Yesterday was a very hot day. Across the city there is an outdoor water park. We don’t have a car. We don’t understand Czech. We also don’t understand how the public transit system works in the city we’re in. We might get lost trying to get there but our airbnb does not have air conditioning (or even fans) and we really wanted to spend the day at the water park. What should we do?
This is a simple problem that illustrates something pretty interesting about the way we tick.
We might think our lives are a series of decisions. Actually, most of the time we are just reacting without taking the time to consider our options and make conscious choices. But when we’re confronted with situations to which a quick automatic solution is not readily available, our autopilot is turned off and we think.
This is work – and it’s a little unpleasant, to be honest. In fact, we tend to avoid turning the crank of the cognitive gear box whenever possible because its slow and effortful (especially if it’s rusty). Daniel Kahneman in his incredible book, Thinking Fast and Slow, calls it System Two (as opposed to System One which is fast, effortless and automatic).
Paradoxically, it’s also what makes us human. We don’t just react. We’re not limited to that option. Sometimes we think, we consider, we agonize. As far as we know, we are unique in our ability to imagine scenarios that do not yet exist. To imagine alternate realities, to project ourselves into the future, to ask, “What if . . .?”
But we get anxious when outcomes are unclear. As I’ve written about before, most of us don’t like uncertainty. In fact, we tend to choose unhappiness over uncertainty (eg. staying in dysfunctional relationships, terrible jobs, etc.).
The fact that we were a little tempted to stay put in our hot apartment rather than accept the uncertainty of venturing out got me thinking. This little conundrum was a metaphor for our entire trip. There was the temptation to stay put in Canada even though we felt smothered and uncomfortable. Instead, we took the leap. Why?
So many people we have talked to say they would love to do something like what we are doing. I think most are very sincere, but I wonder how many will actually do it. There are a million reasons to procrastinate. Enough to last a lifetime. But at the end of the day, most people who want to do something truly adventurous won’t because they’re scared off by uncertainty.
So, here’s a strategy for you. It’s one that worked to get us to the waterpark and it worked to get us on this journey.
Ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen?
Then: Can I handle that?
The worst thing that could have happened yesterday was that we got lost. We could handle that. In fact, as long as you have access to food and water, the only crappy part about getting lost is conflict with the people you’re lost with. On the other hand, while wandering unfamiliar streets you might even discover something really interesting. This has definitely happened to us.
When planning this family adventure, we asked ourselves the same question: If we do this, what’s the worst that could happen? The answer: Maybe traveling together won’t be as fun as we think it will be and we will gain a new appreciation for “normal” life in Canada. That is not a terrible outcome and one that we could totally live with.
Being mentally prepared for the worst-case scenario frees us up to focus on the opportunities that only lie beyond the door of uncertainty. By definition, adventure is about stepping through that door into the unknown.
The benefit of familiarity is predictability. The price is stagnation.
We made our best guess as to what tram to take. The driver spoke no English, but through a combination of gesticulations and passing my phone back and forth with Google Maps, we came to some approximation of understanding.
Ten minutes into the ride, she left her seat and walked back through the crowded tram to find us so that we could stand by her at the front. Another ten minutes later she leaned back and told us to get off at the next stop. The kids chimed in with four “dekuji!” (thanks!) as we got off. She smiled and laughed and said something that I’m pretty sure translates to, “What a bunch of goofy Canadians.”
As for the waterpark? It was AMAZING!