These two things are not the same.

“It's a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy. ”

Lucille Ball

lucilleIn keeping with the theme of simple versus easy (I know that was last month's theme, but I meant to post this last weekend and then got all distracted by vacation), I decided to take a look at a common distinction that seems to evade a lot of us, myself very much included. The distinction is between knowing what you want, and knowing what you don't want. The difference is simple, right? Easy? Not so much, it seems.

This is a trap into which I often fall, so I can empathize with clients who find it tricky to shift their thinking from avoiding what they don't want to experience to creating what they desire. For some of us, it's so much easier to say what we don't want than to own our "selfish" desires and say what we want, instead. Chances are, if you're like me, you were trained in this way of thinking and speaking from a very young age. It's been second nature. You may not even realize you're doing it (I didn't. This distinction sat square in the middle of my blind spot. It still does, from time to time, too.).

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, here are a few examples:

  • "I want to not have to worry about money," as opposed to "I want to make $100K a year."
  • "I want you to not say things that make me feel unsupported," as opposed to "I want you to say you love me and that you believe in me."
  • "I just want to not be bored at work," as opposed to "I want to find a career that lets me be creative and inspired."
  • "I just don't want to feel this way," as opposed to "I want to feel fun and happy and free."

I'm not saying that the phrases at the beginning of the sentences above are wrong and the ones at the end are right; I'm just asserting that one way of thinking and speaking has a different flavour, which might taste a little more delicious and give a little better direction when it comes to making choices. Can you see how the first phrases leave the speaker at effect, or a victim, to their lives? The second phrase is where the person can try on being at cause, or responsible, for creating what they want to see.

Still not getting it? Okay, here's a conversation that probably any of us can own:

"Where do you want to go for dinner?"

 "I don't know."

"Okay. Well, what do you feel like eating?"

"I dunno. What do you think?"

"Uh, okay: How about Italian?"

"No, I don't want pasta. All those carbs..."

"Wanna hit up that great little pizza place in the village?"

"Mmm, no. I don't really feel like pizza."



"Thai? Chinese? Japanese?"

"Nah. I'm not feeling like those, either."

"Do you want to stay in, then, and make something?"

"Not really. I don't know. You pick, but not somewhere I don't want to go."

At this point, person one probably walks to the nearest wall, against which they begin to hit their head repeatedly.

It can be super frustrating to have a conversation like the one above, right? There you are, trying to create options and the person seems dead set on shooting them all down, without providing any suggestions or direction as to what they'd like to do, instead. The frustration we experience as person number one might make it hard to employ compassion or sympathy for their indecision and lack of awareness of what might make person number two happy.

Expressing what you don't want makes it hard for people (including yourself, by the way) and the universe to manifest what you're looking for. After all, how do you create the absence of a thing? That's quite the sleight of hand. Knowing what you don't want only reduces your options by one or two; it doesn't narrow down the unending plethora of choices that remain.

If someone asks you, "What do you want for your birthday?" or "I want to support you; what can I do to help you right now?" and you say, "Well, let me tell you what I don't want: ..." and then proceed to list anywhere between one and an infinite number of things you wish to not receive, well, you haven't really answered the question, have you? I mean, do you want a hug? A glittery tiara (my answer to that is always yes)? A pony? A kick in the head? I could go on (and on), but I think you get the idea.

[Tweet "It turns out that knowing what you don't want is not the same as knowing what it is you do want."]

Added to all of that, if we're only looking out for what we want to avoid, we miss all the good stuff flying by, too. After all, remember what happens when you're driving and looking at the ditch/fence you want to avoid? Yeah, you end up in it (the ditch or the fence), wondering how you got stuck in there when you were so diligently keeping a lookout for it.


My assertion (based on extensive empirical evidence including and not limited to clients and myself and, in general, all humans that I know) is that, for better or for worse, we tend to create that upon which we train our eyes, our thoughts and our actions. So, if all you can think of is how you don't want the following:

  • a relationship in which you feel taken for granted, or
  • a job that is boring, or
  • to work/live where you currently are, or
  • to look/feel the way you currently do;

well then, my guess is that, while it's a good start to know that you're currently dissatisfied, you're probably reliable to continue generating the same circumstances that generate the same results. If that's too airy fairy for you, then how about this: It's like finding a new pimple (hey, we all get 'em) and then continuing to touch it, only to see it grow and get more angry looking. Every time you look at your face in the mirror, you'll be looking for the pimple.

It's the same way you (and I, and every other human being I know) tend to look in the mirror and only see your flaws. The parts you don't like. You don't focus on what you like about yourself ("Hey, my hair looks great today!" or "Day-um, I got strong legs!"), because what continually catches your eye are the things you need to fix (and may well be the things that provide infinite dissatisfaction because you are refusing to accept a physical truth with love and compassion, no less).

Now, if your superpowers enabled you to create exactly what you dreamed/imagined/reminded yourself that you wanted in your life, what might you focus on? If the sky was the limit and you could magically call into existence whatever you thought about, then what would you choose to think about, knowing that your thoughts would make it a reality?


PS  What if that last paragraph wasn't theoretical?

PPS  Here's a secret: That last paragraph isn't rhetorical. Try it out.