One of the books I’m reading at the moment is Decisions, Decisions by Randy W. Green, PhD. There are two main premises to the book. The first is that we have trouble making decisions because we have listened too much to external input and are out of touch with our internal guidance systems. Green proposes that the main reason we are dissatisfied, that many of us self-medicate with alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and food is because we have submitted our will to those who want us to make choices that fit society rather than our own needs.
The second basic premise is that we approach the decision making process from one of two biases. Either we feel strong, capable, and excited, and see the world as full of possibility, or we focus on the limitations and problems that exist — often because we have listened too much to, and incorporated the voices of those who taught us we should do what they wanted us to do. What we focus on we tend to get more of, so by focusing on limitations, we continue the work of the voices and box ourselves in even more.
I see a resonance in this idea with two books I’ve referenced here before. Tim Ferris in The 4-Hour Work Week wants us to choose our path based on what excites us. He says that should determine our priorities.
The other book is Healthy at Every Size by Linda Bacon, PhD. Bacon’s argument is that diets of every stripe (external control) have failed to produce consistent weight loss, and that the only healthy approach to food is to understand nutrition and to listen to our internal cues.
So obviously, in order to be true to ourselves, we have to learn to recognize our internal voices. Many of us have very successfully integrated our parents’, teachers’ and other gurus’ dictums. “Don’t touch that! You don’t know where it’s been!” “Work now, play later.” “You’ll never make a living at that.” “Clean your plate.” Society largely works because we’re using similar guidebooks. It’s hard to know if a particular belief is our own or one that someone else engraved on our brains (though Green says our body’s posture is a dead giveaway).
I haven’t finished Decisions, Decisions yet. Maybe Green will tell his readers how to find that authentic voice that’s been gradually buried under “shoulds” and “ought-to’s” for decades. But what it comes down to, for all of us in every context, is the question: Who are you? Really?
I remember reading (source unknown) that we can’t really know who we are outside of the context of how we interact with our environment. It’s our relationships that define us. Who we are is an accumulation of what we’ve done, just as who we’ll be tomorrow is the result of what we do today. You can decide to do all sorts of things, but until you act (interact with the world) by at least telling someone what you’ve decided, that decision is only potential. It’s unrealized.
So, is there a unique person within us that is separate from the collection of things we’ve done and said over the course of our lives? There are people who have made huge course corrections, who have chosen to pull themselves back from lives dominated by addiction and executed that decision, so there must be, I think. They didn’t do it just because someone told them to.