The Power of a Simple Question: What Do I Want?

What do you want? It’s a simple question but one that we are sometimes terrified to ask. Once we get used to it, however, it can have some radical, yet gentle effects.

Sometimes the simplest questions have the most radical effects. We tend to think we know the answers, in general, but actually taking the split second to pose the question, many times a day, can yield some surprises, and some concrete changes in your life. So, what do you want?

The key to effective use of the question is breaking it down. For example, you may think you want to be happy. But what does that actually mean this second? Does it mean giving yourself a rest, or spurring yourself on? Does it mean choosing this thing to eat or drink, or that one?

The power of the question— especially I think for women — is the sheer fact that you are treating yourself seriously enough to ask the question at all. The default answer is so often ‘I don’t mind’ or ‘whatever’s easier’. It might be the case, of course, that you don’t mind at all. But if you have never actually treated yourself as worthy of the consideration you give others when you ask them what they would like to drink, you simply won’t know whether you feel like tea or coffee, whether you want to go out, or stay in. Never mind the bigger decisions.

When I’ve suggested this question to some clients the reaction has been thinly disguised horror. But isn’t that selfish? It’s as if even posing the question brings an inevitable train of disaster, a sudden inability to consider anyone else’s needs but your own, a compulsion to run after one’s own nasty desires, leaving a trail of destruction in your wake.

This isn’t the case. When we treat a question as if it were taboo, when we treat our own desires as if they were taboo, they gather their own momentum, hidden away inside. We can feel them but we don’t know what they are. This generates anxiety, which we then rationalise as ‘I must want to do something really bad’. In fact, once we ask ourselves what the desire is, what we want, we are not then committed to any one course of action. We can choose, on the basis of knowledge and not fear.

We may have to ask a few times, digging deeper than the first answer that comes. So maybe you want to feel freer than you do right now. After years of ignoring this, the first idea that comes may be to leave your job and your partner. But this is probably an exaggerated reaction built of the tension of holding in the very question, ‘do I actually want to be doing this job/be with this partner?’ Stick with it and keep asking. Maybe what you really want is just to assert your needs a little more in the job/with the partner, after which everything moves more smoothly.

It is a good idea to refresh the question every day. Situations become less dramatic when you constantly check in with your needs, and make adjustments as you go. You are also, every time you pose the question, treating yourself with care and respect.

It is OK to want what you want. You can take decisions from there. But you won’t even know what it is, unless you ask. If you are one of those people who doesn’t mind where they go or what they have to drink, give it a try. You might have some pleasant surprises.

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