Most tasks I feel like I should "want to want to do" feel like a "solve 17 x 24" task. It's effortful and absurd. If that makes any sense. Take writing a paragraph for work for example, I can think an initial thought "I want to write this paragraph explaining xyz", but then I just feel confused. Normal people at this point would start asking themselves internal questions about "xyz", "why xyz?" "how xyz?" "when? where? etc". They would think (or just find thoughts or strings of thoughts about that topic they decided to think about). For me, I mostly just get a blank, and the more I interrogate the blank, I start getting to the existential monster stuff. Instead of my mind pursing the "xyz". It starts asking me "why do I want to write this paragraph?" "what are you doing with your life?" "who are you really?" etc. Stuff I just don't have any answer to. So I try to avoid complex mental activity as much as I can.
I don't think most people "want" to write a paragraph for work. Some
people may have an intrinsic interest in the work itself, depending on what the work is, but most people want a promotion or recognition or something else that they can only get by writing that paragraph. It sounds to me like you have no ulterior motives to fall back on.
Most people have an idea of how they want their life to be, and they have a sequence of objectives leading to that life. So they have an idea of themselves as a successful business executive with a wife and kids and a big house and they take whatever steps they need to take to get there. They write the paragraph so they can impress their boss so they can get the promotion so they can make more money so they can attract a wife so they can have some kids and stick them all in their big, fancy house. If you have no long-term goal to fall back on, you're just left with the meaningless chore "writing this paragraph", which is, indeed, meaningless. If you're faced with a meaningless task, it's not surprising if your mind rebels.
The image people have of their ideal life tells them what they need to do to achieve it. If you have no ideal life, well, "where there is no vision, the people perish".
The no identity thing is hard to explain. I know some people have like disassociation episodes and I don't experience those, but it's just hard to describe how I feel without it seeming like I'm describing disassociation. I guess I can try with the System 1 & 2 idea. If you spend your time, say, sleeping 24/7 or in a coma, do you really have an identity? That's an extreme example, but my point is that what we mean by identity is generally stuff we do in System 2 mode. Trying to spend as much time as possible in System 1 mode makes me think there is nothing constant in my life, because everything (well most things anyway) I experience are a direct result of my environment. (which I do not try to control, controlling it is very System 2). Even having a strong opinion about how you feel about it is a System 2 thing. I can have strong emotions about some particular thing, but if the emotion went away, I won't try to stick to the meaning behind it or keep any form of consistency.
Speaking very loosely, your identity is what you recognize to be true of yourself. If you're in a coma, you have no (psychological) identity because there's no self-reflective awareness. You have an identity when you recognize that some quality or preference accurately describes you, and when you have memories of things that happened to you. "I was in a car accident two years ago. I'm a person who has been in a car accident. I'm a little bit nervous about driving." <- This is part of your identity, if it happens to be true. "I try to avoid driving if I can." <- This is an operational goal that drives behavior. When presented with the task of driving somewhere, you try to find some way to avoid it, because you would prefer not to drive. You are a person who prefers not to drive. This is why I say identity is essentially a list of your preferences (and memories, which have helped shape those preferences).
If you have an ideal future that involves being a successful business executive with a wife and kids and a big house, then that ideal future is part of your identity. That ideal exists now in your mind. It is a part of your current experience. And it drives your behavior. You try to find ways to make your external reality come into alignment with that ideal. You may not be a successful business executive yet
, but in a very important way you are already identified as one if that ideal is driving your behavior. If you have no ideal future, if everything seems pointless (nihilism), or you don't enjoy anything (anhedonia), or you don't believe you're capable of achieving anything (poor self-esteem), or you just plain can't make up your mind, then you're going to have identity issues of one sort or another, because goals are an important part of identity. At the very least, you're going to feel very different from all the goal-directed people around you.
So yeah, it's 'system 2' stuff, in the sense that you need to be able to figure out the steps you need to take to get from where you are to where you want to be and how to complete each of those steps, but the ideal itself probably isn't system 2. People don't sit down and decide what they're going to want; they just want what they want. What they sit down to do is figure out how to get it. I can't tell you how people end up wanting what they want.
I'm fortunate in that I have a long list of experiences I would like to have, and I'm not suffering from nihilism or anhedonia. I'm unfortunate in that I don't seem to have the ability to get any of the things that I want. The problem for me is not a lack of meaning or purpose or any conflict over my identity but a lack of ability and/or resources.
hm. I wonder if identity comes from confronting other people. Maybe the internal voice people have is built through interaction with others, drawing boundaries, setting limits, etc. What do you think?
No one invents themselves out of nothing. We come to understand who we are in part by contrasting ourselves with other people. "I'm this, he's that." A lot of it depends on language and definitions.
People sometimes try to push you to be a kind of person that is more useful or convenient for them (parents, for example), and that often involves manipulation or persuasion. So, in that sense, you have to be able to set and enforce boundaries. "No, I don't want to be that person, I want to be my own person." And that might show up in your internal monologue. "They can go **** themselves. I'm not doing that." But this all depends on your ability to know what it is that you actually want. And other people can't tell you that. Only you have the ability to figure that out.