Do We Really Want the Things We Say We Want?

Why do we claim to want things but never fully pursue them?

  • We say we want to get fit, but we don’t consistently make time to exercise.
  • We say we want a better marriage, but we don’t make time for date nights or we’re unwilling to be vulnerable with our spouse.
  • We say we want to start our own business, but we just keep reading books and absorbing other people’s success stories without ever taking action on ours.

What’s going on here?

Of course these are big goals—big wants—and there are lots of possible factors and obstacles at play. But here’s one I think deserves more attention…

Maybe we don’t really want the things we claim to want.

Maybe I don’t really want to be super fit because on some deep level I know that all the time, energy, and discipline that would be required to get and stay fit just aren’t worth it to me. And that being unfit, while not ideal, isn’t actually that bad.

In other words, maybe I don’t really commit to fitness because I’m afraid of looking honestly at all the tradeoffs that would be required, and as a result, admitting to myself that it’s not actually worth it to me?

Maybe we stay stuck in patterns of yo-yo dieting and procrastireading entrepreneurship books because we’re afraid to admit to ourselves that we don’t really want the things we think we’re supposed to want or want to want?

More generally…

Maybe we don’t really want the things we claim to want because we haven’t sincerely examined and accepted all the tradeoffs and sacrifices required to achieve them?

And maybe much of what we call procrastination or self-sabotage is our unconscious mind pulling us back from things it knows we don’t really want—things we wouldn’t choose to pursue if we genuinely considered all that it would take to get there?

Can you honestly say you want something if you haven’t done the work to identify and accept all the tradeoffs required to pursue it?

Or maybe this is a language problem…

We use the same word—“want”—but there’s a world of difference between:

  • I want to lose weight.
  • I know how much time, energy, discomfort, and patience it will take to lose even 10 pounds, much less lose 35 pounds and keep them off. I’m willing to spend an hour every single day preparing and shopping for good food. I’m willing to set (and enforce) healthy boundaries with my work so that I have enough time and energy to focus on establishing healthier eating habits and exercising consistently. I am willing to feel hunger and the craving for food and to tolerate that feeling rather than indulging it. etc.

Maybe we need to be much more clear with ourselves about want in the “sure that sounds nice” sense of the word and want in the “I have done the hard work to examine all the tradeoffs associated with pursuing this thing and am still willing to commit to it” sense?

It seems like a set up for frustration and disappointment if we’re confusing those things—especially if we’re expecting the results of the latter while only putting in the work of the former.

What about this:

How much we really want something is proportional to how much we’re willing to sacrifice for it.

If that’s true, a good way to test how much you really want something is to honestly examine what tradeoffs are required to get there and whether you’re really willing to make those trade-offs.

Because there are plenty of things in this life worth wanting. And it would be a shame to waste time wanting things you didn’t really want.

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I don’t know how I missed reading your work all this time but I’m so glad I found you. As a syndicated columnist myself I fully appreciate your thought-provoking words. Thank you for the experience.

I love this article, it brought consciousness to my unconscious mind that is pulling me from hard work I am supposed to get done in order to get the things I really want! Thanks a lot

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