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How To Get What You Really Need In Life

Published on January 21, 2016 12:00 AM EST
How To Get What You Really Need In Life

If your life mirrors reality TV, then money, fame, and love are your main goals in life. You might be angling for fortune, like the contestants on Shark Tank. Or maybe fishing for fame, like American Idol singers. Or just looking for love, like the lovely ladies on The Bachelor (ostensibly) are.

There’s nothing wrong with financial comfort or love or recognition, but for some, those aren’t the main, or only, motivators in life. There’s something more out there. If you’ve got a gnawing sense of emptiness, whether your life is a big void or filled to the gills, you might be missing your motivational boat.

How To Get What You Really Need In Life

But how do you figure out what YOU really need, for YOUR life?

You might remember learning about psychologist Abraham Maslow in your high school or college psychology classes. He’s the guy who said there’s a hierarchy of needs. At our core, we need to satisfy physical needs, like food and shelter, and next comes security. And then we move on, once those needs are met. We long for love and belongingness, a sense of accomplishment, and ultimately, self-actualization.

Other psychologists, self-help gurus, and all around smart people have different theories about motivation. Steve Jobs said recognizing his own mortality was what helped him make “the big choices in life.” The Dalai Lama believes the main purpose in life is to find simple happiness through love and compassion.

For some, knowledge is the passion that moves us forward.

“If life is a puzzle, let us search out the pieces and put them together: confront the unknown by seeking knowledge,” wrote mental hygienist Edward J. Bardon. And psychotherapist Carl Jung would say your shadow self has its own goals and aspirations, often hidden from your consciousness. (More Jung quotes.)

It doesn’t really matter which theory you buy into. What matters is discovering what motivates you. Check out these three mind-bending exercises tohelp figure out what floats your boat.

Make a Pie

As simplistic as this exercise may sound, it can be profoundly revealing. Draw a circle on each of two pages. Divide the first pie into wedges, where each slice reflects how you’re currently spending your time and energy. On the second pie, each slice should represent how you would ideally spend your time and energy.

The slices will represent the obvious categories in your life: job, household, family, friends, exercise, hobbies, etc. But you should also include the things that are important to you, regardless of whether they matter to others. In other words, make sure your cast portrays a full arc. Is climbing the corporate ladder important?Maybe continuing education should have its own slice. Do you like to learn for learning’s sake? You might want to carve out a slice for reading or even for pursuing an advanced degree. What about creative expression? Meditation? What are those things you used to do that you no longer have time to do? Or the things you’ve dreamed about and never done?

In this exercise, you get to define the slices as they fit your current and ideal lifestyle and values. And while you don’t need to use a compass and protractor for accuracy, you’ll want to try to have the size of the slices approximate the amount of energy you either do, or would like to, expend in each segment of your life.

When you’ve finished, step back and look at what you’ve drawn. Do your current pie slices represent your true motivators? What’s missing? What’s being neglected?

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.”

It’s the neglect of those other things — the discrepancy between your two pies — which can reveal your true desires.

Write a Letter


Studies have shown that writing can reduce stress and anxiety, boost your immune system, and influence the path your future might take. Haifa Al Sanousi is a writer, psycho-literary critic and, Associate Professor at Kuwait University. Like many practitioners of narrative therapy, she believes “writing, like painting, reaches mostly into the back part of the brain, the visual cortex, where images are made.”

One of the easiest writing tools to use, whether for therapeutic purposes or self-discovery, is the letter to self, which effectively helps you discover who you are — and who you want to become in the future.

Go ahead and try it. Envision the person you’d love to be ten, twenty, thirty years down the road, and then begin to write, just as you’d write a letter to someone you admire — an uncle, a college mentor, or even a leader you haven’t yet met. Introduce yourself, as you are today, and then open up and describe the individual you hope to become. Try not just to focus solely on things like your future job title or your geographic location (and if you don’t know what you want to do or where you want to live in the future, all the better). Explore each aspect of the person you hope to become: physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. If you’d like, you can also list out those obstacles that might interfere with achieving your goals. But if you do, be sure to counter each obstacle with an intention about how you might overcome it. Close the letter, as you would with any letter, with a note about gratitude — to yourself.

Don’t be surprised if it feels awkward at first. And by all means don’t invite your inner judge to participate. You’ll be tempted to be critical, maybe even sarcastic. By all means, resist.

By writing a letter to yourself about who you want to become, you’ll be better able to visualize yourself in the future and gain insight into what your primary motivators really are.

Plan Your Funeral

As macabre as this sounds, when you fast-forward to the end of your life, you begin to see things in an entirely new perspective. In his 2005 commencement speech to Stanford University graduates, Steve Jobs said this. “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose… There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

You’ve no doubt heard people mention what they want written on their tombstone. But that’s so short — shorter than a tweet! This is your life, and it deserves more robust verbiage. Think about your celebration of life. What slides do you want them to show? What do you want people to say about you? Do you want them to praise you for your money, your fame, and who loved you? Or do you want them to also reflect upon the individual you were underneath all of that?

Writing all this down actually serves two purposes, and it’s a good idea to update it periodically, too. The first, and most important, reason this is a good thing to do is that it’s an introspective exercise that will help you pay attention to the things that matter. The second is that, when your final day does arrive, you’ll have left a meaningful gift for the loved ones you left behind.

* * *

Helen Keller wrote: “Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and no way of knowing how near the harbor was.”

One of the greatest sorrows in life is to discover, when all is said and done, that you groped your way through the fog and achieved money, fame, and even love, but you never found your true harbor. Now is the time to use your compass and chart the course that was meant for you.

And if you’re looking for a great read about finding your true motivations in life, check out Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, a true story about a down-and-out college kid who overcame remarkable obstacles, made it to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and discovered who he was along the way.

How To Get What You Really Need In Life
READ MORE:  10 Things All Motivated People Know
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