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  Don't Do Things You Don't Like Doing

Eliminating things from the field of options is incredibly helpful – more helpful, in fact, than trying to figure out what you do want to do. If you begin by eliminating things you don't care for, whatever is left is fair game and represents a kind of "probability field" of the things you'll settle into.

Surprisingly, this is one of the hardest lessons to learn. Maybe it's the Puritan ideal that suffering through drudgery purges the soul. Maybe it's the guilt, shame, fear, and obligation we allow ourselves to take on from others in the name of altruism. Whatever the cause, we are surrounded with voices, both inner and outer, that subtly nudge our decisions and activities into a lot of things that we really don't enjoy at all. If you step back and ask, "Do I actually want to be doing this?", you might be surprised how many things would get a no.

Of course this is different than not doing anything hard, or even painful. I ran a marathon once. The training sucked. Many times while running, I felt I would rather be sitting on the couch with a beer. But I didn't actually want that. I wanted it in a vacuum, but the real world has trade offs. In the world of trade offs, though I wanted a beer and the couch, I wanted to be able to finish a marathon more. Thus, I endured pain and hardship because I wanted what it would bring me more than the alternatives.

Not doing things you don't like requires ruthless self-knowledge and self-honesty. Do I really not want to do this thing, or do I only not want to compared with some other imagined option that is not possible? It forces you to not feel embarrassed about what you discover. As a personal example, I do not enjoy phone conversations with extended family members or friends I don't know really well. I used to feel bad about this preference and subject myself to many long phone conversations that I didn't enjoy at all. (I'm pretty sure the other party didn't either, but it was a weird, guilt-based obligation). I stopped taking or returning such calls. I just tell people I'm not much of a phone person and ask them to shoot me an email or talk to me when we next see each other.

Once I internalized this lesson, I made it one of my daily, weekly, and long-term goals to reduce more and more the numbers of things I do that I do not enjoy. Perhaps surprisingly, the more I focused on and succeeded at this, the more hard work I ended up doing. You might imagine pursuing this goal would result in me sitting around a lot (with beer and football), but it turns out that when you're doing things you like, you actually work well and want to work! I became more and more productive.

I could go on, but you get it. Consider the biggest stressors and pain points in your life. Stop doing them as soon as possible. Rinse, repeat.

Study Activities:

Read Don’t Do Things You Don’t Like Doing

Read No More Yes. It's Either HELL YEAH! or No.

Read What Are You Saying NO To?

Watch Why Saying “No” Will Make You A Better Person

Read Eight Ways to Say No With Grace and Style

Learning Exercise:

  • Make a list of 5 things you *don’t* enjoy doing
  • Make a list of 5 things you should say “no” to more often

Questions for reflection & discussion:

  1. Why don’t you enjoy doing the things on your list?
  2. Why do you spend time doing those things if you don’t enjoy them?
  3. Will you get in trouble if you don’t do them? How so?
  4. Are there some creative ways you can avoid doing those things without being dishonest?
  5. Why is it helpful to know what you don’t like?
  6. Why should every person learn to say “no” to certain things? When should you say “no”?
  7. Is it ever necessary to do some things you don’t like in order to create more freedom? Why or why not?
  8. Should you do things you don’t like when you’ve already agreed to do such things? Why or why not?