Have you ever found yourself torn between what you want to do and what you think you should do?
It’s a classic conflict.
Heart versus logic.
Short-term gratification versus long-term rewards.
Can we trust our desires to lead us on the right path? Or do we need to tame and control them?
Desire pulls us forward. It is often how our inner wisdom speaks to us. But we learned not to trust it.
We are afraid that if we follow our desires, we will end up eating all the cake, spending all our money and bankrupting our business.
We need to resolve the “want versus should” conflict to find peace. Learn to be OK with our decisions without resentment or guilt.
When should we trust, and when should we discipline our desires?
Here are eight ideas to consider:
1. Going against your desires is more likely to lead to mediocrity than success
I once worked with a personal trainer twice a week for over a year and saw almost no difference in my body.
I was not enjoying the process, and a part of me resisted it. Despite the intensity of the workouts, the results were mediocre.
Once I changed to ways of movement I enjoyed, like yoga and walking, I stayed consistent. I saw a significant difference in my strength and flexibility.
Here is what I have noticed: I have never been successful in doing something I did not want to do.
Yes, I have managed to get by. Pass the test, stay employed.
But I never rocked it when I was not driven by joy and desire.
When I followed what I wanted to do and had fun, opportunities kept coming my way like there was no tomorrow.
Most successful people, from Steve Jobs to Richard Branson, talked about the importance of doing something you love.
Why, then, do we think we need to do things we do not enjoy to be successful?
What has been your experience? How have enjoyment and success correlated in your life? Reply and let me know.
2. Going with the flow helps us reach our destination faster
During my first month in Costa Rica, I enjoyed exploring the country, cooking, swimming, yoga, hiking, and paddleboarding. Also, hanging out with my family.
I started feeling guilty that I should be working harder on my book.
My coach helped me see that if I trust myself to do what I feel like doing, the book will likely come out better and easier.
What if the best ideas for my book come while I am paddleboarding or zip-lining?
I did not move to the other side of the world to continue doing what I was doing in London.
Forcing our “shoulds” on ourselves is like stepping on the hose with our foot and wondering why no water is coming out. We blocked the flow.
We have this fear that if we let ourselves free, we would never do anything productive.
But that is not true. We have desires for growth, impact and meaning.
Happy people create things. And when you go with the flow, you reach a better destination faster.
3. When we have solid information, we tend to make the best decision for the highest good of all
Most of us make mistakes and wrong decisions, not because our judgment is bad but because we have false information or context.
Once I saw how having a sugary breakfast affected my energy and mood during the day, I stopped having it.
I do not like sugar crashes, especially when they wake me up at 3:00 a.m. at night.
The problem was that in the past, I had no idea that how I felt was so intimately connected to my diet. My fatigue or irritability were often symptoms of a blood sugar rollercoaster.
I had to hire an expert, make changes, monitor results and even put a glucose monitor on for a couple of weeks to connect the dots.
Once I became more informed, I did not need discipline to make better decisions. Once I knew what I was missing by continuing on my old ways, there was no internal conflict anymore. I simply did what was best for my health and happiness.
If I show you a shorter path to go to your work, you will not need discipline to take it the next day.
Once you know better, you do better. Accurate information will often dissolve the conflict between wants and shoulds. Because what we really want is the highest good for all.
You do not have to go against yourself. You just need to get better information and see things differently.
4. It is not about resisting desires; it is about integrating them
I want to continue with the example of sugar, as it is something that most of us can relate to.
Is our instinct to eat sweets wrong and needs to be tamed?
In a world of hunters and gatherers, the only sweet food was fruits. Fruits were only available for a limited time of the year.
We like sweet things because of their caloric density and the quick energy they provide. Also sweetness indicates that a fruit is ripe and, therefore, has more nutritional value. Finally, it was a safety indicator – poisonous and spoilt foods are not sweet.
Our sweet tooth worked great to help us survive and even thrive.
Unfortunately, now sugar has been extracted from the fruits, condensed and injected into everything.
Our instincts, which served us once upon a time, are now taken advantage of and manipulated by billion-dollar corporations. All to make us consume more.
Should we stop trusting ourselves and our desires?
Well, it is not so much about going against our desires but seeing all our desires holistically.
I desire the sugar dopamine hit and pleasure. I also want a good night’s sleep (which does not happen on a sugar roller coaster for me). I desire consistent energy and a good mood rather than fatigue and irritability. I desire to feel and look healthy.
It is not about going against my desires. It is about connecting to all my desires and taking the appropriate action.
Sometimes, that means a protein-heavy breakfast. Sometimes, it will mean a sweet treat. As long as I am conscious and in harmony with all of my desires, I let go of the conflict and guilt.
5. There is no action purely geared toward long-term benefit without any short-term benefit
Exercise, cold water plunging and meditation are known for their long-term benefits.
But, also, they release immediate endorphins feel-good hormones. Crazy, huh?
Our body is designed to make pleasurable in the moment something uncomfortable but good for us.
Every action aimed at long-term benefit also offers some form of short-term gain.
Take retirement funds, for example. You might feel that you “want” to spend the money on a new pair of shoes, while you “should” be investing it for your future self.
Once you start seeing the immediate pleasure, freedom and peace of mind that comes from seeing your net worth growing, you start wanting to invest in your pension.
Once you align the short-term and long-term benefits, one of the most significant internal conflicts of your life disappears. What you want to enjoy now versus what you should do for your future start to come together.
What is the short-term benefit of your “shoulds”?
6. Our “shoulds” are shaped by others and are often misleading
We live in an achievement-driven, comparison culture. The financial system needs us to work and consume more to keep growing.
No wonder we feel that we constantly need to be doing something. Sacrifice the now for tomorrow. Be productive. Aim for more.
We see others doing things and being successful. And we think we “should” do them too.
I “should” start a podcast, I was thinking. Most of the coaches I have hired have a podcast. The podcast works for them because they love it.
This newsletter works for me because I love writing it.
Most of our shoulds come from social conditioning and comparison. They stand in the way of living in a way that will make us feel fulfilled and happy.
7. Isn’t doing what we want to do the whole point?
Remember the story of the fisherman enjoying time with his wife and guitar? An MBA advised him to work harder and build a fishing empire. So that at some point in the future, he can enjoy time with his wife and his guitar.
Keeping ourselves from doing what we want to do defeats the point.
Work hard, follow the rules, so what? We think that if we sacrifice the now, we will get a better tomorrow. That is rarely true.
If we cannot enjoy the now, we are unlikely to enjoy any point in the future. We will get addicted to postponing gratification. We will keep chasing self-worth by doing and achieving more but never finding it enough.
8. Are our wants and shoulds driven by love?
The best way I have found to choose between a want and a “should” is to discern which one is driven by love.
Is making myself work when my kids swim on the beach driven by love? Sometimes, it is caused by love for my craft, clients, business and family.
Other times, it will be driven by fear. Fear that the money coming in is insufficient or that I must constantly be on to succeed.
Is eating a particular meal driven by love? Love for my body and the food? Or am I using food to punish myself or distract myself from my emotions?
When you are in a dilemma on what to do, ask yourself: Which option is more aligned with love?
Call to action
What if we really tuned in to our body? Eat what nurtures us and makes us feel good now and later.
Moved in a way that makes us happy? Slept when we were tired?
What if we allowed ourselves to do work we love? And allowed ourselves to play when we felt like playing.
What if we lived a life without fighting ourselves? Without guilt and shame?
What if we could let go of shoulds driven by societal norms and what works for other people and connected to our authentic selves?
What if we could trust ourselves to distinguish between self-sabotaging impulses and desires rooted in love, joy and growth? And we could allow ourselves to be guided by the second?
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