I just signed up for neuroeconomics to feel smart. It's amazing how often I find myself with the sole intention of being impressive to people around me. This was no exception.
What the hell is neuroeconomics? Good question. It is the cross-section between psychology, neurology and economics used to uniquely analyze the decision-making process. The online professor made sure we all understand this very definition fully by repeating it constantly for the first two weeks.
And I quit. Four weeks into a nine-week class, I quit. And I was doing pretty well with perfect scores on all my weekly quizzes. Being tickled by my professor's accent and habit of asking us to "make a look" to a slide weren't enough to excite me to dive deeper into extra-curricular reading. No harm, no foul. No college loans, no report cards home. Honestly, I walked away knowing a bit more about the brain than I did before and that's a small win. I know a voxel is a tiny 3-D measurement of the brain in MRI scans and I can almost understand MRI graphs and the results of studies like that.
It was no skin off my back to quit and that made it all the more easier. I was only trying to finish the course for the bragging rights of saying I went back to school amongst all the other chaotic elements of my everyday life. "Wow, where does he find the time," I imagined they would say.
It was the wrong intention. Ironically, the realization hit me after I happened upon Danielle LaPorte's The Desire Map almost exactly on the anniversary of reading it for the first time. It returned to me when I needed it, like some sort of mental boomerang. The main idea of The Desire Map was actually a meditation revamped and improved upon from LaPorte's first book, The Fire Starter Sessions: "Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have. Generating those feelings is the most powerfully creative thing you can do with your life." Instead of drafting the bucket list we think could impress others or we could cross off systematically for some hallow achievement bullets on our resume, we should start on the path to achievement with the feelings we want most in the moment. Once you can nail down your core-desired feelings, you can cook up and eat opportunities for breakfast.
Gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson was a man who embodied this. Before becoming the drug-addled writer some know and love, Hunter Thompson beautifully captured his thoughts on life's meaning in a letter to a friend asking advice. With the importance spread thick on the idea of decision-making, Thompson's words echoed LaPorte's core-desired feelings when he wrote, "But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life."
Looking at neuroeconomics under the magnifying glass of my feelings, I realized I wasn't jazzed by it. I wasn't chomping at the bit to figure more out about the brain in this way. It just felt like an empty mountain to climb. Why waste my time?
The challenge has always been the blessing: we have more opportunities and choices to make than ever before. If you have an Internet connection or just access to one, you have way more power and knowledge at your fingertips than anyone who has ever lived. You are walking with an encyclopedia no human could ever lift if it was in book-form and for you it is crammed into a tiny smartphone.
And with great power comes great responsibility. Thompson continued, "Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH."
Finding the ninth path can't be so easy if you're unsure of your feelings. Sure, you can piggyback other people's goals of winning the perfect spouse and family and home and career but that's not so clear-cut for every human being. There is no one answer, that's true. Thompson just wraps the message up nicely in one quick line: "But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance."
Decide. Decide now how you want to feel and the goals will come to you.
I want to feel extraordinary and remarkable. I want to feel eclectic, engaged and awake. They are my core-desired feelings. Each word means something a bit different for me but they all are informed by some of the best memories and accomplishments of my life. Bruised shins and sore fingernails might not be a walk in the park or a life goal for other people, but when I trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu it made me feel remarkable, engaged and awake to push my body to new limits. When I attempted to create a magazine business with my college buddies I felt eclectic and extraordinary, pulling from all sorts of sources to write about topics that interested me and building a business when everyone else was partying or studying.
We all have to come about it our own way. You can learn from others, but, in the end, you can learn from yourself too. In retrospect, I could have stuck it out with the Russian neuroeconomic professor to see the scholarly route through, but what it turned out I needed this time around was to return to a book and some thoughts I didn't completely grasp a year ago and the feeling that it's all remarkable.