I am always “Dan Steer”.
My preferences, habits and “personality” are recognisably quite stable: “Dan Steer”.
As I go through life, those things can change. Sometimes slowly and occasionally, or sometimes might I prefer something radically different. I might break an old habit or seem to be happy or sad. But the thin red line remains “Dan Steer”.
Can this be changed?
Having recently re-read Luke Rhinehart’s book “The Dice Man”, I decided to experiment with other forms of Dan Steer (note, no inverted commas here). In the story, the author is fed up with life and bored of always doing the same things with the same people in the same way. So one evening, he thinks of 6 things he might do and decides to toss the die to see what will be his fate. 2 of the options are normal habitual activities, the other 4 are not (no spoilers here… read the book!). When he casts the die, he is instructed to do something new. As the book progresses, the author realises that in fact, he no longer has one stable “him”: He has become a radically new person made up of all kinds of new preferences, habits and “personality”.
The book evokes the idea that people are always capable of numerous actions, preferences, habits and “personality”. But at any one time, we can only choose one approach. We tend to choose the most comfortable for ourselves going towards what we already prefer and avoiding what we don’t. We repeat whatever actions seemed to work before and, mostly, get the same results.
But what about all those other things we could have done? What about the things we didn’t do? Or didn’t think of? By using the random element of rolling a die, Rhinehart does 3 things which are highly important for self-development and happiness:
- He thinks a little bit “out-of-the-box”
- He gives himself permission to do other things which come to mind, but might have been too quickly judged or dismissed as “not best”
- He does not get stuck on deciding what is “best” or “not best” because any judgement he would make would be made by the normal “him” (preferences, habits and “personality”)
So, I’ve been experimenting with this. Instead of living on autopilot with all my normal behaviour, I have started to introduce a little random dice-life from time-to-time. Now, I am not going to list all the occasions I have already played with, but here’s a few things I decided with the die, rather than just doing my normal thing. Recognise that this is a list of inhabitual things, chosen in a new way:
- I had a bath with bath-salts, instead of reading email
- I decided that a quote I was working on would be done gently over 2 days, instead of in 1 twelve hour day
- I read a bedtime book to the girls (normal). The book was chosen by one daughter (she rolled a 5), we read the book on the bed of my other daughter (who rolled 4), with their mum (3) and no-one was allowed to cry afterwards (the die landed on an even number).
- I worked in the kitchen, rather than my office.
- My smallest daughter is no longer afraid of spiders. She rolled an even number and just accepted the result!
None of these things are to me particularly remarkable in themselves (except the last… I’ll come to that). But they are all new options. They are all different iterations of Dan Steer, chosen in place of the standard activity of “Dan Steer”. Here’s what would have happened if “Dan Steer” had decided:
- I would have read email at 20h30
- I would have attacked a big important project in the usual “Dan Steer” fashion of “go, go, go” and tried to do it all in one day
- Either I or my wife would have read one of the same books in the same place, while the other one tidied up dinner and the bathroom
- I would have worked in my office as usual and I wouldn’t have seen anyone between 9am and 8pm.
What impressed me most was my 4-yr old. She used to say that “she” was afraid of spiders. In my mind, this seems as if the first 4 years of her life had decided already decided how the next 80 to 100 would be. In fact, not even the first 4 years of her life, but the last 30-odd years of her mother’s spider-fearing life, handed down through various screams and “go-and-get-your-father” reactions. When I asked her what she wanted to roll the die for, she replied: “To see if I’m afraid of spiders”. I asked her which numbers would be which outcomes and she gave 2 in 3 chances to “not being afraid” and only a 1 in 3 chance to “being afraid”. Then she rolled. The die said “not afraid” so she is not afraid anymore.
What seems so important to be about all this – the reason I am writing it – is the following:
- In the case of my 4-year old, the options she gave herself and the possibility given to each had an immediate impact on the outcome she got – be careful how you set and weigh the options for things in your own life
- I am reminded that each habit or belief has grown out of previous experience, or maybe the experience of others – if you want to kill your sacred cows, start by naming assumptions you have and thinking about where (or who) they come from
- If you do the same things, you will get the same results – if you are not happy with the results you are getting, change some of the inputs, even randomly
- If you don’t try it, you can’t (dis)like it – who knows what other sides of you you MIT find when you give yourself permission to drop the usual “you“
So, go forth and experiment.
Or, as Rhinehart would say: “Die will be done”