Monday, May 27, 2013

What You Want

I know we've talked about this before, but based on recent experience, I think the question is worth revisiting.

The question is: What do you want?

The question is significant for several reasons. First and foremost, not knowing the answer significantly increases your likelihood of not getting it. Second, well... let's just stick with the first one for now.

So, what do you want?

Your first response may be something like, "Whatdya mean by 'what do you want?'"

That's a good question. A key to determining what you want is to consistently seek greater clarity and specificity. I might respond to your response with another question like, "What do you want from life?"

This question isn't at all specific, but it is more specific than the generic, "What do you want?"

For example, it eliminates the questions, "What do you want for lunch?", or "What do you want to do on vacation?", or "What do you want for your birthday?"

Well, it at least eliminates them in the specific e.g., "What do you want for lunch, today?" versus "What do you want for lunch, every day for the rest of your life?"


If you consider the above questions, you might have noticed something. 

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

Do you see it?

For most people1 the answers to specific questions come more readily than the answers to general ones. This is a clue. The path to what you want generally is littered with breadcrumbs that drop from what you regularly want specifically.

Note that the operative verb is want; it doesn't particularly matter what you do regularly2, just what you want regularly. Sometimes doing and wanting coincide; most times, they don't.

Knowing what you regularly want yet don't act upon is a great place to start when tracking down what you want generally. Knowing what you don't want yet regularly do is also a great starting place. Knowing both is a3 perfect starting place.

Let's start with both.

  1. Grab a sheet of paper or open a program into which you can enter two columns of text. 
  2. Label the first column, "What I Regularly Want, but Don't Get".
  3. Label the second column, "What I Regularly Get, but Don't Want."
  4. Set at timer or mark your clock and, without pausing to evaluate, spend 90 seconds writing into each column as many things as you can.

Don't filter. Don't second guess. Don't explain. Don't justify. Don't erase or cross out. Put on the list anything that comes to mind. For example, you might want more sleep, but never get it; you might want to sleep less. Whatever it is, capture it.




Times up!

How'd you do? Which list is longer? Do any of your entries stand out? Do you see any patterns?

Don't worry if none stands out or you see no patterns. It'll come.

Let's dig in and start processing the clues.

As specific and clear as your entries might be, if you want them to become great clues, you've got to become even more specific and clear.


Here's the exercise for next time. For each entry on your list, ask yourself questions that lead to greater specificity and clarity.

  • Why do I want that? 
  • What about it is appealing? 
  • Why don't I want that? 
  • What about it is unappealing? 
  • If I want that, then why don't I have it? 
  • If I don't want that, then why do I do it?

Each question will yield an answer that begs another question4. No matter how obvious the next answer may seem, ask the next question. If you find yourself cycling, then ask another question about the same answer.

For example, if you answer "Why do I want more sleep?" with "Because I'm tired all the time!", you might ask, "Why am I tired all the time?" and find yourself answering, "Because I need more sleep."

To break that cycle you could ask questions like: "What about being tired all the time don't I want?" or "Would having more sleep really make me less tired?" or "Am I really tired all the time?"

The answers to any of the above questions may seem obvious (at first), but you'd be surprised at how answers can vary, e.g, "I don't like being tired because I miss all the good TV shows.", or, "You know, it's not the lack of sleep that leaves me feeling tired; it's my job.", or, "Come to think of it, I'm not tired all the time; I really only get tired when answering questions like this."

Take your time and dig into the specifics. As you do, patterns will emerge. If you pay attention, you might even see them. The relentless pursuit of specificity and clarity across a variety of specific wants and don't-wants will lead to something that is perhaps unexpected: an understanding of what you want and don't want generally.

Give it a shot and let me know how it works. When you're ready, we'll talk about addressing the next step in getting what you want: reconciling conflicting wants.

Happy Monday,

1That would be most people. For some, the answers to questions like "Shall we get married or move in together?" come much more readily than "For lunch, shall we have Sushi or Salad?"
2Strictly speaking, what you do regularly is what you want, but that's another discussion best saved for later.
3There needn't be only one perfect place from which to start.
4If you pay attention, you'll start to notice that almost all answers beg another question or many questions.


  1. OK Tef, I took a shot at it. It did bring up an interesting insight, which, while not new, was very useful to revisit. What's next?

  2. Sree, Thanks for the update. "What's next" will be coming right up.


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