Winter scene sunset

Getting to the Essence of Aspiration

There are often times where the process of “Getting Stuck” is due to an overwhelm of aspirational thoughts in our head. Many of those thoughts are masquerading as viable, however they may be unrelated; vying for importance or “me” time with your conscious mind. We often see or experience something another person has or does and aspire to that as well. If we incorporate that in a manner that helps to build ourselves, that’s learning. It’s when we want something for some unspecified reason that we may feel that sense of getting stuck.

Getting stuck can also result from expressing our wishes as goals. We may aspire to be, have or do something but are not sure how we will get there. The trouble really starts when we dream big and never really get down to figuring out what we really want. A version of this type of thinking often occurs with the approach and beginning of a New Year. We “resolve” to do something that only a week before, we had not considered at all. To very roughly paraphrase Antoine de Saint-Exupery; resolutions are projects without a plan.

So how do we get somewhere? How do we figure out what’s what in the world of intentions, wishes, goals, aspirations, desires?

In coaching, we call this going deeper. Coaches sometimes use the term “Drill-down” to define the process of getting more involved in our inner thinking. The drilling down is a metaphor for getting inside of something. It’s not a metaphor I like to use. Real drilling — like oil rig drilling — is messy, resource intensive, and has long term impacts. It comes with a lot of consequential, impactful long term damage. The metaphor that I relate to is one of discovery. Discovery puts you in control of the process. You can take your time, do some learning, or be as brash as you want to be. You “discover” by uncovering the assemblage of ideas and elements of aspiration that you have. There will be revelation in this process. There will be surprise. I think discovery is a more restorative approach than “drilling down” into something that is pretty darn amorphous to begin with.

How do we learn more about our aspirations? How do we get to the core, the essence, or nucleus of a wish? We get there by being relentless with our discovery. We go deeper by asking seemingly similar questions in succession.

Coach Richard Winfield has a technique for questioning that can aid in this discovery process. Once you and your coach agree to discussing what you want, the coach is free to ask if ‘this’ (whatever it is) is what you want? Do you know if this is what you want? What would it be if you did know? How does that relate to what you said you wanted? What would be even better than that? What do you want instead? (And, no, I don’t think one can learn to coach in 16 minutes…)

An exercise you can try by yourself (but it works better with your coach) involves answering — really answering — similar questions about the object of your desire:

Why do you want this?
What will it give you?
Why do you want that?
What does that really give you?
Is that really what you want?
Will you get something meaningful from it?
Why do you want this?
How will it make you feel?
Why do you want this?

What we see in this approach is subtle repetition. We go over the same ground, leave it, return to it, leave it again. Why? Quite frequently we don’t know what we really want; only what we think we want. We may start off by wanting a fancy red car but in reality be craving a much more fulfilling relationship. Yes that sounds ridiculous on it’s face, but discovery is about learning. It’s about finding something that was unknown while we have control of the process. The discovery process also inserts the element of consideration into the process of thinking. Any time we consider things more clearly, we take time. That time usually results in a higher quality of thinking.

Discovering really motivating aspirations is a moving process. It’s hard, but not impossible to get there without a clear sense of your values and beliefs. For instance, unlocking a knawing aspiration may lead to a values cascade. In any event, it’s a process best explored with your coach because, even though you are doing the work, they can help to guide you with the process.