Why it almost never works when you decide to stop wanting something
1. Remember the IMP? No, not the one you met last Halloween. I’m talking about your own mental Ironic Monitoring Process which dictates that your mind be on the lookout for whatever you want to avoid — in order to be sure you avoid it! Alas, despite your mind’s best efforts, its technique keeps you thinking about the-thing-you-don’t-want-to-want.
But also, let’s face it:
2. There’s a good reason you want that thing you want. It’s desirable.
One day it occurred to me that when we want to stop wanting something, it is just one very specific sub-case of “I want [x].”
The worksheet and an example
Here is what happened when I helped Bob (name and details changed for privacy for sure) use my desire worksheet to address an “undesirable desire.” Click on the above link and follow along if you’d like.
Step 1. The Desire:
Bob wrote: “I want: to stop wanting my neighbor’s garden gnome.”
Step 2. Long:
I asked Bob to surrender to his desire. Just in his mind. Bob imagined — in detail — what it will be like when he no longer wants his neighbor’s garden gnome: “I won’t stare compulsively at the little guy from my living room window or when driving to and from home. I won’t sneak over and put it in my yard and pretend some kids pranked us all.” [!] When he had the scene conjured up, I asked him…
Step 3: How will you feel once you stop wanting this thing you want?
Remember: what we’re really after when we want something (even when we want TO NOT WANT) is a feeling state. “I won’t feel guilty, obsessed, unkind. I will feel free. I will feel more kindly toward my neighbor.”
I asked him to describe exactly how those feelings manifest themselves in his body as he imagines the scenario. This is an important step: “open along my shoulders and upper back, relaxed in my solar plexus, unclenched in my job, light and strong all over.”
Step 4: What will you be able to do then (that you haven’t been able to do now)??
“I will be able to stop avoiding neighborhood get-togethers and chatting with my neighbor — any of the neighbors in fact — since I will have nothing to fear or hide. I’ll use my freed-up time to finish that big landscaping project in the back yard.” Then I asked him again:
Step 5: How will you feel?
“I’ll feel excited about my project, proud of my work, probably more energetic.”
Step 6: And THEN what can you do? And how will it make you feel?
“Maybe I can buy my own gnome or even a pink flamingo! I’d feel… like a delighted kid. And maybe like I was getting away with something, being so child-like at this age… so unworried about what people think of me. Maybe butterflies in my stomach (in a good way)”
Step 8*: And then what can you do, after all this? And THEN how will you feel?
Yup, it takes a lot of effort to keep imagining. But keep going.
“Probably go golfing with my old friend. He stopped asking awhile back. I kept having excuses not to go — I was so preoccupied. And embarrassed of my skills and of using my time to “play” when I should be being productive. That would just be… a simple blast.”
Step 10*: What else makes you feel innocent, free, kind, energetic, proud, delighted, child-like, like you’re getting away with something, like you’re having a blast, open along your shoulders and upper back, relaxed in your solar plexus, unclenched in your jaw, light, strong, and/or butter-fly-ey?
Bob listed a ton of things — including some very, very small: taking a slightly longer but prettier way to work, being kind to strangers, strolling aimlessly after dinner (not for “exercise” or anything productive or than to look around), poking things with a stick (I know, I know but it’s real thing: poking trees, ant hills, mud… try it!), taking ONE little itsy bitsy step a day on that big landscaping project, etc…
Step 11: I asked Bob to start doing everything listed in Steps 4, 6, 8, and 10; to do them immediately even though he really still wanted the gnome; and to cram as many as he could into every day.
Bob didn’t have as much time to dwell on the gnome, but, more importantly, the visceral need for that small, concrete elf faded a little each week because he feels the way he wants to feel more often. And other good things have happened — things that he didn’t even think to list as possibilities — like he started teaching a frisbee golf class twice week through the Rec District. That seems unrelated but probably came about because his brain is emitting the glow of freedom and looking for new ways to feel free — thereby attracting things that create that feeling state even when he doesn’t consciously notice.
Freedom inside yourself = best feeling I know.
Your brain covertly working to get you what it thinks is the new norm = best secret weapon I know. Use it.
Enjoy this idea, and please let me know what you do with it.
* (When you look at the worksheet, you will see why I skipped a couple step-numbers in this list.)
PS — Bob also could complete the worksheet with his original desire, stating: “I want my neighbor’s garden gnome for myself.” Likely he would come up with the same list! Try it for yourself and see: diving into your desire brings you the feeling state you want whether it allows you to achieve the original desire OR to let go of it. It feels like magic. Freedom always does.