The Simple Way to Get More of What You Really Want

What happens when you get in the habit of asking yourself "What for?" and "What instead?" before acting.

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An Argument Ensues

“Is anyone’s internet working?” My mom asked from the back seat of the van we’d rented for our day trip around South Africa’s Cape Point.

“I dunno, why?” I answered.

“I want to check my emails.”

Emails!? This motivated me to put on my self-righteous self-helper hat. “What could you possibly need to see in your inbox right now? It’s 2 a.m. back in Canada.” 

My mom grumbled. 

My impulsive brain grumbled, too. All this talk of emails was making it hungry. Psst. Chris!” It urged, “Check your phone! Who knows what might be waiting for you in your inbox!” 

Normally, I would. But I didn’t want to be such a hypo-Chris, so I flipped the question toward myself: 

“What could I possibly need to see in my inbox right now?”

This didn’t deter my impulsive brain, though. “Then check for new podcast episodes. Or messages. Or ESPN. Maybe there was an NBA trade!”

“Why would I need to know any of that now?” my unusually-active rational brain pushed back. 

“Why not? You’re just sitting in the car. You have nothing better to do.”

“Waddya mean? Pretty much anything else is better than checking my phone: talking with my family, admiring the scenery, picking my nose….” 

“Pfft.” POOF! My impulsive brain stopped grumbling. 

I kept my phone in my pocket, looked out the window, and picked my nose. 

And out came an idea. 

Check Yo Self Before You Wreck Yo Self

Everything we do, we do for a reason: We want some result from our actions. But we’re often not even aware of what that desired result is. 

Sometimes it’s because we’ve forgotten. What started off as a conscious decision—“There’s a booger stuck in my nose. I want to extract it.”—becomes an unconscious habit—“What? I was picking my nose? No I wasn’t.”

Sometimes, a bait-and-switch occurs. The desired result we start off with—“I’m checking my email to stay in touch with family and friends.”—morphs into something undesirable—“I’m checking my email because I crave it and I’m bored.” 

And sometimes, the benefits fade, but we keep doing it anyway—“Dating Chris isn’t fun anymore, but he’s okay I guess.”

So we develop habits and practices that have outlived their usefulness.

Excessively checking my email is an obvious example for me. But what else?

To check whether or not my actions are delivering a desirable result, I came up with a nose-pickingly simple plan:

Before I do anything, ask myself, 

What do I hope to get out of this?

Then,

Could I get more or better doing something else?  

I decided to try it for a day. 

My Day of Impulse-Checking

Here are some excerpts from my day of impulse-checking.

— 

Before checking the NBA news and scores while bottle-feeding Sandy in the morning.

What do I hope to get out of this?

Not be bored. Dopamine hit. Accomplish something while performing the monotonous task of refueling my child.

Could I get more or better doing something else?  

Yeah, I could brainstorm ideas, read a book, or do some breathing exercise.  

— 

Before going to the beach to throw rocks for exercise

What do I hope to get out of this?

Fresh air. Strength. Mobility. Good mood. Sexy, long-lasting body. 

Could I get more or better doing something else?  

I suppose I could pay some fitness expert coach to improve my routine, but that’s out of the budget. So for now, I’m good! Keep this in mind, though, for the day you find a way to earn decent money.

Before pressing play on a podcast of Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe talking basketball.

What do I hope to get out of this?

NBA news and analysis. But why? I don’t even talk NBA with anyone.

Something to keep me entertained as I walk home. A break from thinking. 

Could I get more or better doing something else?  

Music? That gives me a break from thinking without turning off creativity. Or I could listen to Dax Shepard interview Dave Burd on his podcast for inspiration and background on someone I look up to.

— 

Before deciding to continue spending Canadian winters in Cape Town. 

What do I hope to get out of this?

Warmth. Change of environment. Time with friends here. Cheap wine. Affordable getaways. 

Could I get more or better doing something else?  

I’d miss my friends. But I’d get more of the other benefits and make more friends by trying somewhere new. Worth considering?

— 

Before drinking a glass of wine with dinner, then another after:

What do I hope to get out of this?

Something yummy. A reward for another good day. A way to mellow down.

Could I get more or better doing something else?  

The taste benefit only lasts a few sips—even less when I’m eating. One glass is enough to mellow down and reward myself. So save it until after dinner. 

— 

Before writing this newsletter. 

What do I hope to get out of this?

Improve my thinking. Create something. Enjoyable flow. Be useful to others. Prove I have ideas worth considering. Grow my influence. Connect with anti-complacent people. Open doors. Eventually earn a comfortable living by sharing my ideas.

Could I get more or better doing something else?  

Likely. 

I’m getting the first three on my list, but not enough of the next six. What else could I enjoy creating that challenges my thinking and gets me more impact, validation, growth, connection, opportunities, and income? 

A Challenge for You

I found this impulse-checking exercise so useful that it’s starting to become a habit in its own right. I suppose I’ll soon have to check myself on it—“What do I hope to get out of asking myself what do I hope to get out of doing things?”

Try it yourself. See if it can’t help you get more of what you want, too.

Here’s one to get you started:

What did you hope to get out of reading this?

What conscious or subconscious desire drove you to open it? Did reading this satisfy that desire?

Could you get more or better doing something else?  

About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on TheZag.com is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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