Different Kinds of 'Want'

June 12, 2018

Today I was thinking about my personal plans for the near future.

Reflecting regularly, choosing things to work on and setting goals is something I like to do - this makes it easier to navigate weekly and daily tasks, see what’s really important and what one should not worry about.

You need something to plan towards

As there’s no pressing issues I need to address, my guiding question was: “What do I want?”.

How do I want my future to look like? What aspects or things are important to me? What goals or more abstract aspects do I want to make possible?

Doing so, I realized there’s way more nuance and depth to this simple question. Looking closer, there’s quite a few opportunities to learn and things to consider.

“What do I want” is a pretty good starting point, but you can get more out of it by distinguishing further, seeing what you’re actually doing and what you chose not to act on for various reasons.

I decided to take a harder look at the things I “want”, and came up with the following categories:

Category: Want

Stuff I care about, and which does not fit in the more-nuanced “want” categories further below.

I like to think of those as “assumptions to be tested”. I feel like I want them in theory. But will I choose to act on them?

Category: Don’t want

This one is helpful, but kinda dull and obvious. You usually come up with a list once, and then single entries might join it, or be discarded.

It does not change much, and there’s just so much to gain from it.

Category: Want, but should I?

Things I’m considering every once in a while, but repeatedly deciding that I should not pursue them.

This may be because I feel that they will require too much time, take away attention from more important matters or will not be “in sync” with the other stuff I do. Being conscious about the “want, but no” category is very worthwhile.

Category: Want, could, but don’t

This one is pretty interesting. You may want something, have all means to act on it, but in the past you never actually did.

The least you can do, is to acknowledge those things. Are there insights to gain from the fact you don’t actually act on these “wants”? Why do you think you want them? Do you really? Are there resistances/barriers you’re not aware of, or are those things “proxy wants” for something else?

Category: Want, but I shouldn’t?

“Guilty” pleasures. They don’t seem to be in sync with your wants, but you do them anyway.

There’s something to learn here. Do you really don’t want them, or do you “want to not want” those? Why?

Category: I do these, but it’s not a strong yes or no

The daily grind. Cleaning your place, doing dishes. “Chop wood and carry water”. Those are things which you spend considerable time on, kinda need, but don’t feel strongly about.

Category: Not listed

My favourite category. Reviewing all your lists and items - is there something which is missing. I don’t mean something you forgot by accident. Just something which you feel should be there, but isn’t.

“What’s missing here? What isn’t happening?” is such a fascinating question to ask.

It’s something which should be important according to your self-perception. In theory. But you don’t actually care that much about it right now.

Are those things which you take for granted by accident?

In Conclusion

Funny enough, writing small blog posts, not on my main professional topic always was in my “Want, but should I” category. I chose not to act on it, without making it a conscious choice. Discarding the possibility with a vague feeling that my time is better spend writing about tech and business stuff.

Realizing that it was something I really wanted, but didn’t let myself do, lead to giving it proper thought and reconsidering.

I’m happy I did! There’s a lot of similar things I learned from doing this exercise, and I think there’ll be more value for myself from repeating it in a few months.

If you’re in a position to make plans, but haven’t dug into the details of the stuff you want, you should give this little exercise a try.