When we are infants, we learn to express our wishes very simply: We cry until we get what we want. “I want…” is learned early in language development. And when we are 2, 3, and 4 years old, our wants are simple and pure. We want food, comfort, hugs, warmth, love, elimination of diaper rash, etc.
But say you’re now 35 and you want a BMW 550i—black with silver pinstripe and your initials on the driver’s door.
Or you want a pool behind your house. Or membership in an exclusive club. Or a neighborhood project to rehab a small recreational park completed.
I submit that these wants come from very different places in our psyches.
Just like there are two different versions of ourselves — the Knower/Judger persona (operating from our past rules and feelings, pretty much on auto-pilot) and the Learner/Researcher persona (observing unfiltered data and functioning in the present, not hindered by past rules and feelings)—our wants can come from these two personas.
When we’re very young, before our K/J has written the rules about what we’re supposed to think and do to feel good about ourselves, our wants are not constricted by filters. When we want food, it’s because we’re hungry. When we want to be held, it’s because that’s how we comfort ourselves.
Then, as we grow older, the world starts to help us figure out what we want. We want a certain kind of shirt in fifth grade because the “cool” people wear that shirt. We want the bicycle with 16 forward speeds because our friend has one with only 10 speeds. We want a BMW 550i because we know (from our K/J, of course) it will distinguish us when we flip the keys to the parking valet at the club (of which we wanted to be members because it’s the most prestigious place in town). But sometimes we still just want to be hugged.
How can we tell if a want is coming from a knee-jerk solution to satisfy some programmed ego-based need (from a K/J position) or is a pure want for its own sake (from L/R)? I’ve observed that it’s very difficult for me to see the difference on the way to the want. It’s clearer to me in hindsight.
What do I mean by that?
On a continuum from immediate fade to lifelong duration, how long does the satisfaction of achieving the want last? Here’s my test: The faster it fades, the more likely the want came from that K/J need. The longer the feeling lasts, the more likely it came from the L/R position. Here’s a personal example:
If asked to select the accomplishments I’m most proud, I would say this:
1. I created the 100 Acre Wood Performance Rally back in the mid 1970s, got a lot of people involved, and created a society that bonded based on this style of motorsport in a town that knew nothing about it previously.
2. I changed my life when it wasn’t going in the direction I thought would work for me long term, and completely rewrote “where’s Kim heading.”
3. I gathered a group of prominent speakers and consultants and published The Positive Power of NO.
4. After a 19-year hiatus, I resurrected the 100 Acre Wood Rally and restored it to its former status as a nationally prominent event and turned it over to a very productive succession team.
5. I recently melded my love for rallying with my love for coaching leadership by creating Corporate Co-Driver.
During that same period of time, I:
A. Bought two fire-breathing Subaru WRXs that I alternately raced in local rallycrosses (but not so much anymore).
B. Joined the Missouri Athletic Club because they eliminated the initiation fee.
C. Learned to drink only the very finest single-malt scotches.
D. Smoked real Cuban cigars in England because they’re rare and illegal (and impressive!) in the U.S.
E. Became a “Distinguished Toastmaster” of Toastmasters International (comes with a plaque and a medallion!).
For me, the difference between accomplishments 1–5 and A–E are how long my smile lasts when I remember them! I still get terrific personal satisfaction from having done 1–5 (though most people have no idea I did these things). In contrast, I did A–E because of how I thought it would make me look to others. (I sometimes can’t figure out why I still smoke cigars, but I do… for the same K/J reason—how I felt others would perceive me.)
Do I really want to finish that large order of fries? Or am I obeying the old “clean your plate” rule?
Do I really want to go to the theatre? Drive that BMW? Ski in Aspen? Smoke another cigarette? Have another drink? Berate my direct report? Or do some of these merely meet some emotional (K/J) need?
Why do you want some of the things you want? Can going back into your personal history help you figure it out? Write that list of fabulous accomplishments and try to remember how long the residual glow lasted. The ones that still feel good were likely your most natural, unfiltered, non-automated wants. The ones that wore off quickly? Well, you decide.