How to know what you really want

Dec 16 2021

Psyche magazine published another handy "how to" guide, this time about how to understand your desires. It pairs nicely with reading about Junk Values. My notes:

  • Desire is a social process, it is mimetic
    • Desires don't necessarily come from "our deepest selves", but from observations we make about people around us.

Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind.’ – René Girard


  1. Identify the people influencing what you desire

    • Always ask who, not what, makes you want something
    • When I think about the lifestyle that I would most like to have, who do I feel most embodies it?
    • Aside from my parents, who were the most important influences on me in my childhood?
    • Is there anyone I would not like to see succeed? A model of what I would not want to achieve?
  2. Categorize your models as internal and external

    • Internal: people you're really in touch with, and whom your desires have intersections and real effects.
      • These are people you can compare yourself directly to, and thus can create more anxiety.
    • External: people you have no possibility of meeting, influencing, or being influenced by.
      • They're one-way stream of desire. They affect your life, but you can't affect theirs.
  3. Understand the system of desire you're embedded in

    • How does being a designer affect what I want? Being in tech? Or hanging out with people who live in Brooklyn?
    • What is my "Michelin star" goal that keeps me wanting to strive for more?
  4. Take ownership of your desires

    • There's no such a thing as purely "authentic" desires, but they all fall on a spectrum of less mimetic to more mimetic .
    • The important thing is that you make a conscious choice about which desires you want to cultivate, and make them as yours as possible. Just because you are not the sole author of your desires, that doesn’t mean you can’t begin to take ownership of them.
    • You can start from a highly mimetic desire, but make it your own by finding a way of cultivating it that is intrinsically motivating.
  5. Ground yourself in something deeper

    • Cultivating virtues and universal human values can help you maintain a firm base and care less about the cloud of mimetic desires surrounding you.
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  • Lucas Neumann
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