Recently, I’ve become more aware of a phenomena where people tend to want things they actually don’t want. This is something I find myself doing quite a bit and only realized it recently. Perhaps you aren’t sure if you are even doing this. It’s a difficult line to figure out if you are investing too much time into things you don’t want, because often what we want can and does change, and it is difficult to work at the things you do want. There are so many opportunities for people to try new things and we are constantly meeting new people. With social media there are constant reminders of all the opportunities you could be missing or all the things you could be trying. The world is filled with so many exciting things to try, yet so little time. Often many of these things are attainable and even cheap, yet finding the time to do these things is a struggle, which leads to us feeling faced with the problem of wanting more than we can have. As a result, some of us (including myself) have tried to spread ourselves thin by attempting to do it all. This could be as simple as taking several different classes at once while holding a full-time job, putting in more hours at work to earn a promotion or make more money, agreeing to help a friend with an event where you will need to commit 20 hours a week or deciding to spend more time with new friends because of the new opportunities they may provide to you. This is great if it’s something you genuinely want and when you have the time to invest and prioritize it appropriately, but sometimes that is not the case for everyone.
Here are some signs you may be investing in things you genuinely don’t want for yourself.
- You become envious over what people do too easily. For instance, maybe you just want to drop an additional 20 pounds or fit into one of your favorite dresses. You are currently struggling to go to the gym, but you still go several times a week. You’ve even been eating healthier and you are seeing results. Then you discover how an old friend that you haven’t spoken with for several years just completed a marathon and has suddenly started teaching yoga. You find yourself jealous and wishing you could run a marathon and teach yoga too. Then you become less satisfied with your current goals that you have already set for yourself, and feel like you should be setting a higher goal such as completing a marathon or teaching athletic classes. This mismatch can lead to you feeling dissatisfied with goals you have set for yourself and constantly feeling incomplete because there are other people out there setting higher and different goals for themselves that you feel you must match.
- You neglect the things and people that do matter to you. People often take things for granted, and it can be easy to take for granted that you have solid friendships, a loving partner, an established career and so on. When we find ourselves investing in things that don’t actually matter to us, we leave less time and investment into what does matter. Some examples could include you wanting to focus on trying new things so much that you end up giving up one of your true passions of playing tennis. This may be okay for a few months, but you may neglect tennis for years as a result. Perhaps you were chasing after what you think are exciting new friendships and people that you didn’t notice that the people who do matter, such as your family and friends are not getting enough time with you, and that slowly you are drifting apart or have even lost some relationships in the process. Neglect can and does happen when we tend to focus too hard on things that we truly don’t want, but think we should want. Some call this the grass is greener effect. Basically because we are always looking around the corner for something better and exciting, we end up not taking care and appreciating the people who have always been by our side and love us.
- Your accomplishments are not enough. Once something is finished, you feel incomplete. When I was in secondary school, life seemed very simple. I had a couple of long-term goals which included finishing school and getting into a good university. These goals were achievable and something that I could work at consistently. However, in the last several years, my goals have multiplied. Some of my goals in the last few years alone included completing graduate school, having a higher paying job, switching careers, moving to another country, finding a long-term partner, traveling the world, starting a charitable organization, completing a marathon and the list could go on and on. Having many goals isn’t a bad thing, but what I tended to do, is complete something and focus on what was missing, rather than simply being happy that I achieved a goal. For instance, when I finally completed my graduate degree, my focus was still on what was lacking in my career than celebrating the fact that I had finished. The truth is, as humans, we are always striving for a greater purpose. However, life ideally should not feel incomplete. There will very rarely be moments where everything seems just right and simply perfect. Life is a journey. When we find ourselves constantly feeling incomplete and looking for the next thing, then this will likely only lead to dissatisfaction.
- You find yourself feeling very little when achieving something. This can be a big indicator that you are investing your time in something that genuinely does not matter to you. Again, please focus on the fact that I said once you have achieved something you may feel very little. I’m not referring to the journey or process. Doing something we love such as learning to play a musical instrument can be challenging, frustrating and not the most pleasant experience at times. Yet, you should feel happy and proud when you finally reach that moment where you can successfully play a song. The same goes for larger goals as well. I used to always want to be a clinical psychologist. My family and friends encouraged me to go down this path and felt it was a natural fit with my personality. Thankfully, before going into graduate school, I realized that psychology did not make me happy and I felt very little from actually doing psychological research. I focused on a different career path and genuinely feel happier.
Okay so now for the tough part. Maybe you are finding that you are desiring too much or things that you genuinely don’t want. What do you do?
Be honest with what you do want. The key here is to actually be honest and this can be a long-term process for you. The reason this process is difficult is because you may have already invested quite a bit of time into something you genuinely don’t want. Also, acknowledging that you have spent so much time investing into things you don’t want can lead to disappointment. How can you give up those cooking lessons if you have already invested a year and hundreds of dollars into it?
Perhaps your image to other people has changed dramatically that people would be surprised that you actually don’t like doing something. How can you stop going to the bar with other friends and focus on different interests when your friends are used to you going out for drinks with them every weekend? How can you switch your careers when you know your parents will be disappointed in you?
Perhaps you may have neglected the things that do matter so much that actually trying to rectify that situation can be scary. How can I get back into dancing when I haven’t danced in years? How can I apologize to my best friend after not spending any time with her over the last year? How can I ask for forgiveness from my husband?
The process of being honest with yourself and others will be scary. You may have to give up things that you have invested a great deal of time, money and energy into. There may be a learning curve with getting back into old hobbies. You may need to apologize to people who mean a great deal to you. It can be scary to admit to yourself that you simply just can’t do it all. Asking for forgiveness and being a better partner or friend to another person can be challenging and scary at first. However, the rewards of investing in what you actually want far outweigh the regrets from investing into things and people that you don’t really want in your life.
Choose what you want to let go or focus your energy on less. Now that you have been honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want, be honest about what you have to give up to get what you do want. This process is also difficult and scary, but essential if you want to focus on the things that do matter. Doing the things that we do want require sacrifice. I’m not just referring to the sacrifice of time needed to do what we want, but the sacrifice of opportunity. For instance, to be a committed partner to the love of your life, you have to sacrifice some (not all) opportunities with your friends and hobbies to spend quality time with your partner. To be a better father you may need to sacrifice some work opportunities to spend time with your children. To pursue that career you may need to sacrifice some fun opportunities. Again, I’m using the word “some” specifically. I don’t believe for most situations you need to completely give up things to have what you want, but many of the things we do want just need to have a higher priority in our lives. The only way to prioritize someone or something is by investing more of your focus into that person or thing. This requires us to lessen the investment on things that should not be prioritized as highly. This process will be full of trial and errors, but over time you’ll eventually strike a natural balance of how to prioritize and focus on what you want appropriately.
Let go of some of your desires. The next step is to accept that we simply cannot have everything we want when we want. This is simply not realistic. Lessening your desires will help you truly appreciate what you do have and help you let go of any feelings of being inadequate because you simply do not have everything right now. Understanding that achieving certain goals may take a great deal of time will also help you lessen your desires. You don’t have to do X, Y or Z today, tomorrow or even this year. We have a whole lifetime to achieve some of our desires.
In our lifetime it is just not realistic to be able to do pretty much everything, and that’s not a bad thing either. Spending more time on a few things allows you to truly be successful at those things while still nourishing your personal relationships. When you split yourself between too many tasks, interests and trying to keep everyone happy, the end result is typically not having the time and energy to succeed in any just one thing. Working to be happy with what you have and having realistic expectations for your own life will help increase the happiness in your life and help you value the things and people you genuinely want in your life.
I leave you with this question: What do you really and truly want?