• Tania Manczarek, LCSW

Do You Know What You Want? How to figure out what you want when you don't know.

Today I’m covering a really important topic that I see as often being at the core of many of our challenges and unhappiness and something that can cause a lot of distress-- not knowing what we truly want. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded with activities, responsibilities and things that are demanding our attention. We may be left feeling overwhelmed, overloaded, deeply unsatisfied and confused about how to get out of the vicious cycle that life can create with endless busyness. We know we're not happy but we don't know where to start. I say, go back to the basics, back to figuring out what you truly want. What do I mean? Western society has come a long way in the past 50 years in it's awareness of self-development, psychology and acknowledgment of other healing modalities. But before we follow another new self-help fad, cleansing diet, or attend another motivational workshop, we first have to start at the beginning—what is it we really want and need in our life to be happy? When asked this question, most people will commonly respond, “I need money.” Now while I’m not going to argue that money isn’t necessary in allowing us to pay for our basic needs and in having some of the comforts of life, I also know it tends to be a distraction and often an excuse. Money is an easy thing to blame our unhappiness on and it doesn’t in fact really tell us what will make us happy. Money is only a piece of paper or a number on a screen that has a symbolic and energetic value. And even if we had all the money we wanted, after buying the new house, the new car, boat, clothes, electronics and traveling everywhere we wanted to go, the initial excitement and joy would eventually fade and we’d be right back where we started, unhappy or unsatisfied.

The fastest path to happiness and well-being, I believe, always starts with first understanding what we want and need in life. I don't mean the generalities of food, shelter, clothing, etc. I’m talking about our deepest needs, passions and purpose. For example, here are a few questions to get you thinking: What was it that you always dreamed of doing as a little kid?

What were your passions and favorite hobbies when you were young?

What are your passions in life now (besides making money)?

What are the things that give you a sense of excitement and energy when you think about them?

What are the types of people that energize and inspire you?

Do you have a vision of what your life will look like when you are truly happy with yourself and passionate about all aspects of your life?

What are your personal goals in life? The things that you know you were put on this earth to do? Without being able to answer these kinds questions, the path to happiness will be much more complicated and confusing. Sure, you could get lucky and stumble upon something that changes your life completely, but even with a big awakening, we still have to be grounded and come back to the logistics of realizing our dreams and passions, otherwise we can get overwhelmed and confused all over again. So what to do now? If you’re feeling lost or unhappy in any areas of your life this is what I recommend to start: 1. Take 10-15 minutes each day by yourself The most important tool I can offer you is simply to carve out at least 10-15 minutes each day to be by yourself in a quiet space. This could be in the morning before your day gets started, before you go to bed, or anytime throughout the day. It really doesn’t matter. It will give you the space and time you need to start thinking about what you really want. Without regular time to yourself, your mind will constantly be distracted by other things. And no matter how busy we are, we can always find 10 minutes or so in a day for something as important as this.

2. Start asking yourself what you really want Use the questions above to get you started and have a journal or something to write on at hand. Each time you come back to these questions, first take some deep breaths and get yourself in a more relaxed frame of mind. This will make it a lot easier for the answers to come forth. Close your eyes if this is helpful to tune out any distractions and then go through the questions one at a time giving each one enough time to really think it through. Write down whatever comes to you without judging it. Don’t expect to go through all the questions in one day. In fact, I don't recommend it. Ideally, take one question per day or over a few days if you need. The more importance you give to the questions, the more benefit you will get. 3. Listen to your intuition for answers Our minds are often over-preoccupied with daily life and are sometimes on automatic pilot. We move from one activity to another just trying to survive and manage our lives. The problem with this is over time, we lose contact with our intuition and the wisdom of our bodies which are constantly trying to guide us. So, when you first start to ask these questions, it's possible you might feel a bit overwhelmed or feel like you don't really know what you want. If this happens, take some deep breaths, close your eyes and ask yourself only one of the questions. Allow whatever first pops into your head to guide you. Often, when we remove our analytical minds from the equation, our subconscious mind, as well as our intuition, can start communicating. The point being, try not to overthink these questions, but use them as a guide to connect back to your wisdom and your true self. For some more help connecting to your intuition and developing it further, check out my article, "Connecting With Your Intuition." 4. Go to places where you feel inspired and peaceful If you’ve never really asked yourself what you truly want in life to be happy, and it feels overwhelming, I also recommend going to a place(s) where you feel happy, peaceful or inspired to answer these questions. Think about the places you like to go normally to relax and feel at peace. It could be somewhere in nature, a church, a meditation hall, the beach or a park, for example. It doesn’t really matter, just as long as it’s a place where you feel peaceful. By putting yourself in a place that is grounding and calming, it will help you to access the answers to these questions easier and more honestly. You may even be surprised by the answers that come up for you when you’re in a more relaxed frame of mind.

5. Start trying new things for inspiration

If you feel like you're stuck in a rut and you know you're wanting something else in your life like a new career, passion project, interest or hobby or maybe you're trying to figure out your purpose, one way to find clarity is through getting inspired by trying new things and meeting new people. New ideas and life experiences are empowering because we get the opportunity to learn about different aspects of ourselves, our capabilities and interests by stepping out of our comfort zones and being exposed to new situations, ideas and people. For example, you might have always wanted to learn to salsa dance but never gave it much thought or attention because it didn't seem important enough in your day-to-day life. However, by taking that class you might discover a new joy and passion you didn't know you had that inspires you to explore more creative endeavors in your life. Or, you might meet a new friend or interesting person who inspires you as well in some aspect of your life. We never know what will inspire us until we engage with life in a way that is playful, creative and gives us permission to explore something new. In other words, you will not find new ideas and solutions when feeling lost or confused, by doing the same things over and over. So get out there and try something new!

6. Get support If the questions from above just feel too overwhelming to answer or you just don’t have any idea of what you really want in your life, get help from someone you trust that can guide you and help you better understand what’s blocking you from connecting to your needs and wants. Often, life has a sort of frenetic momentum of it’s own that sort of sweeps us up with it like a tornado. It can be hard to get perspective when we’re swirling around inside of the tornado and don’t know how to get out of it. It’s at these times that it’s really critical to talk to someone you trust who, rather than telling you what you should be doing in your life, is there as a sounding-board and support-system to help you decide for yourself what you truly need. This kind of support, at the right moment can make huge changes for us as I’ve seen it happen many, many times.

7. Be patient with yourself

If we're not used to asking ourselves what we truly want or our lives just feel too chaotic or overwhelming, it can take time to understand what to do and how to figure it out. Hopefully, these guidelines will start to point you in the right direction, but even still, you'll want to be patient with yourself in this process. And the larger the decision you're trying to make, the more time it may need to get clear. If you find yourself agonizing over trying to know what you want, take a break from making any decisions. It might mean part of you isn't quite ready yet because figuring out what you want may show you that you need to make some changes or let some things go. Sometimes our hesitation in knowing what we want is that we're afraid of the answers that may come. It's ok to be nervous or even scared of potential change, but it doesn't need to stop you from moving forward in your life. Again, if fear is stalling your ability to know what you want, get support around this so you don't stay stuck. Be compassionate and kind with yourself in the process because self-imposed pressure and force are the opposite energies of inspiration and clarity which are what you will want to cultivate in this process.

Finally, once you become more clear on what it is you truly need and want in your life and what your personal goals are, then it will be easier to figure out what steps you need to take to get there. Of course there will be barriers and fears that come up when we start moving in the direction of our needs and dreams, but again, without knowing in your heart what you are moving towards, the chance of it ever happening will be close to zero so take time and make space in your life to explore the possibilities. Who knows, you might even have fun!