Deciding What You Want

Note: This was originally my Sunday newsletter. Occasionally, I post them here when people email me in large numbers. This was one of those newsletters that generated a big response.


I want to offer you an exercise. It’s one that I have done a number of times, always right before a breakthrough. It’s one I am keen to repeat with a greater frequency than I have in the past.

Most of us don’t spend enough time deciding what we really want. We are too busy living to spend time deciding what living means, or how to do so in way that is in line with our definition of success, happiness, a good life, and a life well lived.

You cannot decide what you want by looking at your task list. The things that you have told yourself you must do have very little to do with what you want. In fact, just looking at all things that sit undone can cause you to believe that these are the things that you should be doing. If you can die happily with a task left undone and unaddressed, you can live happily with it undone and unaddressed.

You also can’t decide what you want by looking at your projects, your short term goals, or the many roles you play. Unless the project is “my life,” it’s just a collection of tasks. Short term goals are important, but they’re likely just milestones on the way to something bigger. But what is that “something bigger?”

To answer the question, “What do I want,” you have to move up to the highest vantage point available to you, a place where you can see further, a view with the greatest perspective. From that higher place, you can answer the question, “What do I want?”

To live a life of purpose and meaning, you have to supply that purpose and meaning. You have to decide why you are here and what you are going to do with your time. Your life belongs to you alone. This fact is easy to forget when you don’t spend the necessary time to decide what you want, and when you end up living a life that is at odds with the life you see in your mind—and what you feel in your heart.

If the idea of “what you want” seems nebulous to you, that is my intention. I have no idea what you really want. No one else does either. This is something you have to decide for yourself, even if it is one of the most difficult questions you have to answer.

If you want to know what you really want, go some place quiet, where you can be alone. Make that quiet place outdoors, if you can. Write down the answer to the question, “What do I want?” Just write without having to be right. Explore what you surface and decide what it means for you. What you come up with probably fall into the categories of being more, doing more, having more, and contributing more.

Once you know what you want, you can start to build the plans to achieve it.

Filed under: Excellence

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