What DO you like?

I had just sat down in the chair at the hairdresser’s today, after getting my hair washed, when the stylist asked the inevitable question, “So, how do you want it cut?”. I gave my standard answer: “roughly half as short on top and a number 4 in the back” and she got to work. Also, as usual, I have standard answers to “how do you want your sideburns?” and “do you prefer squared off or rounded in the back?”.  I even had a planned script regarding trimming my beard.

This was not always the case. I used to hate all those questions because I didn’t really know what I wanted. I had no idea how long my hair should be up top, and I had no clue if a number 1 was shorter, or longer, than a number 5. All I knew was it should probably be shorter afterwards than before, and I didn’t want to look like I stepped out of a magazine from 2 decades ago.

Because this stylist today was new, she asked more questions than usual. And I found myself directing her much more than I would normally. She did a good job, but it was as if everything she was doing she was doing for the first time. That may have been not far from the truth.

It got me thinking, once again, about one of the things that I find annoying about human nature; the ability to to articulate what we don’t want, and the inability to articulate what we do want. I see this is so many people, so many many times, and I see it it in me. When asked “So how do you want it cut?”, I would find myself fighting the urge to say “I don’t care, as long as it doesn’t suck”.

This is true in many more areas of my life than I care to admit. I tend to have an easy-going personality, and much of the day-to-day decisions don’t really matter to me. Not that I don’t care about them, or that they are not important; I just tend not to have many strong opinions about them. I’ve learned that I can roll with whatever happens, and I really like the freedom that that offers. I don’t have to micro manage every little thing.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. Imagine you are a designer who has been tasked to choose the 5 best designs out of a panel of 10. Would it be easier to pick the 5 to keep, or the 5 to throw out? My guess, is that it would be easier to pick the 5 to toss. We are quicker to notice things we don’t like, than things we do. Another question to ask is do you find it easier to come up with an idea from scratch, or perfect someone else’s idea?

So why is this?

Something that came to mind was that this is linked to the fear of being wrong. We can choose the best 5 out of 10 options by tossing the other 5, but we haven’t really chosen anything, and we can feel absolved of any blame if things don’t work out. Just like my answer about my haircut, we are saying “these are the ones that don’t suck”. It’s interesting to me that this seems like an easier thing to say. It’s a “safe” way to make a decision by not feeling personally involved in the outcome.

I realize I’m painting with a broad brush, but I don’t think I’m too far off the mark to assume that most of us can relate to this.

The title of this post is a simple question that I now have in my head often. It’s a reminder to be proactive and positive about the decisions in my life. The world isn’t going to rise or fall depending on whether or not my sideburns are squared off or not, but it feels good to make a decision for myself every once in a while. And it’s good to learn what it is that I do like.

And when the big decisions come do come around, I’ll have had enough of practice with the small stuff to be confident and proactive there too, and own up to the decisions I make.

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