Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | August 31, 2013

Why I Only Do What I Feel Like

I wake up each morning–so far, that is! :-)–without obligations to speak of.

I can do whatever I want with my day, even if that is nothing at all, without repercussions to speak of.

Some people think that this would make for an ideal situation. Not so.

When you can do anything at all, deciding to do something rather than other things becomes the major task of the day. You get no assurances. Anything you choose to do might turn out to be a complete waste of time, ensuring that you’ll get bit in the butt because you forwent doing what was actually worthwhile. Or worse: it could prove detrimental, even stupid.

If you have a crapload of obligations, at least you’ve got the defense that you had no options, as well as the comfort–as delusional as it can often be–that those who stipulated the obligations knew what they were doing.

Obligations afford us the “We were just following requirements” defense after the fact, but come with no upfront guarantee that they’re worth being responsive to. Knowing that we fulfilled our obligations can be great comfort if our goal is avoiding blame. It’s secondary–and sometimes irrelevant–if our goal is progress.

Decisions, Decisions…

So, when you can do anything you want, how do you choose? Let’s say that we decide that J is what we want to do. How did we arrive at that conclusion? Here are the methods I’m familiar with:

  1. Given prior experience, we decide that J is preferable to other options.
  2. Given expert opinion, we decide that J is preferable to other options.
  3. Given authoritative declaration, we decide that J is preferable to other options.
  4. Given anticipated outcomes, we decide that J is preferable to other options.
  5. We want to do J, so we decide that J is preferable to other options.
  6. We just feel like doing J, so we decide that J is preferable to other options.

Of course, that’s a multiple-multiple choice situation, and there are probably more methods I could list, but that’s enough to illustrate why I only do what I feel like.

We usually use a mix of most or all of the above in our decision-making. We each have, I presume, a unique recipe for our decision-making concoctions. How we formulate them can be a mystery, even to us. A few observations might help dispel some of the mysteriousness.

Do We Have To?

First, we could notice if any of the methods are optional or if some always figure into our mix. Of course, our answers to this are from us, for us, and about us, not necessarily generalizable to others. But I’ll bet that prior experience, anticipated outcomes, what we want, and what we feel like usually factor in, if not always. In fact, it’s difficult to see how what we want and what we feel like don’t always factor in.

On the other hand, expert opinion (“it must”) and authoritative declaration (“it shall”) only figure in depending on how much stock we put in experts and authorities. For some of us, that’s not much.

When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

Second, we could notice what the consequences are from ignoring these methods.

  1. If we ignore prior experience, we run the risk of repeating past mistakes or failing to repeat past successes.
  2. If we ignore expert opinion, we run the risk of making mistakes that could be avoided or failing to realize real potential.
  3. If we ignore authoritative declaration, we run the risk of retaliation and punishment.
  4. If we ignore anticipated outcomes, we run the risk of problems that were foreseeable, even avoidable. Occasionally, ignoring outcomes plays in our favor, i.e., in cases where we avoid problems that erroneous foresight might otherwise cause.
  5. If we ignore what we want, we don’t run risks–we incur the certainty of doing something that we don’t want or missing out on what we do want. Sometimes that isn’t so bad, because we find out after the fact that our initial desire was a mistake; but that’s the minority report.
  6. If we ignore what we’re feeling, though, we incur a consequence more profound than all the rest: we lose touch with a basic navigational signal. How we feel about things is a primary source of input into deciding what to think about them.

(I’m in the middle of an online argument about whether thinking is even possible apart from emotions, but just given the simple fact that we need all the help we can get to think effectively and make good decisions, at least we can say that emotionally void thinking is far short of the kind of cognitive experience we aspire to, and it might even be inferior to thinking that’s biased or disrupted by emotions.)

What’s In It For Us?

Third, we could consider the benefits specific to each method when it results in success.

  1. If assessing prior experience helped achieve a good result, (however we construe “good,”) it validates our assessment and encourages more confidence our ability to assess. Assessing experience is a crucial component of judgment, and judgment is a crucial component of decision-making.
  2. If considering expert opinion helped achieve a good result, it validates the experts who proffered it and encourages more confidence them.
  3. If considering authoritative declaration helped achieve a good result, it validates the authorities who declared it and encourages more confidence them. They might even recognize or reward us for acting on their declarations.
  4. If considering anticipated outcomes helped achieve a good result, it validates our anticipatory acumen and encourages more confidence in our ability to anticipate outcomes.
  5. If considering what we wanted helped achieve a good result, it validates our desires and encourages more confidence that we want the right things.
  6. If considering what we felt helped achieve a good result, it validates our senses and encourages more confidence in our perceptions.
Sorting It

So, when I consider which methods are most important to me, reflected by how mandatory or optional they figure into my decision-making, consider the down sides of ignoring them, and consider the benefits of using them, two methods really stand out: what I want and what I feel like.

Especially when I consider down sides and benefits, my wants and my feelings affect me much closer to home and with more impact than the other methods. Wanting and feeling get down to who I am. Prior experience and anticipated outcomes concern what I do and did. Expert opinion concerns parameters within which it’s safe or advisable to operate, given that the world around me operates in certain ways. Authoritative opinion concerns parameters within which it’s safe or advisable to operate, given that the authorities might judge me and possibly reward or punish me.

I list those in order of importance, as far as I’m concerned, to me.

So now I’ll explain the role each method plays in my deciding what to do, in reverse order of importance…

Given the authorities I’ve known and observed and the way that authority invariably works in our society, our institutions, and personal relationships, I couldn’t give two whits about it.

As far as expert opinion goes, given:

  • how it’s largely for hire and vulnerable to manipulation by those who hold funding purse strings
  • how experts in every time are largely debunked by those who follow them


    (Note: If you think that’s the exception rather than the rule, see Thomas Kuhn’s work on how knowledge develops in one of our most cherished fields of expertise: science.)

  • expertly debunked views have a strong tendency to flip-flop over time, e.g., butter is good–no margarine is good–no butter is better; eggs are good–no eggs are bad–no eggs are great; there is a cosmic ether–no there isn’t–yes there is; etc…

therefore…

I consider expert  opinion an information source worthy of attention, especially if experts contradict something that seems clear to us, (always very interesting,) but not necessarily authoritative and, often, not even compelling.

All considered, there isn’t enough up side to expert opinion and authoritative declaration to warrant me abdicating self-determination in order to follow their prescriptions or submit to their vetoes.

That leaves me with prior experience, anticipated outcomes, what I want, and what I feel like.

It’s a Wrap

Of course, all these distinctions, categories, and comparisons are provisional. I’m not advocating a view that I expect others to accept or follow, but describing an approach to decision-making that I find useful and effective, for what it’s worth.

When it comes to prior experience, anticipated outcomes, what I want, and what I feel like, it’s such a tangle that making strict sense of it would probably merit the Nobel Prize… possibly followed up by a trip to the loony bin. That’s where I’d end up if I seriously attempted it, anyway!

Still, we can make some observations.

I have many and varied prior experiences. How do they affect my decision-making? I’d rather avoid the kind of experiences that I didn’t like and engage in the kind that I did like. So, I make use of prior experience through the filter of what I want.

Likewise anticipated outcomes. I’d like to avoid the ones I don’t want and achieve the ones I do want.

So, what I want is fundamental. What’s more, it’s also a function of past experience, which includes experience of interaction with the world around me as well as experience of reflecting on that interaction and of anticipating outcomes in past decision-making. In other words, my desires are a synthesis of past experience, reflection, and anticipation. Prior experience and prior anticipation of outcomes are already integrated into “what I want.”

And how do I connect what I do now with prior experience and anticipated outcomes? How do I tell whether what I’m doing in the present moment relates to what I want or what I don’t want? Of course, I think it through. But there’s a problem with thinking. It is, by nature of cognition and our relationship to the world around us, an abstraction, at least a few steps removed from the realities it contemplates. How do we connect what we’re thinking–including decision-making–to the things we’re thinking about? How do we guide the application of our conclusions, (the results of our thinking,) in real situations in real time? We do it by virtue of a synthesis of data from our senses, reflected in precisely what I mean by feelings.

And how do feelings play into desires? In spite of devil’s advocates who might relish arguing the point, feelings play a huge role in our desires, a crucial role. In fact, specific data about past experiences fades long before the feelings we had during the experiences do. We remember what it felt like to do J or what we felt like when J happened in vivid memories rich in detail. But we don’t often (if ever) forget how we felt in memories of events which are detail poor. So, in a fundamental way, our desires synthesize and represent our feelings about our experiences, sometimes even more than the specifics of the events we experienced.

Ultimately, feelings seem to be integral to everything else.

Breakout

So, I figure, if it all comes down to feelings, why not start with them?

And, since every other method crucially and ultimately depends on feelings merely to function at all, regardless of success or failure, why not prioritize feelings?

And if forced to choose between my feelings and some other consideration, overruling my feelings effectively obviates a primary means of confirming or falsifying whatever overruled them. So, letting that happen leaves me in a pickle. Well then, why not make feelings paramount?

All of that considered together, the net result: I only do what I feel like.

By now enough hackles are raised, I assume, (and I still can’t for the life of me understand why they rise at all,) to warrant the rhetorical, “So what are the consequences?” I’m glad you let me ask… 🙂

Upshot

Consequences? What, besides enjoying what I do all the livelong day? I find that when I forego doing what I otherwise might think I must do or should do or will regret not doing, and instead do exactly what I feel like doing, several things happen:

  1. I’m more authentic
  2. I’m more confident
  3. I feel safer to be more vulnerable
  4. I’m less stressed
  5. I’m not forced to keep track of a bunch of crap I don’t give a hoot about
  6. I totally piss off A-type personalities
  7. I’m enigmatic and attractive to B-type personalities
  8. Which means, I have a lot of fun
  9. Which, in turn, makes me somewhat failure- and disappointment-resistant
  10. Which, in turn, postures me to do what I’m most interested in doing these days: learn how to turn shit into fun

Consider that list. Those are prerequisites to success, not failure. So from where comes our apprehension of failure should we exactly and only do what we feel like?

Nowhere wothwhile, as far as I can tell.

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