This is the most widely cited quote of mine. So let me say a few things about the thought.
Since the time we were young, we have been taught to limit our aspirations. The question, “What do you want?” is translated into, “Given your limitations, what do you want?”
When we ask people what they want, too often they are a lost. It isn’t that they don’t want things. It is that they have absolutely no idea how to think about the subject. On the one hand, they can only think in terms of what seems possible, reasonable, or available.
On the other hand, they are looking for something that will enrich their lives, enable them to become more involved, and fulfill the promise they intuitively understand and for which they long. Something they can’t seem to find by discovery or revelation or from goal setting courses or from the self-help world.
If you limit your choices, all that is left is a compromise, one that is incapable of inspiring the type of deeper involvement that most people crave. Another one of my quotes that seems to be everywhere in the world of the Internet these days can be considered the other part of the first one: You can’t invest your life spirit in a compromise.
Here are a few tips about how to become clear:
1. Separate what you want from what you think is possible
In fact, you don’t know what is possible, only what seem probable. If you begin to censor yourself before you even have a proper discussion with yourself, you are going to end up limiting yourself to only those things that seem doable. You are light-years away from thinking in terms of what you truly want. From this limited menu, there may not be much you actually want to order. No wonder it would be hard to know what you want when this were the case. Whatever you are left with is pretty unappetizing. Do NOT consider if what you want is possible when thinking about it. We divide and think: first a truthful understanding of what we truly want to create in our lives; then considerations about the strategy that might enable us to create it.
2. Rethink everything
We have all made certain promises to ourselves when we were young. We may have changed our minds. We are not stuck with some idea we had years ago. It is best to enter into a conversation with yourself with a clean slate, turning over a new leaf, a fresh start.
3. Start small
Most people are not in the habit of thinking about what they want. They react or respond to the circumstances they find themselves in, and so they can only think situationally. The best way to learn anything is to start small, build muscles and stamina, and create a body of experience. Make sure that these small things are really things you want. Get into the habit of checking with yourself about that.
4. Don’t think in terms of payoffs.
Too often, people are not able to think about what they really want because they expect the result to do things like make them happy, give them satisfaction, enlightenment, and a host of other payoffs. This burdens your ability to think in terms of what you want because you are speculating about the chances of the payoff being significant. Once you think in terms of the outcomes you want and not the payoff, you are free to get involved on the good days and the bad days. Remember, your emotional experiences are like the weather: sometimes it rains and sometimes it’s sunny. Don’t think in terms of consistent emotions. Think in terms of only one question: what do I really want?
So, if you limit yourself to what seems possible or reasonable, all that is left is compromise, and you can’t invest your life-spirit into a compromise. This is more than a good quote. It is a principle that, once taken on, can enable you to organize your life around your highest aspirations and deepest values.