Here’s How to Know What You Want When Life Feels Like a Grind

how to know what you want

I don’t think most of us understand the cost of ignoring, judging, denying, or putting off enjoying our desires. If you’re like most people, you don’t even know how to know what you want.

That’s because we don’t know–or perhaps believe–that giving space and expression to our desires fills our entire lives with energy, joy, and meaning.

We don’t believe dancing in the morning in the kitchen or telling our partner what we’re yearning for or making an art journal page before bed matters.

We learned to judge what we want because we don’t meet some arbitrary societal standard that makes it worth pursuing. For example, if you want to write, you must become a best-selling author or win a Booker prize or else, “why bother?” (Can you hear me grind my teeth?!)

Or we learned to deny what we want because it didn’t put food on the table, make someone’s life better, or get us a promotion. This is why you don’t know how to know what you want.

Perhaps we learned it is safer to keep putting our desires off until we are ready and know enough instead of asking, “What more do I need to know to feel the pulse of desire animating me right now?” (Hint: nothing!)

The consequences?

Here are few Oasis members eloquently describing their experiences of denying their desires:

Lena: It starts small. I find the inner critic nitpicks at a bad choice I might have made. I ignore it and move forward. Next, the continued pushing to get things done, when I really need a desire break, which starts an inner trust breakdown which has a domino effect. I pull back on self-care. I don’t stretch after the walk. I choose the food I know will make me sick over the food that will refuel me. I push to get all the chores done instead of writing. Next thing I know, I find the inner critic has been promoted to the driver’s seat and is allowing mayhem in my life in a slick sweet way under the guise of “getting things done”. At this point, I’m all out denying myself the privilege to follow my desires, because I can’t be trusted to allow them and what needs to be accomplished to look successful at the same time happen. I start to wilt. I get grumpy which leads to being depressed. I have recently come to the awareness that when I get depress, I am either ignoring anger or my desires. 9 times out of 10, it’s my desires.

Dana: As I’ve ignored I’ve even had desires my entire life, I can speak to this with (sadly) a great deal of experience. It drags you down into a place where nothing seems possible, where dreams are things other people are allowed to have, and where you’re not sure who you are or what you even enjoy. Conversely, moving toward your desires brings you into a place where everything is possible, where dreams are a roadmap, and where what YOU want is the most important thing in the world.

Barb: I die a little bit inside.

Marianne: I get sad. I feel not connected with myself. I get very easily upset.

Shire: Resentment big time.

Jan: I’m unable to hear my own voice anymore. Not knowing what I wanted made me uncertain and, without boundaries, someone too afraid to stand up and step out into life fully and wholeheartedly.

Paula: Depression, ill health, general malaise, I feel out of place and out of sorts, envy and subsequent guilt, and anger that I don’t act on which adds to all of the above.

Laura: I’m not sure about the short-term consequences, but, over time, denying desires will cause me to stop doing anything. I call it “wait mode”. I begin to hover, waiting ”until”. When I realize I’m doing this, I’m learning to journal or go for a walk and breathe. Until I figure out what I’m waiting for, then I can let my desires take me where they will take me.

Ellen: I don’t know what my desires are. After decades of pushing them away, I want to find and know them. The cost of this life with lots of accomplishment feels hollow with not nearly enough joy.

Wilting.

Comparison.

Lack of boundaries.

Afraid to stand up for yourself.

Crappy self-care.

Envy.

Your dreams seem impossible.

Everybody else can have what they want but you.

Relentless pushing, doing, accomplishing but for what?

Depression.

Can we agree there is a steep cost of denying and ignoring what you want? That you don’t even know how to know what you want? 

Are you pissed at me for pointing this out?  Are you stirred up? Do you feel ready for a nap? Or are you saying, “Fine for you to say, Jen, but do you realize what my life is like? How impossible it is to make time for what I want?”

While I will never, ever tell you it’s all up to you or that the obstacles you face aren’t real and frustrating and often terribly unjust, I won’t ever tell that societal support doesn’t matter to your well-being, still, I believe that even in the harshest conditions, we can touch our desires. Make space for them. Allow them to enliven us.

With practice, with community, with language to name this struggle? It does become easier. Fear, constriction, and putting off and turning away from what you want, happens less and less.

Please, for just this week, notice where you override, belittle, ignore, turn away from, give up on your desires, put off, what you want. Where you forgo, wait, or judge.

Do not (please!) try to do anything differently. Stay away from plans or trying to change.

Instead, with compassionate curiosity, notice your thoughts about what you want. Notice your habits. Notice what substitute desires you settle for. Notice what you believe about enjoying more of what you really want–what’s okay, what’s not.

If you like, jot down a few notes in your journal or on your phone.

Notice, without overindulging in self-judgment.

You may be amazed at what you discover. This is how you will eventually discover how to know what you want.

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Colleen - February 26, 2020

Well crap. I admit, I have been skimming the latest blogs and social media posts, thinking, “I’ve got this desire thing down pat. It’s all I do!” As I have always found, the right messages come at the right time and if you don’t pay attention, they hit you over the head like Rafiki in the Lion King. That’s what Lena’s comment was – a whack to the head – and heart.

I want stuff, for certain – a new house, a new job, financial breathing space, opportunities for my daughter. But feeling like I deserve to have dreams – nope. I don’t deserve a better job – I didn’t finish college. No one will hire me for what I really want to do, because there are so many others more qualified. I chose to be a single mother and I have the daughter of my dreams, it is selfish to want more. Why must you always make me cry, Jen Louden??? And can your book come out any sooner, because clearly, I need to read it, and fast!!

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