Story: I Can’t Choose What I Like To Do, But I Can Choose What I Do. Like Driving.

New format: for the weekly videos, I’m now telling a story. I’ve realized that for me, and I think for many people, a story is what holds my attention and makes a point most powerfully.

This week’s story: I can’t choose what I like to do, but I can choose what I do.

Usually I express this Secret of Adulthood in reverse: I can choose what I do, but I can’t choose what I like to do (I can choose to go fly-fishing, but I can’t choose to like fly-fishing; believe me, I’ve tried). But the opposite of a profound truth is also true, and reversing this statement makes sense in a different way.

If you want to read more along these lines, check out…

Have fun that’s actually fun–for you.

Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happy.

How about you? Do you sometimes make yourself do something just because you choose to do it? And any other fearful drivers out there? Boy, I wish I could love to drive.

You can check out the archives of videos here.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Kathleen Bunce

    This really resonated with me, except my fear is of riding my bike. I can ride my bike, having learned at a young age. But I suffered a stroke a couple of years ago, and though I am almost fully recovered, it really shook my confidence in my physical abilities. The other thing is that I live in Tokyo. Yes, Tokyo is a bike-riding city and there are laws in place for safe bike riding, but many people do not follow them, e.g., bike riding on crowded walkways, riding the wrong way on the street, running red lights, no bikeways. So I have been struggling with this fear of riding. For the time being, when I am up for it, I go for short rides in my neighborhood. I go early in the morning and just practice my biking skills and enjoy the pleasure of riding with no cars, bikes or people to worry about. P.S. ~ Gretchen, I love your books, blog and the community you have created!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much for your kind words.

      Great example. I agree, it helps to choose time and place to keep the challenge from being overwhelming.

  • Julie

    Wow. I usually agree with almost everything you write, but I couldn’t disagree more with this one. If you really try, you can change yourself and make yourself truly enjoy things you didn’t originally like. I like coffee, quick showers and parties but I wanted to be the type to enjoy tea, long baths and small dinner parties. I had to consciously choose to LIKE those things. Sports, too. I’m the least sporty person but I know that sports are a great way to make friends and keep myself slim. Focus on the (however small) aspects you like about that particular thing you want to enjoy but don’t. I wanted to be a morning person. I wanted to like opera. I wanted to get into tennis. I actually like doing dishes now. It can be done! You can train yourself to like things.

    Fly fishing, though…

    • gretchenrubin

      I really do not find this to be true. What do other people think?

      for me, there’s not enough time in the day to do the things I like, so I’d rather spend time doing the things that I naturally like, and not spend the energy trying to like things that I don’t like without great effort.

      Sometimes of course it’s worth doing something whether or not we like it – like exercise. And over time, we come to enjoy it (that happened to me with exercise). And there are some forms that I like better than other forms. And you’re right, it’s great to find a way to enjoy doing dishes, if they have to be done.

      • Jenn

        I am confused, first you said you can’t train yourself to like things, then you said over time, we come to enjoy it? Isn’t that the same thing? (Also as a side note, love your hair in the video, looks so healthy and shiny! Will you be adding LinkedIn as a way to make comments here?)

      • Veronique

        I think there is a balance. Amongst many other things I love art, reading, writing, driving, running and cold weather. My husband loves action, driving on his motorcycle, cycling, extremely hot weather and snowmobiling amongst other things. If I did not try the things he likes that are not my thing we would not really do much together and vice versa. I have taken up his passion for motor cycling, snowmobiling, hiking etc. (not to the extent he has but…and he has taken up my love of art, reading, running). I cannot for the life of me make myself like the heat so I have instead made myself hate it less by addressing what aspects of hot weather are the most noxious to me (I seriously loathe it!) and trying to engage more readily in the warm weather. So I now have a pool, I use the air conditioning when it is super hot, I look up cool recipes for hot weather cooking and because I simply wilt in the heat I embrace my ‘wiltedness’ and use it as an excuse to collapse on the comfy couch in the screened in porch and read my back log of books. The hot weather now has an allure for me, I can hear the call of my screened in porch, the subtle purr of the comfy couch… however there is a fine balance between trying new things that you are not drawn to and convincing yourself you like things that you just really can’t find anything good in. Life is all about balance.

      • Molly

        The truth may lie somewhere in the middle, but as you have written about yourself, I am the kind of person who spends a lot of time wishing I liked things I don’t actually like. In the past, I have spent a lot of time envying others who seem like they love their lives, or who do “cool” things or whatever. The point of the video, to me, has to do with self-acceptance and not wasting time wishing we were something else when we could be enjoying ourselves just as we are. And sure, with things we MUST do, it’s great if we can find some aspect we like. But that is a slightly different point, I think.

      • Rose

        I think this one is something of a contradiction. (on of those truths, when the opposite is also true. In some ways, we should all “be Gretchen” and do what we do. However, if I’m feeling jealous of what someone else does, then it often signals me to change my behavior. I always say I hate volleyball. I hate it because I’m bad at it because I never practiced. But I want to like it, because its a rec sport I could play with my friends and I hate being left out. I believe with time and practice, I could like it.

  • Julie

    And I also want to tell you how much I love your books and blog. You’re such an inspiration to so many people. I love all of the quotes you include in your writing. The Happiness Project is like a patchwork quilt in book form.

    Particularly “Abstinence is as easy to me, as temperance would be difficult” resonates with me. People always ask me why I’m so rigid about the food I eat, cutting out sugar and meat, etc. But I can’t occasionally eat sugar and I can’t have just one glass of wine with dinner. It’s easier for me personally to have an all-or-nothing approach.

    I bought three Happiness Project books as holiday presents for my friends this year. I’m sure a lot of people are doing the same!

    I wish you all the best with whatever you have planned in your future!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear my work strikes a chord with you! And great to hear from a fellow abstainer. For folks like us, in this camp, it just easier to do the all-or-nothing, I agree. I’m beginning to suspect that people are more likely to be abstainers than they think. It SOUNDS harder and more rigid, but I think many people would find it easier than moderation, if they tried it. Based on nothing but pure anecdote however.

      • Molly

        I wanted to comment on the blog about abstaining v moderation, so I’m glad this came up here. I remember saying one time to my mother-in-law that I am “congenitally moderate,” It is true about me, and I take a certain pride in it. However you measure it, I can drink moderately, eat moderately, etc. But I’ve come to realize that this way has undermined my success because I do everything so moderately. It isn’t the abstaining part that is my downfall, it’s the moderate part. Even in my career, I’ve been a bit too moderate in the pursuit and I think that has undermined my success. (I can be too moderate about keeping up with vitamins, flossing, etc. Probably not good.) Upon reflection, I did realize, by the way, that there is one area where I’ve learned to abstain rather than be moderate: when someone hurts me and I need to watch my back, I have to abstain from the person. I fall back into easily and get hurt again. So I’ve learned to avoid toxic people as much as I can. (I always say, “you can pull the wool over my eyes 20, maybe 30 times, and then I’m gonna get mad:)) All in all, that blog gave me a lot to think about.

        • gretchenrubin

          I’m happy to hear that it resonates with you. You make a very thought-provoking observation. Like you, I’ve been thinking about how this distinction translates into other parts of life. It’s not the same as “all or nothing” in every situation, but worth thinking about.

        • fireflyeyes

          I have to agree with you there! Moderation is great, but it can get in the way of doing big things with passion and risk. I have this problem frequently. I like to keep an even keel but sometimes it’s too even…

  • Amie

    Most of the time, I agree, you can not choose what you like to do but sometimes I find that it is not that I don’t like to do something, it is actually that I don’t know how to do it and I mistake my nerves for dislike. If you give it a good try though and you still don’t like it….that probably isn’t going to change. You can learn to take pride in things even if you don’t like doing them though…..driving and dishes come to mind. I dispise doing both but I do feel proud of myself after I have done either one.

  • Scarlett

    I love this story. I used to drive all the time in my hometown in Utah (never liked it though), but as soon as my husband and I moved to Brooklyn, I gave it up completely, even though we still own our car. Now the thought of driving at all freaks me out. It’s embarrassing and inconvenient, so I hope to get to a point where I can overcome the fear. I haven’t read Happier at Home yet, but I’m looking forward to reading more about your experiences with this. Loved The Happiness Project. Thanks for all the inspiration!

    • gretchenrubin

      Good luck with it! I recount my adventures in driving in Happier at Home. It’s reassuring to me to hear that other people struggle with this.

  • Katie

    I really hate commuting and have over the last 10+ years made it very clear to my husband that long work commutes, especially if it includes highway driving, are not part of my plan and adds much stress to my days. But….he has been able to talk me into living situations that later on make it necessary for me to commute long distances. Originally, we get along without me having to do these commutes or we go together with him doing the driving. After a time monetarily it becomes necessary for me to commute and it has been very inconvenient for us to go together and I end up sucking it up and giving in. This has caused a lot of problems for us and I really wish that I could not hate it so much but I do. If I could just stick to my guns, I know I would be much happier. Sometimes I forget to choose what I do because of family responsibilities. Any suggestions?

  • millions2

    Gretchen, I am 100% on your side with this issue. I didn’t start driving until I was 25 for a number of reasons. I couldn’t afford it, I was afraid, and I didn’t think I would enjoy it. Over time, these issues were starting to cramp my style and restrict me from performing very ordinary tasks. So, at 25, i took lessons and learnt how to drive. Now, I am a fairly confident driver and I will do it if i need to, but I don’t enjoy it. The thought of staring at an empty road, or sitting in a car on a long road trip, is akin to watching paint dry. I simply don’t understand anyone who “loves to drive” but again, many people don’t understand me when I tell them I hate television and prefer to read. As your saying goes…..:)

  • Accent

    I agree, I have to drive but I do not like to drive anymore. Living in So Cal is much different than living in the country and driving the country roads.

    • lara

      waw, I’m so happy to hear I’m not the only one who has this fear of driving since moving to the city. I try not to let fear control my actions, but take the action I would take if I would not be afraid. But when I’m all stressed-out in the car, I keep wondering why I’m even trying? maybe I should just organize my life around it so I would not need to face my fear. But then I think, where would I end up? what if a new fear comes around and it limits other activities as well? So I just keep doing the things I would do if I would not be afraid, but it has not helped me get over my fear of driving yet. I just face it regurlary… So I agree with Gretchen, I don’t think I’ll ever like it, but I do it anyway because fear is not a good advisor direction your actions.

      • Accent

        Nice to know there are several who drive but do not like it. I use to drive the freeways with the air on and all the windows opened to relax me. Now I don’t bother with the freeways.
        Have a great day.

  • I really think that the most important thing in life is always to live by our dream.

  • Douglas Peacock

    The title does make sense to me, but it took a few moments to get my analytics on it.

    It all depends on how you read the first part of the statement. If I am right, the statement follows the sequence – “Be” followed by “Do” = “Have”.

    Read as a “Be”, rather than as a “Do”, you can’t like driving if you don’t like driving. You might get to like driving in due course, for whatever reason, but right now you cannot like doing the driving if you don’t like doing the driving. Funny how our own existence seems to make the choice for us and we just choose what to do with it.

    Moving on from “Be” the second part of the statement is a “Do” and so the logic is true because the fact that you don’t like driving does not mean that you cannot choose to do it.

    This results in “Have” – Got to my destination, which is something that I did want.

    The friend mentioned in the video made an important distinction in that some dislikes are due to a condition e.g. fear, rather than a genuine dislike of the subject. Get rid of the irrational fear, if that is what it is, by whatever means, and then you can make a genuine personal choice on whether you like whatever the subject is!

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