In which Mike learns the difference between navigating by mood and navigating by desire.
Mike walked into the coffee shop and noticed that John had managed to get seats in a corner where they could talk. As he settled down with his drink John asked him “So how’s it going?”
“Well I’m getting used to continually asking myself ‘what do I really want?’ and like you said I’ve been practicing in very small things. Actually” he laughed, “that’s why I’ve got a chai tea now rather than my usual black coffee. I asked myself what I really wanted and really fancied one of these. Before I would have just chosen automatically.”
“Sounds like you are beginning to make progress. Got any questions so far?”
“Yes. It seems OK with these small things. It’s fun in fact but I’m worried about applying this approach to bigger things. If I did what I wanted all the time I’d never work or get anything done or achieve anything that needed some effort. And what about all those boring but necessary things that I don’t really want to do but have to do like emptying the washing machine or doing my budget report, which I hate. If I carried on just doing what I wanted, I’m worried that I’d stay in bed all day.”
“It’s a good question” said John “one that comes up a lot and it brings us to the difference between navigating by mood or navigating by desire.”
“When we navigate by our moods we are primarily concerned with how we feel so we ask internal questions like ‘What do I feel like doing?’ or when faced with a choice ‘Which one feels right?’ or when facing some regular chore we might avoid it if we do not feel like doing it. Can you see a problem with this approach?”
“It sounds a bit flighty” said Mike “my moods change so much, even what I’ve eaten recently changes how I feel. That makes me a bit wary of using them as a guide and that’s why I’m worried about this whole approach.”
John interrupted “Let’s talk about desire then. Desire is about things that you want rather than things you feel like doing. A lot of the time your mood and your desire are aligned. You felt like a chai tea and you wanted a chai tea so you acted to get one. With experiences like this it’s easy to confuse mood and desire. Let’s think about a different example.”
“Imagine for a moment. It’s Saturday morning. 6am. Cold, dark, wet outside and my alarm rings. I surface with a groan in my warm, comfy, snuggly, bed and realise that, yet again, it’s time to get up for my daughters 6.30am swimming practice. I really do not feel like getting up, I feel like staying in bed. My mood says ‘don’t do it, it’s not right for you, it doesn’t feel right’. With me so far?” He looked at Mike who nodded.
“So I’m lying there and I ask myself ‘What do you want?’ and I know that even though I do not feel like it, I really do want to get up. In fact I like the quiet time while she is swimming – it’s like a little oasis in my week and I’ve enjoyed it before and I picture myself enjoying it again. I also want to get up because she loves swimming and I want to support her. I still don’t feel like it, although, as I begin to think about what I want, my mood is actually changing, coming round to supporting my desire. Eventually I get up.”
“So” said Mike “What you appear to be saying is that if I can identify my true desire, my mood with fall in behind it or in plain English if there is something I don’t feel like doing then I’m maybe asking the wrong question?”
“Exactly”, said John. “Our feelings are so changeable, affected by the weather, what we eat, the amount of sleep we’ve had, what we’ve just read or watched and even having fun or arguments with our partner all affect our mood from moment to moment. This makes them an unreliable guide to what to do next. Our desires on the other hand tend to be deeper and less susceptible to moment by moment changes.”
“So here’s my tip for the rest of this week. Anytime you find yourself in any conflict about a simple choice – perhaps you think you should be doing something but don’t really feel up to it then have a think about what questions you are asking yourself.”
If you are navigating primarily by mood you’ll be asking questions like – ‘What do I feel like doing?’
If you are navigating by desire you’ll be asking questions like – ‘What do I really want?’
Anxiety is a sign that you are not focusing on what you want
“As you choose to follow your desires rather than your moods, a couple of things will happen…”
Your desires and what you want will become much clearer to you
Your moods will fall into line behind your desires so that your feelings quickly come to support what you want. And when you feel like doing what you want, it becomes much much easier to start getting what you want.
“Remember” said John. “Until we meet next time, practice navigating by desire. The question is not ‘what do I feel like but what do I really want? Focus on that regardless of whether you feel like doing it or not and notice what happens to your mood. You should find that your feelings eventually start supporting your desires. And remember to keep it small for now so you give those decision making muscles a good workout.”
Mike thought for a moment, “So even if I don’t feel like emptying the washing machine, I do want clean clothes and although I hate doing budget reports I do want to show how well we have done. In fact, now that I think about it I’ve had an idea about getting the budget report done another way.”
“Yep” said John “Notice what just happened. You shifted your focus away from how you felt towards what you wanted and that allowed you to be more creative.”
“I see” said Mike “so I can worry less about applying this approach to bigger things because even if I don’t feel like doing them in the moment, if they are real desires of mine, I can still go with them.”
“Have fun navigating by desire” said John as he shook hands and turned to go.
While at first these two ways of making decisions seem similar, they take people in two completely different directions. Since our moods are often tied up in old habits and patterns of thinking, following them tends to just create more of the ‘same old, same old’ in our lives. Somehow, we just don’t get around to making those changes we know we’d love to make, and things that seem like they’ll take too much effort are put off until the last minute or don’t get done at all. Your wanting, however, is a living, breathing, fluid process. Each time you do what you want (or don’t do what you don’t want to do), your actions seem effortless and inspired ideas become almost commonplace. Over time, it becomes easier and easier to read and follow your inner compass. Life gets a lot simpler, and the pursuit of success becomes a lot more fun. Michael Neill.
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