People who are in a period of indecision or listlessness ponder what they can do to get back the motivation they need to live a more productive, fruitful life and feel more happiness and purpose. Fortunately, the means through which you can make that switch are pretty simple (not easy, but simple).
There are two mechanisms that you should be using to determine what you want:
The compulsion is easy to see when it’s there: when you have to go to the bathroom, you get a strong urge to go. When you are hungry, you get a strong urge to find food. When your sex drive is turned up, you can’t stop thinking about the opposite sex. So you know the compulsions when you feel them. It’s when you don’t that you aren’t sure what to do next.
Similarly, emotions are easy to see when they’re strong. If you eat ice cream and feel an explosion of pleasure, then you like ice cream and will have it on your list of possibilities the next time you are thinking about eating dessert. If you hug someone and feel the joy of love, then you’ll want to to it again in the future.
When you ask a question like what you really want in life, though, it’s because you’re not feeling that compulsion or those emotions. The good news is that there’s a formula that you can follow to find what you want in life that’s as certain as 2+2=4:
Emotions = Desire + Belief + Experience
How does this work? Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Jealousy = Seeing a person/thing you want (desire) + Seeing another person have it (experience) + Believing that that person doesn’t deserve it and you do (belief)
Joy = Wanting something + Believing it’s great + Experiencing it
So, if this is a formula, let’s turn it into an algebraic equation:
e = d + b + x
You just need to solve for d. However, we don’t know what the other variables are, so you’d have to plug in numbers and see what you get for desire. How would you do that?
Well, we know that everyone’s goal is to experience positive emotions, such as joy, fulfillment, happiness, etc., so let’s put “fulfillment” as “e”:
Fulfillment = d + b + x
So, now, you just work back from that. Think of a time in the past where you’ve been fulfilled, and start plugging in what you wanted, what you believed, and what you experienced. Let’s say you felt fulfilled volunteering at a soup kitchen:
Fulfillment = d + b + Volunteering at a soup kitchen
What about it made you feel fulfilled? Probably because you wanted to help people and do good and believed that volunteering was doing good for the less fortunate:
Fulfillment = Want to help people and do good + Believe that volunteering is helping and doing good + Volunteering at a soup kitchen
There you go—you solved for d! Now, you just need to figure out which other variables you can swap out for “x” (experience) and still keep the equation true/balance. Maybe it’s:
Fulfillment = Want to have children + Believe your contribution to kids is meaningful + Having children
There you go. That’s all there is to it.
Your last question might be, "Okay, Nate, you explained this, but how do I find what I want most in life vs. just what I enjoy?" Well, I’m glad you asked. You might already know the answer:
There you have it: You will know what you want when you have experiences that trigger compulsions or desires in you to have future experiences that will lead to some form of growth. (example: go shopping, see a shirt you like, want to buy it, buy it, wear it, feel good about self and enjoy compliments received from others)
The exploration process should be fun and exciting, not overwhelming! Just believe that it’s a fun process, and you’ll feel better about it. Best of luck!