Do You Really Want What You Think You Want?

What if I told you that you don’t want what you think you want?

What if I told you that, as you’re going after what you want, you’re kidding yourself?

You’d probably tell me to mind my own beeswax.

That I can stick what I think right back where the sun don’t shine.

Then I’d tell you how I spent a good part of my 20’s chasing status – taking fancy holidays, eating at the best restaurants, becoming a regular in the coolest bars – all while thinking I had a great job and was simply having a good time.

What I thought I wanted – the job, the money, the lifestyle – was fuelled by phantoms rather than being fuelled by what actually meant something to me.

So I drank and drank and drank to hide from myself the fact that I was pursuing what I didn’t want.

Pursuing phantom wants took me through depression twice and a complete breakdown once.

So I know what I’m talking about here

Phantom wants are those things you think you want, but you’re not really sure. They feel like they’re real, so you go about things in order to make them happen.

Only your phantom wants are fuelled by one of 3 things;

1. Status

Gaining and establishing status feels good, and your brain is wired for it.

Your brain likes to know where it sits in the pecking order – a social hierarchy that might be different at home, at work, with friends and with family – so that it can exert some control over the social environment and seek to consolidate or grow its position in the hierarchy.

Lose status in the pecking order and your brain will tell you (by a big dip in feel-good neurotransmitters) that you’ve screwed up, that you’re no good or that others are better than you.

2. Validation

Being validated gives you a sense of being okay, just as you are.

Validation is all geared towards a personal confirmation that you’re an okay person – perhaps even a good person – and that you’re on the right track.

Not receiving validation doesn’t automatically mean you’ll feel like you’re not okay, but it makes room for speculation that could support that view. It creates space for a belief that you are in fact, not okay.

And for a brain that loves to be certain about things, it will do what it can to remove that speculation, either by accepting the belief that you’re not okay or by seeking validation to confirm that you are.

3. Recognition

Being recognised is about having your actions and achievements recognised as having value. It gives you confirmation that what you do is valued and appreciated by others.

And in a similar way to validation, without recognition there’s room for doubt to grow that what you’re doing matters or that anyone values it.

Status, validation and recognition are not your friends

We’ve all known people who are driven by one or all of these 3 motivations, and your brain comes with neuro-chemical processes that encourage automatic thinking based on these motivations, right out of the box.

You’ll be a rare and most unusual person if you haven’t experienced these before.

Phantom wants are bait for the hook, and you bite

These “default motivations” are insipid. Get a taste of them and you want more. See one of them drop and you feel so bad that you’re motivated to get it back by almost any means.

They’ll have you dancing to their tune, even if you end up dancing like a drunken asshole at a white-trash wedding.

So what to do?  How the hell do you beat your own brain and these default motivations?

You do it with an idea so breathtakingly simple that it’s simultaneously really bloody hard to wrap your head around.

Do things with nothing to prove

Pause and think about this for a moment.

Really. Take a moment.

With nothing to prove, no status at risk, no validation to be received and no recognition to be gained, there’s only one reason to do anything.

Because you want to

Doing things with nothing to prove removes default motivations from the equation.

Without default motivations your phantom wants disappear.

And that leaves you with a level of want I call a source want.

Your source wants are your unfettered, undiluted, unashamed wants

They’re graceful, powerful and simple. They’re there simply because you wouldn’t be you without them.

They give you freedom.

They’re frickin’ awesome.

What might you want if you had nothing to prove?

  • Interesting question Steve.

    I think like Steve V. that humans are ego-driven. We want to impress people, want to care for our family, and want to push ourselves. Even if we have nothing to prove to others, we will always have things to prove to ourselves. If we have no aim and no goal, it is easy just to sit on our coach and just zone out.

  • Well I am currently doing a Diploma in Photography. This is because I always have a desire to learn and I do want to make a living out of it.

    I have always had the voice of self doubt saying your not creative…
    I know that to be a lie. Sure I am slightly different from the “Creative” persona that was created in my head.. Probably without justification or any rationale

    Not only that others have tried to discourage me from pursuing photography. “There’s no money in that” I know that some people pay good money just to have good photographs on their walls and that wont change. Perhaps its just that fact that I have nothing to prove and demand that I myself forge this path to happiness.

    The path of photography has made me learn more about myself and others. It is true that photography is a 3 way mirror.

    • Interesting what barriers you have to push through in pursuit of your source wants isn’t it? And just imagine what your life would be like if those barriers were firmly in place and making your choices for you…

  • Hello,
    I completely agree that we often do things that we do not really want and that the things we really want are much more rewarding and fulfilling.
    Of the three enemies, I think that recognition is the most tricky. Even if you do what you really want and like, you would still appreciate if others recognized that, or not? In my opinion, seeking recognition does not necessarily implicate that I do things in order to get recognition, but that I would like to be recognized for who I am and for what I do. In my opinion, this kind of recognition is important for everybody and it does determine how self-confident a person is.

    • Recognition does feel good when (and if) it comes. I don’t think there’s any problem at all with feeling good about being recognised for something you’ve achieved. Nothing wrong at all. In fact, if you end up not feeling good or feeling worse (probably because you feel that you don’t deserve it) in response to receiving recognition, it’s an issue.

      So yes, the ability to allow yourself to feel good in response to something positive happening in your life is indeed an indicator of natural confidence. But, seeking recognition can be an issue where the primary objective is to feel good rather than achieve something that matters.

  • The complication comes, I think, because status, validation and recognition all “feel good” and give us a heady release of dopamine. It’s easy to get things mixed up, so asking yourself some tough questions is necessary until you get to a point where those questions become automatic.

    Thanks Steve!

  • Right on article! We are ego-driven creatures, and (to paraphrase my favorite author/teacher, Eckhart Tolle) the ego’s only purpose and desire is to survive. It will do ANYTHING to survive and be satisfied. The only problem is, it’s NEVER satisfied, which is why all these things we THINK we want really aren’t what we want. The great Joseph Campbell said to “follow your bliss” (i.e., do what makes you truly happy), which is just another way of saying exactly what you just said. The old ’60s saying, “If it feels good, do it” was so misunderstood. That, in fact, is what life is really all about . . . being truly happy and doing what makes us feel good. There’s nothing more important than that! Thanks, Steve, for a great article!

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