Do you know what you want?

Beth E Lee MBA MSc
8 min readMar 16, 2023

Using the three wanting groups to dig down into intention.

If I were to ask you, what do you want, what would say? Would you say you wanted a new car? To travel the world? Another career? To be a better friend? All the above? I used to say I want it all.

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These general wants usually revolve around something you want to achieve. But wanting is more than just achieving. Your wants are more personal than plainly saying, I want a new car. What kind of car? What colour car? What make of car? Your wants are personal because their context is based on your perceptions, experiences, environment, culture, stories, beliefs, and memories.

Many times we know we want something for obvious reasons. For instance, you want a new car, maybe because your old car is falling apart. Or maybe you want a new car to feel or show that you are wealthy, like a status symbol. Wanting is actually a part of every moment of your life, influencing your very being. You want a drink of water; you want to move; you want to scratch an itch. When you want, you are always rewarding yourself or avoiding some kind of pain. That’s how desire works.

When you ask yourself the question “what do I want?”, you’re activating your cognition about that want. You’re imagining yourself in the future, visualising the reward. But what’s interesting is that we rarely reflect on why we want something or evaluate the motivational force underneath.

If you’re interested in really understanding how to get what you want, you have to start with knowing WHAT you want. It all starts by thinking about your wants so you can get down to the initial intention of your thinking.

Get your pen and paper, and let’s have some imaginary fun!

Question 1: If you won the lottery, what would you want to have? Go ahead… pause here and think about what you want to have. Perhaps you know exactly what you want. Maybe you have no clue? Either way, write what you think you would want to have if you won the lottery.

Question 2: You are at a crossroads in your life, with the opportunity to choose any career you want without worrying about your background, your education or where you live… what do you want to do? Go on… take another pause here and have a think. What would you want to do, if you could chose to do anything?

And the last question…

Question 3: Who do you want to be? This is the big one. Write as much as possible. What do you see in your mind when you answer the question, who do you want to be?

How did you feel when you were writing these answers down? Stressed? Excited? Overwhelmed? Motivated? Happy? Sad? Your wants are uniquely yours and what gets you excited or stressed may not trigger any kind of reaction in someone else. Only YOU know what you want. And only YOU can learn to harness the power of your own mind and brain to go after and get what you want.

With your wants written down, let’s go a step further and group them so you can see what you’re working with.

Grouping Your Wants

If you look at the three questions, you may have noticed the italicised words. The first was ‘to have’, the second was ‘to do’, and the third was ‘to be’. Let’s look at these groups.

Copyright Credit: Beth E. Lee, MBA, MSc

Wanting to HAVE

Children are great examples of thing wanters. Bring a child into a cake shop and they see a cookie, slice of cake or treat and they want it. Or maybe they want the fizzy drink. Or we’ve all seen a child in a toy shop complain and sometimes have a tantrum because they want a specific toy. Wanting things is part of being human.

When we talk about wanting to have things, we’re diving into the worlds of culture and materialism.

Depending on what culture you’re from and your socio-economic status within that culture, you’ll want different things. An American is going to have different having wants than someone from England or India. If you look back on history, kings and queens were buried with important things that represented their cultures. Depending on what topics you’re interested in, the culture around that topic will also drive your motivation to want and have things. For instance, I am interested in cooking and love to cook. Right now, I’m learning to cook Japanese cuisine and so I want, a hand made Japanese knife.

Another perspective of “wanting to have” involves materialism. The Collins English Dictionary states materialism as “the attitude of someone who attaches a lot of importance to money and wants to possess a lot of material things.”

We’re all familiar with and have probably met someone who values material things. All you have to do is turn on the TV and see the number of reality programs focused on money, things, and having it all.

Your having wants encompass things that make you feel complete or satisfied. Things are important. They are the physical manifestation of who we are, or at least who we think we are. They hold meaning and stories that we connect with as individuals.

The downside of this is believing you’ll feel satisfied when you get the things you want. Chasing that feeling of satisfaction leads you down the slippery slope of justification and comparison. You believe you will only feel satisfied (or happy, loved, or complete) when you get what you want. This thinking trap perpetuates the thought that you don’t have enough. Or that what you have now isn’t enough, and so you want more.

Your attitude (or beliefs) towards wanting to have things, connects the importance and meaning you attribute to those things.

Take a moment now and go back to question one and see if you can find the feeling and underlying attitude or motivation of why you want that thing.

Wanting to DO

Do you want to go on an exotic holiday in the sun? Learn how to snowboard? Or work helping local people in a third-world country? My roommate from college is a quintessential “doing wanter”. She is the one posting pictures of her swimming in the Amazon on social media or hanging from a cliff while rock climbing, or eating worms in Africa. I am in awe of all that she does and I want to do exciting things, too. I want to feel the excitement of new discoveries and experiences. And here’s the good news: you don’t have to travel the world or eat crickets to have unique discoveries or experiences. Wanting to do encompasses so much more than just physical activities, it encompasses your daily activities, helping activities, and learning activities.

Working is a doing want. Yes, believe it or not, whether you sit at a desk or you work with your hands, going to work, having a job, and exercising your body and brain are things you might want to do. Maybe you want a better job, a new career or to do something different. Like other activities, working is not just something you can accumulate in a closet, it’s something you do.

Pro-social behaviours or activities, such as volunteering, showing kindness or helping others are doing wants. Perhaps you want to save the world! To do that, you have to want to put yourself into action. I used to work at Earth Hour, a World Wildlife Federation division because I wanted to do the work to promote awareness of global electricity usage and light pollution because I felt like I was making a difference.

Learning and gaining knowledge are also doing wants. You have to “do” research, ask questions, or work out how to solve a problem to achieve a better understanding. So, perhaps you want to gain an MBA or MSc, that’s a doing want (coupled with a having want, the degree framed on your wall).

What’s interesting about doing wants, which are driven by outcomes and actions, is that we often come up with excuses or reasons why we CAN’T do them. Our thinking can get in the way of doing exactly what we want! This is another thinking trap. Perhaps you want to go on an exotic holiday, but you think, “it’s too expensive”. Or maybe you want to learn how to snowboard, but you think, “it’s going to be too difficult”. Maybe you think you don’t have enough experience to apply for a new role, so you don’t. These excuses and thoughts of inadequacy are just that. Excuses and thoughts. And quite often our thoughts are not true.

The motivation to do is at the core of us as human beings. What makes the difference in getting what you want is based on the value, meaning and importance you put on your actions.

Take a moment now and go back to question two and see if you can find the underlying value and importance of why you want to do that want.

Wanting to BE

When you ask yourself who or what you want to be, the answer often comes with great positivity and excitement, enthusiasm, and motivation for the future. Thoughts and images of your ideal self come into your mind.

So, who do you want to be? Do you want to be famous? Or to be creative and express yourself? Do you wish to be healthy, feel a sense of belonging, and have strong relationships? Do you want to be happy?

It’s an exciting question to me, but for some, this exercise can lead to experiencing the opposite feelings and instead conjure up comparisons of yourself with others.

Go back and look at question three at the beginning and read through what you wrote. What you may notice is that when you write about who you want to be, it usually includes what you want to have and what you want to do.

Defining who you are with having and doing labels is what most people do because it’s easy. There is a meaning already instilled in those words. I am a baker; I want to be an accountant; I am a teacher.

Another thinking trap comes when we use phrases like: I want to be happy. I want to be a good mum. I want to be a good person. These generalphrases require exploration of what we mean by them. What does it mean to be creative? What does it mean to be a good mum? What actually does it mean (to you) to be happy…?

Wanting is more than just making a list and then executing that list. Wanting requires you to understand, yes the outcomes, but more importantly, the meanings and feelings that underpin your wanting motivation. By grouping your wants into have, do and be wants, you can investigate and reflect on your want meanings to begin the process of aligning your intention with your wants, to feel authentic, satisfied, and fulfilled.

(This is an excerpt from my upcoming book on How to Want With Intention.)

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About the author:

With an MBA in Marketing, Beth E. Lee spent 20 years working within global corporations, NGO’s and SME’s in the marketing, advertising, and branding industries. In 2019 Beth received an MSc in Psychology & Neuroscience of Mental Health and a British Psychological Society approved Psychological Coaching Certification. She hails from Boston but has lived in 5 countries, currently residing in Dublin where she inspires and promotes creating an intentional life.

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