One pattern I often see is how expats are very good at identifying all the things they don’t want in their life (abroad). But when they’re asked to say what they want instead, that’s when they struggle to articulate their needs.
When we’re solely driven by the things we don’t want, we’re not actually helping ourselves move closer to a happier place (whether literally or figuratively speaking). Knowing what you don’t want is only part of the puzzle.
It’s equally important to know what are the things you want to be moving towards. Without this knowledge of what it is that you want in place of the things you don’t want, you risk getting stuck in a negative loop.
But for many people it’s not easy to know what they want.
Perhaps you are one of them.
Perhaps you were never taught how to tune in with yourself and know what your needs are.
In this blog post, I want to demystify what figuring out one’s wants and needs involves so you can start training that muscle of yours and little by little move towards clarity on what you want from your life.
1. Pay attention to your body’s intelligence
Our bodies are amazing messengers when it comes to guiding us in the right direction.
It is through sensations in the body that we can become aware of our feelings, which in turn give valuable information about our true needs and desires.
It’s worth paying attention to how you feel because you can’t rationalize your way through everything in life.
If you want to feel deeply fulfilled in all aspects of your life (which is, by the way, a feeling not something you can think into being), you need to tune into the wisdom of your body before you start strategizing in your head.
What does this mean in practice?
It means that when you feel great interacting with certain people or doing certain activities (e.g. your body feels light or full of energy), then this is your inner compass telling you to that this here, right now, is good for you.
Your task is to honor that message and direct more of your time and energy toward these people, things or activities that make you feel this way.
On the flip side, when you start to feel e.g. tense or sick to your stomach, there is something that’s off about the situation you are in. Your task, once again, is to honor that, understand why you’re feeling this way and take it into consideration, rather than stuff it down and push through anyway.
By honoring the sensations in your body, the feelings these are associated with and the messages you are meant to receive, you’re making sure that you stay on the right path.
Questions for you to reflect on:
- How often do you do a ‘body scan’ to see how you feel while making daily decision?
- What does it feel like in your body when your excited for something?
- What does it feel like when something feels completely wrong?
- Have you ever stuffed down how you felt and moved forward regardless? How did that work out?
2. Pay attention to the things that make you jealous (yes, you read that right!)
I find jealousy a very interesting feeling. You often hear how it’s wrong to be jealous.
In my view, jealousy is a negative feeling only when we start to use that as an excuse to hurt or control others (or even ourselves).
At its core, though, jealousy is just a messenger that there is something that you want to have in your life but someone else currently has that instead of you.
In that sense, jealousy can be a very useful guide towards our needs and wants.
When you’re jealous of someone for whatever reason, use that as information about goals you may want to set for yourself.
Not with the intention of one-upping that person you’re jealous of, because it’s never really about that other person, but with the intention of creating more fulfilment in your own life.
By working with the feeling of jealousy in that way, you’re harnessing it to 1) identify what you want and 2) take steps to create that in your own life.
Questions for you to reflect on:
- When was the last time you were jealous of someone?
- Why were you jealous of that person?
- What is your jealousy telling you about your needs and wants?
- What small step could you take to have the same in your life?
- What story are you telling yourself about why you can’t have the same in your life?
3. Research and experiment – then see how you feel
Sometimes people try to think about and plan far too many steps into the future to the point that they get stuck in analysis-paralysis. In the end, they claim that they don’t know what they want.
If this is you, I encourage you to throw all the complexity you’ve created in your head in the bin and start from scratch.
What are the 1-2 things you are sure you want to have in your life?
My experience has shown that there are always at least a couple of things people know for sure they want.
What gets people in trouble is that they a) think these are not strong enough reasons based on which to make big decisions and/or b) they get anxious about how the rest of the picture is going to fit together.
Come back to beginning, the things you are certain of, and start to investigate (not just think about) the options available to you.
If you know you need to live close to the mountains, then make a list of all the places that have mountains that you’re drawn to and start putting out feelers for work, housing, social groups etc.
By going out and properly investigating, you’re not already committing yourself to that decision.
Rather, you’re allowing yourself to get out of your head, take action and find valuable, real-life information about whether it also *feels* like the right fit for you.
I’m all about informed decision-making which means you need to get some hands-on experience to know for sure.
Questions for you to reflect on:
- What are the 1-2 things you are sure you want to have in your life?
- Where are you missing information?
- Where and how could you get that information?
4. Look at the opposite of what you don’t want
Another way to go about finding out what you want is by making a list of all the things you don’t want to experience in your life and flipping them around.
Let’s say you don’t want to live in a hot climate. Okay, that’s fair enough. But what kind of climate makes you feel good then?
Is it one where you get to experience all four seasons? Is it one where the weather is mild all year around?
Define what it is that you want by way of climate and see which options this leaves you with.
I’ll make another example. Let’s say you don’t want to deal with narrow-minded people. Again, fair enough, who does.
But do you know what kind of people are “your people”? Are you able to describe “your person”? Where would this type of person typically hang out? What options are available to you to make yourself available for meeting “your people”?
In short, when you flip what you don’t want around to what you do want, it’s important that you get curious about your needs and very-very specific about describing them.
The steps you need to take to feel more fulfilled in life are hidden in the specificity of your descriptions.
Finally, in relation to identifying what you want, there are four important points I want you to keep in mind:
- You don’t have to know how things are going to turn out. It’s enough to follow what lights you up and trust that it won’t lead you astray (I wrote more about that here)
- If you’re still struggling to articulate your needs, ask yourself whether you’re subconciously trying to please someone. Trying to please others often leads to feeling cut off from your own needs.
- Your wants and needs can change over time and that’s not a sign of failure, it’s a sign of you evolving as a human being. Dare to make decisions that serve future you not past you.
- Something doesn’t need to make sense for it to be right for you. Trust your inner compass! It’s there to bring unimaginable joy into your life, if only you’ll allow it.
Let me know in the comments below – how well do you know what you want? What makes it difficult for you to identify your needs and wants?
If you need a neutral sounding board as you figure out what you want so that you can decide where/whether you should move, check out my coaching offers here. Let’s work together to unpack what’s keeping you stuck.
Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.