Saturday, March 12, 2011

On The Temporal Confinement Of Choice, Or, Why There Is No Need To Worry

My friend wonders if I worry sometimes. I don't know if I worry so much. I don't feel like I do. I think a lot about things. But do I worry? I'm not sure.

I was thinking about this as I was walking and I was reminded of two different things. One is a post I wrote about a year ago, last April, on choice, time, and worrying.

It also made me think about my recent writing on the purposeful creation of habits, and how the relationship between choice and time ties into that idea.

Last April I was trying to figure out the issue of worrying. What was it all about? Why did we do it? What is going on with this worrying business? I went through some discussion about the issue of choice, its relationship to time, in that you have to 'cross that bridge when you come to it', or, in other words, that you can't make a choice until you have reached the proper moment in time in which that choice can actually be translated into action. What is choice other than the doing of something. A very mundane and interesting example is the one of ordering food in restaurants. In theory we decide what we want before the server asks for our order. We choose this one thing in our minds. But then the server comes and we end up ordering something different, we go with our other option. The choice wasn't actually enacted until we told the server what we wanted. All of the other 'deciding' was just mental prep. This commonplace example should make it clear that choice is firmly confined by time.

So then, worrying, what is this? Well I guess worrying is typically anxiety about future action, it is anxiety about choices that we will have to make in the future, or about our uncertainty of what choices we are to make, or can make. Worrying.

I ended up concluding that waiting had to be a crucial thing. Is waiting the antithesis of worrying? Well, voluntary waiting, deliberate waiting, patient and comfortable waiting, is certainly contrary to worrying. Worrying is just nervous and anxious waiting. Waiting is something we do all the time, we can't stop. So I think that since choice is so temporally confined we really need to embrace waiting as a crucial step in the decision making process. Or, as I put it back in April 2010: "Essentially, action flows from non-action. We can only make choices when the moment to choose comes. And we can only get to that moment of choice by waiting for that moment to come. So when we are up late at night worrying about what job to apply to, or where to move to, or what to do next, it is probably better to go to sleep and wait for a moment in which you are capable of taking action. Sure, you could apply for a job at 3 AM. Or you could make the moment for choice come sooner. But I bet there are many situations in which worrying is nothing but trying to force a choice that hasn't reached its proper moment in time."

I wonder how true this stuff is, or how much it makes sense. But to me it makes sense a bit. Choice and time and waiting. If we grapple with those things then worrying should appear silly and out of touch with the nature of choice and action.

So how does this relate to the deliberate creation of habits and inclinations? Well, what I was thinking has to do with the intuitive nature of choice and social action. Back to the example of ordering food in a restaurant. We do that sort of stuff intuitively. We just say things when the time comes. When we reach that moment in time to make a choice we have to rely on our intuitive behavior, we have to rely on our inclinations to actually enact the choice that we have rationally decided upon.

This is why it would be important to purposefully create habits and inclinations for ourselves. Because if we are taking charge of ourselves in that way, if we are taking charge of our habits and inclinations, then we are most likely to actually follow through on the choices we hope to make.

I'm not saying this very clearly or very elaborately right now. Mainly because I made this connection a few minutes ago as I was walking home. But I am pleased to have resurrected this idea of mine about the relationship between time and choice. And I am pleased to have roughly connected it to my much newer ideas about the purposeful creation of habits. I find this stuff to be really fascinating. This issue of choice and time, this issue of habit and inclination.

I look forward to doing a lot of thinking about the issue of habit. Zizek and Benjamin both thought of habit as a serious issue. I wonder. It is starting to feel more and more important to me, both personally and intellectually.


  1. hey riley! haven't popped in here for a while, but thank you for this post! i found it extremely relevant/timely/useful today :) "worrying is nothing but trying to force a choice that hasn't reached its proper moment in time."

  2. Talllllaaa. I'm glad this made sense and you can dig it! Hope everything is going well in Korea. We'll have to chat sometime. Holla.