Getting where we want to go and having the things we want to have seem to be the biggest concerns of the average person. We have dreams of more money, bigger houses, nicer clothes, more free time, nicer holidays, and the perfect lifestyle. We spend our time working hard for the promotion that will give us a little bit more cash, or getting ourselves into debt so we can have the all the nice things, or slaving away on our side projects to pay for that gym membership, or the designer clothes, or the expensive holiday.
But we never quite seem to be where we want to be. There is always the guy down the street who has a nicer car than ours, or a bigger apartment, or bigger muscles. There is always something new, better, fancier, that we need to make our lives more complete, and without it we fear we won’t be cool enough, popular enough, stylish enough, or good enough.
The problem with this constant state of wanting is that while we are in it we will never be satisfied. Of course, there are benefits to having more money, as having none is pretty unpleasant. But at what point do we have enough? When will we have satisfied that sense of wanting for the new car, or the new outfit, or the next big thing?
The truth is that wanting that next big thing will never deliver the next big thing no matter how hard you work or how much money you have. Because even when you have it, it’s no longer the next big thing. There’s always another big thing. Always something else to want, some other thing to desire, some new urge for satisfaction. Every time we get the thing we want, the joy doesn’t last long before we find ourselves in the tortuous state of wanting again. And this time the pull is stronger than it was before.
So how do we cope with this constant cycle of dissatisfaction, this constant urge for more, without losing our momentum for improvement, and without ceasing our endeavours for a better life or a better world?
We acknowledge our goals, our wants and our desires. And then we let them go.
This doesn’t mean that we should give up. It doesn’t mean we should acquiesce. It simply means releasing ourselves from the tension of wanting. And ironically, doing so can often bring us the thing we wanted much more painlessly and quickly than we expected – if you approach it with the right perspective.
There are four steps to ‘letting go’ in order to achieve the things you want. And it applies to anything you can think of, not just wanting. You can let go of fear, anxiety, negative thinking. You can use letting go to summon the courage for public speaking, to overcome phobias or take on huge tasks like running a marathon. Once you understand that letting go is one of the most powerful tools you can employ to get you want you want, your life will not only be more content, but you will no longer be controlled by your wants and desires, whatever they may be.
3.Getting what you want won’t stop you wanting
Wanting is not caused by the thing you want, but instead it is a feeling that comes from within. Companies know this and play on it. Why do you think they produce five new iPhone models every year? Why do you feel the urge to upgrade to the next new model the moment you see it advertised with loud music and bright colours on television? The scientists at Apple aren’t working as hard as all that for the benefit of mankind, to expand our collective technical knowledge, each with a personal mission to make the best smartphone ever. No, they’re working that hard because they want your money and they know you won’t be able resist the next shiny thing they advertise. It doesn’t matter how well your current iPhone works, it doesn’t matter that it still does a million amazing things that people fifty years ago wouldn’t have been able to comprehend, you want the new one. You will always want the new one. And when you have the new one, there will be another even better one to want. It never stops. You’ll always be hungry for more.
2.Understand that wanting hurts you
Wanting is a sense of lacking and as such is a form of stress and a negative state of being. It says that where we are now isn’t good enough. It makes us want to be somewhere else and tells us that what we’ve got isn’t good enough, shiny enough, big enough, expensive enough or new enough. It says we won’t happy until we have something better, until we become better, until we are someplace better with better people and better clothes.
But when we understand that it’s not the ‘lack of the better thing’ that is making us unhappy, it’s the ‘wanting’ of the better thing that makes us unhappy, we start to become free. Once we realise we are experiencing the inner tension of ‘wanting’ not because we don’t have the nice stuff, but because we believe having the nice stuff will make our lives better, then we see that tension for what it is and we can start to let go of it. We can learn to separate the ‘wanting’ from ourselves and from the thing we want, treat it as its own separate entity, and then try to eliminate it.
Once we can grapple with that, we are ready to move to step three.
3.Look at what you’ve got, right here, right now
When we want something new, when we want to be somewhere else, with someone else, or even as someone else, we do a disservice to where we are right now. We do a disservice to the place we’re in, the things we have, the person we’re with, and even the person we are.
If we go back to the metaphor of the iPhone, instead of putting so much energy into desiring the new model, what if you were to put that energy into making the most of the one you’ve got. Put some time into clearing out some of those apps you haven’t used in a year. Back up some of the photos to your computer, and clear some of your phone’s memory. Use it, enjoy it, reconnect with it.
What about the place you’re in now? Take a look and start to appreciate it. Perhaps the garden needs weeding, so weed it. Perhaps the kitchen needs a coat of paint, so paint it.
What about the person you’re with? When was the last time you had date night? When was the last time you told them what they meant to you? When was the last time you did something nice for them for no reason other than to show that you love them?
What about the person you are? When did you last spend some time alone in a darkened room just breathing, being yourself, and appreciating yourself? When did you last drink two litres of water? When did you last visit the dentist? When did you last cook yourself a hearty, healthy meal?
When you put the energy you would have used wanting something new, into appreciating – being grateful for – everything you have now, suddenly that new things seem less desirable than they did before. Suddenly what you’ve already got seems pretty good, thanks very much.
4.Let go of the want, fall in love with the process.
The problem with ‘wanting’ is that it doesn’t get us anywhere. Wanting is an itch that you can’t scratch. It’s like saying “I want to be in Paris, but I don’t want to do any travelling to get there.” One is not possible without the other.
But, paradoxically, when you fall in love with the process, you can have anything you want, as long as you forget about what you want. It’s like choosing to walk in the direction of Paris, but focusing on doing the best possible job of taking the first step, then the second, then the third.
Think about it, if you want to run a marathon, you don’t just turn up on marathon day ready to go. You start by running to the end of the street. Then you run to the next street. And then you run further and further. You fall in love with and master the art of running. You become a runner. You spend your spare time going for runs. It becomes something you love, and something you practice. And the marathon looks after itself.
It’s the same with anything you want to achieve. Set yourself in the direction of obtaining what you want, and then fall in love with the process. Build to it slowly, step by step, mile by mile, and enjoy every minute of getting there. And then you may find that you don’t ‘want’ that thing as much as you did in the first place, because you’re busy enjoying the path you’re walking down.
When we acknowledge that wanting hurts us and we learn to let go of it, choosing instead focus on gratitude for what we have and the process of improvement, we suddenly find ourselves in the moment. When we are able to appreciate the things we have right now, the place we are in right now, and our state of being right now, then we find that we may actually have everything we want after all.
And in engaging with and relishing a process of continual betterment with no regard for the ‘are we there yet’ urgency of wanting, we find that our goals reach us faster than we expect. And even if they don’t we no longer want for anything, because we already have everything.