This a popularly held piece of bullshit that has pissed me off most of my adult life after doing untold damage to my psyche as a child/teenager.
I am going to use my weight issue as an example, but the ‘wanting it enough’ statement is used for lots of things that people struggle with. And almost universally its bullshit. The reasons parallel quite nicely with my example.
I have been fat to some degree or another most of my life. And I tried daily for most of my teens and 20s to diet. I dreamed about being thin, I tried and failed at just about every diet that came down the pike. I knew more about nutrition and dieting than just about anyone I knew.
But I just got fatter not thinner. And it was said to me by friends, family and strangers “When you want it enough, you will be able to do it.” That was apparently the key to unlocking the problem. Just wanting it more than I already did.
Lets unpack that piece of stupidity.
If I want it enough, means that despite the fact that the dream and the desire to be thin was filling all of my imagination -it was apparently not “enough” wanting to allow me to successfully diet.
The constant planning for eating the correct foods, researching new diets, spending thousands and thousands of dollars on it hadn’t quite hit “enough”.
It means that even though my life on a daily, often moment by moment basis was a series of humiliations, of physical limitations, and of just plain pain, it was was somehow not outweighing some mysterious advantage to being fat and/or eating too much. Apparently I needed things to get worse than 400 lbs before I triggered the “enough” category of wanting.
Now lets consider what the implication of this sentence is. Not only am I fat, unattractive, unhealthy and utterly miserable, I WANT to be that way. That’s what someone is saying to me. I enjoy being all of that so much that my obsession with being thin – it was just a drop in the bucket.
And the further implication is that there is something wrong with me because I don’t want this enough.
What scared me was that I believed them. I just accepted that my constant state of desire and of obsession about being thin, wasn’t really “wanting”. I was constantly trying to figure out what I could possibly be getting out of the misery that would trump all of that obsession. It certainly wasn’t on the surface the way my apparently not “enough” desire to be thin was. I felt crazy.
And then one day, it dawned on me. That “enough” was bullshit. I did want it. The entire premise of wanting it enough is faulty.
And people say it because they don’t know why a rational person wouldn’t be able to stick to a diet.
I eventually got a gastric bypass. I don’t regret it. I regret the belief in the bullshit of “not wanting it enough”.
Wanting something is not the intrinsic piece of the puzzle that makes us do something.
- People do lots of things every day they don’t “want” to do. They do them for lots of reasons other than personal desire.
- People do lots of things every day that they get no advantage from.
- They often don’t do things that they could get an advantage from.
Life is far more complex than that statement implies and using it supremely unhelpful advice.
Don’t say it to anyone EVER. For anything they are trying to achieve. Their inability to do something they dream about probably has nothing to do with not wanting something. Admit that you don’t really know why they aren’t succeeding in the endeavor and give them support.
7 thoughts on “The bullshit of “If you really wanted it, you would do it””
Life is complex. You be the person you want to be. With that said, Aristotle noted we are creatures of habit. This message hit home with me when I read Charles DuHigg’s book called “Habit.” I am an alcoholic and was a train wreck waiting to happen. So, I had to find a way to stop. So, I replaced one bad habit with another good one (fruit juices, green tea) and thought of some advice I received – “I am not going to drink today.” I am now over eight years without a drink, but I still want one, but the urge has diminished over time. Again, you be the person you want to be, but if you feel you must change a habit, look to replace it with a healthier one, otherwise you will fall back into the habit you want to replace. Best wishes for a healthy and happy 2016. I enjoy reading your blog. Keith
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I don’t think who we “want” to be has as much to do what we DO as that. People think there is some incredibly strong link between WANT and DO.
But the world has far more drinking alcoholics than recovering ones. Its not that they don’t WANT to stop destroying their life. Its far more complicated than that.
Our choices and our actions are dictated by a great many things that drive us and our desire for a particular outcome is rarely the strongest one.
We just think it is because the other drivers are harder to express.
But a great many things that drive have no relationship with rational thought. Many of them aren’t even detectable by ourselves. They are habits or physical reactions or mental instability or….
But those things are not easily summed up to someone else or ourselves. So we pin it on something everyone understands Desire. Want.
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Your point about people trying to oversimplify the failure to do as not wanting it enough is sound.
To some extent I understand what you say. One of my “besties” was very overweight. I saw her on every diet. Nada. I ate with her and she didn’t overeat. She eventually got the gastric bypass and she did lose weight but not as much as she wanted. I think she looks great but she is not thin. She is disappointed because she had hoped to be a size 8. I never said anything about her weight but listened. She’s my friend no matter what the weight but she had to be comfortable with herself. Now at close to 70, she is getting there. Wanting to be thin never got her there (she was obsessed with it!). There were other factors like her metabolism, health, etc. Sounds like you have found your way.
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The distinctions between what we want, what we think we want and what we can do about any of it is certainly vague, indeed.
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2 favorites of therapists & medical people of all kinds are 1) we need to see you are truly committed (paying extra doing something stupid) before we help or 2) for parents if you really prioritize/value/love your child. Be careful who you listen to. 🙂