What do you want?

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want

Whenever you consider making a change, it’s helpful to first be clear about what you want! So whether Reality Therapy is used to improve a behaviour, a relationship, a workplace, or a classroom, one fundamental question is, “What do you want?”

In some cases, the “want” question is easily answered. For example, you might have a self-improvement objective: to read a book every week, a financial objective: to save a certain amount every month, a workplace objective: to achieve a specific increase in productivity, or even a New Year’s resolution: to lose ten pounds.

In other scenarios, though, you might find it difficult to answer the question, “What do I want?” Wanting may have a negative connotation for you; it may seem selfish and me-oriented.

However, if you’re looking to have something different in your life than what you have, you’ll need to do something differently than what you’ve been doing. Just like setting out on a trip, it can be mighty helpful to have a specific destination, lest you be like the subject of the Stephen Leacock story who “…flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”

So before you start heading off in all directions, it’s worthwhile to think about what you want. For if you don’t know what you want, how will you know when you have it?

There’s lots of questions that can be used to creatively uncover what you want. “How would you like your life to be?” is my favourite, as it removes the selfish connotation of, “I want, I want…” and opens the imagination.

Other effective questions include, “If you had what you wanted, what would you have? How would life be for you? What would it look like? What would you be doing? How would you be living? Who would you be seeing?”  These questions encourage you to look at the specifics of the life you want, so that you can start taking action toward achieving it.

For example, consider the situation of a mom who has approached a life coach for assistance. To get at the mom’s want, the coach could ask, “What do you hope will happen by engaging in this discussion?” The mom’s response: “All I want is peace in my household.”

To uncover specifically what that means to the mom, the coach might ask, “What would peace in your household look like to you? What would you be doing if there were peace in your household?”

The first response to that question may reflect what wouldn’t be happening—it’s sometimes easier to recognize what you don’t want rather than what you do want. For the mom, that might be,  “No one would be fighting and yelling.”

So you’ve uncovered what wouldn’t be happening. The question, though, is what would be happening in place of this unwanted behaviour. “If things were better, if there was no fighting and yelling, what would you be doing?”

By moving the question to what you do want, rather than what you don’t want, you focus on activities that you can do, rather than on activities to avoid.

“We would just be a normal family,” responds the mom.

“If your family were behaving in a way that you see as normal, what would you be doing?”

“We’d be around the table at dinnertime, talking about how our day went. We’d be having fun together.” Responding with a specific activity provides an opportunity to encourage the mom to look at how to achieve this small piece of her want. That is, she can begin to move in the direction of getting more of what she wants.

Other questions that can help clarify wants include looking at the places or times in your life when you’ve had what you wanted. In the case of the mom, the coach might ask, “Is there ever a time now, even tiny intervals, when you have the peace and fun in your household that you want?” Or, “Was there ever a time in the past…?”

The goal is to get a clear, specific picture in the mom’s mind of what she wants to see happening. Having established that picture, she can work on behaviours to help make it happen.

An added benefit of having a clear picture is that the mom will now be more likely to recognize when she has what she wants. That is, she’ll be more aware of those moments in the household when everyone is, in fact, getting along.

Examining what you want has a dual purpose: to help you choose what action to take, and to help you see what you already have. While it’s useful to work on closing the gaps between what you have and what you want, it’s also helpful to recognize where things are working—where the choices you make are bringing exactly what you want.

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