How to Want Things: self coaching

Wanting things seems like something we’re all pretty good at. It’s a thing we do constantly from the moment we get up to the moment we fall asleep.

I begin my day by wanting a cup of coffee and a quick trip to the bathroom. This, I believe, is fairly standard. Well, in actual fact, the first thing I usually want is to roll over and go to sleep again but I’ll come back to that. Then I go on to want breakfast, want a shower, want to find a seat on the train, want that idiot next to me to stop playing his music so loud, want a nice, quiet place to get some work done, want my apps to open faster, want to find time for lunch, want to stop feeling hungry having not found time for lunch… you get the idea.

So wanting is a pretty consistently present activity in my life and I don’t think I’m alone. But my thesis here is that despite it being something we do all the time wanting things is something we’re generally very bad at.

You’ll notice in my above list of wants that these are largely passing things – low order things. I want things to meet immediate needs. This is something we are, if anything, too adept at. I say this because what we want immediately and what we want overall often conflict with one another.

I mentioned wanting to go back to sleep in the morning. This want conflicts directly with my desire to have my coffee for one thing but more importantly it conflicts with the things I want in the longer term. I want to achieve things in my career, for instance, that would be inhibited by sleeping all day.

But what exactly do I want to achieve in my career? You know, I would find it very tricky to rattle off a clear and concise list of my career desires compared to my daily routine desires for coffee, quiet and comfy chairs. And this is what I mean by us being, by and large, not very good at wanting things.

I’ve found that many people struggle to articulate what they want in life. I think this is because we don’t spend enough time thinking about it and, perhaps more worryingly, we are afraid to ask for it. We have a voice in our heads that tells us that we don’t deserve to have what we want or that wanting things is in some way selfish or wrong. We have been conditioned this way. This conditioning is a major handicap.

Being able to clearly articulate what you want, to yourself and to others, is what separates those who get what they want from those who don’t. So it’s something I think we should all work on. And there’s no real trick to it, just practice and routine.

Every morning I ask myself two questions:

  1. What do I want in the future?
  2. What do I want to do about it today?

As the day passes and I find myself wanting other things like to watch a TV show instead of reading that paper I have on my desk or to drink a glass of wine with a pizza instead of that water and roast chicken salad, I simply revisit those two questions; but in slightly different forms:

  1. Will this get me closer to what I want in the future?
  2. On that basis, do I still want to do this today?

I may well decide that future Aran can take a running jump – I need a hot chocolate and a nap. That’s not necessarily the wrong choice. The important thing isn’t to live your entire life for tomorrow, far from it. The important thing is to be aware of what it is you want in life and understand how your long term wants might conflict with your short term ones and then to make a decision with that awareness as an ally.

Being good at wanting things doesn’t mean wanting more or less than anyone else. It means being aware of what we want and practicing that awareness in how we live our lives.

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