Determining what you want is one of life’s most fundamental questions and many of us are not living with it at the forefront. We are so busy with obligations, routines, and things we “owe” others that we are too tired to consider the question, “What do I want?”
Deciding what you want can be challenging because so many of us put our heads down and work without considering if it’s something we truly want for ourselves. Shifting inward and considering non-work goals like wellness, balance, and hobbies requires zooming out and figuring out how all of the pieces can fit together into a meaningful whole. Here is a simple exercise to determine what you want:
On a piece of paper, determine your top 4 - 6 “buckets” in life. My buckets are: wellness, family, work, friends, and giving back, in that order of importance. Draw a circle on your piece of paper to represent each bucket. Find 20 marbles or pennies. These represent units of both your time and your energy.
First, distribute your marbles or pennies in your buckets as you currently spend them. Having conducted this exercise with many clients, most realize that an inordinate number of their marbles are in the work domain not only from a time perspective but because work takes so much of their energy. An evening at home may not count in the family bucket if your energy and mind is at work.
Next, determine how you would ideally distribute the marbles across the different buckets of your life. Are there buckets where you don’t currently have any marbles? Is it possible to double up your marbles across buckets, like getting exercise with a friend? Examining the delta between where you are now and where you would like to be is the first step in defining what you want and investing your time accordingly.
Here are some tips to start changing your life in both personal and professional settings:
Start small: Practice it in micro-settings in your personal life, like what’s for dinner. A senior manager in the financial industry was so accustomed to letting her partner choose what restaurant they frequented on date nights that it was actually a meaningful step to force herself to think about an authentic answer to the question of where she wanted to eat. Expressing what she wanted in that safe setting was a critical step in learning to do it in higher-stakes settings, like at work.
Know what you don’t want: Most of us have an easier time articulating what we don’t want. The key is to shift the identification of what we don’t want into what we do want. A client who worked at a global consulting firm was very focused on not wanting to work the long hours her role seemed to require and we used that as a springboard to how she wanted to be spending her time. Planning out her ideal week once she was down to working 45 hours per week gave her the clarity and the motivation to move into a role where 45 hours was more reasonable.
Work inside out: Many of us think about outcomes when we think of what we want — the job, the achievement, the location we reside, the person we’re with. Those outcomes can feel overwhelming, particularly when we’re not very close. Unchecked, many of us remain where we are even though we know it’s not what we want. In her book Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting: The Astonishing Power of Feelings, Lynn Grabhorn explains how remaining focused on what we do not want keeps us from moving forward:
“When you're talking about all the things you don't want...that thing has now become a part of you, part of your everyday vibration. Pretty soon you're living it...not liking it at all...vibrating it...talking about it...complaining about it...stewing over it...and making it an even stronger match to your daily vibration than it was in the first place. You are vibrating with the very thing you do not want.”
A more manageable starting point is determining how we want to feel. When we gain clarity on how we want to feel, we have agency to start feeling that way now in order to attract more experiences that make us feel that way — which is exactly what we want!
Mastering the art of knowing what you want and cultivating your life accordingly will help you lead a more meaningful, fulfilling and productive life as you spend your time and energy on the things that are truly important to you.