What do you want? Money? That tops a lot of lists. Lottery win? More clients? Vacations? Love? Great sex? I’ve discovered that many of the things I think I want aren’t my true desires, and you may suspect the same for yourself. Discovering why you have a certain want can help you get to the bottom of what will truly satisfy you.
Thirteen years ago, some friends and I wrote the book The Positive Power of NO. It’s about developing clarity in your life by making the boundary between saying yes and saying no razor sharp. If that boundary is fuzzy in any way, then we struggle.
What’s left when we’re clear about everything that’s a NO in our lives is the YES. I always assumed that YES defined what I wanted.
“Not quite,” my mentor would tell me. “It’s a start.”
For example, it would be difficult to put more clients, vacations, or a lottery win on anybody’s NO list. Yet are they really things I want? Things I want for myself for my own reasons?
How We Learn What to Want
Let’s take money. Where did I learn that money was important? My dad always made enough. Mom was a stay-at-home mom. I don’t believe (and didn’t back then) that I lacked anything as a child growing up in my parents’ household.
When I got into the working world, I quickly learned that money was the barometer of the quality of life… at least to the people who were influencing me as a young adult. I grew to want money because I was taught that everybody wanted it.
More accurately, money allowed me to do whatever I want. Oops. Money is just the medium by which I obtain what I want… it’s a tool… but not the real aspiration.
I can write a huge list of material things I think I want that money can buy. And I was taught to want most of them by people who knew that everybody wants a nice house and sporty cars and attractive spouses—maybe even country club membership. So in obtaining these things, I’m actually fulfilling somebody else’s idea of what the collective “they” wants. I can believe I personally want that, but it’s more likely that I want those things so I look good to all the people who claim they want those things. In essence, I want their admiration. He who dies with the biggest toys…
So how do I peel all this Knower/Judger (learned response) influence away to get to the reality of what I really want?
Hint: Most of the real wants (not associated with showing off for the world around us) are difficult to measure. They don’t come in dollars or square feet or golf handicap. Those measurements are all designed to attract admiration… a feel-good exercise totally wrapped up in the K/J side of us.
Unearthing True Desires
I tell the story of being “between wives” 35 years ago (and they both read this blog). One evening, over a bottle of cheap Scotch, I drafted a list of the things I wanted in my life, as I’d pretty well screwed up on the first pass. It was a funny list.
- Swedish car
- Different kind of relationships
The list went on.
Almost immediately, I lost the list.
Fast-forward 12 years and the list materializes in an old cigar humidor in which I used to store all those collectibles we never seem to find a way to dispose of.
There were 21 lines on that list. By the time I recovered it, all 21 had materialized and were a part of my life. These were the things I really wanted. Money, a large house, and a sporty car had not made it onto the list. (I picked Swedish for the blend of competent and long-lasting.) Instead, I had the dogs and kids and a life I never dreamed possible.
And there was no “Power of NO” stuff there. I did not include what wasn’t acceptable to me. The list was everything my Learner/Researcher wanted for my life to feel whole.
So where is this “let’s get creative” button? How do we find it? How can we know if what we want is really what we want?
Write your list. Then ask if each item is an end point or a way station. If it’s just a means to a want, then go beyond it until you can’t go beyond it anymore. If it’s not a real want (admiration, love, great relationships), then it’s a learned K/J stepping stone.
Why do you want money?
Why do you want to be able to sing?
Why do you want a single-digit golf handicap?
When you run out of ways to answer the “why,” you might have a real want. And then it’s time to fulfill that desire.