HOW TO KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
What do you really, really want?
No, I’m not talking about wanting to hang out with the Spice Girls.
I’m talking about cutting through the noise of what you think you should do, of what you think you need to do so other people will think a certain way about you, and getting at what you really, truly want for yourself and your life.
If you have a lot of practice “should-ing” yourself, you may not know how to connect with what you want.
That’s why this week, I’m going to break down what it means to want something, how to know what you want, and how to decide whether to keep wanting it or whether to consciously change your thought about it.
First, let’s explore what “wanting” even means. Most of us want things because of how we think they’ll make us feel.
We want a new job because we think it will make us feel confident in our abilities, or we want our kids to be happy because we think it will make us feel good about our parenting.
At its core, wanting represents a very basic model of life: seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. It plays out in everything from the immediate pleasure of wanting a cookie to the more long-term want of obtaining a PhD.
Whether the “want” is for a good taste in our mouths or the esteem we think would come if our peers were impressed with our educational achievements, the fundamental motivation is the same: we want to feel good, and avoid feeling bad.
And of course, our conception of what will make us feel good and what will make us feel bad is heavily influenced by our social conditioning.
Women are especially socialized to act out of obligation, guilt, or responsibility – so their wants may align with trying to feel like a good partner, mom, sister, or caretaker.
This is why the first step to connecting with what you truly want is to get to know how your brain works, and what unconscious or even conscious thoughts are motivating you.
If you notice you always say “yes” to volunteering at your kid’s school, for example, I recommend exploring what thoughts you’re having about doing so.
You may be doing it out of love for your children and the opportunity to support them in this particular way.
Or because you enjoy connecting with other parents and contributing to the community.
Or because of thoughts like “if I don’t volunteer then I’m a bad parent” or “if I don’t volunteer other parents won’t think I’m involved in my kid’s life,” which then create guilt or shame for you.
You may even have a lot of different thoughts about volunteering that create a mix of emotions – but for most of us, if we aren’t managing your minds, we tend to do things in order to:
- try and change our own feelings or
- control what other people think or feel about us (which is just a version of #1 anyway).
So if that’s how you’ve been thinking your whole life, how do you change it?
You have to ask yourself the right questions.
Not “how do I make this bad feeling go away?” or “what do I need to do to avoid having a bad feeling in the future” – those questions just lead to you doing a lot of sh*t you don’t want to do, and still not feeling good about doing it or yourself.
Instead, you need to ask yourself what you would do if you knew that it would work out.
If you knew that everyone would approve of you and think you were amazing.
If you knew that you would be proud of yourself no matter what.
For example, let’s say you went to medical school because you thought you should and your parents wanted you to.
To examine your motivations, ask yourself: In a world with no pressure from my parents or peers, do I have any desire to go to medical school?
If not, there’s a good chance you may not want to be a doctor at all.
Now even if you DID have a preexisting desire to go to medical school, that would still be a thought. It would simply be a thought that created a POSITIVE feeling for you – a thought that made you feel excited to go to medical school. And that is a great reason to go.
The point of thought work is not to change all of your thoughts, it’s to get to know what they are and whether you want to keep them.
By exploring your thoughts about the things you want, you can learn whether you’re being motivated by a true desire to do something or by an idea of what you think you should do.
You may find, as a lot of my clients do, that most of your actions are motivated by a sense of obligation, shame, or fear. You may think you don’t actually know what you truly want at all.
You may feel overwhelmed or disheartened, and that’s ok.
But I want you to allow those feelings and avoid the trap of thinking “I don’t know what I want,” because that won’t serve you at all.
“I don’t know” is a lie that we tell ourselves because we’re afraid.
Afraid that we don’t deserve to have what we want.
That we don’t think it’s possible for us.
That we’ll judge what we want and judge ourselves for wanting it.
We’ve absorbed so many messages from society, family, and friends that all tell us to be sensible, reasonable, not to dream too big, not to be selfish, not to be delusional.
We suppressed our dreams and our desires and our potential because we are scared to actually dream big.
And we call it “being confused” or not knowing what we want.
But it’s not true.
You DO know.
If you can’t hear your own voice telling you what you want, it’s because you’ve been drowning it out for much of your life and just have to develop the capacity, the skill, the practice of listening. Of getting to know your own body and mind, your own thoughts and feelings.
You may have a lot of thoughts to clear out before you can hear that voice.
But make sure you never believe it when you tell yourself that you don’t know.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to move to Hawaii to start a taco stand tomorrow, even if that’s your dream. It’s ok if you’re not ready to actually go after what you want yet. Just tell yourself the truth about what that is.
And then if you aren’t ready to go big, you can start small.
What’s something small that you can tell yourself the truth about wanting, and try to get?
Is it flowers? A date? To publish a blog post? To go to a karaoke bar and sing?
Start small and work your way up.
Do something that moves you towards what you want every day, and watch your life explode.