How To Know What You Want, Part 2
In the first part of this series, we opened up the large and important question of “how to know what you want”. It’s often a tough question, that masquerades as something simple.
As Steve Jobs asserted in the passage quoted in the first post in this series, knowing what it is that we want is often not a matter of logical or rational certainty. It is more often a matter of intuition, especially when we’re dealing with really major life choices.
In our business-oriented world, decision-making is often portrayed as a very rational straightforward thing. You can often find that the decision-making process described as something much like a balance or a ledger sheet. Should I do X? Well, let’s write down a list of all the pros to doing X on one side of the page. Then let’s write down all the cons to doing it on the other side of the page. Then we just assign a weighting to each thing that’s for X, and to each thing that’s against X, add up the totals at the bottom of the page, and voila, instant major life decision! It seems very straightforward, doesn’t it?
But the trouble is, this isn’t how human beings actually make decisions. Study after study has shown that the actual human decision making process is much less rational than this, and that it involves a lot of intuitive factors, and also that a lot goes on in the unconscious mind when we make a decision. When you add to the complexity and importance of the decision, the process becomes even more involved.
Demanding Major Life Choices
Often the challenge of “how to know what you want” is felt most acutely when we face major life choices. These are the kind of choices that are going to make a big difference in our lives for a long time. It’s quite common for these types of choices to arise when we’re about to undergo, or are already undergoing, a major life transition. Here are some examples of choices that individuals might face that are connected with major life transitions:
- Should I stay in my marriage, or should I leave it?
- Should I have a second child?
- Should I retire?
- Do I reconcile with my brother (or sister, mother, father, etc.)?
- Do I seek another career?
When facing these kinds of choices, the decision-making processes can be very involved and complex. They may be so involved that it’s impossible to list all the factors that go into them, let alone to weigh up each one in a completely rational manner. How can we possibly know what we want, and choose it?
Telling Ourselves We Know What We Want
The anxiety associated with major life choices can be overwhelming. The individual can be aware of how much is at stake, and can find him- or herself flooded by angst. It can be all too easy for the ego to simply disconnect, because there are too many options, or because the merits and demerits of each option are so hard to process. As Swathmore College Psychology Prof. Barry Schwartz puts it,
If we’re rational, [social scientists] tell us, added options can only make us better off…. This view is logically compelling, but empirically it isn’t true.
When it comes to a very important major life choice, it can be easy for the ego to tell itself that it has everything under control. We can find it easy to believe that we have the choice in hand, that we know what we want and that we’re moving ahead in a way that accords with our deepest wishes. Sadly, sometimes nothing could be further from the truth. We can end up making choices that we later realize weren’t really reflective of who we are—or of what we really want.
Knowing in Depth What We Want
There is an ages-old folk wisdom that urges us, before we make an important decision, to “sleep on it”. There is a profundity to this. It’s often easy for our conscious mind to feel that it knows exactly what we want, and that it knows the very best route to pursue to get it. But it’s important to recognize that our conscious mind is only a part of what we are. When it comes to making a very important decision, and to addressing how to know what you want concerning the things that are most important and all-encompassing in life, it’s important that as much of who we are as possible is engaged. That certainly includes the vast part of ourselves that is in the unconscious. When we “sleep on” a decision, we let the unconscious mind work on it.
When it comes to how to know what you really want, it’s essential to engage the unconscious. We have to hear from the unconscious parts of ourselves that are so easily missed and forgotten. In Jungian analysis or Jungian /a-midlife-transition, we explore the reaction of the unconscious to our everyday lives, and to the big issues and decisions that we face in the course of our journey to wholeness. A supportive relationship with a Jungian /a-midlife-transition can be of immense value in solving the question of “how do I know what I really want?”
Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,
© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)