Reality Check: What we choose to want

We do a lot of comparing, don’t we? In Choice Theory, Dr. Glasser even talks about a “comparing place” in our brains. He uses the image of a balance scale; on one side sits what we want and on the other side is what we perceive that we have.

When those two sides are balanced, we’re pretty satisfied. If not balanced, that is, if we perceive that we don’t have what we want, then we’re not satisfied and it’s hard to be happy.

Where does choice come in? Well, we can choose what we want. We also have some choice in what we have, or at least, in how we perceive what we have.

Let’s take a look at Mitch, whose scale has gone from being balanced to unbalanced.

When Mitch was hired last year, it was the culmination of a dream. He had believed, “If I could get a job at this place, I would be the happiest guy in the world.”

All that keenness and enthusiasm, helped out by the hefty regular paycheck, stuck around for a while. Mitch had satisfied his want through his achievement. Mitch’s scale was balanced.

But not so much anymore.

It turned out that there were unforeseen downsides to the job. It’s hard. It’s boring. He just doesn’t feel like going to work. What Mitch has no longer matches what he wants.

Notice that the imbalance on Mitch’s scale isn’t because Mitch changed what he has. Rather, Mitch changed what he wants. Now, he wants a job that still pays really well, but that’s also easy, exciting, and enjoyable.

Mitch can choose to want whatever he wants; that’s up to him. But just because we want something doesn’t mean that it’s attainable.

Mitch’s choices are: he can change what he has or he can change what he wants. So, what is an effective action for Mitch now that he’s dissatisfied? How can he get that scale back in balance?

Mitch could make changes on the “what he has” side of the scale. For example, when Mitch is feeling especially bored and unhappy, he gets a strong impulse to quit. And quitting would certainly change what he has.

The downsides of working would stop. Sadly, the paycheque would also stop. Quitting, without making other changes, isn’t likely to bring Mitch closer to what he wants.

Mitch could make other changes to what he has, such as increasing his skills and education to open up more opportunities. He could seek out a mentor for advice. Those changes require effort on his part, of course.

There’s also opportunity to make changes to the “what Mitch wants” side of the scale. Right now, his want is an ideal job. He doesn’t know specifically what that is, but he is sure it would awesome!

Choosing an idealistic want can be effective if it keeps us motivated. If our want inspires us to improve, to stretch, to grow, to learn, then it can shape our purpose and direction.

However, if our ideal want, such as Mitch’s want for an ideal job, only triggers resentment of our current situation, then is it really helpful?

Mitch may never be able to get all of what he wants in his workplace. If he can figure out priorities, as in, “What do I want more: High pay? Easier work? Less repetition?” then he will be better able to choose a realistic want that he can take steps toward achieving.

What we choose to want makes a difference—to our satisfaction, our motivation, and our relationships. When we choose to compare what we have to an unachievable, unrealistic ideal, we set ourselves up for pain, don’t we?

Are your wants achievable? Do they help you choose your direction?

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