The difference between Goals/Wants and Desires

From “Step 1 – Become Aware – Setting goals versus pursuing your desires” in Unscribbling: the art of problem solving and fulfilling your desires.


What is the difference between wants and desires - important question to ask to fulfill your dreams!So, what is the difference between goals (or wants) and desires? Well, goals & wants tend to be specific solutions or benchmarks – rigid, unchanging and tangible. Something like:

  • I want to be promoted to manager by the time I am 35.
  • I want to be married by the time I am 28.
  • I want to own my own home.
  • I want kids of my own.
  • I want to retire by the time I am 62.
  • I want to be a billionaire.

But…. What happens if you are unable accomplish them in the timeline that you thought you should, or if they don’t work out at all?

Life is fluid, unpredictable and constantly changing. The rigidity of goals can send you into a tailspin if, say, your fiancé dumps you at age 27, or a parent becomes ill and you need to financially support them, or you are unable to conceive a child, or the economy crashes and your retirement investments take a plunge.

Technically, you might still be able to meet your goals, but is that going to be what is best for you? You might be able to rustle up someone and still get married by the time you’re 28, but is he or she going to be the right person for you? You might still be able to retire, but will it be the kind of retirement you enjoy?

If life throws you a curve ball (as it often does), what happens to your goals? Do you throw them out the window? Push back the timeline? Get angry with God, because God has not answered your prayers? Play the victim? Dive into that pity party? What happens when you can’t solve the problems you are facing or meet your goals?

You want to be married, you want to make more money, you want life to be easier, etc. When you have the want, and no way to meet it, it’s natural to feel frustrated. Once we feel that frustration, we tend shut down. We end up doing nothing, or we bitch and moan to our friends about how rough we have it. We focus on our lack and on the problem, not on the solution and the good that is present; thereby getting us nowhere.

All in all, goals are not bad. It’s when we get stuck on them and lose sight of the desire behind them when goals start to do us a disservice. The good news is that behind each of your goals and wants is a hidden desire – the underlying wish or longing that brought it into being.

Instead of rigid goals, look at the desires behind the goals/wants. Like:

  • I desire to have a career that uses my gifts and compensates me fairly.
  • I desire a loving companion in my life.
  • I desire to be financially prepared for my future.
  • I desire to love and be caring towards another.

It is not just a matter of changing the word “want” to “desire.” It’s about finding the true desire behind the want.


Think about your goals/wants and desires as if you WANT to book a flight from New York to San Francisco, but the airlines are grounded due to bad weather. So you end up taking a train. Along the way, the train breaks down in Chicago. So you end up jumping on a bus. But there is a whole section of I–80 that is torn up, and you end up taking I–70 instead. However, the bus driver will not go past Las Vegas (something about bad mojo and he doesn’t want to risk his luck on the tables). Since they can’t get another driver in for two days, you end up renting a car to drive the rest of the way. You WANTED to take a flight to San Francisco, but when that did not work out, you did not lose sight of your true desire – to get to San Francisco. You had to use alternate routes than you had planned, and you might have gotten there on a different timeline, but ultimately you still got there.

In this scenario, your goal/want was to take a FLIGHT to San Francisco. The true desire behind it would be to get to San Francisco.

Once you know your true desire, it opens up a world of possibilities. If it is your true desire, there will be no roadblocks to accomplishing it; perhaps a few detours and paths that seem surprising, but never a complete dead end. You won’t let there be a dead end because you know that there is always more than one way to fulfill your desires!

“When a child screams, ‘I want my doll!’ is it the doll, or love and comfort they are looking for?” – Anonymous

Takeaways: Wants/goals are just some solutions that can help you meet your true desires. 

Goals are rigid benchmarks, desires are helping to guide you to your happiness. 


P.S. I need to clarify something here. Unscribbling is NOT a goal setting book. However, investigating your goals and wants can help you unlock the secret of what your true desires are by looking at their essence.

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About Unscribbling

Kristin Neperud Merz is the founder of Unscribbled, Inc. - a web and graphic design company that works directly with clients to develop their business by strategizing & meeting their promotional needs. Kristin is also the author of "Unscribbling: the art of problem solving and fulfilling your desires" - where other books and our educational system teach you how to solve "A" problem, Unscribbling teaches you how to problems solve ANY problem and fulfill your desires.
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