A ten-month old baby has passion and goes after what she wants. 

She will give it her all to pull herself up to a stand.  He will scream loudly for more crackers.  She will laugh without hesitation, over and over, at a silly face.  A ten-month old baby does not feel foolish.  He desires without reservation and grabs the fur of the pet dog with gusto.  She holds out her little hands to be picked up or to have more.  

This is a natural human state of wanting and desiring.  We are wired to act to reach our goals.  We must learn to accept “no” or to wait for the getting.  This is called “growing up.”  Tolerating a delay in gratification is an achieved skill, useful for more and more complex pursuits in life, starting with waiting to go to the potty, then on to working on a 3rd grade science fair project, to saving up for a new phone as a teen, to graduating college.

But, somewhere along the way, she may learn to say “no” to herself too easily.  She stops herself before she starts.  She convince herself that she cannot have what she desires, and may not even know what is the object of her desire.

I work with many people who say “I don’t know what I want.”  They feel stuck and unsatisfied in their lives.  Sometimes they perceive that others have caged them when they’ve caged themselves.  Here are common reasons I’ve heard:

  • My spouse will be mad at me if….
  • I don’t have time….
  • It would be selfish of me to do….
  • What would other’s think of me….
  • I’m too old (or too young) to do….
  • It’s not important in the grand scheme of things….
  • That would be foolish….
  • My children/spouse/parents are a bigger priority….
  • If it was good enough for mom and dad, it’s good enough for me….

These reasons are built on several underlying beliefs.  

  • It’s not ok to disappoint someone.
  • You are responsible for others’ feelings.
  • It’s not ok to mobilize your skills and talents to benefit yourself.  
  • Fear of retribution if you go after what you want.
  • Giving others’ judgements of you priority over your judgements of yourself.
  • Feeling shame for wanting more.
  • It’s not ok to want recognition or acknowledgement. 

Many successful people hold themselves back in subtle, but pervasive ways.  Do you relate to any of these beliefs?  Begin to notice what you tell yourself about why you don’t do the things you want to do.  You may realize that you are your biggest obstacle.

Not surprisingly, many people suffering from depression or anxiety experience these thoughts on a regular basis.  The tension builds from a lifetime of pretense and shame.