The trap of knowing what you don’t want

“I do not know what I want, but I have very clear what I do not want, and that is something.”

I have heard this phrase many times in the last few years, it is a believe repeated by most of the people I know, and by many of my clients. I repeated this phase myself for too long.

It’s a trap. Being clear on what you don’t want doesn’t necessarily help you get closer to knowing what you want, it’s not a first step. Quite the opposite.

In my experience, this is just an excuse for not acting, and for not making decisions. By thinking like this, we formulate our objectives in negative. “I don’t want to be stressed out at work.” This is a general, indefinite, and therefore unrealistic goal. The goals that are not clear and defined are only wishes, because there is no decision to act on them. Without action, obviously, it is not possible achieve any goal.

For this reason, when you start a coaching process, your goal must always be expressed in positive. In other words, define what you really want.

Returning to the example of “not being stressed at work” expressed in positive would be answering a series of questions like; How do you express “not being stressed” in positive? How does it feel? What do you see? Why do you want to be “not be stressed”?

Answering these questions forces you to start defining what you really want. It’s very hard to keep moving when you’re connected to what you don’t want. You must flip the coin over, to see the other side.

“If you don’t know where you are, you’ll end someplace else”

Laurence Johnston Peter

 

In other words, “not being stressed” for that person can mean, for example, feeling calm, being completely focused on what he is doing and that his back no longer hurts. It can also mean he is smiling more, enjoying his work, and also being able to leave work at five to have quality time with his family and friends.

In general, it is more difficult for us to connect with what we want because this forces us to answer questions whose answers may be uncomfortable. These answers can make us see parts of ourselves that we’ve been ignoring. Perhaps answering them makes us face situations and toxic relationships in which we have been immersed and deal frustrations that we have not yet overcome.

To connect with what we want means to leave aside denial and regain awareness. The unconscious danger that we want to protect ourselves by clinging to “knowing what we do not want” is that once we have become aware of these uncomfortable answers, there is no turning back. From this point on, the only way forward is to make decisions.  Those decisions are usually not easy. Sometimes they mean ending relationships, changing jobs, deciding to lead a healthier lifestyle, relocating, forgiving someone or admitting a mistake.

 

“The only way forward is to make decisions.”

 

I was given another example of this recently. A woman told me she chose her career by a discarding process. As she did not know what she wanted to study, she began to discard everything she disliked until she reached one that didn’t seem horrible. This person certainly did not study anything that she hated, but that doesn’t mean that she studied something that would fulfill her in the long term. She didn’t choose something she actually liked. This is the middle ground, the gray area some like to live in, in order to feel some sense of security.

At the age when we must choose what we want to study in college, it is perfectly normal to be uncertain about it. We are very young and we are only starting to experience the world in our own terms. We still don’t know who we really are.

Admitting that, at the moment, we don’t know what we want, is actually the first step. It is a more honest and authentic approximation to knowing what you want.

Have you ever been in a conversation where someone pretended to know what you were talking about, but they really had no idea? We do it as reflex sometimes, to avoid feeling inferior to others. However, by pretending to know instead of admitting we don’t, we lose a great opportunity to learn, to make questions and to grow.

The same goes for what we want. Admitting that you do not know, opens the door to exploring, to follow your curiosity and to question things. In this process the learning curve is exponential. It also opens your mind to new experiences, new friendships and new areas of knowledge.

You’re searching, and that’s already acting.

During this learning process you start to define, and put the focus on what makes your heart beat faster and what you love; what gives you bliss. These are key to knowing what you really want.

You also start to identify your values and to connect to them. Our values serve us as a compass, and everything that is not aligned with these values disconnects us. Each one of us has a series of values that are personal and different from others. They have nothing to do with morality, nor with the established social norms. Their roots run deeper.

One of my fundamental values is loyalty. I cultivate it in me and I admire it in others. Everything that means disloyal behavior crates an internal conflict within me. It took me years to understand that this was what failed in some of my personal and professional relationships. Our levels of loyalty were different.

Once you’ve identified your values and passions, as well as the things that make you happy, you’re closer to knowing what you want. Then comes the phase of being honest with yourself. The time to ask us the uncomfortable questions we mentioned before. The point of no-return; when you leave your comfort zone.

When you are clear about what you want, then you need to define your version of success. It’s different for everyone.

It is very important to distinguish between what you want from what others expect of you. They are not the same thing. It is very easy to get lost in what others expect from us. In a way we don’t want to fail them But, do not forget it’s your life, and you always have the ability to decide.

Our definition of success helps us to find indicators to measure what we are achieving. One of my success indicators are the trips I make a year and the places I get to cross out from bucket list. When I feel stuck, I revise my success indicators. If I see progress, great, I’m on the right track. If not, I revisit the plan and correct the course.

Money is not the best or only success indicator. It may be one of your indicators, but it shouldn’t be the only one. You can have a lot of money and be proportionately unhappy. Our dreams are usually bigger than the mere accumulation of things.

Finally, you have to try what you want. If one of your dreams is skydiving, for example, you must do it to find out if you like it. You may find it to be the most exciting experience in the world, or you may be disappointed by it. You won’t know until you try it.

If you don’t like it, you know this wasn’t “it” for you. Being flexible and allowing room for error also allows us to lose the fear of failure, if things do not go as expected.  You can always correct the course, and nothing you learn in the process is ever useless.

Stop hiding behind “knowing what you don’t want” and jump.

 

What you want exists. Don’t settle until you get it.

 

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