Redefining “want”…

It occurred to me recently that for most of my life, I have misunderstood “want”.

The word “want”, in my experience, has referred mainly to thoughts or feelings that express a desire for something.  ‘Something’ may be an item, a relationship, a job, a lifestyle, state of health or fitness, etc. 

It occurred to me that wants expressed only as thoughts or feelings are largely pointless.  In fact, I have found it to be toxic and painful.  How many times have we wanted and wanted and wanted something but never obtained it because we never turned our thoughts and feelings into action?  Or our thought/emotional wants were simply unrealistic for us.  What good then is all of our wanting?

What if we redefined “want” to only those physical or behavioural expressions that effectively moved us closer to obtaining our desires?  In other words, what if we chose only to “want” with our actions?

And furthermore, we only committed actions to desires we could realistically achieve, and set all day-dream desires aside?

What if we all but did away with conventional thought/feeling-wanting?  What if we shut this unproductive form of want off? Would we not waste less emotional energy and time? Would we not then have far less disappointment, resentment, and envy in our lives? 

The longer I live, the more I experience and observe people (self included) thinking, feeling, and saying they want one thing, yet creating with their actions something completely different.  We think we want something, we feel we want something, we even say we want something, but we don’t receive it because we are not wanting it with our actions.

I’ve also known many people who appear to be stuck in, or even addicted to, the habit of mentally and/or emotionally wanting, only to face disappointment of never having.

For example, how many people do any of us know who say they want a particular type of love relationship, but are completely unrealistic in what it takes to obtain it?  Recently, I have had conversations with a few of men who “want” a fit, attractive, desirable woman in their lives, but they are not engaging the actions to make themselves eligible for such a relationship.  Instead, they eat poorly, dress poorly, smoke, don’t exercise, and don’t act like gentlemen.  You may be thinking, “duh”, but don’t we all know guys like this?  Their wants are just empty noise.  Their real wants, expressed by their behaviours, are to remain unattractive an ineligible for the relationships their thought/feeling-wants are expressing.

Or people who want jobs or lifestyles of some description yet engage the actions and behaviours to keep them in the jobs and lifestyles they are currently in.

Or those who want physical, emotional, or mental health but continue to feed themselves with unhealthy foods, thoughts, relationships, dialogues, entertainment, and environments?

What if we all but stopped the whole wishing and pipe dreaming forms of want, or at least kept them to very finite and strategic periods in our lives, and only engaged wants that we could express in productive actions and behaviours toward obtainable goals?  And were we couldn’t express a want with actions, we set it aside, at least for a time.

Anyone who has found recovery from alcohol, drugs, or other compulsive behaviours has learned, at least in the context of overcoming our vices that dreams and wishes won’t get us clean, sober, or free.  And that it was the actions and behaviours of recovery that saved our lives and turned us around.  What if we transferred this same understanding was applied to all areas of our lives?  Is this not what the 12th step refers to when it says, “…. practiced these principles in all of our affairs”?

The distinction between thought/emotion-want and action/behaviour-want has become vividly clear to me lately.  I have been practicing and developing the habits of reducing the former and increasing the latter.  The results have been greater freedom from preoccupation, disappointment and envy, and growth in meaningful areas of my life that can be changed and improved.




About Chaz

Husband, father, brother, son, friend. Sober member of AA. Grateful for the life God gave me and for the happy struggle of recovery.
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6 Responses to Redefining “want”…

  1. Our culture is steeped on materialism. Want is the driving force behind life. Be it an ipod, iphone, ipad, etc … It’s all about getting the next big thing. And we seem to overlook the simple want that is necessary to get us forward for the quick fix of instant gratification. There are things i “want” but only if money permits. I have goals I set by my sobriety, which usually come to fruition if i stay in the moment and take notice of the little graces that pass through.

    There is one thing to want the impossible and not being able to achieve them, strain theory. In rapid changing society, we get caught up in rapid change that we cannot adapt to quick enough. I think we set the goals to high for some, and that is the major stumbling block to success.

    Maybe we need to aim a little more towards the center and not so far out to the right or left. But in this busy world who has time to take the time to stop and reassess their wants and needs.

    We might not always get what we want, but god always gives us what we need at any given moment.


    • Chaz says:

      Hi Jeremy… thanks for the reply. Yes, we are a society with inordinate wants. And in looking at myself and others I am often in contact with, we spend far too much time and energy on those wants…. particularly the ones beyond our reach… and particuarly x 2 the ones that we while thought/emotion-wanting, we are action/behaviour-repelling.

      I am not for a moment saying we can’t want big things that are beyond our immediate grasp. I have some big wants that I need to build toward daily. Not unlike wanting to be another year sober, which I cannot fast-forward, but I can do today’s installment on my sober year by staying sober today.

      On the other hand, as much as I love PGA tour golf, I know as a 40-something recreational golfer with some back/neck and shoulder issues, I do not “want” or expect in any way to ever make the PGA tour. So I spend no time whatsoever think/feel-wanting it.

      There would have been a time in my life that a lofty goal like being a PGA golfer, although completely out of my reach, would be something I would spend time imagining and comparing myself to those my age who are pro golfers. Why? To what end? I no longer do that.

      I also do not want to ever win Mr. Universe. I do however have a fitness goal before I go on vacation next year that I work on daily and weekly. But not in a think/feel way, but in an action/behaviour way. I point my actions and behaviours in the direction of my wants. If I can’t, these wants get none of my time or energy.

      Agreed that our society rarely stops and assesses wants/needs. Which is one reason I am grateful to be a member of AA. My involvement and the influences I am around help me stay grounded in my wants/needs. Probably because so many of us came from grandiose thinking during our active drinking days, we now have opportunity to see how ineffective this was and bring ourselves into reality.

      Thanks again for your reply (ies)!



  2. Heidi says:

    Package and sell this concept! We need it. This dove-tails with my philosophy of Listen With Your Eyes. The danger is in listening to words, words, words (or thoughts) and not focusing on actions. I completely agree. Reading this has made me aware of how I’ve been trying to do the same thing in my life. This is an encouragement. Thank you!

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Heidi…. a pleasure to hear from you as always. You seem to be on a simlar journey away from words only, and toward actions.

      What an amazing discovery when the penny drops on this eh? I can remember the light coming on for me not too many years ago when I could finally see how much of my life was thoughts, words, intentions, and wishes. I even tricked myself in to thinking that one day I would actually DO some of the things I talked about and wished for. Only to discover a short or long while later that when the future arrived, I was no closer because I was only thinking, talking, intending, and wishing.

      The crazy thing was that there were areas of my life where I did take actions. But my sobriety, emotional recovery, and personal growth were not among them. I was selectively missing it.

      The great thing is that lights can continue to come on and get brighter.



  3. Amen Brother! I had a friend confront me with my use of the word “need” early in my recovery; as in ” I need to go see that movie this weekend.” She helped me redefine for myself, or rather, clarify, want vs. need and how they both play into Ego.

    Wonderful post. I love this blog!

    Peace, Jen

    • Chaz says:

      Amazing how narrow our perspective become, isn’t it? Such as our perceived “needs”. We are often unknowingly convinced that there are things in life that we simply cannot live without. We believe we absolutely must have them. We believe we need them. But do we?

      Case in point…. when my wife packed it in, and it shaped up that my kids would not grow up fulltime under the same roof as me, I could not fathom it. I was convinced that they needed to… and so did I.

      Fast forward 10 years. I have the most amazing relationship with my kids. Better than many of my friends whose kids grew up in their homes fulltime. Words cannot describe how much I love my kids and how deep our relationship is. My mid-teenage daughter just last week came to me with a question that a daughter would not typically take to her Dad. But to me she did. Why? Well I cant account for all reasons, but clearly trust was one of them.

      What I thought I absoultely needed 10 years ago, but didn’t get, has turned out amazingly well all the same. Turns out that I didn’t “need” it as much as I thought. But then again, that is God being God. He does this kind of amazing stuff. He turns adversity into blessing. Which once again proves to me that he is really all I actually need.



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