When You Have No Idea What You Want

For those who missed me Twittering the happy news at the weekend … Paul and I are now engaged! Happily for Aliventures readers, I’ve managed to tear myself away from gazing at my ring (my preciousss…) for long enough to write a blog post.

Now, delighted as we both are, we’re also a bit stunned by all the decisions we need to make about the wedding. Our relatives, whilst all lovely and well-meaning, will doubtlessly all have their own views on how things should be done. And both of us tend to be quite indecisive when it comes to what we want to do.

This is a really common problem for many people: deciding on something that you really want can seem almost impossible. I’m not just talking about big life goals and career decisions here – I’m thinking on a very small scale. What do you want to do this evening? Where do you want to go out to eat? They’re hardly big decisions, but they can still leave you feeling like you have no idea what you really want.

Why You Don’t Know What You Want

You might find yourself not just unable to say what you want, but to even think about it. Why? After all, when you were a kid, you probably had no problem in saying exactly what you did and didn’t want…

Pressure from the Media and Society

Sometimes, we do know what we want – but we suppress our desires because we feel they aren’t valid. Perhaps you want to be a stay-at-home dad, but the community you live in sees men as the bread-winners. Maybe you want to study fine art, but all your classmates are looking at science courses.

Letting the media dictate your wants (even on a subconscious level) is a bad move.

  • You’ll get contradictory messages from difference sources. One website will tell you that you should stay at home with your kids, another will insist that you should work full time and make your career your priority. Neither is “right”.
  • You’re often being sold something. Having looked at a few wedding websites, I’m staggered at the amount of “traditions” which appear to just be an excuse to encourage a ridiculous amount of expenditure

Trying to Please Family and Friends

Back in the early days of Aliventures (in the not-so-dim-and-distant past of last July), I wrote about the dangers of trying to please everyone else. This is one of the biggest reasons why you might  find it almost impossible to say what we want … you’re trying to keep everyone else happy.

The obvious problem here is that, inevitably, whatever choice you make, someone is going to thinkyou should have acted differently. It’s also impossible to be completely sure what will please another person. You might ignore what you really want in the hopes that a different option will keep your best friend/partner/parents happy … only to find that they’d have been delighted with any choice you made.

But even when you manage to stop worrying about what everyone else wants for you, you can still get stuck.

Your Own Mutually Exclusive Desires

Sometimes, the conflicting pressures don’t come from society or from your own circle of friends and family … they come from within you.

You might be struggling to choose between alternatives: studying computer programming and studying English literature; deciding which of several possible jobs to take; making up your mind about where you want to live.

Or you might have competing emotions which are pushing you towards different ends of a spectrum:  you want to save up for a deposit, but you also want to go out for dinner at the weekends; you’d like to be more sociable but you also enjoy spending time on your own.

There’s no simple solution here. You may just need to acknowledge that you have conflicting desires, and that one has to win out over another.

How to Decide What You Want

The good news? It is possible to turn things around and to figure out what you genuinely want to do. I’m making progress on this (I still have moments where I sit blankly and go “I dunno, is there anything on TV?”). Working out what you want is part of taking full responsibility for your life. It’s also pretty crucial to getting the most from your life.

Make Any Decision

If you’re really stuck and can’t decide what you want, then just pick something. This is a great technique for simple, inconsequential choices, like “what restaurant shall we go to?” You might struggle to figure out what you do want, but don’t give into the temptation to let someone else decide for you.

When you are confronted with a choice, no matter how small or insignificant, act as if you have a preference. Ask yourself, If I did know, what would it be? If I did care, which would I prefer? If it did matter, what would I rather do?

(Jack Canfield, The Success Principles – Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk, p41)

In some cases, you might express a preference (eg. “Mexican”) and other people might have a different choice (eg. “Italian”). Even if you end up deciding to go with their preference – perhaps on the proviso that it’ll be your turn to pick next time – that’s fine. The important thing is that you decided what you want and you told people.

Start With What You Don’t Want

With our wedding plans, we’ve found it easiest to figure out what we definitely don’t want, and to go from there. Neither of us are keen on fruit cake, for example.

If you’re facing a vast field of possibilities, working out what you don’t want can help narrow things down. Perhaps it’s what you don’t want in your career (a big, anonymous company?) that leads you to what you do want. Or maybe you’re looking for somewhere to live, and you know that you don’t want it to be a busy or noisy location.

I have had clients who have initially been completely unable to identify anything that they want purely for themselves; and others who have denied that it is possible to get anything that they really want. … Often the best way to identify what you really do want is to start with what you don’t want and then consider what the positive opposite of that would be.

(Mark Forster, How to Make Your Dreams Come True – currently out of print, p31)

What decision are you stuck on right now? Do you have some idea of what don’t you want? How does that narrow down the field?

Give Yourself Permission

The real key to figuring out what you want is to give yourself permission. Stop waiting for your mum, best friend, old headmaster or boss to tell you that what you want is valid and acceptable.

I’m not exaggerating there, either. I know how often I’ve held back from decisions or I’ve ignored what I really want to do, because I think of what a relative or friend, or some authority figure in my life, would say about it.

You’re the one who has to live your life, though. And you’re the one in control. So when you figure out what you want to do, recognise that you’ve already got permission.

By all means, listen to advice from your loved ones, but don’t end up denying everything you want. It’s up to you to decide:

  • What career path to follow
  • How you spend (or save) your money
  • What subject you study at university
  • Who your friends are
  • Where you want to live
  • What you spend your leisure time on

In some cases, there’ll be practical reasons why you can’t have what you want. Other times, different wants will conflict with one another. That’s fine: I’m not suggesting that your life will suddenly become perfect simply because you know what you want. The important thing is acknowledging that you do have preferences, likes and dislike … and that those matter.

As ever, the comments are open: tell me what you want, whether big or small.

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