Do you tend to be too nice? Do you worry that voicing your desires will upset or offend someone else? Are you constantly placing the needs, emotions, and wishes of others ahead of your own?

In general, many of us tend to hold back from going after we want for all the wrong reasons: we worry it will inconvenience someone, or we think we’ll irritate someone, or we think we’ll be judged negatively for our desires, or we simply feel bad for having any wishes of our own in the first place.

For a good percentage of society, a dismissive inner voice is consistently chiming in to rain guilt down upon them whenever they dare to want too much out of life.

That is no way to live.

Firstly, you’re not a bad or high-maintenance person for having lofty goals and expecting them to be attainable—there’s nothing wrong with you. After all, what’s the point of living if you can’t go after the best that life has to offer?

This is such a persistent issue in our minds that, in many cases, we’re even willing to subconsciously pretend that we don’t even know what we want to achieve in a given situation.

Over the years, I’ve had thousands of conversations with clients about their goals and what is holding them back from achieving them, and my main goal is always to try and steer the conversation toward how they could envision the obstacles going more positively. In other words, when something is not working for us—when we’re experiencing challenges at work, with our families, or in our love lives—what is it that we really want in those situations?

No matter how many times I ask this question, the answer is almost universally, “I don’t know” . . . but nine out of ten times, they actually DO know.

The problem is almost never that we don’t know what we want—it’s that we’ve got a voice in our heads telling us not to want it.

Take a moment and think about little kids. I’ve got two of them, so I’ll use them as the example. These kids ALWAYS know what they want:

  • Give me that!
  • I want more of this one!
  • No, I don’t like those!
  • I want to watch that!

Children want things so fervently and so often that we have to teach them manners about it just to keep them from running roughshod over everyone around them.

We know that we have it in us to want things and to be aware of those desires. We’ve just become so disconnected from ourselves that we no longer hear our authentic inner voices.

So, how do we alter our mindset to reverse that backward wiring and get more in touch with our wants and needs?

Well, step one is very clearly to get back in touch with what it is that we want.

In order to get what we want out of life, we have to know what to ask for.

It’s no good trying to get to San Diego if your GPS is set for Pittsburgh. Right now, you might be mentally alienated from your wants and needs, and getting that connection back will take a little practice:

Start by getting comfortable and clearing your mind of unnecessary chatter. Now, imagine a situation in your life that’s been holding your up. In the perfect world, what do you want out of that situation? If that feels too specific—or if nothing comes to mind—then you can simply meditate on life’s greatest query: What do I want out of life?

What is it that you want out of these challenging moments?

Now, as you ask yourself this question, you may notice guilt, discomfort, or some other negative emotion pop up. This is absolutely normal . . . and it’s a great sign that you can recognize it.

Generally speaking, we tend to avoid actions and thoughts that make us feel badly.

The truth, however, is that you are not selfish or bad for asking this question. In fact, in my book, Not Nice, I like to refer to the question, “What do I want,” as the million-dollar question. Hence, we cannot let ourselves avoid it—rather, we must make a daily habit out of asking it.

The next time you’re in a work meeting and you realize you’re not pleased with the way it’s going, stop and ask yourself what you want out of it. Were you hoping for resolutions, streamlining, or personal recognition? The next time you’re in an unsatisfying social interaction, take a moment to ponder what you wanted from it. Are you envisioning laughter or a deeper personal connection?

What we’re doing here is building a bridge between your heart and mind: what you want matters, and what you need is important.

When it comes right down to it, you are your biggest and most dedicated advocate. Sure, other people will love you and care about you, but you are the only person who can fight for exactly what you want from moment to moment.  

Nobody else is going to live your life for you—you’ve got to be able to stand up for yourself and ask for what you want.

Let’s face it: if you never learn to ask the world for what you want—or even to ask yourself what you want from the world—then all you will ever feel in life is resentment. You’ll keep that resentment bottled up (because nice people aren’t resentful!) and your body will respond accordingly. This sort of inner tension can lead to a treasure trove of ailments, including anxiety, depression, and even physical pain.

But you can’t relieve that resentment if you don’t actively work to change your mindset and behavior.

We must stop suppressing our resentment, and start asking for what we want out of life! This journey begins with you: you must be more proactive in changing your outdated and damaging patterns of thought. You must learn to make your own needs a priority.

Start by asking yourself at least once per day what you want. Make it a habitual practice and see if you can increase the number of times you ask yourself that question daily. The next step will be going after those wants and needs out in the real world . . . but more on that in the next episode!

I love reading about your experiences and getting inspiration from your thoughts and questions, so please share your comments below! How often do you ask yourself what you want out of a situation? What mental obstacles are holding you back from doing so? How has this practice changed your life? Your experiences are extremely valuable to everyone here, so please open up and give us all the chance to learn from you.

Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome.