Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 30;   July 25, 2012: How to Avoid Getting What You Want

How to Avoid Getting What You Want

by

Why would you want to know how to avoid getting what you want? Well, suppose you had perfected ways of avoiding getting what you want, but you weren't aware that you were doing it. This one's for you.
Cheshire Cat fading to a smile, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

Cheshire Cat fading to a smile, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. It is this character that expresses one of the many pieces of Carroll's wisdom that have been repeated and re-expressed so often. Upon Alice's meeting the Cheshire Cat, the following dialog occurs.

'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'

'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.

'I don't much care where-' said Alice.

'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.

How many of us are wandering in Wonderland? Image courtesy WPClipart.

Humans are amazing. We can accomplish great things. We manipulate the flow of rivers, we stave off diseases and other afflictions, we probe the mysteries of life and Nature. For me, though, our most impressive talent is our ability to control how we perceive our own behavior. And I don't think I'm fooling myself.

Among the most useful examples of our brilliance is the collection of patterns that we use to avoid getting what we really want. Over the years, observing myself and others, I've assembled a toolkit that includes some fiendishly clever techniques. Here they are.

Be ignorant of what you really want
Understanding or identifying something within ourselves can be difficult. But to maintain unblemished ignorance of something internal, over a period of years, we must avail ourselves of the perverse genius we all share. To accomplish this, some keep busy with mind-numbing entertainment or substances, useless gossip, or misdirected busywork.
Rejecting these activities can make room for exploring new goals.
Be uncomfortable with not knowing how to get it
The feelings that arise from knowing what we want, but not knowing how to get it, can be exquisitely uncomfortable: frustration, pain, fear, confusion, sadness, and more are all possible.
Focusing on the challenge of finding a path to the goal, rather than the discomfort of not knowing how to reach it, frames that challenge as a problem to be solved, like any other problem.
Fear failure
Fear of The feelings that arise from
knowing what we want, but
not knowing how to get
it, can be exquisitely
uncomfortable
failure prevents some of us from trying to reach our goals. But if our goal is determining what we want, fear of failure — and the shame that can come with failure — can preserve ignorance. We don't try to figure out what we want because thinking about it is too unsettling.
With one exception, failures to figure out what we really want are all temporary. The one exception is the failure that comes from giving up.
Be compulsive about consistency
Sometimes we blunder. We think we know what we want, and when we get it, or sometimes on the way to getting it, we realize it's a mistake. But we push on anyway, because we absolutely must be consistent, and acknowledging the error would be inconsistent.
We have the right to change our minds. Surrendering that right, or failing to exercise it, can be an effective method for avoiding getting what we want.

Perhaps the most dispiriting and effective method of avoiding getting what we really want involves holding fast to the belief that we don't deserve anything good. By eroding the desire for what we want, this belief prevents exploration, and halts any explorations that do somehow get started. But most tragically, this belief can cause us to reject or destroy what we want even if it somehow comes to pass. Go to top Top  Next issue: Rapid-Fire Attacks  Next Issue

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The United States curling team at the Torino Olympics in 2006Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
A human marionetteAnd on November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.

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