Updated: Apr 6, 2021
A deeper look into the influence the concepts of want and should have in navigating life's decisions.
People love to frame decisions in a binary framework. We're either right or wrong, good or bad, black or white, in or out -- the list goes on and on.
I have become increasingly cognizant of a sneaky binary decision framework that oftentimes gets muddied to the point that the two options are often confused for one another: the ideas of “want” and “should.” This can create tension in your life as having the presence to clearly distinguish the difference between what you want and what you believe you should be doing can have powerful ramifications in your decision making, relationships, and arc of life!
Before we delve into how these frameworks play out in our lives, here is my interpretation of "want" and "should". I encourage the reader to define the concepts for themselves as the ideas will be subjective to each individual.
Want: What do you really desire?
I can’t state it much simpler than discerning what you truly want in a situation. The purpose of distinguishing your want is to get clear in what you wish to experience in a particular area in your life outside of judgments, interpretations, or other influential factors.
Should: What is expected, suggested, or feels obligated?
Whether by internal or external forces, should seems to carry additional baggage in terms of expectations in a given scenario. Should can take us in a variety of directions, which if we’re not mindful, can steer us down a path that may be in contrast to what we seek to experience.
I believe that everyone’s "wants" and "shoulds" are entirely different; everyone has different life experiences and aspirations, so they are unique to you. However, in almost every decision, there is a “want” and a “should,” and it’s important to know which is which -- not because one is necessarily right or wrong; instead, it’s because just knowing which option is your “want” and which is your “should” empowers you to be more intentional with your decisions.
Another important thing to keep in mind is what your default response is. Whether you know it or not, everyone gravitates to either their “want” or “should” in some capacity. Again, that doesn’t make it more right than the other. It just means that is what we are more comfortable with. For example, through working with my coach, I have personally become aware that my default response generally shades towards “should.”
To show how this plays out in real life, let’s discuss a decision I have been grappling with myself lately: whether it makes sense for me to leave my job in corporate America to build my coaching practice full time.
In this, the question turns back to what do I want in my life and what are my priorities?
Answering those questions can provide a lot of clarity towards the experiences you want to be active in creating. In my experience, these aren’t always easy questions to answer, but through a lot of introspection, I have discovered that I am committed to service, connection, freedom, empowerment, and possibility above all else. These commitments are more important than the luxury of security and stability that corporate structures offer.
Because of that, I believe that I SHOULD quit my corporate job so that I can dedicate myself fully to my coaching practice and changing lives on my terms. Whereas, I realize that I WANT to continue to have consistent paychecks, benefits, and the security of corporate advantages.
Distinguishing provided elevation and allow me to create what I need to better service my pursuits.
For a long time, I was someone that often mistook the two, and it led to prioritizing areas of my life that were out of alignment with what I truly wanted to experience. Now that I have come to terms with what I want and what I believe I should be doing, I am more empowered to live in a manner that is more representative of how I want to experience life at this moment. In my case, that is working corporate while my practice expands and I grow into my presence as a coach.
Empowerment stems from being aware and intentional in your response. When you can make the distinction for yourself, you have a powerful place to ground yourself in a manner that best serves your ambitions. You will no longer be unknowingly subject to your default reactions.
Identifying want & should in your life
My intention in bringing awareness to this distinction is to provide you with a new curiosity about your being and how your automatic decision frameworks relate to what you’re committed to in life -- something I am assisting many of my clients within their own life projects. But to give you a little bit of a boost, I offer the practice of creating a Want & Should list for your life. Below are are are a few guide rails to keep in mind as you begin exploring:
The list can be created for a specific goal or a view of your life holistically, whatever best serves you.
If you find it useful to add additional dimensions to your list, go for it. For example, one of my clients incorporates a section for perception vs. reality which assists them in their decision process.
Be mindful of your interpretations. Try not to view your results as “right” or “wrong” but rather “as-is.”
Can a shift in your automatic response to the “want” vs. “should” paradigm influence your decision framework? What impact can you see for yourself in being intentional with the context behind your actions? Where are you finding that you are mistaking your “want” and “should” in your life? These are all powerful places to look as you define for yourself the place in which you come from.
If you’re interested in exploring this concept as it relates to your life along with your decision framework mechanisms, I invite you to bring your "want vs. should" list or coaching request to a complimentary coaching session.
Please share what you’re taking away from this concept in the comments if you feel so inclined. Good luck!!