How do we know what we want?


It’s one of life’s most profound questions: what do we really want?

Often, we get sucked into the flow, go along with what we’re told we should want, what it’s normal to want, and what it’s reasonable to want. When we start becoming more authentic and uncovering more of ourselves, getting rid of the “shoulds” and comparisons can leave a gaping hole.This can be scary - uncertainty is a scary place - and it might feel like we’re floating, not able to grasp what it is we truly want in our lives. Expressing our wants feels wrong, like we might be too demanding of people. Going after our wants ourselves can be terrifying - what if we make a mistake?Which leaves us asking: "I have a sense that there’s more I do want, but how do I access that? Where do I start?"Everyone is different, so what works for one person might not work for another, and I don’t think there’s a solution that can cover everyone’s needs in this situation. I don’t have a definitive answer for this; I wish I did (it would make my life easier), however I do have a series of steps that have helped me work out what I actually want from a situation, and want to share in case you find them helpful too.

Knowing my instincts, trusting my instincts

Instincts are there for a reason - they’re important messages and should be heeded carefully. Sometimes, when we have a lot of beliefs, ‘shoulds’ and conflicting messages though, we might not feel much trust in our instincts. The key to this is knowing what kind of things push our buttons, and being able to honestly ask ourselves- “Am I in a place where I can trust my instincts right now?” - “What stresses or difficulties might I be facing that could mean other things are possibly interfering with my instincts?”- “What part of me is telling myself I want this? What do I know about that part?”- Where do feelings around this want show up in my body? Can I think of any other time that feeling showed up? What happened then?

Being aware of urgency

Related to instincts are urgency and/or desperation. When we feel that we desperately or urgently want - even need - to do something, there's usually a story playing out underneath about what might happen, or what it might mean, if we don’t do, get or experience that thing.- Do I feel desperate?- What do I know about myself that could be influencing this decision? (For example, do respond to stress by comfort buying or comfort eating, or conversely by denying myself things that I might genuinely want?)- What do I know about myself that could lead me to rush into/avoid a decision?- What is the story behind this want?

Priorities and values

If you have a long-term goal to pay off your credit card, but those shiny $300 shoes are calling to you, you might feel like you want the shiny shoes right now, but will that be the case in the long-term?You go to a job interview and discover you’re going to be selling old ladies life insurance that you know will cost them a fortune and provide them with zero realistic cover. You’re down to your last $10 and they’ve just offered you the job. You want a job, and you want to be able to eat later this week, but you’re not sure if this is the job you want. Unless your values are aligned with swindling old ladies, you might feel the urge to take it, but you won’t want to - because it doesn't fit in with your values. - What are my priorities? - How does this fit in with my values?- How does this fit in with my needs?


Visualising can give us distance from the emotional weight of our current situation and helps us look at life from a different perspective. By looking at the situation we’re in from the outside,  we can get clarity that might otherwise be obscured by “shoulds”, apathy and internal conflict. Two types of visualisations can be useful: future self visualisations, and third-party visualisations.- When I think of my best possible future self six months/one year ahead, how will I feel looking back on this?- When I imagine someone who I consider a role model, what would they do in this situation? 

Stop Planning

When we find it hard to know what we want - whether in a particular situation or in general - this can be because we are too busy. A cluttered mind leaves little space for exploration, and, consequently, we experience a frustrating blankness. Planning unstructured time frees our mind from the daily grind, the endless to-do lists and those good old “shoulds” and leaves us with… ourselves.- When I make time to sit with myself, not planning anything, not deliberately doing anything, how does that feel?- When I make time to sit with myself, not planning anything, what comes up for me? What do I notice about what comes up?Unstructured time is hard - I find it challenging to shut down my brain and tell my task list to take it easy for a couple of hours. Sometimes, we have to do this several times over - for example every weekend, or two evenings a week - before we start to notice a difference. How do you know what you really want? I’d love to hear your experiences. 

Photo Credit: Victor Bezrukov via Compfight cc