Reason 3: Fear And Overwhelm

“The third major reason that we do not know what we want is our fear of what might happen if we did. Along with this comes the sheer overwhelm of making choices when there are so many things we want.”

“Struggling to figure out what you want is a unique problem for recent generations in the richer parts of the world. Our ancestors had no problem working out what to do. Why? Because the answer was right in front of them – they wanted food, shelter, warmth and a mate; getting these was enough to fill their time. We, on the other hand have money, freedom, time, comfort and more food than we could ever eat. In a way, all the more obvious and easier decisions have been taken care of. So we are free to think about what our lives mean and what they could mean and, perhaps, what they should mean. That’s not a simple thing to work out or nor is there likely to be a single easy answer.”

“The other problem is the sheer number of options open to us. Even buying toothpaste these days means coping with six or seven brands providing nearly fifty different options for consideration. It’s no wonder that many people just shut down in the face of all this choice and default to what they bought yesterday or grab the first one they recognise.”

“Unfortunately, doing more of what you did yesterday or grabbing at the first choice you recognise, fails to satisfy that hollow feeling, that still, small voice, that says there has to be more for you, somewhere and somehow.”

Scaring Ourselves

“We devise lots of interesting and exciting ways to frighten ourselves out of knowing what we really want. Maybe we shy away from exploring other options because we frighten ourselves by thinking about the consequences ‘If I did what I really wanted I’d have to leave this job, town, relationship’. We run catastrophic disaster scenarios in which we would have to turn our whole life upside down if we figured out what we really wanted. So we don’t.”

“If you’ve been scaring yourself, it’s probably because you are denying to yourself some sort of change that you really know you want to make. Remember that being clear about what you really feel does not mean that you have to act on those feelings. For example, many people are unhappy in their job and long for more freedom and control over their day. They shy away from facing this because they frighten themselves with the prospect of having to run their own business. Silly, isn’t it? There are lots of ways to create more freedom and get more control over your daily life and very few of them involve the risk of running your own business. If you never face up to how you feel though, you never get to make these changes.”

“In reality, most of the changes you are likely to make are actually incremental. It’s much more likely to involve small, deliberate steps towards your desires rather than the kind of life changing, revolutionary fantasies you frighten yourself with.”

“And the good news is, that if you are the kind of person who runs very dramatic disaster scenarios in your head you may just have uncovered a very creative and imaginative side of yourself who could probably do with coming out to play more often. Maybe the drama is a plea for more creative play?”

Fear Of Stereotypes

“Another way we frighten ourselves out of understanding our real desires is by the fear of what we might have to become if really understood what we really wanted. The argument goes like this ‘If I gave way to what I really wanted I would be an artist and since all artists are (gay, poor, crazy, etc.) I don’t want to think about what I really want.’ ‘I think I might want to be a stand up comedian but since presentations make me nervous I’m not going to think about it’.”

“This is really just another version of a dramatic disaster scenario. Again, the cure is to realise that running away from a stereotype prevents you considering the smaller, incremental changes that would bring your life much closer to living the way you truly want.”

Managing Fear

“If some kind of fear, of an imagined possible future, of an imagined possible you, is getting in the way of you figuring out what you really want, then how do you deal with this? Having practised it for so long, it’s unlikely to disappear just because you wish it.”

“Remember that courageous and brave people are not people who have no fear. A brave person is someone who knows they are afraid but keeps going anyway.”

“Many of us assume that fear is an intuitive signal to keep away from something but it isn’t, it’s just data. It’s just your unconscious early warning system flagging up something for attention. Fear is not a red light that tells you something is broken and needs fixing; it is a red light that says ‘by the way, did you know this?’.”

“If you see the process of getting clear on what you want as a threat to your stability and well being then your early warning system (fear) will start flashing whenever you go near it.”

“Being brave says ‘Yes I know this frightens me but I’m going to look anyway’ or ‘I’ve never liked the sound of this but I’m going to ignore the alarm bells and explore it’ or ‘whenever I think about this I feel nervous but I’m going to push through it anyway’.”

“Fear is just data. Treat is as such. Your unconscious has alerted you for which you are grateful but you intend to go ahead anyway because you want to/you are curious. This puts you in charge. It gets you into the Decide/Act/Get cycle and reminds your fear that it is not the boss here.”


“The truth is that you want so many things and many of them contradict each other. Faced with this, it’s easier to ignore them all especially if you have a feeling that there are many more things you want if only you could figure it out. For peace of mind it’s easier to shy away from confronting them.”

“Trouble is, as you know, you haven’t got peace of mind otherwise we wouldn’t be here. What you need is a system. A way of figuring out what you want and managing your choices so they are less overwhelming.”

“One early tip I can give you is that absolute clarity about what you want is rarely given. It’s unlikely that you will find one desire that trumps all the others and makes clear to you what you should do. You are much more likely to have a handful of wants which all seem pretty important and some of which contradict each other.”

“We are complex beings. Ignore those who tell you the power of setting a single big goal because we rarely, if ever, have the luxury of paying attention to just one big goal. That’s why I never understand how business people will pay to listen to the ‘lessons’ from famous sports stars. High achieving sports people operate in such a cosseted, artificial environment that they have very little to say to the rest of us about achievement in the real world.”

“At some point you have to arrange your wants into a hierarchy. To figure out which one/s you want the most and the key to that, as we’ll see later, is to use your personal values to help you.”

“Great” said Mike “let me see if I can sum up. There are three main reasons why we find it hard to figure out what we really want, lack of practice, focus in the wrong direction and overwhelm. That helps me understand why but I confess I’m no nearer seeing how to do it.”

“We’ll start looking at solutions next time we meet” said John. “For now, though, I’d like you to spend the rest of the week noticing times when you just coast along with decisions rather than deciding for yourself, see if you can spot people focussing on what they don’t want and think about fear signals – notice when they start going off in your life.”

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