Tell me what you want ...
... what you really, really want. It's a simple request, isn't it? Yet the answer is often superficial and ill thought through.
We answer from the here and now, looking back on what has already happened, then wonder why we remain in our ruts, unable to stop the repeat pattern.
If I am out in the cold, I just want to come indoors and sit in front of a fire.
If I am hungry, I want to eat something - anything! - right now.
If I am tired, I want to sleep.
Basically, I just want the pain to go away, without any real idea of how to live life without being cold, hungry or tired.
Thinking about our future is complicated by being busy doing stuff all the time. Usually it is other peoples' stuff that lands urgently and must be dealt with NOW. A baby is crying, the house is on fire, the boss needs something that only we can provide. Or we have another weekly team Zoom meeting to attend (often without a clear agenda or decision to be made).
Our reaction is to swap long-term ideas for short-term deliverables that allow us to tick off another item in our list. We build a 'to do' list that relegates our own, longer-term thinking to some mythical time in the future 'when I have a minute to myself'.
Of course, that minute never arrives. And, often, we don't want it to! It is difficult to apply ourselves to financial planning, our careers, building relationships or thinking about how we want our lives to be in the longer term. It may mean making difficult choices, changing things, taking risks, or being brave. Usually all of those things.
No, much easier to reorganise our email filing, colour code our diaries or binge-watch a box set. Even though none of them make any real difference, we know we can achieve those things with ease and, for a moment, we will feel good.
Let me take you for a moment to the beginning of the 20th century. Manufacturers were reaping the benefits of the machine age to build desirable product ranges and successful businesses. These businesses were based on products that many people wanted, thanks partly to the increased power of advertising. They wanted to increase their customer bases, sell more products, and make more profit to become even more successful (or simply, richer!).
Yet Henry Ford famously said that, if he had asked them what they wanted, and they would have said 'a faster horse'. They could see that distribution and delivery were key, but they looked only at what they knew to see the solution. They weren't looking forward or thinking broadly enough to see the possibilities brought about by the invention of the motor vehicle and the availability of crude oil in the USA. Henry Ford took the time to look at the future, stepped in with his production line approach to make the motor vehicle affordable, and the rest is history.
And, back in the 2020s, so it is with our own futures. We react to cold, hunger and tiredness with immediate solutions because we have experience of those things. We need to clear our minds and break the loops in our thinking so we can see beyond the 'faster horse'.
But, first, we need to understand what it is we really, really want. If we are unhappy in our current job, why is that? If we are running away from a bad boss, what are we running towards? If we feel frustrated, what would make us feel happy and fulfilled?
What are we really good at that sparks us into 3D technicolour? And I don't mean those things we have needed to become proficient at. Can we imagine how will life be when we are living in that colourful world?
Once we can carve out dedicated time to visualise this, we can see where we need to be and plan accordingly to make it happen. The 'to do' list becomes the 'to be' list. We start to fend off other peoples' stuff that doesn't help us to get there. We prioritise the things that breathe life into our vision.
And if someone says 'Tell me what you want, what you really, really want', we can.
With apologies to the Spice Girls ☺️.