Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What You Want (Part II)

At the end of What You Want, I gave you a little assignment.
  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.
If you completed it without hesitation, second guessing or rewriting, you probably have two fairly lengthly lists. If not, then you're due congratulations as you're regularly getting what you want and not getting what you don't want or condolences as you don't really want anything or lack a pulse.

Assuming that your lists are long enough to give you something to work with, let's take the next step; let's determine why your reality and your wants are not aligned.

Liar, Liar
The primary challenge when clarifying what you want is honesty. We often judge as bad what we want most and fail to acknowledge it or even actively deny it. This being the case, it's no surprise that we often don't get what we want or, even after getting what we say we want, feel less than satisfied.

The crazy part is that judging what we want precludes honest exploration of it; we judge it, so we never clarify it or get specific about it.

Why's that crazy? First, most people find that the clarity and specificity gained by honestly exploring what they want usually leads to something quite different from what they originally postulated as having wanted. Second, the judgements we hold often fade to nothingness as we get specific and clear; we judge the generic of "stealing" as bad, but don't judge as bad the specific "stealing a loaf of bread from an occupying army".

Without clarity and specificity, we continue to judge what we think we want; as long as we judge, we avoid clarity and specificity.

So, what do you do?

I found two solutions that work. First, find someone (or create someone in your mind's eye) who has no judgments about what you have to say. Tell them what you want and let them ask questions that lead to greater clarity and specificity.

Second, declare a temporary moratorium on judgments, just long enough for you to explore what you would want if, hypothetically, you weren't to judge it. You can resume judging as soon as you're done.

Wants in Conflict
Once you have an honest, clear and specific understanding of what you want, (or at least one that's more honest than you had previously), then it's time to renew your enthusiasm for judging. Judging plays a role in the next exercise: identifying wants in conflict.

If you look at your two lists, you'll see something hidden in each item: a conflicting want. For every "what you want, but don't get", there something that you get instead; what you get instead represents another want. Similarly, for every "don't want, but do get" there's a another want that is fulfilled by what you do get.

For example, you absolutely don't want to spend another Thanksgiving with Uncle Suresh, but you do. What's the conflicting want? Perhaps you want to spend Thanksgiving with your mom and she insists on inviting Uncle Suresh.

You don't want to spend $100,000 on college tuition, but you do. What's the conflicting want? Perhaps you want a really good job or you want to impress people with your resume.

You really want to spend more time practicing the guitar, but don't. What's the conflicting want? Perhaps it's spending time chatting up girls or watching reruns of MASH.

You'd love to spend just one Sunday sleeping in, but instead get up and go to church. What's the conflicting want? Perhaps you want to avoid doing something you'd judge as bad.

Every unfulfilled want has a conflicting want that is stronger and often hidden. Sometimes the conflicts are easy to see (e.g., do I want fish or chicken for dinner); sometimes they're more subtle (e.g., do I want to spend $100,000 on college or do I want to lose the respect of my long departed grandfather). Sometimes the conflict doesn't seem fair, e.g., why do I have to choose between getting a good night's sleep and getting ahead in life. Sometimes the conflict seems ridiculous, e.g., you're trying to tell me that I'd rather avoid embarrassment than help my child with autism?

Regardless of how they manifest, every item on your list is the result of a stronger want that is in conflict with the stated want.

Let's take the next step and revisit our lists of unfulfilled wants and fulfilled don't-wants. First, evaluate the honesty of your lists and make changes if necessary. Are you holding back? What judgements are in play? What would you change if you were to be completely honest?

Second, create a new page with two columns that mirror the first. For each item on the first list, specify in the corresponding column on the second list, the conflicting want (or wants).

Third, pick the pair of conflicting wants that seems to have the greatest impact on your life and talk about them. To be effective, drill down deeply and identify specific points of conflict. You may find that something that poses a general conflict doesn't pose any conflict in the specific. You may find that there are specific challenges, but they're manageable. You may find specific challenges for which you have no resolution.

Gain clarity on your wants in conflict. When you're ready, we'll talk about resolving them.

Happy Wednesday,

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