InsideOut Empowerment Principle #5: When you find yourself unhappy about the conditions of your life, you should first clarify specifically what you want rather than focusing on what you want to avoid. So often, we can articulate what we don’t want but when asked to specify what we do want, we don’t know how. This is a little like making a list for the store of what you don’t need, going shopping, and expecting to come home with everything you want. It will never work.

Unhappiness stems from not having what you want, usually in an important relationship or in your level of success at what you are trying to accomplish. When you are experiencing unhappiness, use it as a signal that something is missing. You want something important that you currently don’t have.

Spend some time thinking about what you want . . . really want. If you can’t gain focus, then it’s all right to focus temporarily on what you don’t want, since that typically comes easier. Once you know what you don’t want, then ask yourself what would change if these things were absent from your life? If you got rid of what you don’t want, what would you have? What would you do? And how would you be different? What relationship would you improve or get rid of in your life? What would you accomplish that has been eluding you thus far?

When you have identified the core of what you want, then you want to list what you are currently doing to get it. One of the things you’re doing is choosing unhappiness but there are probably others. There will be things you are doing to move you in the direction of what you want and there will be things you’re doing that are likely getting in the way. Pay attention to everything you are doing.

Then you want to ask yourself the question, “If I keep doing everything I have been doing, am I likely to get what I want?” If the answer is yes, great! With one exception . . . you may still need to ask yourself this question, “Am I willing to pay the price?” Sometimes we can continue to do what we are doing to acquire what we want but the cost might not be worth it. Take the time to assess whether you are willing to accept the consequences of your actions, both good and bad.

If the answer is no, then ask yourself, “Am I willing to do something different to increase my likelihood of success?” If you are, then create a plan designed to move you in the direction of what you want.

If you find what you want is something from someone else, you may have a dilemma. The challenge is you cannot control other people to give you what you want. You can ask for what you want, and then you are at the other person’s mercy. People may oblige your request, or they may not. Certainly you have the right to ask them to do what you want.

If the person complies, great! If not, then you have to decide what your response will be. I recommend further introspection. When I want something from someone else and he or she is unwilling to give me what I want, then I ask the question, “If so-and-so were giving me what I want, then what would change for me?” Another way to get at this answer is to keep asking yourself, “And why is that so important to me?” This will bring you to a place where you find something over which you have control. You can then bypass the other person and focus on what you can control.

The other day I was working with a woman whose goal is to lose weight. I was working with her to clarify her motives for this goal. She began with wanting to be healthier. Her next response was to feel better about herself, then to be more secure about her looks, then to have more confidence, next was to find her soul mate and finally, to know she is a person worthy of love. Finally, something she can work on that is in her control. Yes, I could have stopped her with the goal of having more confidence. A person is actually able to increase their confidence level, however, that didn’t feel like it was at the core of what she really wanted. She wants to know she is loveable and right now, is seeking that validation from an external source. She has the power to know she is loveable without ever going on a date!

When you are experiencing unhappiness and you recognize it as your signal something in your life isn’t the way you want it to be, then you have four options . . . three will help, one will maintain the status quo. You can either change what you are doing, change what you want, or change your perception. Of course, the fourth option is you can stay miserable; you don’t have to change anything at all. You can always stay unhappy if that works for you. It’s your choice. Just take ownership and accept responsibility for that choice.

Unhappiness can be a very effective behavior. It can get you attention. You can get help from others without having to ask. It can free you of certain responsibilities. It can help you control other people through guilt. It can slow down and simplify your life. It can also prevent you from acting out aggressively, either toward others or yourself. There are lots of benefits to depression and sometimes that might be your best option. Just know you are choosing it, you are benefitting from it in some way, and you can choose differently if you want to.

The other three options can possibly help the situation. You can change your behavior to something more effective. You can change what you want to something more attainable. And you can change how you are looking at the situation so the gap between what you want and what you think you have is reduced. Do you have any examples of when you got what you wanted by changing your behavior, what you wanted or your perception? Tell us your successes.

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