Noticing How Desire Can Pull You Away From Your Values

When does desire pull you away from your values?

It might be the impulse to buy more stuff that you don’t really need; watch TV instead of doing some exercise; let work dominate your  life; make poor choices that change your life forever…

In this TEDx talk, Kelly McGonigal explains that the urges provoked by desire (the promise of happiness) have a tendency to overpower current happiness and satisfaction.

Desire for something you don’t have, but would like (in my case, millions of dollars and to write a best selling book!) can create stronger impulses than the feelings of contentment associated with what you do have (for me now: love, health, safety, meaningful work that uses my strengths). Even though what you have now may be much more important to you than what you desire.

When we feel that experience of wanting something, we feel an urge to do something to get that desire met. If we are to handle this tricky emotion wisely then we need to be clear about who we want to be and what we want our life to stand for. We need to have chosen the values we want to live by. But knowing your values isn’t enough.

Last week, Paul suggested that mindfulness helps us to turn our values into action. When desire is moving you away from what really matters, mindfulness can help you to ride out the urges rather than mindlessly chase what you desire .

You can mindfully notice how feelings of wishing and wanting are pulling you in a particular direction and check if that would be a move towards your values. You can become aware when desire is in control of your behaviour, catch yourself and come back to what really matters to you in the long term – love? kindness? connection? your health? security?

I want to be clear here that I am not suggesting that you abandon your ‘big, hairy, audacious goals‘, what I am suggesting is that you also:

1. Compassionately notice when pursuit of those goals feels driven and addictive. Pause and breathe and see if you can ride those impulses like waves rather than act on them.

2. Keep checking in as to how the goals you are currently pursuing fit with your values and life purpose

3. Have the ‘willpower’ to spend some time paying attention to other important areas of your life even though you may feel the addictive pull of the desire for something ‘bigger and better’ calling to you. Your thoughts might whisper, ‘I’ll just send one more email; read/write one more blog post; sign up for that course that promises to make me rich.’ Can you have those thoughts and the feelings associated with them and still spend the afternoon in the garden with your loved ones? Can you have those thoughts and feelings and bring your attention back to this moment now with all its small pleasures and pains?

Kelly McGonigal suggests that the recurring difficulties we experience in handling our desire well is not a sign that there is:

Something uniquely wrong with us – but it is actually part of being human. it is not just you, it is all of us.

Oddly, for me, accepting this makes it easier to deal with. How about you?

[I am running a low cost, one day workshop on ACT at The Relaxation Centre of QLD on  Sun 3rd March.  All proceeds go to the centre. I would love to see you there.]

If You Can’t Have It All, What Can You Have?

I believe that we have been sold a myth. A myth that tells us ‘If you try really, really hard then you can have it all’ – love; money; success; a wonderful family; happy kids; health; a beautiful body; a lovely home…

This myth can exhaust us. We run around trying to get everything right. Feeling anxious about all we haven’t done.

My messy garden. I decided to grow some veggies – then I neglected them and they died

The messy garden; the plump belly; the distracted attention we give to our partner. The job list at work that never seems to get any shorter. The school tuck shop duty we didn’t do.

We think that if we were just more organised, smarter, better in some ill-defined way; then we would be doing all of these things with grace and flair.

But what if we were to accept that we can’t actually do it all or have it all? What would that be like?

Instead of focussing on getting everything right, perhaps we could give our attention to becoming more and more like our ideal self. We could focus on living our values.

Perhaps you can’t have it all but instead over time you can become a better version of yourself.

In order to become more like your ideal self, you have to decide what you want that person to be like. Rob has gathered together some values clarification exercises here that might help you to decide who you want to be.

However, I need to give you a warning.

Knowing your values may not actually make your life easier. Moment by moment, again and again, you will still have to choose – do I give my attention and energy to my kids, my work, my partner, my health, the housework…?

And that choice is sometimes painful. At those moments, try asking yourself: What would the person I want to be do now? It might help you to make choices that lead to a life that is rich and meaningful And that might just be better than having it all.

What do you think? Can we have it all?

(This blog post has developed as a result of some conversations I am having with CEO’s and senior managers about their experiences of meaningful success. I would like to thank Jayne Gallagher, Manager Product and Market Development at Australian Seafood CRC and Tristan White, CEO of The Physio Co for exploring this topic with me.)

The Problem With Work-Life Balance

I think the concept of ‘work-life balance’ is deeply flawed.

The phrase suggests that:

  1. Work and life are somehow different. Now, that is patently stupid. If you aren’t feeling alive when you are working, then your problem isn’t lack of work-life balance. You probably need a good career coach – I hear that this fellow is quite good.
  2. There is a state where everything is in balance and there are people who have achieved that state. I have honestly never been in that state. have you? Do you know anyone who has been in that state?

I think a much better strategy involves a fundamentally different approach.

(Enjoying the Beach with Albert – Two valued domains (Relationship and Health) at the same time!)

1. Instead of just balancing work and life I think the task is much more complex. We need to work on balancing different life domains (or what Kelly Wilson would call ‘Domains of valued living’). Most of us have a few of these. Mine are: family, work/achievement, learning, friends, relationship, health and wellbeing, contribution/community.

2. It would also help to view ‘balance’ as a verb  – ‘balancing’. An ongoing process that involves:

  • Deciding on the areas of life that matter to you and what values and actions you want to take in each area.
  • Noticing how you are doing over time. Getting better and better at noticing when you are focussed too much on one area of life and neglecting other important areas…and then making a correction.

You can take the Valued Living Questionnaire here to see how you are going in balancing your life.

Why Is Taking A Break So Difficult?

I took a ‘sicky’ the other day (is that just an Australian word? In case it is – it means an ‘unplanned absence’). I wasn’t sick. I was just tired. Normally I am full of energy and enthusiasm for my life. I feel that each moment drips with meaning and purpose. From writing the speech I am giving next week on goal setting to attending my daughter’s commencement ceremony at school, it all matters so much. And this is wonderful, but now and again I get very, very tired.

A pot of green tea on my deck

So I made myself a pot of green tea, downloaded a Georgian Historical Romance onto my ipad and spent a few hours on the day bed on my deck, snoozing and reading.

Now I feel better.

You would think that taking a few hours off would be an easy thing to do… but not for me. My mind alternates between reminding me of all I have to do and busily problem solving (‘I need an activity to illustrate that point about goal setting, what would work? I must remember to ring the plumber. That balustrade needs painting…’). Of course, if I had decided to carry on working, my mind would have gone on and on about how tired I was (‘I am sooo tired. I need to rest. I can’t concentrate. I wonder if I am getting sick?’).

A few years ago, Russ Harris taught me, ‘Your mind is not your friend’. I find it is helpful to know this. Whatever I do, part of my mind will chatter away in an unhelpful fashion. This is part of being human. The trick is to do what is right in that moment – whether it is to rest or work or play – and take my chattery mind along with me.