Do you really want the things you think you want?

Goals: from big to small, we all have them and probably spend a lot of time and energy in working towards them – the end result is sure to be worth all our troubles, right? But how often are we running on auto-pilot, not really pausing to evaluate our goals and never asking ourselves if they’re really what we want? And how much stress are we willing to endure in the process, and what do we have to sacrifice to get there?
For Ric Elias (check out his wonderful TED Talk here), the moment he thought he was about to die in a plane crash was when he began to evaluate his entire life. His realisation? Up until that moment he had been wasting a lot of time on things that didn’t truly matter to him, and he promptly decided to change that. Thankfully for the rest of us, a near death experience is not necessary to start aligning with what feels right for us, but it does begin with some reflection…
1. The importance of setting the right goals
With so much external pressure to succeed and prove ourselves in life, it’s easy to live our lives striving to meet other people’s expectations. But how fulfilling can a life like that be? Alan Watts – British philosopher and author – spoke repeatedly about the importance of asking ourselves what we truly desire lest we end up spending our entire lives doing things we don’t really want to do. ‘What would you like to do if money were no object?’ is a question he’d often ask of his students. And while forgetting about money completely is not realistic for most, Watts has a point when it comes to making sure that we make space for the things we love. Would you rather spend all your time making money now so that one day in the future you can finally devote time to the people and pursuits you love… or would you rather invest more time in what matters the most today so that one day in the future you can look back at a life you’ve loved? Listen to the man himself speak here.
2. Our deepest desires – an exercise
Most of us would list very similar things when asked what we want in life, such as a great career, financial success, love and happiness… But we need to dig deeper than that to find out what desires are really driving our goal-related behaviour – and whether we need to change our strategy when it comes to fulfilling them.
Try this exercise by Phillip C. McGraw, and ask yourself these four questions:
-What do I want?
-What must I do to have it?
-How would I feel when I have it?
So what I really want is to feel ________(fill in the blank and start again at question 2).
In the process of answering these questions we may find that the reason we want, say a successful career, is not about the success itself but the feeling of being appreciated and accepted… Discovering these underlying desires – and going back to answer question 2 again – helps us adjust our goals so that we have the best chance of getting what we truly want in life. Perhaps feeling accepted is best achieved by learning to accept ourselves first rather than trying hard to prove our worthiness to others. And we may well find that accepting and loving ourselves first is also what ends up propelling us to greater career success…
3. Your real-life action plan
Knowing what we truly want is half the battle, but we still need to put that knowledge into action. Some things will be simple to incorporate into our lives, but what if your true desire is so out of sync with your current reality that pretty much everything needs to change? Few of us can suddenly quit our job so that we can dedicate our time to pursuing a passion. But most of us can adjust things enough to move closer towards a life that’s more in tune to what matters to us. Maybe we can make more space in our schedule for artistic exploration by cutting down on other commitments, even if we end up disappointing people. Maybe we can prioritise our spiritual practice over a perfectly clean home. Maybe we can strike a deal with our boss and work less some weeks to spend more time with our kids while they’re still little.
From baby steps to giant leaps of faith, there’s a whole range of approaches to moving towards a more authentic life. If a goal feels so big that even the thought of going for it paralyses you with fear and stops you from doing anything – maybe you want to change careers and become an artist – break it down into smaller goals, such as committing to ten minutes of sketching every day – you might just find that’s enough!
4. Live in the present moment
While we discover our true desires and adjust our goals accordingly, there’s one final piece of the puzzle that will bring it all together… How often are we so focused on tomorrow that we miss out on today? Our old friend Eckhart Tolle teaches us that future – including everything we’re working for and looking forward to – will only ever come to us in the present moment. To live fully, we need to remember to tune back in to what is here, right now, as often as we can.

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