How To Do What You Really Want (Instead Of What You Feel Like)

Old fashioned compass with a sun face at the centre

Image by Oleg latsun via BigStock

Did you set a ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ this morning?

No, me neither.

What about your ‘Great Work Project’?


OK, what about deciding ‘How will you measure your life’?


This article is for all of you who did not wake this morning consumed with desire to reach for the sky, fulfil your potential or leave an outstanding legacy.

That’s not to say there aren’t things you want to do. Of course there are. You just haven’t found the right thing yet. Listen, if there is something not done in your life or career it’s because you have one of two problems:

  1. You know what you want but need a tool, technique, mindset or new approach to make it happen.
  2. Or you don’t know what you want.

If you have the first problem then you might well belong to that tiny group who urge each other to go for it. You know what you want, so your narrative is all about getting and keeping going…

I call it Knowing and Going. You’ll read the wisdom of the masters of motivation, you’ll pin up pictures of what you want and maybe practise writing yourself dummy cheques to get used to the money coming your way (Yes, really, I’m not making this up). If this is you then I apologise for wasting your time. You may wish to look away at this point for it’s the second group I want to talk to.

Still here?

If you haven’t got the first problem then you might well have the second problem – you can’t ‘go’ because you don’t ‘know’.

You don’t have a narrative about going for it because you are not sure what ‘it’ is. The battle metaphors and exhortations to go for gold leave you cold because you aren’t sure what race you should be in. In fact you may well have the impressive list of symptoms we looked at last time. You’re not alone, if the comments last time are any guide it’s a widespread problem.

All the evidence shows that people who know what they want are more likely to get what they want. After all, if you don’t know what you want, you will end up working for someone who does. Without your own agenda you will spend the best part of your youth and energy delivering someone else’s agenda.

What also seems true is people who do manage to know what they want possess a kind of ‘inner compass’ allowing them to make decisions and change their circumstances to move nearer to it.

But what if yours is broken or you’ve mislaid it?

Welcome. I’m going to help you look for it. Here’s a suggestion:

Start navigating by desire

Sometimes the barrier to knowing what you want is very simple. Perhaps you have a feeling that you’re not allowed to do what you want and have what you want. It might sound like this:

“If I did what I wanted all the time I’d never work or get anything done or achieve anything that needed some effort.

“And what about all those boring but necessary things that I don’t really want to do but have to do, like emptying the washing machine or doing my budget report, which I hate? If I carried on doing what I wanted, I’m worried that I’d stay in bed all day.”

The solution to this dilemma is to start navigating by our true desire instead of letting our moods lead us around by the nose.

Your moods and your desires

When we navigate by our moods we are primarily concerned with how we feel so we ask internal questions like, “What do I feel like doing?” or when faced with a choice, “Which one feels right?” or we might avoid some regular chore if we do not feel like doing it.

Hands up if you can spot a problem with this approach.

I don’t know about you but my moods change so much, even what I eat changes how I feel. This makes me a bit wary of using them as a guide and is why you might be worried about how your life would work if you only did what you felt like all the time.

It could be said that the opposite to mood is desire. Desire is about things that you want rather than things you feel like doing.

A lot of the time your mood and your desire are aligned. Lets say it’s 10am, you feel like a coffee and you want a coffee so you act to get one. Here your mood and desire are one so it’s easy to confuse them.

But what if there is a real difference? It’s 10pm. You get that lip smacking, mouth tingling feel for one last coffee but you know it will spoil your sleep. Your feelings are shouting “Drink coffee, go on!” but what you really want is a good sleep and to wake fresh for tomorrow. Now you have a clear choice – follow your moods and risk losing sleep, or choose what you desire instead.

Here’s a more personal example…

Choosing desire on a cold, wet morning

Imagine a cold, dark Saturday morning. It’s 5.30am and raining. My alarm rings. I surface with a groan in my warm, snuggly bed and realise, yet again, it’s time to take my daughter to her 6am swimming practice. I do not feel like getting up, I feel like staying in bed. My mood says “Don’t do it, it’s not right for you, it doesn’t feel right.”

So I’m lying there and I ask myself, “What do you want?” and I know that even though I do not feel like it, I do want to get up. In fact, I like the quiet time while she is swimming – it’s a little oasis in my week. I’ve enjoyed it before and I picture myself enjoying it again. I also want to get up because she loves swimming and I want to support her.

I still don’t feel like it, although, as I begin to think about what I want, my mood begins to change, coming round to supporting my desire. Fighting off my feelings, I get up to follow my desire.

Learn to follow your true desire

If you can identify your true desire, your mood will fall into line behind it, or in plain English: If there is something you don’t feel like doing then maybe you’re asking the wrong question.

Our feelings change so much, affected by the weather, what we eat, the amount of sleep we’ve had, what just went past our eyes or who we are with. All these affect our mood from moment to moment.

This makes your feelings an unreliable guide to what to do next. Your desires, on the other hand, tend to be deeper and less susceptible to moment by moment changes. Any time you find yourself in conflict about a simple choice – perhaps you think you should be doing something but don’t feel up to it, then have a think about what questions you are asking yourself.

If you are navigating primarily by mood you’ll be asking, “What do I feel like doing?”

If you are navigating by desire you’ll be asking, “What do I really want?”

As you choose to follow your desires rather than your moods, a couple of things will happen:

  1. Your desires and what you want will become much clearer to you.
  2. Your moods will fall into line behind your desires so that your feelings quickly come to support what you want.

And when you feel like doing what you want, it becomes much easier to start getting what you want. You find your inner compass by locating your true desire and following it. Practice following desire and over time you will be able to work harder at what you love, sort priorities quickly and make faster decisions.

One more thing

So here we are, back where we started:

“If I only did what I wanted, nothing in my life would get done”

That’s not true though is it? Even if you don’t feel like emptying the washing machine, you do want to wear clean clothes. Although you may hate doing budget reports you do want to show how well your team has done. In fact, when you stop focussing on how horrible it feels and start thinking about what you desire, you often find other ideas spring to mind about how to get it done.

“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

~ W. Somerset Maugham

What else do you want to know about goal-setting?

How do you stay creative when your feelings lead you astray? Tell us what works for you.

If you have discovered what you really wanted, what was the secret, the trigger point for you? Please share.

If you are yet to find your inner compass, let me know whether you found this tip helpful.

About the Author: Andrew Halfacre is a coach with years of experience helping people discover what they really want. Visit to download your free ‘First Know Journal’, a 40-page PDF of all the exercises from the book. And get the book as well on Amazon: First, Know What You Want.

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Responses to this Post


  1. Really enjoyed this, Andrew. This has been my struggle over the last year or so, as I have forced myself to get up an hour earlier every morning at 5:30 so I can actually have the time to meditate and have the solitude to write before I have to get my daughter up to get ready for school.

    It’s been killing me and in the darkness of winter that pillow so softly calls me to stay put and sleep a little longer in that warm bed. But the desire to clear my mind and get that next post done pushes me out of bed. That extra time to write gets me closer to that first eBook being complete.

    The wants are powerful influencers. But the desire is the master.

    Great reminder!

    • Thanks Mark – you are so right. In theory it’s supposed to get easier once you build a habit of following desire but in my experience those pesky feelings will sneak back in control if you let them. Sure I read a Will Smith quote along the lines of “I’m always ready so I don’t have to get ready.” That’s what we’re aiming for by choosing desire over feelings as much as possible. Let us know when the eBook is out. Andrew

  2. Thank you, I needed this. I’ll give your method a shot.

    • Thanks Nela – sometimes it can be hard to tell. Remember the coffee example. The tip from Joel is good too – your feelings want something immediate and are noisy. Your true desire is often longer term and speaks quietly. Andrew

  3. Nice application of what Daniel Kahneman addresses in his TED talk and his 500+ page book “Thinking Fast and Slow.”

    The difference between “what do I want NOW?” and “what do I want IN THE LONG RUN?” is the difference between success and failure, happiness and misery.

    Good practical thinking exercises, Andrew.

  4. Timely post for me. I have lots of ideas, but, no overarching theme to house them under. So I end up wandering a bit.

    • Yep. Learning to recognise your true desire is a big part of training yourself to locate your inner compass. As you begin to notice it more and more you can’t help but recognise underlying themes. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend doing Mark’s Creative Pathfinder course – a big help with this.

  5. Hate to break it to you, but you were also speaking to the first group! Asking the right questions to get my moods aligned with my desires has been one of the most useful techniques I’ve found for moving out of group 1 into ‘hairy audacious goals’

  6. Great post Andrew and timely for me as well. I’m about to embark on training for some endurance events and frankly getting up to train can sometimes be a struggle. That’s why I tend to set goals to motivate me to not let myself or my fellow endurance athletes down.


    • Makes a lot of sense. My goal isn’t to train, it’s whatever the training will give me or lead to. Locating your desire can help ‘persuade’ your body not to be so short term in it’s thinking…

  7. Emma Letheren says:

    Andrew, this was a fantastic reminder for me, I read your book a few months ago and found it very inspiring, unfortunately I’ve lost my way a little again since then so this has provided me with the boost I needed!

    I’m determined to practice this technique until it becomes second nature and I think it will be a fantastic skill to pass onto my children.

    Hopefully we’ll be achieving some earth shattering goals as a family soon but in the meantime I really want to get my car clean!!!

    • Emma, keeping the car clean is a fantastic metaphor for looking after your powerful forward motion device. Do it! You’re so right about the practice. I bore my kids with this all the time “What’s the secret of success?” “Practice” they cry in that bored, humouring Dad, way only teenagers can do. I figure ‘repetition is the mother of skill’, so I’ll keep on repeating it until it sinks in… Thanks for the kind words about the book.

  8. Hi Andrew – I figured to post as I see your effort in the feedback. I’ve read your book and appreciate the line of thinking. When it comes to goal setting I believe the ‘problem’ for everyone (depending on the above catorgories) is whether ‘your’ mind can visualize an end without the means. I think that certain obstacles prevent this i.e. money, confidence, help etc. where as folks who can get around this and other physiological issues are the ones have a much easier time not confusing feelings (mood) with true desire as they have much better means…

    • Hi Jonathan. Yep, I think there’s a lot of truth in this. It’s easy to mix up the “What?” and the “How?” – what I want? v. how the heck am I going to do it/get it? There are some useful metaphors here:

      Right brain / creative / inner child = dreaming about what I want

      Left brain / critic / adult = coolly assessing how I could do it

      Too often we let the critical side of ourselves make a snap judgement about how realistic it is and dismiss the desire as fantasy or unobtainable. Yet that leaves us with a problem – we still want it – and until we pay attention to those inner promptings we might not have much peace. So, yes, a good key to isolating your true desire is being willing to hold onto what you want while staying comfortable with not knowing quite how it will happen or how you will get there.

  9. Louise Ordish says:

    hi Andrew,
    love this – i really enjoy your writing style as well as the content!!
    Timely for me, i am starting to re-shift my work focus and suspect some feelings are stopping me being clear about my desire. Will read more later, as my current want is to prep more fully for a poetry class i’m teaching this evening.
    Also recommend you seek out “thinking fast” “thinking slow”mentioned by another reader.

    • Thanks Louise – great to hear from you. I believe it is hard to separate how we feel in this moment and what our body wants right now, from a deeper and more underlying desire. I’m also sure it gets easier with practice. Each time you ponder the question and decide in favour of your desire makes it easier to find that pesky inner compass next time. Thinking Fast and Slow firmly on my reading list now!

  10. Jose Castellanos says:

    Hi Andrew!

    Great to hear your perennial positive energy. Your reflection is spot-on… letting our feelings drive our actions is often not productive and can lead to vicious circles. One book that I found extremely useful was The Passion Test by Janet Bray & Chris Attwood. That one gives it a more spiritual angle which I found very powerful and useful Today I do my best to live my top 5 passions every minute of every day of my life. It’s not always easy but it’s always fun and one gets into a virtuous cycle leaving dread and all sort of negative feelings behind. Focusing on one really desires undoubtedly has the power to overcome temporary unproductive feelings. I’ll look you up next time I’m in London (late Oct or earlier). Keep in touch my friend!

    • Hi Jose

      Great to hear from you and yep, I think passion counts as a sure guide to your inner compass as long as we don’t confuse it with momentary moods or feelings. Thanks for the book recommendation. It’s on my library list now.

      All the best