Mental Model: Wander, But Don’t Dawdle

photo of kid sitting on a chair

To wander is to live freely, in awe and gratitude of the moment. To dawdle is to spread yourself thin and miss out on what you actually want when it was actually within reach.

  • Do pick up flowers, as you journey up the mountain.
  • Do take your time to laugh, to giggle, to enjoy your time as you bake a cake.
  • Do cherish each moment as you raise kids.
  • Don’t miss the bus because you were distracted.
  • Don’t lose out on things you love because you didn’t know how much it meant to you.

6 Reasons You Don’t Know What You Want

We don’t know what we want because we don’t know who we are. When we go through the process of continuously formulating our identity, we realize how difficult it is to really choose what we believe in and what we choose to value. Some recognize they have control of this. Others are swept by other people’s desires, dreams, values, and beliefs.

This blog post explores my understanding of why I think you might struggle to figure out what you want. It is followed by a blog post that explores how to determine what it is exactly you want.

Early adulthood

When we are young, we extrapolate from the environment what we think is true, what is right, what is wrong, what is okay. As a toddler, we do not yet have a concept of ‘truth’ or ‘right and wrong’; we simply look to our parents for these truths and we believe them. When we’re sent off to school, we lift it from our authority figures, teachers, peers whom we deem have great social capital (the cool kids) or who we look up to (intellectuals, jocks, etc). People approximate what they want and what they value by mimicking people who they are similar to or are very close to. This is why many start off life with the default expectations of going to school, getting a job, having a family, and retiring.

As we grow older, we look deeper inside ourselves to define independently what we value, what we believe, and what we live for. After living life on auto-pilot and on ‘copy’ mode for maybe two decades, we ask ourselves: is this everything? Is this it? Do I really believe the things I believe, or did I just learn and copy that from someone else subconsciously? What else can I expect, ask from, and pursue in life? Who should really be defining what is my truth, my values, my morals?

Understanding our deeper selves requires a great deal of bravery and respect for truth, because you can never lie to yourself. There are some people brave enough to face the struggle and to wrestle with themselves to unlock the truth, patient and diligently working on understanding oneself to face this great task head on. There are those who are less fortunate, or who have less capability to do the same. Some hide behind distractions like video games, drinking, drugs, some relationship, complaining, longing for someone else’s dream, or escaping from things that cause fear and anxieties. Whatever it is, we have our own coping mechanisms and sometimes life just becomes a series of coping rather than a life fully lived.

Don’t you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old manfilled with regret, waiting to die alone?

Quote by Saito, in Inception (2010).

It is simple to say: “It’s hard to understand yourself, but just face your truth and do it”. The difficulty lies is in the details and the specific actions one must take and prepare for, to ensure a safe and successful journey.

It is scary because you would discover how much power and freedom (and responsibility) you really have when it comes to choosing your own path. You lose “the boss you hated at work” or the “terror professor” you had at school, and you look deeply into yourself and ask: Am I the kind of leader or teacher I need myself to be?

This blog, Wandering, lists down common reasons why I think people struggle to figure out what it is they want. The following blog post, Direction, elaborates how you can find out what it is you want. Later, a succeeding blog post, Cartographer, will discuss how people can use and draft up their own mental models (think: maps) to navigate oneself once they have found their own direction.

For now, let’s explore reasons why it is difficult to choose a direction, and to enable you to review how other people have lived their lives based on what it is they have demonstrated they valued or gave importance to.

1. Limits to opportunities played per round

In some games like Poker, you have a limited number of cards that you can play per round. This makes choosing what cards to hold in your hand a critical decision. In life, we also have a limited amount of hours, days, weeks, and years, so choosing what opportunities to pursue.

In chess, you can only move one piece per turn.

In poker, you can only raise, check, or fold per turn. Generally, you can’t raise the stakes of the round twice (I think? Unless you’re the big blind).

In DotA 2, choosing a hero means picking a specific set of skills and play style. Depending on what you and your team pick, different synergies will occur.

In Valorant or CSGO, choosing an agent and your firearms means you’ll have different skills, damage output, preferred combat distance, and roles: carry, support, duelist, etc. In PUBG, you also consider your encumbrance limit (carrying submachine guns, or long-range rifles, bringing a vehicle, etc).

2. Limited knowledge of opportunities

This is one of the simpler problems to address. Sometimes we just don’t know what’s out there.

In chess, you have access to all knowledge of the map (i.e. you see all the pieces) but the limited knowledge of opportunities varies depending on how much exposure and experience you have in knowing past games that have been played. This is why grand masters are able to memorize amazing plays from centuries. These masters compete at this level.

In poker, you only play with two cards at a time, and have a shared set of cards (river, etc) that you and other players have access to. At the start of the game, you don’t know what cards other players have, and you don’t know what five cards will be shared in the round.

In DotA 2, unless you put up observer wards you won’t know whether your opponents are making mistakes that you can take advantage of and punish. Vision is important.

In Valorant or CSGO, unless you have people holding a specific angle or line, you won’t be able to take advantage of careless or inexperienced opponents who don’t do entry into the space properly. Vision is important.

Knowing what opportunities to pursue is a critical skill. If you don’t play the right cards at the right time of the game, you might lose out on long-term returns in the future because you were too short-sighted, or you might be investing in the long run when the game is about to end.

3. Limited available opportunities

Some games are zero-sum games while there are games that are positive-sum games. Zero-sum games highlight the scarcity of the available opportunities.

In chess, there are also limited opportunities. Sometimes you fork your opponent, attacking two pieces using one piece, which grants you the benefit of threatening two pieces at the same time. However, because you can only take one turn at a time, you can only take one piece.

In poker, there are 52 total cards with 4 different suits, which all players play with.

In DotA 2, jungle creeps are gold and XP resources that you contest with enemies to advance your team’s networth while depriving the enemy.

In Valorant, map control like holding a key angle is critical. Owning a piece of space in the map means that your team can move freely within that space (e.g. to plant). Any difficulty to be mobile means it is more difficult to defuse, to take objectives, etc.

4. Limited access to opportunities

Some games are just really difficult, and just like in life, sometimes we just don’t have access to opportunities that we know of.

In chess, you have a limited number of pieces. Once you lose a piece, you cannot regain a full unit back (pawns convert into something else, but there are no ways to replace lost units).

In poker, you may have a nice card (e.g. an ace) but there are chances other players hold a set of cards you were hoping for (e.g. two aces). You can only use the cards on your hand and on the river.

In DotA 2, map control is a limited resource. The more map you control, the more resources you can collect (more jungle creeps, more rune control, more access to power and bounty runes, access to Roshan). Ultimately, you want to be strong enough to punish enemies and prevent them from having access to opportunities.

In shooter games like Valorant and CSGO, resources like skills, bullets, teammates are limited per round. There are costs to acquire more resources.

5. There are too many options

Sometimes, the opposite happens and people actually have too many options to pick from. This makes it even harder to choose because there are too many things to consider.

More is less – Book summary lifted from Wikipedia, quoted from the book: Autonomy and freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.

Hick’s Law in designing a product’s user experience: reduce the number of stimuli and get a faster decision-making process.

6. The permanence of history as part of truth

We obsess over the cards that we’ve already played, and overthink about the permanence of the cards we have yet to discover, or are about to play.

In general, in any game or in life, the decisions we make in the past are things that affect the future, that we also have to live with and accept as part of our lives.

Minimizing one’s regrets therefore is an effective way to derive what is important to you, so that it guides your decision making.

We can never lie to ourselves when we cheat or go against our values (e.g. cheating on a test when we care deeply about grades, or cheating on your wife when you care deeply about family life). This is why a person’s integrity and world view shatters when they go against what they care about. This is partly why it is scary to face: because we will have to face the reality that we’re more evil and more dangerous than we think. We have acknowledge the truth for the occasions that we have become irresponsible, selfish, greedy, and possibly evil- whatever evil means in your own value system.

We can always pretend, impress, or lie to others, but we will always know our truth. It is in burying them consciously and subconsciously, as unprocessed baggage, that it becomes a poison that seeps in our behaviors and interactions with others, like an inherent inconsistency. Whether a person’s value system is clearly articulated to oneself or proclaimed to others, we will always know the truth when we betray our true ideals.

Next Up

We have some idea why it’s hard to pick a direction. There’s so many things to consider. So where do we begin when it comes to picking out a direction? We take this up on the next blog post entitled: Direction Is Yours.

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