Emotional Analysis Paralysis

“I want you to want to clean the dishes.” Brooke Myers to Gary Grobowski in the 2006 movie The Breakup.

Today in a philosophy course on free will and morality, we discussed the distinction between first-order and second-order desires. In the above mentioned scene, Jennifer Aniston’s second-order want was frustrated by Vince Vaughn’s lack of first-order volition to clean up around the house. The author contended that it is our ability to have so called second-order volitions that makes us ‘persons’ as opposed to mere biological creatures. It is our mastery of these second-order wants, which is supposed to be central to any concept of free will.

However, in an era when we are bombarded with messages, influences and guidebooks on what we “should” be doing with our time, I wonder: how much does this distinction stands up to our everyday experiences?

I know that there certainly are times where I consciously aim to cultivate my first-order desires (e.g. I am currently working my way through a book, Getting Things Done, which is supposed to help me to corral the various different low-level wants and priorities I have on my plate). However, there are many times where I don’t “try” to want anything at all. I just *do*.

Especially in the areas of romance and interpersonal relations, I think an overly-controlled set of lower desires can create bad outcomes and confusion. I can know that I *do* love someone, but do I want to feel that way? Should I want to want her? What about wanting to want to want her?

The problem with self-reflection and self-analysis in the area of desires is that there really is no basis for the analysis. Who decides what is right and wrong?

Should I want to be his friend? Should I enjoy our conversations? Should I want more of her company?

Given the massive amount of information we have at our fingertips when making everyday decisions about our ordinary wants and desires, to place an undue burden on higher-order analytical processes creates the potential for paralysis. Have you ever heard or experienced “analysis paralysis”? I know I have, and often it is at this higher order of abstraction, where “what if” scenarios lose their grounding.

I think listening to your conscience is sometimes helpful, and sometimes you should go with your gut. Sometimes your instincts know best, and sometimes the help of a friend can make a situation easier to handle.

Perhaps biggest challenge in life is that there is no handbook, and it is in wrestling with these kinds of questions that philosophers and joe the plumbers have been perplexed for eras. This uncertainty is also perhaps life’s greatest gift as it creates the possibility for true freedom – the ability to define our own rules and our own futures.

Maybe men should want to want to do the things that women want them to want to do. Or maybe women shouldn’t want to want the men to want to want the things they can’t help wanting them to do.

To be honest, I think the inner workings of such relations will remain a mystery far longer than anything in the realm of physics or the “hard scientists”.

For any of you science-worshipers who point to chemistry as your end-all-be-all here, I point to the current state of the financial markets to show the status of the mathematics underlying the research in your beloved “neuropsychiatry.” If the most well compensated people on earth can’t model something as simple as housing prices do you really think some scientist working in a lab is going to statistically “prove” that our emotions can be predicted by a certain combination of neurochemicals and brain matter?

We are decades away from anything close. And unfortunately likely centuries away from finally recognizing the futility of our current conceptions and theories about consciousness.

I don’t think that means we should give up trying. I don’t think we could if we tried. But maybe a little less analysis would help with the indecision…and our relationships.

3 thoughts on “Emotional Analysis Paralysis

  1. Sarah Stuart

    Hi Paranoid Bull!

    I love your text on philosophy and emotions and relations between people. You write very well and more than that you write with clarity. It is not common to read philosophical texts in clarity! In fact and you might know, some philosophers are very mathematical in their logical arguments and they make everyone run away from them. After reading a paragraph one can feel more confused than at the very beginning! So, why not avoid it? A knot!!! 😀

    Regarding the text, between men and women and in my relationships too, I have observed that there are lots of misperceptions around. These misperceptions don’t mean both sides have a “bad” or less noble intention, but the interpretation of each other’s reaction is really what plays a big role in everything that goes on. The self reflection acts like a mirror.

    That amazing dialogue that nobody can forget:

    i thought you were upset with me.
    i thought you were the one who was upset.


    Seeing from the outside is very funny, the hard part is that both have feelings and emotions and when everything is mixed up in the same pot…… hmm, sometimes can be tough.

    About analysis I totally agree with you! To like is to like. Any explication about it? Hell, no!!! To like is to like, to love is to love, to be a friend is to be a friend! Let’s do it, instead of thinking about doing it and how we are going to do it and when and what are we going to say when it’s done! 🙂

    Paranoid Bull, it’s great to read your ideas! I totally agree with the stall behavior that comes from over analyzing things, situations and feelings. And the question is :

    Why should we care about analyzing feelings?

    What’s your favorite color?

    Green (probably to you, to me it;s yellow).

    Do you know why?

    You don’t! You started liking green lots of years ago and you don’t know why and there is really no why for it. There’s just a “like”. Then you can try to find reasons for it, i like the trees the trees are green, i like the grass the grass is green, i like ……. but maybe half of them are just an tentative for explaining what really doesn’t have or NEED explanation!

    I often make this question to my friends: what makes you take coffee the second time with a certain person and not with another one?

    Don’t tell me you know the person while taking the coffee because you don’t! But you liked the person. As simple as that! Why? How? What?

    Who cares? and more than that……. Who really knows?

    Great text and great ideas!!!

  2. Pingback: On Humility, Creativity, and The Importance of Others.

  3. stephdub

    as someone who analyzes her self into a room without corners (therefore goes in circles for ever) i have learned one of the most important lessons in my life. and that is to fully embrace and understand the saying “it is what it is.” what does it mean? exactly that- this needs no more analysis mind racing, it is exactly what it is. what it looks like on paper. and oddly enough it stops my crazy mind from spiraling.

    this post just made me think of that. a lesson i thought myself when my attempts to rationalize my emotions became paralyzing.



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