Need Help Finding Out What You Want?

If you’re lucky someone in your life has asked you, or instructed you, to imagine the life you want to be living in the future. It usually includes an arbitrary amount of years with descriptions of the people you are around, career, location, and other aspects of lifestyle.

Did you struggle with answering it? I did.

I have done a few of these writing exercises over the last 5-6 years. They have been really difficult to answer. Between the ages of 18-22 I mostly avoided the question. I couldn’t think of what I wanted to do, where I wanted to be, or who I wanted to be around. I struggled with the question enough that I wrote a speech about it for the Toastmasters club that I was in. Even though it was just over two years ago, I still cringe at some of the things I say;

It’s ok if you didn’t watch the whole thing. I’ll pull out some of the notable stuff;

“[…] I’ll be graduating in five weeks at the end of winter quarter […] it also inspires people to ask the question then what? Which I like to call the impress me question […}”

“These are the questions that don’t really hit me the way they’re supposed to, Are you going to start your career? […] It’s the title that they impose on you: being one thing. It’s doesn’t encompass what you really want to do. It doesn’t go into the depth how you want to help people, how you really want to advance people around yourself. But when you ask the question who are you going to be, it changes your perspective.”

The way I received the question seemed wrong. I was directing anger at someones question, when really, the problem seemed to be my own inability to not answer the question. I really should have been trying harder to figure out what I wanted.

I didn’t go searching consciously, when I started reading more books on self-improvement, but I came across many important aspects of answering this question.

I’m starting to get ahead of myself. Let’s make sure the question is understood and defined.

Let’s start with the basics. This isn’t anything new. Youth not being able to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their life.The question what we want—the dilemma—doesn’t let up. It’s worth writing about, discussing, and making movies about because it doesn’t die.

One of my favorite examples  of this question is from the movie Good Will Hunting. Sean (Robin Williams) the psychologist is trying to get Will (Matt Damon) to go a little deeper with their conversation. Will shuts down and Sean asks him to leave before the time is up for the session, Will goes on a tirade trying to insult Sean. After the tirade, Sean asks;

Sean: “What do you want to do?”

*camera cuts to Will who is speechless*

“You and your bullshit. You have a bullshit answer for everybody, but I ask you a very simple question and you can’t give me a straight answer because you don’t know. See ya, Bo Pepe.”

It’s a great scene. Finding what you want is synonymous with, what is your purpose going to be? I disagree with Sean, I don’t think it’s a simple answer, but I agree with him for asking it.

I think another example of this question being posed in a famous movie is appropriate.

In The Notebook, Noah (Ryan Gosling) is in a heated discussion with Allie (Rachel McAdams). Noah stops Allie from getting into the car and asks;

Noah: “What do you want? … What do you want?”

Allie: *fighting back tears* “It’s not that simple.”

Noah: “WHAT… DO YOU WANT?”

*Pause*

Noah: *crossing his arms, asking with exasperation* “What do you want?”

Allie: “I have to go.”

Beautiful! What ends up happening in both these stories *SPOILER ALERT* Will chooses to go cross country to pursue Skylar (his love interest) and Allie chooses Noah. What can we take away from this? Love and relationships can make a life worth living. It’s what some people want.

What has stumped many people, especially in my generation, is the paradox of choice. Having too many options can cause hesitation and buyers’ remorse. When you can do whatever you want, how do you decide?

I think the choice that is made in both popular movie examples is important, and can help explain a larger aspect of deciding what we want. It is something that comes up in self improvement books, and something that can also be partly explained with help from Tony Robbins. If you are struggling with answering the question, there are factors that can help if only taken into consideration.

What do you NEED?

I was listening to Tony Robbins once when I heard him describe his six human needs;

  1. Certainty/Comfort
  2. Uncertainty/Variety
  3. Significance
  4. Love & Connection
  5. Growth
  6. Contribution

If I was able to analyze the question of what I want through these six dimensions I think I would have been much better off. Being in the critical years of late teens early twenties, I was ignorant as to what people in general need. I wasn’t able to factor in a combination of these dimensions. I only thought about one or two and decided to base the whole picture off that. Well what about the others? There is a balance in these needs that is very important.

Let’s pause for a second, because if you’re in your late teens and early twenties you have already tried to excuse yourself from your future. You have checked out behind the mask of “not having to worry about it yet”. It’s easy to say, “I have time..” and “I just want to have fun” or “I don’t know what I want yet.”

What’s critically important about those types of thoughts is that they can take a person down a road that will lead them to a very dangerous place. 

In the book, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter And How You Can Make the Most of Them Now,  Meg Jay talks about how underemployment, lack of employment, being single, or being in the wrong relationship can have negative long term effects when it comes to emotional and physical health.

I was recently eavesdropping on someone who was talking about their daughter and how she still lives at home. She said, “Yeah she just doesn’t know what she wants to do yet.” Immediately an alarm went off for me.

I’m not how long I will be a golf pro. I was 22 and just out of college. I didn’t think I knew what I wanted to do, but I chose to DO SOMETHING. I picked what I thought at the time to be the best option. That was the important part.

Let’s do a quick recap;

  1. Deciding what you want is hard
  2. However, deciding what you want is important
  3. Having trouble deciding what you want isn’t new
  4. You should understand what a typical human needs
  5. You should stop making excuses and avoiding the question (inevitably avoiding action) because it can have negative emotional/physical affects down the road

Next, there is something important that I want to talk about that can have a large affect on imaging what we want. We will be heavily affected by the availability bias.

This is discussed very well in Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert.

Our imagined future is heavily influenced by our current situation, or what is available. It’s difficult to look at the future as being completely different compared to having mostly the same life with a few modified aspects.

When analyzing what you want, try not to be anchored to your current situation.

It’s very possible to agree with what I have been saying, fully understand my reasoning, commit to trying to figure it out, and still struggle to find something you want.

Here’s a way to get started. Look at your life now, and note the things that are negative. The brain is really good at seeing what is wrong.

You can go a step further and try what Tim Ferriss suggests: doing an 80/20 analysis. What are the 20% of activities in your life that are causing 80% of the negative emotional states? List them. The life you want probably doesn’t have those aspects in it. Now flip it, what do you think the 20% of activities are that cause 80% of your positive emotional states.

It’s very easy to not think about things that aren’t there. In the book Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, he presents a study that was conducted to see if a participant could find a similarity between a given set of numbers. The participant was able to come up with many possible hypotheses for the numbers that were there, but they didn’t hold up. The similarity was that a certain number was left out. The brain can struggle to see things that are missing, and instead uses the information that is there. Kahneman describes this as WYSIATI (What You See Is All There Is). When looking at people’s lives, maybe people you inspire, or are living the life you might think you want, remember to note what is not there.

Let’s continue to focus on the negatives to help get to the positives. Someone I have talked about before in The Quick Digs section is is Jordan Peterson. You may have a sour opinion of him, but I hope you consider his life advice, because it’s really good.

In his exercises, as I heard on his podcast with Joe Rogan, one of the questions he poses for people is to;

“DEVELOP A DIFFERENT 3-5 YEAR VISION WHERE YOUR BAD HABITS, BITTERNESS, AND RESENTMENTS GET OUT OF HAND AND YOURE IN YOUR OWN VERSION OF HELL IN 3-5 YEARS.”

Meditate on this because, as Peterson explains, this hell is very real. This also creates a good image that will hopefully help inspire someone to take action.

Summary and breakdown of process;

  1. Identify that we have certain needs in life (Tony Robbins example)
  2. Be cognizant of the availability bias and WYSIATI (Daniel Gilbert & Daniel Kahneman)
  3. Identify the positives and negatives in your life now (Tim Ferriss exercise)
  4. Describe the undesirable life by identifying where bad habits, resentment, and bitterness lead (Jordan Peterson)

The only thing left at this point is to start brainstorming and writing. Begin formulating the vision or idea of what you want and start going for that.

“What’s so interesting is that you hit a state that is as close to paradisal as you’re going to hit right away because being engaged like that. It’s better to be engaged in the solution of a complex problem then not to have a problem at all.”

Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning Lectures (YouTube)

What if someone thinks there vision is too short-term, or not enough? It’s detrimental that the process is started, and that the question is revisited. Some more advice from Dr. Peterson;

“[…] you start by aiming at the star that you can see and not the dimmer one that you can’t yet hardly perceive.”

Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning Lectures (YouTube)

This same idea is echoed in other texts I’ve read. Specifically;

“We need not come to end of the path to experience the benefits of walking it.”

Sam Harris, Waking Up

The catch is, that by simply just trying to answer the question, or in searching for the answer, someone can positively change there life or get closer to creating the life that they may have wanted;

“You can have the problem and be so engaged in solving the problem that maybe that justifies having the problem exist.”
Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning Lectures (YouTube)
The approach I listed earlier can clear up a lot of the blank space, and guide the process to eventually getting started NOW on the life that someone wants. I’ll list it again here;
  1. Identify that we have certain needs in life (Tony Robbins example)
  2. Be cognizant of the availability bias and WYSIATI (Daniel Gilbert & Daniel Kahneman)
  3. Identify the positives and negatives in your life now (Tim Ferriss exercise)
  4. Describe the undesirable life by identifying where bad habits, resentment, and bitterness lead (Jordan Peterson)

And let’s remember how we got here;

  1. Deciding what you want is hard
  2. However, deciding what you want is important
  3. Having trouble deciding what you want isn’t new
  4. You should understand what a typical human needs
  5. You should stop making excuses and avoiding the question (inevitably avoiding action) because it can have negative emotional/physical affects down the road

I will add one last piece the process. After someone has formulated the best response for what they want. They should understand that it will be shaped, changed, and rewritten. A person should simply keep working, searching, and advancing.


 

Thanks reading if you made it this far! If you liked it, please share. If you didn’t like it, please share and let me know what wasn’t so great.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s