Why the best option for you isn’t always a “Hell Yes”

If our emotions and thoughts are so unreliable, it’s possible that we should be questioning our own goals and motivations even more frequently. The only rational path to advancement, if we are all incorrect all of the time, is through self-skepticism and the thorough examination of our own views and assumptions – says Mark Manson.

Why the best option for you isn’t always a “Hell Yes”? “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no,” I’ve seen people say to others in an attempt to boost their confidence.

Without being too philosophical, I get where they’re coming from with their statement. We are dissuaded from following our instincts much too often in today’s world. Frequently, we succumb to the tyranny of shoulds. We make concessions in the face of our genuine wants and desires. We distract ourselves from our inner voice by focusing on what is required of us.

And yet, I can see how this well-intentioned nugget of wisdom helps to clear the air of ambiguity. Because it unwittingly promotes a more black-and-white vision of the world, it may not be fully beneficial to everyone, particularly those who are suffering from depression or anxiety.

When I respond with a maybe or an underwhelmed reaction, it indicates that I don’t really want to do this. Other times, it can indicate that I’m experiencing complicated emotions that deserve to be unpacked and investigated.

We frequently feel ambivalent about participating in activities that are outside of our comfort zones, even if such activities have the potential to benefit us in some way. Our moods or current challenges can have an impact on our ability to devote ourselves to things that we might otherwise love.

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For example, while I was in the grips of severe depression in college, I had no desire to pursue anything—not even the hobbies that I had previously enjoyed. I turned down the opportunity to go jogging or running. Cooking wholesome meals is out of the question. No to any experience that would force me to leave the comfort of my secure haven.

The only events to which I answered yes were invitations to go out and get inebriated with friends at house parties—which, needless to say, exacerbated my sadness and created a vicious loop in my life.

When it came to healthful things, I wasn’t all in. Getting drunk and running away from my problems were the only activities that brought up anything close to a passionate response in me.

It’s possible that if I had misapplied the preceding advice, I might still be engaging in risky drinking behaviors and avoiding more thoughtful activities that are consistent with my values just because I don’t always feel 100% enthusiastic about doing them.

An additional example: a friend of mine shared with me that there are weeks when she reads for an hour before night and that she enjoys the time spent doing so. When she becomes engrossed in a Netflix series, though, that habit is quickly forgotten. Reading has lost its allure in recent years, as has the prospect of it. Does this imply that she does not enjoy reading? Is this a hint that she has a natural preference for television?

I don’t believe that is the case. What I believe it signifies is that activities involving passive consumption are frequently characterized by addictive characteristics.

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“The most compelling aspect of television’s minute-to-minute attraction is that it engages without being demanding,” wrote David Foster Wallace. While experiencing stimulation, it is possible to relax. “It is possible to receive without contributing.”

Other examples include: I’m attracted to sweets. It’s “comfortable” to consume it. Picking up a celery stick is more difficult than it appears. It doesn’t come as naturally as it should.

Even before I arrived in Uruguay, I had second thoughts about my plan to teach English in a foreign country in South America for several periods throughout 2012.

When I considered the amount of labor and planning that would be required (as well as the amount of money that would be required), I was even hesitant to take a trip to Mexico City in 2019. Shortly after accepting my friend’s invitation, doubts and contradictory emotions turned my initial “hell yes” into a “I don’t know, maybe…”

Was I, on the other hand, still going? Yes! Is it true that I had a fantastic time? Yes, as well. Is it possible for me to wish I could travel back in time? One hundred percent of the time.

My point is this: don’t let feelings of ambivalence or a lack of a resounding “hell yes” lead you to believe that you don’t actually want to do anything.

While it’s crucial for those of us who are dealing with mental health issues to trust our inner knowing, it’s also important to recognize that our not always benevolent impulses can sometimes masquerade as intelligent intuition.

Even though we are aware of a negative feeling, we are never sure what that negative feeling entails. There are a plethora of possible interpretations. Instincts don’t often come with detailed directions.

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For this reason, it is quite difficult to “just listen to what they are saying.” What music are you now listening to? In the event that we are experiencing “bad feelings,” what we should do next is unclear.

For those of us with a history of mental illness or addictive tendencies, it is especially important to evaluate the consequences of acting on or following through on strong impulses or quick reactions before acting on them or following through on them blindly. Some of the time, though, they do not act in our greatest long-term interests; yet, this is not always the case.

In the absence of an immediate “hell yes,” it does not necessarily follow that something is not a good match for our needs and preferences. When it comes down to it, we must make room in our lives for the grey area if we are to ultimately behave in line with our highest selves.