A few years back, I came across author Mark Manson and his theory of the four stages of life. As a coach and researcher, the part that I found particularly insightful was his discussion of what keeps us stuck across every life stage. What it boiled down to was a simple but powerful concept: the idea that we hold ourselves back due to thought patterns arising from a feeling of personal inadequacy. Manson postulates that, if this is what keeps us stuck, then the trick to getting unstuck is to realize that time and energy are valuable resources. You will not be able to accomplish everything you can dream of and desire, and therefore you must commit to what matters most, refocusing your attention on helping others and pursuing meaningful ideas and endeavors. Furthermore, Mason states that because change is inevitable, the influence of one person—no matter how great, powerful, or meaningful—will not last forever.
Last week, we explored the idea of riding solo and how it can be such an empowering and liberating tool when we are suffering or in a state of conflict. This week, I want to extend the newsletter to explore how we can pursue our true desires: the ones that never seem to leave us alone, the ones that show up in our thoughts and say, “Knock, knock.”
We ask, “Who’s there?”
Have you ever noticed these desires surfacing, only to sink back into the ocean of your thoughts? The thing about our true desires is that they always come back to us; sooner or later, we hear them knocking at the door again, asking, “When will it be my turn?”
We know these desires exist, but we lack the courage to call them out. We feel by calling them out, we would need to act on them, so we tell ourselves to just let them be, that it’s best not to acknowledge them at all. This allows us to avoid the inevitable guilt of not having taken action. We allow our desires to stay dormant, thinking that they will make their way up to the surface when the time and circumstances are right. We convince ourselves that the light will finally shine on them at the perfect moment.
The good news is that these true desires are always lurking below our self-doubt, and they are frequent visitors in our ocean of thoughts. The bad news is that we don't have control over the circumstances in which these desires can be realized, and we are not great at predicting timing.
How can we build courage to shine the light on these true desires? Today I will discuss some simple and practical ways of using minimum baselines and atomic habits to cultivate meaningful rituals and start acting on them. These strategies will help you identify your true desires, better connect with them, and take tangible steps toward realizing them in your life.
How can we build the courage to shine a light on our true desires?
A false desire feels justified. On the surface, you don’t see anything wrong, and there is no need to explain or justify it to anyone. When a desire does not help you become the person you want to be, or when it comes at the cost of your well-being or health, this signifies that it is a false desire. Some common examples of false desires are the desire to overeat, drink too much, overspend, or indulge in consuming excessive content. They often are urges we give in to easily and stem from simple thought errors such as, "I deserve this because I had a hard day", “It’s ok to skip sometimes”, “Just one more time will not make a difference?”. We don't have to beat ourselves up for having urges. However, the key to starting the transformation journey is to acknowledge that these are not true desires.
True, deep desires, on the other hand, are sacred. They are a part of your identity, and a map to who you want to become. They are a compass to your dreams. For those of us who are struggling to articulate what our true dreams or desires are, the solution is to clean out our thought clutter. A simple way to do this is simply doing a thought download for 10 minutes. Simply write each individual thought that is in your mind on a piece of paper. Practicing this mental housekeeping will make it much easier to find that treasure within our minds. If you are not struggling with thought clutter then you need to see if self-doubt is coming in the way. It can weigh you down or clutter your mind. Self-doubt often shows up as an obstacle based on your current situation, your thoughts around your abilities or results you feel you have not yet produced. This happens to all of us naturally. For example, if my true desire is to write a book and if I think I already know my limits, I may not be open to all the different potential avenues of writing and publishing that are available to me. I could judge myself based on my past abilities, others’ opinions, or my current circumstances, thus limiting my possibilities. To acknowledge self-doubt, you can write down all the thoughts you have about yourself and what you think of your ability.
Now, to tap into these wonderful treasures within yourself, start by asking yourself these questions. Remember, self-doubt is not allowed here! Let this practice be pure, sacred, and true to its original purpose.
What do I want for myself?
Who do I want to become?
Whom do I want to enable and help?
What knowledge do I seek to acquire?
What wisdom do I seek to share and offer others?
What meaningful contributions do I want to make?
Who do I want to make these contributions to?
Where should I be spending more time creating value?
Who are the people who will carry forward my contributions?
What can I do for myself and those who matter now, knowing that change is inevitable (and knowing that I will not always be around)?
When you choose to tap into the feeling of true desire, with no self-doubt, you open your mind to all kinds of new inspiration. Here is how this exercise can unfold. If I truly want to become a writer and coach, then I must first believe it’s possible, with no caveats or limitations. If I want to coach more leaders so that they can accomplish impossible goals without experiencing burnout, then I want to become an example of that myself. I want to be able to share my ideas with other diversity and minority leaders and make coaching accessible. I want to offer it at scale and multiply it. If this is my true desire, then I am pursuing it by giving myself permission to believe in endless possibilities.
Similarly to creativity, true desires come in all shapes and forms. Some are more concrete, with outcomes you can visualize (like writing a book). Others are more ethereal, such as mindsets you need to adopt (like learning to feel more) or limited beliefs you need to reframe (like believing you can’t enjoy meaningful quality time with your kids on a weekday).
One common theme I always see emerge from this activity is in the contributions people want to make to society and to others. Whether via improving mental and physical well-being, education, social welfare, or the environment, we all desire to leave this planet a better place than it was when we arrived. Another common desire is to become an entrepreneur, or to fulfill our entrepreneur mindset. We want to cultivate and grow our ideas, enabling and employing others to take them forward, even when we are not around.
This is a beautiful exercise to allow for that "knock-knock" moment. By writing down your sacred list, you can tap into the feeling of desire without the burden of self-doubt.
How to take action now using atomic habits/minimum baselines?
James Clear's book Atomic Habits is a fantastic read. The idea is simple: Start small. Master the art of showing up for yourself. Scale up when you have more time and energy. The minimum baseline concept in coaching is the same. What is the least amount of time you are willing to put in? Can this minimum be done even on your worst days? Your minimum can be as little as a single minute. There is an abundance of scientific evidence supporting doing something consistently for a minimum amount of time each day. vs. not doing it all.
One of the advantages of applying an atomic habit or minimum baseline to your true desire is that it is not just about moving toward the outcome; it is about reinforcing your belief in yourself. Your true desire often is the compass pointing you to what you want to become and what you want to be. Acting on it can be immensely gratifying, even if you only do it in very small quantities at first.
When I cultivated this idea of worklifeunstuck, my minimum baseline was learning how to feel every single day. This meant allowing the urges to not indulge in food or wine at the end of a day. Every time, I did not indulge, I got to put one marble in the jar. Then I added allowing more urges like not checking email on slots not sanctioned for it. With writing, I started with 10 minutes of journaling in the morning, writing 500 words a week and now increasing it to 1000 words. With coaching, I started with at least one session a week. . These minimum baselines have a tendency to automatically grow and cultivate into habits and the closer they are to your beliefs and true desires they start to blossom.
When I first began this journey, I realized that I had been waiting for some future date to act on my true desire. I was putting it off, waiting for some new thing, some new set of circumstances, some new possession, some new day. But the fact is, if we cannot find that starting point now, where we are, as we are, and with what we have, there is little chance we are going to magically find it at some future point. We must act now to uncover the treasure that lies within ourselves and ahead of us.
There is a great deal of value in the day-to-day and week-to-week. One doesn't have to wait for the right time and place. If your desire is knocking and keeps showing up, listen to it. Open up to it, and once you’ve identified it, commit to moving a little closer to it every day. Whether you use an atomic habit or minimum baseline to move it forward, you can start to build a ritual in service to true desire. This will eventually reinforce your belief that will take you to levels of achievement you never could have anticipated.
Your desires are knocking. It’s time to let them in.
Maithili Vijay Dandige