Know What You Want and Learn to Say Yes or No, Accordingly
January 23, 2022
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Answering the question, “What do I want?” is not always easy for many of us. It’s complicated. Maybe we grew up having to work hard to be, do and say what other people wanted from us. Maybe their expectations and the rewards and punishments for complying (or not) with their wishes dominated our minds and drove our behavior. Then we left home with that momentum and found ourselves as an adult eventually having to think and feel our way into an answer to the question: What do I truly want? What do I want to have? Who do I want to be with? What am I interested in enough to want to know more about it? What work do I really want to do? Where do I want to live? How do I want to spend my time? Who do I want to be? It becomes more important when we begin to realize that we aren’t satisfied (or worse) by how our life has turned out in all these areas. If we don’t know and pursue what we want, sure as hell we will fall prey to just fulfilling other people’s desires instead. Sooner or later, this becomes most unsatisfying.
From this sense of dissatisfaction, we could start with a process of self-exploration. We can ask ourselves all the questions, as above, and really think about them. Maybe we keep a journal and write down our thoughts. We can also notice what wakes us up and triggers our spontaneous engagement in our daily lives. What makes us feel alive and connected and what puts us to sleep? This can take a while. It doesn’t often result in some quick epiphany about what precisely we need to do next. But if persisted at, images and ideas will emerge over time with greater clarity and specificity.
Another thing that complicates knowing what we want, is that the pursuit of it is usually difficult and challenging. We must separate out our desire for immediate comfort, pleasure and security from what else it is we truly want. Surely, all of us want comfort, pleasure and security, but if that is all we want we will seek these things constantly and not be willing to endure discomfort, pain and risk in the pursuit of other important desires. There is what we want right now, but there is also what we want in our future. We cannot build a future we really want to live in if we are unable to delay gratification and endure difficulty.
So, let’s acknowledge that knowing what we want is complicated, not easy to figure out. I suggest not making it harder on top of this, by beating yourself up about it. Give yourself space and time and know that you aren’t alone. But I want to move on, assuming that this work has begun to yield some answers. What then? There is plenty to say, but I want to focus here on what seems to me to be the simplest answer. We must know how, and be willing to say, “Yes” and “No” when we are confronted by options in our lives. Well, first, we have to recognize that we have options. Too often we jump to the conclusion that we “have no choice”. I think this is almost never true. What is true is that we assess the costs and benefits of our options and then choose the one with less costs and more benefits. The problem here is that our assessment can be seriously limited if we don’t know what we want in the first place. Then our choices will be dictated by immediate or short-term comfort, pleasure and security. This likely will lock us into more of the same unsatisfying life we have known so far. So, keeping what we truly want in mind, we need to learn when and how to say “Yes” and “No” when life presents us with options. Or if life isn’t presenting any opportunities, we may have to say yes to the task of looking for or creating them.
To say no, is to decline an offer, an invitation or a request. This could be anything. A job, a marriage proposal, a party or a dinner invitation, a favor. It could be a temptation (an internal impulse) to do something like have a drink, do drugs, have an affair, watch porn, steal money, give money away, offer to put someone up in a spare room indefinitely. How would saying yes to any of these things impact the likelihood of getting what we truly want? Can we say no to ourselves when necessayr? Maybe what we want includes wanting to be a generous and sociable person, instead of selfish and stingy. Okay, fine. Just know this and consider if there is anything else you want and prioritize what is most important to you. Get used to saying no when you need to. Let other people be disappointed or even angry. Chances are they will survive. And your relationship with them may benefit by not feeling they are a burden that you are stuck with and resent. And if they can’t take no for an answer, ask yourself whether you truly want them in your life.
To say yes, is to open to and embrace something that is coming our way. This is easy when we simply feel excited by whatever it is. We don’t really need encouragement or reminders to say yes in this case, unless we are stuck in a place where we believe we don’t deserve anything good. If that is true, then we may need to learn to say yes to even simple immediate pleasures, like the delicious taste of our favorite food or the beauty of a sunset or the sound of music. But even if we don’t have this problem, not all things we need to say yes to trigger only our excitement. The big things will often also trigger our fear. A new relationship, a new job, moving to a different country, starting a project… all of these things may also fill us with dread. We think “what if?” and imagine all the horrible things that might happen, all the ways we might fail, all the ways that another might betray or abandon us. Our fear can cause us to say no, even to great opportunities. What about our comfort, pleasure and security? This new thing might be hard and there is no guarantee that nothing will go wrong. Better to stay with what is at least familiar, even if it isn’t what I really want. Yes, you can choose that. Do you really want to?
As I write this, it occurs to me that maybe this is part of what makes it so hard to identify and let ourselves feel what we want. We know, even if only subconsciously, that once we do this, we put ourselves at the beginning of a very dangerous and uncertain path. We will have to take risks. We will piss someone off sooner or later. We might never have what we want no matter how much we try, so maybe it’s better to not even know about it in the first place. We may wonder how much shame and humiliation we could endure if our lives turn out to be spectacular failures in front of everyone. Such fears cannot be waved away with platitudes.
What we can do is ask ourselves: Is it worth giving our only life to being a pawn in other people’s games, so that we can avoid the catastrophes we imagine will occur if we don’t. Or are we so fed up with not really living that we are willing to take that risk?
The Know What You Want Mug is for those who choose the later. It is a reminder to tune into what you truly want and set yourself on a daily path of making choices accordingly. To simplify the complexity of this task, just consider what you need to say “yes” to and what you need to say “no” to. There will be failures along the way. It won’t be easy. You may not get everything you want, but you will get a hell of a lot more than you would have gotten otherwise. And ultimately, you will be happier about your life and yourself. I say, go for it!