What do I want?
It is unfortunate that some people go their entire lives without fully answering this question.
The tough thing about life is that it is full of uncertainty—grey areas, maybes, sometimes. I’ve always wanted to understand life the way I understand computers.
The great thing about computers is that they operate on absolutes— black or white, yes or no, on or off. I love computers because I understand them.
A mentor of mine once told me,
“If you don’t know what you want, you need to lock yourself in a room with nothing but a pen and paper until you figure it out. That’s how important it is.”
I didn’t know what I wanted back then. Because of that, I was subconsciously living my life for others who did. So I started looking for the answer to that all-important question. What do I want?
The approach I took was a little different. I tried to understand life the way I understood computers. What I discovered were many fascinating correlations between our real world existence and the absolute mathematics of computers.
One such instance is the relationship between machine language and the way we think.
1 – The Binary of Choice
A computer program is a set of rules assembled together in a specific order to execute a desired outcome. The program is written first in programming language. Then it is converted into machine language so the system can understand it.
Machine language is a set of instructions in the form of binary—ones and zeros. Lines upon lines of code are ultimately broken down into polar opposites. This is how computers think.
Ones and zeros, on and off, yes and no.
Every pixel on the screen you’re reading is executing a value that can be broken down into binary. When you move your cursor across the screen or watch a video on Youtube, your computer is recalculating every pixel’s value simultaneously to give the appearance of a single result.
Human psychology is similar in that every choice can be broken down into two questions.
1. What level of pleasure is attained?
2. What level of pain is avoided?
Our programing is to always move towards whichever result gives us the greatest pleasure and least pain. These questions are constantly being played out in a loop to determine our choices.
Here’s an example of this pleasure-pain loop in the real world.
Alice isn’t a morning person and doesn’t enjoy getting out of bed. The pain of getting out of bed isn’t worth the pleasure of sleeping in.
Choice: Alice sleeps in.
But another set of instructions is presented to Alice and the pain-pleasure loop is repeated.
If Alice doesn’t get out of bed she’ll lose her job. If she loses her job she can’t take pleasure in the home she rents, the food she buys, or the bed she doesn’t want to get out of. This time when the loop is executed, Alice concludes that the pain of not having a job is greater than the pain of getting out of bed.
Choice: Alice gets out of bed to start her day.
This is a simple example of what’s happening every second of every day inside your mind. If you are to ultimately discover what you want, this concept is the foundation.
That’s the “how” of making choices. Now on to the “why.”
2 – Programming your Values and Ethics
When my mentor told me to lock myself in a room to figure out what I want, the first step was to define my values. We make choices using the same method, but not always for the same reasons. Those reasons are our values and ethics.
Every person lives by a set of values. Some people are aware of their values and can readily tell you what they are, while others live theirs unconsciously.
Ethics and values are subjective for each person, or client, using them. Normally they’re uploaded from family or close friends. This can result in the receiving client to execute those values through a proxy. This means they execute them to attain the pleasure of being validated and to avoid the pain of being ignored. The tragedy is that too often proxies are validating proxies. Think of it as a self-replicating virus or an inescapable meme.
It is most desirable, albeit rare, for values to be discovered or experienced. These are the “why” people. They understand the “why” for the choices they make and use that knowledge to discover what they truly want.
The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy. -Martin Luther King Jr.
Our pleasure-pain loop makes logical sense if we continue to apply it to comfortable and convenient scenarios. But what if we apply it to challenging and controversial ones?
Refer to our machine language “pain pleasure loop.” Here is an example of how values and ethics are executed.
Bob is a solider who jumped in the line of fire to protect his buddy. The pain of dying isn’t worth the pleasure of someone else living.
Conclusion: Bob’s choice is illogical.
Now, we apply the variable of Bob’s values, ethics, and beliefs. The pleasure of executing his beliefs is greater than the pain of death.
Conclusion: Bob’s choice is logical.
Our values and ethics create variables in our programming, thereby separating us from the absolutes of machine language. Our foundations may be the same, but our different programming is what outputs different results.
- Write down three values you want to live by
- Remember they should be based on personal research or experience
- Define for yourself why you choose to live by those values
Values shape your beliefs; beliefs define your ideas; ideas create the Wants that become your reality.
3 – Programming your Wants: Pre-Alpha Testing
What do you WANT to have, do, or be?
Start by writing a list of everything you want. It doesn’t matter how extreme or impossible. Ask yourself these questions:
- What would you buy or where would you go if money were no object?
- What do you love doing so much that you forget to eat?
- What did you want when you were a child? Why?
- What kind of information do you research a lot? Why?
- What do you do that excites you to the point of not sleeping at night and inspires you to wake up in the morning to start again?
Now erase the items from your list that are low priority. If it’s easy enough to erase, it’s not a burning desire and won’t manifest into reality.
4 – Programming your Wants: Alpha Testing
There are many ways to figure out what you want. The hard part is filtering it down to what actually reflects you.
Now look at each item on your list and ask yourself why you want that. Get to the root of what you actually want.
Say you wrote down that you really want a Lamborghini. Ok. Why? Is it the speed? The look? Both? The status? Impressing people when they see you get in the driver’s seat? Impressing a certain person?
After you do this for each item on your list, filter it even further using your values. Does impressing that person reflect your values? Why?
There’s no wrong answer when it comes to your Wants as long as you fully understand and accept the Why.
5 – Programming your Wants: Beta Testing
The last step is to touch up your list of Wants. This is the fine-tuning. If your Wants were a program, this would be the aesthetics, the usability.
If you wanted a Lamborghini, what color is it? What does it sound like? What is the smell of the leather interior? Where are you going in it? What emotions do you feel?
Write it down. The sounds, smells, feelings, etc. can be written around your Want. Only you need to be able understand it, but it is important that the words evoke the feelings you want to convey. Your Want is a program only meant for you.
6 – Programming Wants: Abandonware
When you don’t know what you want, it’s not important what you do as long as you’re doing something.
If after reading through this you were unable to learn your values or conceptualize your wants, I encourage you to change up your life a bit. Stop waiting around to figure out what you want. If you’ve been doing the same things, talking to the same people, going to the same places, engaging in the same hobbies, or working the same job for the last six months, inspiration isn’t going to present itself suddenly.
Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Keep moving forward!
If something new doesn’t excite you or inspire you, switch it up again after six months. Why continue something that’s not important to you if you’re not growing? All of this searching will not be wasted as long as you’re learning who you are.