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3 Ways to Know What You Want

Photo by Kurt Budiarto
If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else. ~Lawrence J. Peter

I was riding in a taxi cab with a few coworkers years ago after a long day working a convention when I said something I thought was basic knowledge.

“You’ve got to know what you want in life,” I said matter-of-factly. “I think the reason so many people are unhappy is because they’re busy chasing things they don’t even want.”

One of my coworkers laughed and called me a guru. I took the compliment. But she also said this:

“If that’s our problem, then fixing it should be easy, right? We just need to figure out what we want.”

In saying that, she’s sent me on a bit of a quest these past years. How do I know what I want? How can I help other people figure it out too?

Knowing what you want is such a huge part of living a happy, fulfilled life. I liken it to having the right map in your hand when you’re traveling. Sure it might be fun to check out the mountains of Switzerland, but knowing your way down those winding roads aren’t going to help you if you’re trying to navigate the busy streets of Istanbul.

We Outgrow Some Paths

The same is true in life. Knowing what prerequisites you need for a doctorate in theology is nice, but it’s not going to help you if your true passion lies in investigative journalism or restoring classic cars.

We’ve all been put on paths in our lives, and some of them may fit us but others we may have outgrown. Others were never our choice in the first place. So how do we connect with the dreams our hearts are holding onto? The things we desperately desire but maybe are afraid to say, even to ourselves?

I’ve come up with a few ideas, and I’d love to hear yours. I believe listening to yourself and knowing what you want evolves as you grow. We all have different techniques; these work especially well for me.

1. Say Yes More Often

It’s amazing how primed we are to saying no to things — especially new or unknown things. When my sister-in-law asked me to come roller-skating with her and her kids, my initial thought was, How can I say no?

Instead of speaking, I stopped and thought, Why would I say no? There were no good reasons. I had no idea why I didn’t want to. It was just outside my comfort zone, and we all like that place. The trouble with saying no so often is that it makes your zone smaller and smaller.

Say yes to small things like jogging in the rain when you’d normally stay inside on the treadmill or reading a book a friend suggested even though it’s outside the genre you generally like. This kind of thing will get you ready to say yes to huge things, like a career change or an impromptu trip.

I’m not suggesting you say yes to dangerous things (I declined an offer to test out some tandem-base-jumping lines this fall), but I do think saying yes to uncomfortable things will open your mind to new possibilities. Who knows? Maybe even your heart’s desires.

2. Get Quiet in Your Own Way

Spending time alone is a great way to connect your heart with your brain. If you’re not making time to listen, how will you know when your heart speaks up?

Being quiet can be an uncomfortable process, especially if you’ve never really gotten into it. We live in a world where it is very possible to never spend a second with ourselves. Aside from the business of life in general, there are constant distractions, from to-do lists to social media to television.

Consider running into a close friend you lost touch with years ago. You’re stuck in a room and realize you’ve run out of small talk. Things can get awkward fast. That’s often how it is when we start getting close to ourselves — I know that’s how it was for me.

Everyone gets quiet differently.

  • Meditation is one way, but don’t mistake it as the only way.
  • Some people take a walk every day to collect their thoughts, reflect and bounce ideas off themselves.
  • Others draw or paint.
  • Some just sit on their couch and stare off into space.

Whatever works for you. I’m a big fan of journaling; I write three pages every day right after breakfast. It’s not always earth shattering, but I can’t hide from myself in those pages either.

That’s the idea about getting quiet; it’s about becoming more comfortable with yourself so you can tell yourself the not-so-pleasant truths. The “I’m-unhappy-and-here’s-why conversations are never easy,” but as you continue to have the conversations you’ll notice they’re less about being unhappy and more about how you can be happier. That’s not a bad thing.

So spend some time by yourself and learn to listen. If you have to schedule it on your calendar, so be it. It’s one of the best steps to thriving in your life.

3. Daydream

  • List five things you would do if you had a free day to yourself and money was no object.
  • What are three things you always wished you had learned as a child?
  • What are ten careers that fascinate you?

These questions, and others like them, are designed to draw out the desires of your heart. Make lists and start thinking of ways you can fulfill these dreams, even if just little ways.

I’ve always wanted to learn about herbology but am not necessarily interested in spending the money on courses. So I started making an effort to use more fresh herbs in my cooking, which in turn made me interested in what I was putting in my body. I made it a fun adventure centered around food (who doesn’t love that?) and the learning has come pretty easily.

Spend some time thinking about how you would answer questions like these, and then start day dreaming about what your life would be like if you did them. When your heart quickens, you know you’re on the right path. Your path.

Getting to know yourself and finding out what you truly desire can be a really exciting and fun process. It can also rock your entire world, but enjoy the ride! I’d love to know what you do to connect with your heart. Let me know in the comments.

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About the author

Rebecca is a fierce optimist who believes in the power of making life happen. Magic and creativity are her latest pursuits, along with exploring her new home, Germany. Read her blog, follow her on Facebook and Twitter for her latest enthusiastic (and sometimes witty) remarks. Check out her new book, Change is Easy & Other Novel Concepts: Short Essays on Changing Your Life, One Step at a Time.

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5 thoughts on 3 Ways to Know What You Want

  1. What great tips, Rebecca! I especially love “List five things you would do if you had a free day to yourself and money was no object.” That ‘day to myself’ thing is what gets me. But I can dream! I’m going to do this today.
    Thank You!

    • Glad you liked the tips Susan! I think having concrete activities written down can really show us where our passions lie, and even if we can’t get a day completely to ourselves, we can still choose little ways to weave them in. It’s about knowing what to weave in, I guess ;)

  2. I love this article great tips. Just reading it made me reflect about what I truly like and who I am. Thank you Rebecca!

  3. faith

    i think its great that you came up and spoke up i enjoyed every bit of this please help more people discover for themselves what to do with their lives.

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