Murray was a client of mine who had trouble figuring out what he truly wanted to create.
When asked to make a list of 10 End Results he wanted, Murray first made a list of results that he thought a man his age "should" want. But he didn't really want any of them. When asked to re-do his list, Murray put down 10 results he thought that his mother and wife thought he should create. Again, there was nothing on his list that he truly desired.
People like Murray focus on “ideals,” on what they think they should or ought to want rather than what they truly do want. However, there is a huge difference between an ideal and a vision. Ideals are imposed rather than chosen; they are demands, not desires. They are expectations that we force on ourselves (and others), not deeply-desired results that we want to bring into being.
Some ideals come from outside, from parents, peers, teachers, authorities, the culture, advertising, and other external sources. From the time we are infants, people tell us what we should do. “Go to this school! Dress this way! Buy this car! Find a nice girl! Marry a rich man!” Other ideals come from within. They are formed to compensate for an underlying belief that there is something lacking in us, or something wrong with us that we must fix. “I am bad, therefore I should be good. I am stupid, therefore I should be smart. I am not creative, therefore I should be creative.”
My own most challenging ideal comes from the belief that I am ordinary, and that ordinary is not good enough. In compensation, I tell myself that I should be great. Although this ideal motivates me initially, it also causes me to act like an arrogant big shot rather than an ordinary man aspiring to create the things he loves. I spent several years, for example, trying to become a highly paid corporate consultant, not because I particularly loved the work but because I wanted to “play in the bigs.” I wanted to measure myself against the best (highest paid) consultants in the most challenging and highly visible arena (the corporate world). I wanted to prove to myself (and others) that I was extraordinary.
However, no one is extraordinary. We may act extraordinarily, we may do extraordinary things, we may create extraordinary results but we are all in our own ways ordinary. I had to learn the difference between wanting to create great results that I loved and demanding that I be great to compensate for being ordinary. However, trying to prove that I was great conflicted with my everyday reality, which included ample evidence that I was not.
Although I was financially successful in “the bigs,” the stress of constant striving almost killed me. My immune system became depressed. My social life suffered. I drank too much. Finally, I realized that there would always be another rung on the ladder leading to “great.” I saw that there would always be another level of extraordinariness to which I would feel compelled to strive. Recognizing the futility of trying to be what I was not, I accepted that I, like everyone else, was ordinary. Instead of trying to prove that I was great, I focused on producing great results doing what mattered to me. In doing so, I learned that my ordinary self was good enough. I stopped “shoulding” on myself and focused on choosing to create what mattered.
You can experience the difference between imposing an ideal on yourself and envisioning and choosing a result you want. Think of something that you want. Imagine it fully completed. Then say to yourself, “I must have this. I should create it.” Then note how you feel. Do you feel heavy, uptight, like you’re carrying a weight that is too heavy for you? That’s how I used to feel. That’s what it feels like when you impose and ideal on yourself, when, as psychologist Albert Ellis likes to say, you “should” on yourself.
Now, once again, think of what you want. This time, imagine the result, fully completed, and say to yourself, “I choose (that result),” and note how you feel. Do you feel lighter, more energized, like you have more power? Do you feel more pulled toward the result than pushed by the demand of your ideal?
As author Henry Miller said, "It's only when we demand that we are hurt."
Choosing a result that you desire sets up the “magnetic pull” of creative tension. Shoulding on yourself disempowers you. In which stance do you choose to live and act?
Excerpted from Simplicity and Success: Creating The Life You Long For, Trafford (2006)