Do You Really Want ______ or Do You Want to Want _____?
Last night I was in a particularly indecisive mood. I couldn’t decide which topic to write about, what to cook for dinner and whether or not to go a function at a friends’ home. I’m no stranger to indecision, but this was a bit much, even for me. As I shared my 1st world quandaries, my wise 17-year old daughter said, “Mom, it doesn’t sound like you really want to go tonight. It sounds like you want to want to go.” This succinct statement captured my ambivalence about the evening.
Admittedly, I only heard of this wanting vs. wanting to want distinction about a month ago, and think it is absolutely brilliant! It speaks directly to my ambivalent wants. I don’t really want to stop eating sugar, but I certainly want to want to stop eating sugar because it’s bad for me. I don’t really want to have coffee with this particular person, but I want to want to get together with him because I believe I should. And I don’t really want to take the time and effort to be an organized person but I certainly want to want to be more organized. And the list goes on. If I honestly wanted those things, they would be happening.
I love the distinction between wanting and wanting to want for three reasons: it invites clarity, it brings about a positive mindset, and it awakens mindful presence.
Firstly, exploring the want vs. want to want distinction helped me examine my ambivalence. Some part of me did want to go to my friends’ house last night because I would have enjoyed seeing cool people and hearing the lecture. But a bigger part of me wanted to get into my PJ’s, hang out with my husband, daughter, and dog and rest. That’s what I wanted. Period. But instead of listening and attuning to my full wisdom, I obsessed about the many facets of wanting to go: fomo; my friends’ reactions to my presence or absence; a missed opportunity; possible regret. Thinking about all these self-imposed conflicts was exhausting. Honestly, had I remembered to distinguish between “do I want to go” or “do I want to want to go,” I would have had my answer hours prior.
Acknowledging that you “want to want” rather than just “want” is an easy way to alleviate guilt, shame, and self-criticism from not doing whatever you are still wanting to want. For example, when I say, “I want to stop eating sugar” but reach for a cookie and eat it, I feel badly (and diminish how much I enjoy that cookie). I feel “loserish” for not having willpower, for not trying, for being unkind to my body, etc. And repeating those self-critical thoughts adds layers of shame and self-criticism for something I’m not yet really wanting to do. But when I acknowledge that I want to want to stop eating sugar, I’m admitting that I’m not yet ready to make that commitment and/or the time isn’t right. That honesty and latitude feels so much better and give much needed space.
Lastly, if we tune into our body (and not just listen to our thoughts) when inquiring about wants vs. want to wants, guess what happens? Mindfulness arises. When I pictured myself driving to the event and actually being there, I felt tightness in my chest and anxiousness in my body. My body wasn’t lying about its preference. But when I visualized staying home, my body literally relaxed. That was an embodiment of wanting to want.
The next time you are struggling with a “want” that doesn’t seem to take hold, ask yourself if it’s genuinely something you want or a want to want. And see what happens after.