It sounds like such a simple question to answer. “What do you want?”
Our minds can get so cluttered with current responsibilities, though, and that internal critic always seems to pop up.
Before you know it, another month has gone by and you continue to feel restless. When you’re focusing on the future — or dwelling on the past — you’re not living in the present. And your picture of what you want for yourself can become cloudy.
Then again, your wants and needs shift over time. Family circumstances and work situations change, and you need to adapt.
The danger is when you find yourself just drifting along, no longer knowing what you want. The risk is you can end up on autopilot.
It’s not that simple
How to figure out what you want isn’t as easy as listing all the things you enjoy, explains author Kris Gage. What you want comes from your soul, and it takes time to go within and listen.
I took part in a seminar exercise several years ago that illustrates this point. Each of us partnered with another person whose job was to continually ask, “What do you want?” The exercise was designed to peel off all the layers to get down to the core issue.
The example I remember had to do with a red Ferrari. That was the participant’s first response to the question, “What do you want?” After repeated questioning, the final answer turned out to be “adventure.” The next step was to look for lots of ways to add adventure to his life — without having to have a red Ferrari.
You may have become numb by burying your desires. Rest assured you can take some baby steps to feed your soul. Surf the internet or go to a library or bookstore and see what jazzes you.
Why don’t you know?
If you don’t know what you want, it may be because you’ve silenced yourself, Gage points out. Learning to play well with others is fine, to an extent, as long as you don’t lose yourself in the process.
A caution flag could be that you’re responding to what other people want — or what you think they want. When you’re driven so much by external situations, it’s hard to hear — or trust — your inner voice.
Are you ignoring the signs?
Anxiety is a sign you’re ignoring your own needs, explains Gage. So is insecurity, loneliness or feeling inferior.
Any of these could be subconscious sirens that you’re shutting yourself down. When you peel off the layers, though, you’ll find that you alone are ignoring your needs; they’re not being ignored by others, and others are not making you feel your reactions.
It’s your puzzle to solve, and you need to look deeply within yourself to see the patterns you keep creating. If you’ve ignored the signs for years, don’t expect your subconscious to deliver magical solutions when you want them, cautions Gage.
It’s an inside job
First, you need to give yourself all those things you’ve been trying to get from others — attention, understanding, validation, support, acceptance and love.
That’s a pretty tall order, especially if you’ve been chasing after them, hoping others would fulfill those needs. You may be so out of touch that you don’t even see it.
In terms of perspective, it helps to realize that basic security and physical needs must be met before higher social needs can be entertained. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a pyramid tool developed by renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow, illustrates this with five stages of needs: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization.
If your basic needs are met and you just feel lost about what you want in your life right now, it may be helpful to scope out the “feelings chart” from professional-counseling.com. It lists a number of human emotions and associated feelings to help you pinpoint where your uneasiness is coming from.
For example, you may easily identify feelings of rage with the emotion of anger. But did you know that being frustrated and annoyed also fall under this umbrella? Or that feeling insecure or inadequate falls under the category of frightened?
Sometimes just a tiny insight can open doors. Once you can label the feeling, you’re on your way to dealing with it.
Stop fighting yourself
“We have to stop fighting ourselves and shutting ourselves down,” Gage cautions. “If we don’t know what we want ... the solution isn’t to force or ‘just take action,’ or look to others. It’s also not avoiding our feelings — anxiety or sadness, withdrawal or attachment — or dumping them on other people, but rather to address our own needs.”
While describing her experiment with meditation to find out what she wanted, Gage explains she was overcome with feelings of care. “Other things caught my attention, but I also realized that every time I gave my attention to anything besides myself, I was actually telling myself, ‘This random thought is more important than you are.’ Every time I brought my attention back to myself, I was also saying, ‘You are most important right now.’”
You need to fill your own cup before you can serve others. Put your own oxygen mask on first. Over time — with the practice of going within and listening — you’ll learn to trust yourself. And your soul will respond.
I have a refrigerator magnet with a quote from the ancient philosopher, Lao Tzu: “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are, and you know what you want.”