The Real Reason You Never Get What You Think You Want


Goals are best achieved when the method and process aren’t cast in stone.

Many trusted gurus and life coaches tell us to create our vision of a perfect life with plenty of details.

More than transcribing a simple written statement of a desired objective, we’re encouraged to mentally represent our goals with cinematic clarity — the resulting sensory representations of sights, sounds, and feelings intended to motivate and inspire us to take the actions necessary to achieve our goals.

Unfortunately, trying to design a future with such intentional detail can backfire, leaving us without the flexibility to reflect on our progress and adjust our destination along the way.

I can hear the argument already:

“But wait, I know exactly what I want. And if I don’t mentally craft an image containing a level of detail that gets me excited when I think about it, how can I maintain the motivation to achieve it? After all, isn’t that why I spend so much time and effort picturing my future dreams and desires with such a high degree of sensory precision and accuracy?”

The answer is yes — but only to a point.

Because allowing our minds to focus on what’s important to us in the moment — right down to the last defining detail — has a drawback. By keeping the image static until some future time when our dreams unfold in sync, we often neglect to take the bigger picture into consideration.

The truth?

Our individually prescripted futures seldom leave room for on-going change.

Yes, our thoughts can definitely influence our reality. But the reverse is also true. And when we begin constructing our goals from a personalized wish list, we’re not always aware of what potential outside influences may exist tomorrow, or next month, or next year.

“Wishful thinking is one thing, and reality another.” — Jalal Talabani

For example, if you imagine yourself living in a house with a white picket fence, a flower-laden trellis, and a wide stretch of vibrant, green grass, you’ve created a compelling setting.

But the picture is far from complete. So you embellish the details, adding your personal circumstances for a happy life: Being married to an amazing partner — hand-sculpted by the gods themselves — two beautiful healthy children, and a friendly, obedient dog named Skipper you adopted from the local rescue organization.

And in time, that may be exactly what materializes in your life.

But what happens when you realize your forever home is sitting on the edge of an eroded cliff in a tsunami zone, the next door neighbors turn out to be contract killers under the federal witness protection program, and Skipper has a bad case of worms? Oh, and you just received your third foreclosure notice on the mortgage you couldn’t afford in the first place.

Although you received what you thought you wanted, your perfect future arrived with a few unexpected consequences.

It could happen. Because while you were busy imagining your dream life, formulating the final picture in all its glory, you neglected to take into account the other possibilities that may exist outside your personal bubble of joy — the reality of situations and events beyond your control.

Being motivated is important.

But focusing that enthusiasm into blind obsession can rob you of the perspective and objectivity you need to see the overall, evolving picture.

Yes, you may be driven to “have it all.” But when your seemingly brilliant kids can’t find any friends to play with, and your wonderful partner hits the road because you were too busy spearheading the PTA, campaigning for a seat on the city council, and pursuing a career requiring constant travel, you’ll realize — usually much too late — that you failed to consider the possibility of unknown influences turning your dream life into a nightmare.

Kind of takes the shiny edge off everything, doesn’t it?

So does this mean we should give up on transforming our hopes and dreams into a tangible, rewarding future? Is the possibility of unforeseeable events affecting the outcome of our objectives a reason to abandon our goals?

Of course not. It simply means we need to recognize the importance of incorporating flexibility into the process of reaching our objectives — with awareness, patience, and a willingness to bend and grow.

Developing our ideal lives is a continual work-in-progress.

And the more cognizant we are of external conditions and influences — especially those that can potentially derail our advancements — the more responsive we can be in changing, adjusting, and fine-tuning our efforts to ultimately achieve the final outcome.

“If something is true, no amount of wishful thinking will change it.” — Richard Dawkins

Striving to reach your goals works best when the method and process isn’t cast in stone. The more ways — and options — you have for moving forward with recognizable benchmarks, the greater the chance of arriving at your desired destination.

Here’s the point: Although the practice of attaining your goals using detailed visualization is common advice, there will always be a few warts to deal with. And sometimes, despite your best efforts, external influences may hinder you from accomplishing your objectives — unless you find alternate ways of getting what you want.

It may be as simple as making a few adjustments along the way — or as significant as changing your direction entirely.

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