A few years ago I heard an interview with Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutrition expert and author of the book The China Study. During the conversation, Dr. Campbell said that people are "prisoners of our taste preferences." He said that most people can’t imagine changing, but that, given time, we often come to prefer our new choices and can’t believe that we liked things the “old” way.
Recently, I've been reading the book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely, which offers some interesting insights into the ways that we make decisions and develop preferences. One of the primary observations of the book is how often our preferences are established unconsciously, influenced by a variety of strange factors, and may not actually reflect our stated values.
We think that we're logically and rationally developing preferences and making choices that reflect our deepest values. But that's often not true. Our preferences frequently stem from how we were raised (or from external, unconscious influences) and don’t necessarily have a logical or healthy basis for existing. Based on habit, convenience, or cultural pressure, we become conditioned to make the same choices again and again. And because those choices become familiar, comforting, convenient habits, we balk at making different choices – even if those choices are healthier and more humane for people, animals, the planet, and ourselves. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can escape from the prison of our preferences by becoming more aware of why and how we make choices and by making changes in our daily choices. Then those new choices become new habits, then our new preferences, and the old habits fall away….and we can’t imagine why we were ever tied to them to begin with.
I grew up a meat, potatoes and canned fruits & vegetables girl. I couldn’t imagine eating any other way. Once I became vegan, I began to explore a variety of foods – both those new to me and those that had previously been on my “yuk” list – and I developed a preference for this new way of eating. Now I can’t imagine going back to the “old” way, especially when my new preferences promote health, sustainability, and compassion for all. I can name dozens of other ways I’ve escaped the prison of my preferences – from the stuff I buy (or don’t), to the people I befriend, to how I communicate with others, to how I spend my time. I have broken free of old, destructive preferences and have joyfully embraced new, more positive ones.
Having preferences is a good thing, as long as we're making them mindfully, and as long as they support and nurture peace, justice, sustainability and compassion. Grab those chains and begin breaking free of those preferences that don’t support your deepest values!
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