literally years since I’ve made any last minute plans. I always want to have plenty of time to mentally prepare myself. But maybe that’s done me more harm than good.

When it comes right down to it, I need to remember that most if not all of these decisions don’t matter. Everything will turn out okay no matter what I choose. I spend my day to day in rigid structure to eliminate as many decisions as I possibly can. But of course I just find new smaller decisions to consider. What yoga poses should I do today? What should I draw? What should I eat? Which video game should I play? All absolutely inconsequential. I am always struggling, looking for the “right” answer. But of course there is no right answer. None of that stuff even matters.

I can’t even commit to the decision after I’ve made it. I continue to second guess myself. I want to remind myself that none of these things even matter. I could skip them all together if I wanted to. I began most of the things I do everyday because they are things that bring me joy. That’s it. That’s the whole point. Somewhere along the path of my life I have forgotten how to have fun, how to just be with myself in the moment.

I want to rediscover that connection with myself. I want to quiet my mind and listen for that soft voice inside. The voice of my inner child, my joy, my instinct, my intuition. I know that it is still there somewhere. I just need to uncover it again. And until then, I’ll keep reminding myself not to take life so seriously. Not every little decision is life or death. I am blessed with so many equally wonderful options to choose from. Each as good as any other. The point isn’t which I choose. It’s how I live in the moments to follow.

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Happy Birthday

I am 27 years old today. I genuinely never thought I’d get this far. Each year that passes just gets more and more surreal. I remember thinking 30 was pretty old, but I’m almost there and I still feel as young as ever. For a long time now, I haven’t enjoyed celebrating my birthday. If I could, I’d let it go by unnoticed by coworkers and acquaintances. This day always made me feel sad, afraid.

I want to change that this year. A birthday is just another opportunity to choose. I can focus on the fact that I’m getting older, getting closer to the inevitable end that awaits all of us, or I can focus on being grateful. After all, I was never guaranteed a place in this world. A birthday is a time to reflect on just how lucky we are to have been born, the sheer improbability of our existence, the amazing fact that we’ve managed to make it this far. I have had 27 beautiful years on this earth. What a miracle. I am so grateful to exist.

Yesterday by pure serendipity I ended up at my mom’s house looking over things in my old bedroom. It was so touching and bittersweet. How lovely it is to look back. I’ve led an absolutely splendid life. I have been so fortunate. No matter what the future holds. I will always have those memories. I won’t forget how my life has been so abundant already. I won’t take for granted all the opportunities I’ve had to love and to be loved in return. Today I give thanks to the universe. Thank you for twenty-seven years

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An Overwhelming Age

In one of my psychology classes in university I remember learning that one famous psychologist suggested an interesting correlation when it came to freedom and happiness. I tried to look up who it was, but I wasn’t able to settle the matter with any certainty. My best guess is that it was Erich Fromm.

Anyway, the idea was that while having no freedom leads to unhappiness, too much freedom can as well. We feel powerless when we don’t get to make any choices for ourselves, but we also begin to feel overwhelmed and distressed when we have too many choices. This idea has stuck with me ever since.

I truly believe that in our modern age, most of the world has started to experience that unhappiness due to too much freedom. Never before in history have we each had so many individual choices to make each and every moment of every day. We are constantly being advertised to, we have twenty or more different options for each product we need to purchase at the store, and we have an unlimited number of options when it comes to the internet which is now an integral part of our everyday lives.

I personally feel paralyzed with indecision on a daily basis. And it has certainly only become worse as society and technology has progressed in my lifetime. I am mentally exhausted from weighing endless choices. Most of the time all I can do is try to shut it all out and do nothing. I used to think this was solely due to my anxiety disorder, but it does provide some comfort to know that this effects everyone to some extent.

It brings to mind a quote by Sylvia Plath that has always deeply resonated with me:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

I have felt this way all of my life, yet never could have created such a splendidly perfect metaphor. I am not sure what we as a society can do to address this problem though. It certainly seems wrong for the government or some other entity to limit people’s freedoms in order to protect them from being overwhelmed by choices. But I do often long to have been born in simpler times. While I am grateful for all the freedom I have, I am also somewhat fearful of it.