Why Do You Want It?
Thoughts and feelings precede actions. What this means is that you must think or feel something before you do something. The first time you do something—for example, swing a baseball bat or ride a bike—you are highly conscious of all aspects of that action. But over time, conscious thought falls away and your habitual system kicks in. This system controls a large share of what you do. A saying I heard recently sums up the habitual system’s role quite nicely: “During the first half of your life you make your habits; during the second half your habits make you.”
The majority of us form our value system during the first half of our life. And typically we decide what is important to us based on external influences—mainly media consumption, family & friends, and educators. While most of us would like to believe we have a significant level of independence in our thoughts and actions, it simply is not true. Unless you came under the influence of a true contrarian thinker—whether a parent, a mentor, an author, etc.—odds are you built your value system by observing, modeling, and repeating the behavior and valuations present in the broader, mainstream culture.
Independence—like all characteristics—must be developed.
This same thought-process applies to our desires—those strong feelings of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen. Our desires (aka our habitual thoughts) drive decision-making and action-taking. Often we want things, people, and states of being unknowingly. For example, someone might have a deep desire to be loved. All of us have this desire to a greater or lesser degree, but some of us unconsciously take highly destructive actions just to feel that love for even a moment. This same pattern can apply to any desire, whether for satisfying basic physical needs, such as safety and security, or for self esteem, the esteem of others, actualization, or a sense of belonging.
Our system of unconscious desire impacts all areas of our lives. In your professional pursuits I’m sure many of you desire growth. Who doesn’t want a promotion that comes with more money, power, and responsibility? In our culture, this desire is hard-wired into us early on. But just take a second to consider the indisputable truth that many people with money, power, and responsibility are highly unhappy. Yet we continue the pursuit of what they have, often without any conscious analysis as to what would be best for us. Maybe you would be happier doing a job with less responsibility and more customer contact, but how could you turn down that promotion? This kind of thing happens much more often than we know.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the pursuit of wealth, power, and increased responsibility. I am actively in pursuit of all three and have been for the majority of my adult life. But I also ask myself a version of the following question, and so should you. The question is this: Do you want to be a powerful executive, successful entrepreneur, or admired professional because that is the life you want to lead? Or is your pursuit powered by an unconscious desire to satisfy something or someone driving you toward that goal? This is important because while getting something you unconsciously desire might result in momentary satisfaction, having something you consciously chose often leads to long-term fulfillment and achievement. The conscious awareness of why you want it is everything.