The #1 Reason You’re Not Getting Where/What You Want in Life (And How to Fix It)

by Alexander Heyne · 19 comments

sun

The other day, I sat down with a close friend who was pretty lost in life.

After having spent entirely too much time brainstorming why people feel “lost” myself, I asked my friend what he would rather be doing. In other words, what does he want to do.

“Uhhhh, not sure…. travel, or something?”  he said.

“Alright… more specifically, what do you want to do?” I said.

“To be honest I have no idea.”

After I realized that the conversation wasn’t going anywhere, I realized that this is insanely common.

I talk to people all the time who want to change their life circumstances, but they have no idea what step to take. They complain, bitch and moan, but don’t even spend thirty seconds coming up with a baby step to take in some direction.

… And that’s because THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY WANT.

In the manifesto, one of the subjects of an entire chapter was this: “It’s virtually impossible to get what you want unless you know what you want.”

In fact, someone just last week brought to my attention the fact that there’s an entire book written around this principle, called “It Works!”

Here’s what you need to know about this little magic formula.

If you’re lost in life, with many paths you can take, which one do you choose?

If you have no idea where each path leads, does it really matter?

But if you know the end point of each path – and it’s in a direction you want to be going, suddenly you know in which direction to take the first step.

The reason so many people have no clue which way to go – why they feel resistance in every direction – is because they haven’t chosen something specific they want to fix, and a specific outcome they want.

Example 1: My life sucks, I want it to change.

…Great, that was supremely vague, no wonder you feel insanely lost.

Let’s try that again.

Better Example: My job sucks, I want it to change.

Alright, now we’re getting somewhere.

But what specifically about your job do you need to change? The income? The people you work with? The hours? What? What in the hell do you want to change?

Specificity is not just key in business – it’s also key in life.

Example 2: I really need to improve my health.

Great, go overdose on a couple multivitamins and eat just salad for two years.

But seriously, what do you need to fix about your health? Do you have digestive problems? Sleep issues? Are you tired throughout the day? Do your knees hurt? Do you need to lose 50 pounds, or just 10 pounds?

Example 3: I want more adventure in my life.

Doesn’t everyone….  Well, do you want the motorcycle-driving kind of adventure? The bungee jumping rush? Do you want the “I’ve had sex with 75 people last week?” kind of rush? Do you want the travel buzz? Do you want the calm thrill of a scuba dive? Do you just want more interesting friends? Do you want more stories? Do you want work you love?

All of these people are very unlikely to get what they want, because the first “baby step” is impossible to figure out based on their wants.

“I really need to improve my health.” — Where’s the next baby step? What are you supposed to spend the next 5 minutes doing? No clue. Let’s google shit instead.

“I want a more adventurous life.” — So are you figuring out that you love travel, and then booking that flight, or what?

“My life sucks” — WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO FIX IT?

Impossible to figure out, right?

[Not] so easy a caveman could do it

I won’t lie and say it’s easy to figure out what you want. It’s not. But it’s incredibly hard to get what you want when you have no fuckin’ clue what that is, and what the next step is. And that’s the kicker. If you don’t specifically know what needs fixing, how can you create a step-by-step plan to fix it?

Sit down for 5 minutes and think – is what I think needs fixing specific enough that I can write down my first baby step, and then take it?

If it’s not, like “my life sucks,”  then you haven’t really figured out what needs fixing.

So what’s the next baby step?

If you can’t tell yourself right now, in 3 seconds, what the next baby step is, you haven’t really clarified what needs changing or you haven’t gotten specific and focused enough.

Next time you’re screaming “what do I do? which way do I go? what path do I take?!” remember: It’s almost impossible to get where you want in life if you have no idea what you want. If you don’t know what path to take, then it doesn’t matter right? They all will make you equally happy or unhappy.

So what do you want? And which way are you going? What baby step can you take, right now? If your answer is “I don’t know,” then it’s obvious why you’re not getting where you want, and what.

Images: sun, woods, tree

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Riley March 28, 2013 at 5:31 pm

I completely understand the people who don’t know what they want. I have spent years bouncing from job to job trying to find what makes me happy. I never took the time to look or ask myself what I truly want to do or be. Life and your surroundings can be a huge deterrent toward you finding what makes you happy. Someone is always telling you to follow a conventional path that just doesn’t work for you.

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Alexander Heyne April 1, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Matt —

Yeah man, I completely understand it to, having been there for YEARS. I’m not totally out of that phase either. Certain things like “where do I even want to live on earth?” I still don’t know. And you hit the nail on the head when you said “someone is always telling you to follow a conventional path.” Totally – and the irony is that we’re effectively telling artists, outdoorsy folks, entrepreneurs, and bankers all to become cubicle jockeys. Just because that’s what we’re apparently supposed to do.

But I don’t even think most people realize that it’s an option to become an entrepreneur, or just move abroad, or just create a path that has never been done before. Some people are just waiting for permission it seems.

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Erin March 31, 2013 at 11:19 am

Hell yeah! It took me a looooong time to realize this, but now I know first hand it’s the only way to actually make changes. And once you know, it’s hard to go back. And it’s hard to have a lot of patience with people who insist on whining about vague, amorphous problems :)

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Alexander Heyne April 1, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Haha me too Erin! Took me forever to realize this. It also requires some real thinking, you know? “My life sucks” is a lazy statement. It doesn’t require thought or analysis. It’s kind of a subtle cop-out many of us use, myself included.

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Matthew Riley April 1, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Couldn’t agree more with your post. I spent way too many years following the wrong path and always trying to take the road that everyone thinks leads to what you want out of life. What I realized is that I am not cut out for the traditional corporate job. This was probably the easiest thing for me to figure out. I have always wanted to see the world and experience life and not not exist. Now I am trying to find ways to support myself and do this at the same time.

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Alexander Heyne April 1, 2013 at 9:48 pm

That’s awesome dude! Glad you’ve broken free from the matrix! So what’s next for you?

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Matthew Riley April 1, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Well since I have taken the Red pill I am trying to build skills that I can use for myself. I’ve always been good at the jobs I have had and been promoted up the line but never got any real skills to build my own personal brand. So I am hoping my willingness to work hard will payoff for me now instead of someone else.

Anna April 1, 2013 at 7:07 pm

How do any of us know what we want in life anymore? My neighborhood is dying off and people are closed off as well. Dealing with the disappointment of making a choice is in my opinion more traumatic than the initial “jumping ship” altogether….And yes I am in the middle of reading The Alchemist, thanks for the recommendation.

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Alexander Heyne April 1, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Hey Anna —

For starters – just pick two choices. Do you like your job? Yes/no. If no, what don’t you like that needs changing? Do you like your friends? Where you live? Your daily schedule?

Finish the alchemist and let me know what you think :)

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Sarah Li Cain April 3, 2013 at 9:06 am

Couldn’t agree more. But then again, most of my life has been defined by me just doing stuff and seeing how it works out. Oddly enough for me though, every time that happens there is always just ‘one’ clear path for me.

Don’t forget, there are people that are in denial about which part of their lives they’re unhappy with because they don’t want to face it. I think that’s a huge reason why people don’t get anywhere either.

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Alexander Heyne April 7, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Sarah, you make another really good point. Trying stuff is the key thing though – and I think a lot of people DON’T try stuff because they are paralyzed by the options. Does that make any sense? So even just taking 5 minutes and just writing on a napkin will get you closer than before – but ultimately a person has to do something.

Interesting point re: denial. And yeah I agree it’s all too common. I guess it all comes back to intuition like you said – some people intuitively know they are unhappy (with a marriage, job or life) but are scared shitless thinking about changing them. And rightly so. But from what I’ve seen, the only thing this produces is serious unhappiness down the line. I don’t think there’s any excuse for not asking yourself the hard questions in life – regardless of how much the answers scare the shit out of you.

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Sarah P | Travelling Is My Passion April 4, 2013 at 10:30 am

Hi Alexander, thanks for this thought-provoking post!

I’m a big believer in discerning a purpose and knowing what I want too! My dad always said if you don’t know what you want, others will make your mind for you!

Personally, I’ve always felt pretty on purpose until I returned from studying abroad a year ago and suddenly felt quite lost. I’ve always known I wanted to write and I’ve always enjoyed traveling and my study abroad was a chance for me to do exactly those two things! So it was a wonderful experience, exactly what I was hoping for, but coming home left me feeling low, empty and a little desperate for direction! I spent almost a year thinking about this and I’m glad to say I’ve finally found my centre again!

So I just wanted to add that sometimes it’s okay not to be 100% sure of your next step – but it’s important (like you say) to keep questioning and discerning and yearning for answers until you ARE sure! :D Thanks for the reminder!

p.s. You have a great site and I’ll definitely be spending some time looking through your older posts!

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Alexander Heyne April 7, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Hey Sarah —

That is EXTREMELY common – coming back from study abroad, or life abroad, and feeling lost. I’ve been there MANY times in my life, and it’s never fun. The year after coming back is always a fuzzy mess. You’re not alone haha.

I think the other important thing is to just jump back into things and take action too. Like when I came back from one trip, I realized my friends back home weren’t doing anything, and i didn’t want to hang out with them anymore. So I didn’t. I found a new friend group. There’s no way I could’ve “thought” my way out of that. So you definitely have to DO it at the end of the day, but just spending 5 minutes narrowing it down will make it a hell of a lot easier to figure out what to do.

– Alex

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Sarah P | Travelling Is My Passion April 7, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Hey Alex, YES I agree with the jumping right back into the swing of things advice! I didn’t and spent a precious few months “recovering” (read: feeling listless & dissatisfied) before I finally got back to usual self! And you’re right, I viewed my old life through a different lens when I came back – and I did make quite a few edits to my social circle!

I think part of the problem was that it took SO LONG for me to admit that all I really wanted to do was travel and write – which was at odds with the more practical trajectory I was on (uni / work / etc..)

But there’s a peace that comes from knowing what you want (as you point out in your article!) and I’m glad I made it to the end, even if it did take me awhile!

Wieke May 1, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Wow, your blog really hit me. It is exactly what I have been doing all this time, just bithching around about having no clue what to do with my life and how lost my life is. I have asked myself many many times what I want to do with my life but still can’t find the answer. And reading your blog, I noticed that never once I made it specific and focused, like what’s missing in my life, what is lack of it.
Thank you for making it clearer to me.

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Alexander Heyne May 2, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Hey Wieke –

Try the exercise and let me know what you think :)

– Alex

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Kristin June 16, 2016 at 10:33 am

I am definitely one of those people who falls into a pit of despair because of all the “my life sucks” feelings swirling inside of me. I liked your post, but honestly do you think someone who has multiple problems can really fix things like this? For example, what if I hate my job AND I’m super unhealthy AND I lead a boring life. That’s a lot to take on. How do you even know where to start when literally almost every aspect of your life is in shambles.

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Alexander Heyne June 16, 2016 at 11:01 am

Hey Kristin, great question. If your health is stopping you, 100% focus on that. If your job sucks, set aside 30 minutes a day to look for a new one. If life is boring, set aside another 30 to do something more interesting. That’s 1.5 hours a day – can you do that?

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Alexander Heyne April 7, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Haha great minds think alike! Let me know if I can help in any way —

Alex

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