The Happiness Project

A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness

Paralyzed? When Two of Your Values Are in Conflict

I realize now that a big challenge is clarity.

I spend a lot of time thinking about questions such as, “How do we change?” “Why is it so hard to make ourselves do things that we want to do?” ( for instance, why is it so hard to make myself go to bed?) and “How can we stick to our resolutions?

I realize now that a big challenge is clarity. Often, if there’s something that I want to do, but somehow can’t get myself to do, it’s because I don’t have clarity. This lack of clarity often arises from a feeling of ambivalence–I want to do something, but I don’t want to do it; or I want one thing, but I also want something else that conflicts with it.

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Here’s a conflict: It’s nice when my older daughter is around while she does her homework; on the other hand, it’s good for her to be in her room without the distractions of family noise. So do I nudge her to go to her room, or do I let her stay in the kitchen? I can never decide.

These days, when I’m trying to get myself to pursue some course of action, I work hard to make sure I know exactly what I expect from myself, and why, and what value I’m choosing to serve.

I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with this problem. Lack of clarity, and the paralysis that ensues, seems to be common. Here’s a list of aims in conflict that I’ve heard. Do any ring a bell for you?

I want to eat healthfully. It’s wrong to waste any food.

I want to give 110% to work. I want to give 110% to my family.

I want to work on my novel. I want to exercise.

I want to get more sleep. I want some time each day to talk to my sweetheart, watch TV, and goof around.

I want to spend less time in the car. I want my children to participate in many after-school activities.

Making money is not important. Making money is important.

I want to be very accessible to other people. I want time alone to think and work.

I want to be a polite guest. I want to avoid sugar.

I want to be frugal. I want to join a gym.

I want leisure time when I come home from work. I want to live in a house that’s clean and well-run.

I want to meet new people and see my friends. I want more solitude.

I want to stop nagging you. I want you to help me.

Have you experienced this–a paralysis that comes from conflicting values?

Also ...

  • Check out this 1-minute video about 10 ways to be happier at home. One tip proved controversial; I almost tweaked it but then decided to leave it. Can you guess which one? Of course, the book Happier at Home is more thoughtful--but it was fun to come up with a list of ten.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book and a blog about her adventures learning to be happier.

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