You Don’t Know What You Want: Strategies for Uncovering Desire Hidden in Plain Sight

When I met Madeline she was already incredibly successful. She made more money than most of her friends, had a position with a decent amount of power, and had left a busy life in Paris to live in her dream city by the coast. But she was unsettled.

We were talking because she wanted to become a coach. Or at least that’s what she thought. As we spoke I learned a lot about her. Failed relationships. Boredom with her career. A pent up desire for adventure.

No matter what she tried, something was missing. She had just had her heartbroken by a gorgeous man and it left her questioning everything.

Again and again, we returned to a singular question. A question she struggled to answer.

What do you want?

In a world where our desires seem rampant, many of us still don’t know what we want. We look through pictures on social media and develop an anxiety that we’re missing out on life, but we forget to ask ourselves if what we think we’re missing out on is what we actually want.

Working full time as a coach over the last five years I’ve met all kinds of people. I’ve worked with a CFO from Nokia, the founder of a Marketing Agency in Peru, and a single mother in the UK.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, educations, and experiences they all had the same problem: none of them knew what they wanted. They had goals, ideas, and dreams. But as soon as I pushed them, as soon as I asked, what do you want?, I was met with a familiar look that conveyed a hidden confusion and doubt.

We’re out of touch with our desires.

Maybe it’s the endless opportunities we have. Maybe it’s the constant competition for attention. Most of us are out of touch with what we desire.

For a while, from secondary school to a few years after college graduation some of us are lucky enough to live out a parental script that offers a level of certainty. Get this degree. Apply for that job. Marry this person.

Before long though each of us wakes up wondering if it’s really what we’ve been working towards.

And the pandemic and economic crisis have only sped up this process. Over the past two years a lot of us have been questioning the point of our lives as we watch Netflix in our parent’s basement or zoom into another pointless meeting. And outside of work many of us are wondering why we pay high rent in a shut down city or why we’ve chosen friends who we struggle to connect with when we can’t go out for drinks like we usually do.

But even before the pandemic, this was an issue.

Chasing our desires is born of privilege

Desire chasing is almost entirely a first-world problem. Your perceived options in life are often dictated by your class, race, gender, and education. But the problem of limitation exists for all of us. We all limit what we want to what we think we can have. So much so that many of us never really ask unbounded questions about desire. And when we do, the answers scare us.

You can begin to find out what you want.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. It takes courage. It takes patience. It takes humility. But you can begin to discover your true desires by asking yourself, What do I want? If I could have anything, what would that be?

And while you may have to ask a few times before you get down to what you really want, here are some things you can pay attention to as you begin to explore. ​

1) Ignore the status and wish lists

Often when I ask my client what they want, I get a Christmas list of desires.

A partner with six-pack abs, a seven-figure job, a penthouse overlooking central park, a Ferrari. There’s nothing wrong with these desires. Having them as goals can be motivating. But I’ve coached people who have some of these things. Most of them aren’t happier than you already are.

We think things, status, money, and power will make us happy. And up to a point, they can increase our satisfaction in life. It’s harder to enjoy life with few resources and options, but they rarely lead to the deep satisfaction you’re looking for. ​

2) Focus on the experience

What is the experience of life you want to be having? If you desire wealth is it because it gives you a sense of security? Freedom? An ability to say no? Or maybe the ability to explore the world?

Hidden behind most of our desires is an experience we’re craving. All the ‘stuff’ we focus on is really just a strategy for having that experience.

Sometimes this strategy works, but often it doesn’t. If you can get down to the experience you’re craving, usually, you can think of a variety of ways to create it, which gives you a lot more options as you move forward.

3) Let go of old scripts

We’re taught to listen to what other people want first and then decide what we want.

That’s basically what school is. Choose from these five books. Take one of these two classes. Most of our lives we’re told to achieve based on the standards of others. But those standards often leave us extrinsically motivated and unsatisfied with life.

This is why I often help clients look at and examine what things they were told to desire growing up. These stories of scripts of success can give us clues to how we originally formed our ideas of happiness and satisfaction.

Sometimes these scripts are helpful in guiding us towards better choices, but just as often they trap us in a set of standards and ideas of success that don’t really resonate.

By looking at these scripts closely you can decide which ones to honor and which ones to sidestep so you can focus on what’s truly satisfying.

For our grandparents finding steady work and a reliable paycheck may have brought safety and satisfaction, but that may not be true for you today.

For our parents finding a partner and settling down to have kids may have given them a sense of purpose and home, but that may not be what gives us that same sense.

The purpose in examining these scripts isn’t to discard them, it’s to better understand the ideas and beliefs that informed our earliest life choices so we can either choose back into them consciously or discard them altogether.

4) Accept some level of complexity and suffering

On a fundamental level, we all want to avoid suffering. This is a truth so old the Buddha and many other sages called it out millennia ago.

The thing we seek to be free from suffering varies for each person and even for different phases in life. When you’re young you might be certain that getting into your first choice college will guarantee your happiness. As you get older it may be finding the right partner. If you run a business it could be finding product/market fit, or even hiring the right team.

But it seems no matter what you do and regardless of what you get or don’t get things don’t ever seem quite right.

That’s because life is complicated. Things are always changing and even getting what you want may not bring you the deep satisfaction you’re craving.

This is why even as you seek to create what you want, it’s important to remember that your desires and your receiving are incredibly complex.

Honor the complexity of you and your life and learn to appreciate that while understanding what you want can help you feel a sense of deep satisfaction and fulfillment, it’s not a panacea. It’s simply a guide post for living a life full of purpose and joy.


Gregorian Calendars Are Stupid

Gregorian Calendars Are Stupid

You see sister, we made it all up!
Most resolutions don’t last more than a couple of months. A good rule for life is to stop making rules, especially ones that don’t work. Here are 5 reasons your resolutions won’t work and 5 practices that actually might.
1. I Resolve to Be Miserable. 
If your resolution is to stop eating sugar or watching TV you’ll probably have a hard time. You’re basically resolving to not do things you enjoy. You can’t get anywhere by rejecting who you are. Instead you need to learn to honor and then co-opt these parts of yourself.
MindFitMove Practice: Instead of asking yourself to reject parts of yourself find a way to embrace other parts of yourself. Try to do more of what you love, especially if it’s something that leads to more balance.
If you love cycling, then try to cycle once a week for a month. If you love making fresh kale, then make a new kale dish every week for a month. Seeking misery leads to misery. Instead, seek the joys that lead to a mindful and balanced life.
2. It’s A Can’t Do Attitude
In the world of non-violent communication requests should be clear, doable, and on a reasonable time scale. If you couldn’t ask your partner or friend to promise it, then don’t resolve it.
“Sweetie would you be willing to stop eating sugary snacks?” This is not a doable request. It’s unclear what a sugary snack might be and how long the promise is being made for.
Try this instead, “Sweetie, for the next month, would you be willing to have a piece of fruit instead of ice cream after dinner?” In the second example the request is clear, doable, and on a reasonable timetable.
MindFitMove Practice: Take one ‘resolution’ and turn it into a doable request with a reasonable time scale. Remember that a reasonable time scale is different for everyone. If you are quitting smoking it may be one day, if it’s taking a new class it may be one month. Experiment and find what works for you.
3.  Getting To No!
Adults rely too heavily on NO! It’s the first word many children learn, because it’s the word they hear most often. When I was a preschool teacher I learned that saying NO! to kids doesn’t work very well. Instead we always tried to find something we could say YES! to.
MindFitMove Practice: Instead of setting a strict rule that says NO! NO! NO! find one that says YES! Instead of saying no to snacking, say yes to snacking on more veggies and fruit. If you eat a piece of fruit half way between each meal, you will likely eat less sugary snacks and fruit has quite a bit of healthy sugar in it.
4. No Reflection? Maybe You’re A Vampire
Many people make resolutions without asking 2 important questions:
1. What will I get/be if I maintain this practice?
2. What will I have to give up to make this practice work?
Making changes is hard, but often resolutions are made in the spur of the moment or without much planning. People don’t take the time to consider what it takes to transform their life. Instead of making short hand resolutions, make plans for life long transformation.
MindFitMove Practice: Instead of making a resolutions, set aside some time to write down 3 things you’d like to do this year. Agree to sit down and write down these goals and answer the 2 questions above. Then decide if the answer to the first question is worth the answer to the second. If it is, remind yourself of this often. If it isn’t, pick some new goals you are prepared to do.
5. The Transformation Will Not Be Scheduled 
Like the title of this post indicates, the schedule for your transformation is not Gregorian. Your transformation happens on your own schedule and pace. A better time to start might be February, June, Or September. The best time is the time when you do start with full awareness.
This isn’t an excuse to encourage you to procrastinate, but if this is a bad time or if you are already transforming then maybe something new won’t help.
Try and be honest with yourself. Maybe you feel more motivated to exercise when it’s warmer so start your workout program on the first day of spring. Maybe you are exhausted from visiting family; give yourself a few weeks to rest before you take on a new challenge. 
MindFitMove Practice: Cycles are important to reflect on your progress, but they aren’t always your best guides. The key to life long transformation is mindfulness and awareness. Use these tools to asses what is a reasonable and doable for you. No matter what you decide, focus on being mindful. If you decide not to change your eating habits, notice what that’s like. If you decide to change the way you eat, notice what that’s like.
What’s Next?
My goal is to support people walking the path of transformation. These 5 practices will help you get started, but transformation takes time and practice.
If you are ready to take the next step, there are 2 easy ones to take
You get a FREE eBook A Zen Buddhist Guide to Fitness just for signing up and at least 3 times a week you will get mindfulness practices, advice, and encouragement to support your path of transformation.
As a member of the team you will get:
1.     Free – A Zen Buddhist Guide to Fitness – upon Signing Up
2.     Free – Awareness eBook– on the 15th of January
3.     Discounts – on a new eBook every month on the 15th
4.     Answers to questions about your Mindful Fitness practice via email or Skype.