Find Your Why, Find Your Way

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If you ask yourself what you want – what you really, really want – you’ll probably be able to rattle of a whole load of things without even thinking about it. The new Burberry coat, a million in the bank, to fall in love, a massive house in the country, a sports car. But given that it’s so easy to name these things, why do so few of us have them, and why are so many of us unsatisfied with life?

Because these things, the things on our list, aren’t really what we want. If we really knew what we wanted we’d have made a plan to get them. But instead the path we’ve taken has brought us here, to where we are today. It may not be what we thought we wanted, and we may be completely dissatisfied with lour existence, but it is us who have taken the actions to bring us down this path, and now here we are.

In most cases, this might be for a variety of reasons – lack of confidence, not feeling like we deserve success, not seeing ourselves as the kind of person to whom good things happen, focusing on negativity, fixating on past trauma, or being distracted by other things. But the biggest problem is that we didn’t know where we were going, and this is because we don’t know what we want.

Most of us know what we don’t want. That’s easy. We don’t want to be in debt. We don’t want to be here in this unhappy place, we don’t want to go to work tomorrow, we don’t want to deal with our passive-aggressive boss any more, we don’t want to be fat, tired, boring, bullied, disrespected, unloved, unappreciated, unfulfilled. And the problem with knowing what we don’t want is that we develop an attention bias where we focus all the things we dislike about our life, and before long that’s all we see.

Psychologists call this unhealthy obsession with the dark side of life ‘rumination’, and we it leads us to being miserable, in a self-fulfilling downward-spiralling prophecy where we seek out quick ways to ease the misery. We snack on unhealthy food, we turn to alcohol, we lose ourselves in box set after box set, we find some unhealthy political cause to hang our unhappiness on, some other person or group to blame rather than admit this is all a result of our own lack of direction, and all this does is exacerbate our unhappiness and dissatisfaction. And down we go.

By focusing on the negative we have brought more of it into our life.

But, by really knowing what we want, we can move ourselves in a different direction that will lead us to take positive action to improve our situation. But if those things on the list aren’t what we really want, what is?

A million in the bank sounds like a nice idea, but really all you’ve done is pluck a number out of the air, rather than address any real need. To get to the bottom of what you want, you need to understand your why.

Friedrich Nietzsche famously said: “He who has a why to live for can almost any how,” and if you can find your why, you’ve found what you want and you can make plans to get it. Why do you want a million in the bank? Why do you want the Burberry coat? Why do you want the sports car? Why do you want the big house? By travelling down that rabbit hole until you can go no further, you eventually get to the real answer of what you want, and you can start your journey in that direction.

Why do you want a million in the bank? Because you want security, you want freedom from the anxiety of debt, your want the confidence that comes from knowing you have the ability to manage your own affairs. Because you want to provide for your family. There’s your why, and with it you might learn that it’s not a million you need, but a career path that will earn you enough to pay off your debts, save some money, and gain some degree of solvency. It might not be the rockstar career you dreamed of, but succeeding at your why will deliver infinitely more happiness than failing at the wrong want.

Why do you want a Burberry coat? Because you want to feel good about yourself. Because you want the respect and the status that having something expensive brings you. Because you lack in self-esteem and wish that you liked what you saw in the mirror more than you do now. There’s your why, and now that you’ve found it, it a Burberry coat may not be the answer you need. How about starting an exercise plan, a healthy eating plan, get a new hairstyle, change the way you dress, embark on a journey of learning how to let go of your insecurities and loving yourself instead?

When you don’t really know what you want, there will always be excuses why you can’t get it. You’ll never be able to save enough for the coat. You’re not clever enough to earn a million. But when you have your why, you can put in place all the steps necessary to get you there. You can go back to college to get the qualifications for a better job, you can start to wear your hair differently, or go for a jog around the block. You can embark on the long road that takes you to contentment, rather than the short muddy track that dumps you in the ditch of dissatisfaction and instant gratification.

When you know your why, you figure out ways to get it and the hardships you need to endure along the way seem at worst tolerable, because the reward is so great. You make plans, recognise your excuses, and learn to let go of the things – the ideas, values and beliefs – that have been holding you back all this time.

Find your why and you’ll find your way.