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.

Why not just set a goal and go for it?

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

The other reason it’s not about goal setting is, well… personally I’ve always hated goals – goal–setting and all that crap. I have actually found that it works against me. So I don’t set them.

Goal–setting may work for some people, but it always seemed that when I tried to pursue a specific “goal,” suddenly there was all this pressure that went along with it. That pressure usually hurt me in the pursuit of my goals more than it helped me.

Over the years, here are some goals that I (or others) have at one time or another tried to set for me:

“Gain 3 new clients this month.” Sounds good, but in my quest to get three clients, how do I make sure they are going to be the right clients for me? And in the pursuit of “landing” these clients, am I making sure I’m actually providing a service they need? Or am I just meeting my sales quota? Can I handle three new clients a month?

“Ask out 3 guys a month.” My friend said, “It’s a numbers game.” Ah, but what if I only find one guy I’m interested in? Or what if I start to date three people, and I can’t keep all their stories straight? The “confusing their stories” scenario seems VERY likely. And where am I going to find these guys? That could be a lot of bars to visit.

“Read a book a week.” What if I decide I want to take a tango class one month, or I get sick one week, or what if ALL three guys want to go out in the same week? That might be pretty hard to read that week.

“Lose 5 pounds by next week.” Is that even healthy? Or is it just supposed to be two pounds a week…. I can’t remember. I might be able to do it if I eat nothing but fruit…. but that will probably give me the runs. I’ll definitely be cranky – I’m always cranky when I’m hungry. That’s probably not going to make those dates go well.

Agghhh!!! Pressure! And what if I can’t do it? Now what?!!!

Now that I have set these “goals” for myself, I keep focusing on the fact that I only gained one new client and he is kind of annoying, I just snort–laughed in front of the hottie I was going to ask out – making a complete fool of myself, I didn’t like the book I started, and someone brought me chocolate chip cookies and it would be rude not to eat them… I suck. I can’t do this. (Insert pity party here.)

Now I am in a tail–spin, huh? Focusing on the negative and where I fell short. Wow, where is this going to get me? Maybe I should start anew next week with my goals. Hopefully I am not haunted by my poor performance this week. But if I could not do it this week, what makes me think I can do it next week? I can’t do this. I can see why I don’t have dates and new clients. I need chocolate…

Conclusion: Goals suck!

I was discussing my loathing of goals with a friend who was baffled by my “lack of goal setting” philosophy. He could not figure out how I had accomplished so much in life without having goals. After all, isn’t that how you are supposed to get somewhere in life – set goals and strive for them?

Well, that may work for some people, but not me. I prefer to follow my desires and see where that leads me instead! Plus it is much more fun.

For example I could have set a goal for myself to: “Start my own business by the time I turned 26.” I never set that as a goal, but I did do it; because, I did desire, at the time, to learn about multiple areas of life and business, and to do more design work. Both of these desires were fulfilled by starting my own design business. (But could have been accomplished other ways too.)

Having the desires in my mind, and staying open to the possibilities, is how I decided to start my business. The project with my full–time employer was winding down after two years of steady work. It was a perfect opportunity to go out on my own and have them become a client, which would allow me to gain other clients, explore the world of other businesses AND do more design work.

Desires meet Opportunity!!!

Had I started with the goal to “start my own business by the time I am 26,” I might have opened a restaurant instead; but that probably would not have fulfilled my deeper desire to learn about multiple areas of life and do more design work. Staying clear on my desires brought me to a business that I truly love and enjoy doing.

Once you become clear on what you desire, you SEE the desire. Then you can set your INTENTIONS. When you set your intentions, it’s like you send a message to a little worker bee in our mind with a periscope. The little worker bee is called into action keeping an eye out for good solutions to fulfill the desire. But the worker bee needs its marching orders. That is why it is necessary to first become aware of your true desires – so opportunities are not passing you by that might be perfect solutions for you.

“Every moment of your life is infinitely creative and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Just put forth a clear enough request, and everything your heart desires must come to you.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Takeaway: By identifying your desires, you open yourselves up to ways of successfully accomplishing them (and a lot more) in life. 


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