"One of the first useful observations was that unless and until I had any urge to turn left or right, it was best to continue forward. Sometimes, as I approach an intersection I had the I-don’t-know-which-way-to-turn feeling. The first thing I noticed was I don’t get this feeling at all intersections. Most often, I don’t even really consider consciously which way to go-- my path is clear. Isn’t that interesting? What’s the difference between path-is-obvious intersections and I-don’t-know-which-way-to-turn intersections? Noticing this is how I came to learn what my values stack was. It took many observations to detect the pattern of my unconscious gut instinct.
My first big lesson in dealing with I-don’t-know-which-way-to-turn intersections was to keep walking forward. Often the reason I didn’t know was that there were two appealing competing paths to choose from. I would feel a little jolt of oh-no-I-can’t-choose-both anxiety as I approached the corner. I learned that that jolt lasted a few seconds before I actually reached the intersection. The anxiety appears before the decision. I learned that if I kept walking forward, I would gain more information. In a city, the difference of a few more steps to the corner is huge. Tall buildings block you from being able to see down the street until you’re literally at the crossroads. If you don’t know which to choose as you’re approaching one, keep walking forward. Those last few steps give you exponentially more info. If you suspend the need to decide at the moment, you feel the anxiety decide. That few extra seconds it takes to take the next steps, you’ll have way more info that if you force a premature decision.
It’s initially excruciating to sit with the knowledge that you must decide yet not have enough info to decide. My habit had been to decide then doubt, then revise the decision and doubt that revision-- ping ponging back and forth, miserable and under-confident.
The I-don’t-know-what-to-decide feeling can be a useful signal all on its own. It signals to me that there are at least two similarly attractive paths that are coming into view. Think about it-- when you come to an intersection and there is an ugly, disagreeable street you’ve never explored and a beautiful, sunny one wafting odors of jasmine and mocha, this situation does not give you the I-don’t-know-what-to-decide feeling. You sally forth, perhaps not even conscious you’ve made a decision at all. When there’s an obviously better choice, you don’t know you’ve made one. The obviously better choices don’t stick in our craw. Isn’t it ironic that the instances where we have two or more good options are what give us misery?
Modern life daily presents us with crippling abundance of choice paralysis-- spoiled for choice-- 32 flavors of spaghetti sauce stun us into submission in the grocery aisle, flagellating over whether the $11.99 vodka cream really is $5 better than the garlic marinara with parmesan or-- oh wait, I haven’t tried the puttanesca in a while.
Instead of being drained by dozens of such daily decisions, use them as exercises in strengthening your intuition. When you are standing in the grocery aisle, reading the restaurant menus or standing at the corner of a street-- do whatever you want. Stop mentally weighing up the qualities and characters to decide which value to optimize for. “Should I get the cheaper one or more expensive? The one I know I like, or the one I haven’t tried before?” On and on our conscious mind will chatter endlessly. If you can’t tell what to choose, that means the options are about equally good. Ask yourself the question that cuts through all the bullshit--
What do I want?
Going on wanders gives you thousands of micro decisions to make. Every intersection is an opportunity to ask your gut which way to go. Every desirable potential stop-- cafes, shops, a pretty flower to sop and touch-- those are all opportunities to observe what’s happening in your gut. What attracts you? This is the fodder for figuring out what you want.
If you’ve been doing what other people want you to do, you can truly not know what you want. It’s entirely possible to exclusively do what others what. Other people, through no malice in particular, will always make requests of you. From our co-workers, family, friends, even the most mundane small things like the restaurant host asking you to wait right here until a table is available. The list of what others request of us can feel so overwhelming and never-ending that we never take a break from them. They occupy so much mental space that it squeezes out knowing what we want.
Yah, yah, yah-- we all know we have to say “no” more. Why is it so hard? Until you know what you want-- what your gut screams YESSS to, you won’t know which things to say no to.
Wanders give you a way to start small in the wild ride that is following your gut. You can do 20 minutes a day. However busy you may be, what you’re getting done in 24 hours in a day, you can get a tiny bit more efficient and do in 23:40.
You can take a wander wherever you are. While many good habits such as eating well, travel doesn’t disrupt your wanders. It turbocharges them! Our brain delights in the new stimuli new places afford-- a new street grid to learn. New houses, shops, creatures, and plants to observe. You can wander wherever you find yourself
Wandering is cheap. It requires no subscriptions or special equipment-- hell, you can wander barefoot. Which I do at every opportunity.
Wandering is accessible to anyone who can move about a city or landscape. I prefer walking, but if you can’t physically do so, use whatever means are at your disposal. If you’re in a motorized chair, I encourage you to go at as slow a pace as you can manage, not zip around."