Monday, June 25, 2007

What do you want? Or The power of context


Do you know the feeling of being asked what you want and
a) not knowing what exactly to say
b) hear yourself answer the question as if someone else was talking?
Have you noticed that you want different things depending on who is asking and what is going on in your life/mind/heart?

If you were trapped at customs in Indonesia, the answer to “what do you want?” would be a very different one than on Valentine’s Day with a special someone.

When asked by a coach, the answer I am looking for is totally different from what I need to say when asked by my boss. I wouldn’t tell my boss that the most important thing for me is to accept myself for who I am and feel that what I do is making me feel content and peaceful.

I find it rather fascinating that one question can have so many different answers and that those answers relate back to the same person.

Sometimes if you put all the answers of “what do I want” next to each other, the way that they can even exclude each other is amazing:


For example the answer to what do I want in my diary is: I want to live a happy life with my family, I want a house, I want babies, I want to be cosy and cuddly harmony.

When talking to my boyfriend it’s more: I want romance, I want adventure, excitement, I want to be seduced, I want to be wild. I like a bit of friction and cultured argument. I want to develop and grow together.

When talking to my girlfriends it’s: I want to go out, I want to be free, I want to buy shoes and bags and not worry about money, I want sex in the city style light conversation and I want deep connections, too.

When talking to my boss it’s: I want a raise, a promotion, I want more attention, training, I need to move forward, I want support and recognition.

When I talk to my coach it’s: I want to transition into full time life and confidence coaching and make money from my music. I want to write my book within the next few months and I want it published, I want an ever-growing mailing list and I want to conduct workshops using my coaching skills and music to inspire and motivate people.

When I talk to my therapist it’s: I don’t’ know what I want.

Many modern approaches to success and happiness focus on “get what you want” or “you can have what you want” yet this can cause distress beyond measure. Not knowing what you want is usually rooted in confusion rather than unknowing. So let’s untie the knots:


Malcom Gladwell writes about the power of context in “the tipping point”. The power of context means that behaviour is a function of social context. In the 1970s a group of social scientists at Stanford University conducted an experiment creating a mock prison and observing volunteer prisoners to see if prison was a place for bad people or if indeed it would make people bad. The experiment was to last for 2 weeks but was called off after 6 days as the situation went out of hand: the innocent socially aware volunteers had engaged in behaviours unknown to themselves and it seemed that cruelty was breeding its own ideas, the prisoners started shifting identities from who they knew they were to i.e their number. (the tipping point, page 153f)


So if our behaviour is so strongly determined by our social context, how much of what we want has really to do with us as such?

Just as we would choose differently if we were lost in the jungle from if we had some time on our hands after work for once, some wants relate to our situation and others relate more to our disposition.


Our situational wants are desires that arise through “our world” or parts of our world. From wanting to detox after Christmas to getting rid of a flat mate to changing jobs.

On the other side are the desires of the heart, the wants, goals, and wishes that we create from the context of our personality, personal history and of course the fine mixture of beliefs, ideas and values. For example creating a career from your passion, exploring how far your mind can stretch, moving forward in your relationship.

Even our personality is shaped by a context of our environment. A person who grew up with loving caring parents has a very different understanding of relationship and emotional security than one who has lived through fighting and frequent break ups.

If you really want to know what you really want, why not play with the different contexts and note down

What you want in the context of your work/career (these may be 2 different things!)

What you want in the context of relationship

What you want in the context of your living environment

What you want regarding yourself and your life- what gives you meaning or happiness,
fulfilment, joy, content.

What you want in relation to living your dream.

Don’t be afraid of contradictions, they are paradoxes.
And a paradox may be a contradiction on one level but makes sense on the next higher level. So off we go, moving on up, moving on out…moving on up, nothing can stop me!

PS: a nice thing to want is to listen to some gooood music…how about “ I won’t give up” by Diva Eve.







Available on itunes. And of course on the album: who’s your Diva?! Via www.divaeve.com
You can buy it safely via paypal- ask for your signed copy today! Only £7.99


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