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How big is your universe?

by Dr. Amy Johnson on February 16, 2012

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Let’s say you want a convertible.

What you really want is to get more sun and somewhere along the way you decided a great way to get more sun would be to drive a convertible. As soon as you made that link, your mind starting tuning into all things convertible and now all you know is that you must have one.

If someone asks you why, you’ll mindlessly spew off 100 awesome things about convertibles. You’ve completely forgotten the real why that was driving your desire for a convertible to begin with.

This happens to all of us, all the time.

It’s almost always a feeling you really want, not a thing. The thing is just the vehicle (bad convertible pun, sorry) you’ve chosen to help you arrive at the feeling.

If what you really want is more sun, wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to by a new lawn chair?

Sometimes knowing your why changes everything. If you realize that you don’t necessarily want a convertible (by mindfully asking yourself why you want what you want and digging deep for the real feeling underneath)—you just want more sun—you can stop pining for the convertible and spend your energy and money on something you actually want.

Knowing your why can lift you off a dead-end hamster wheel and give you freedom. Here’s a more important example:

I coach a lot of women struggling with fertility issues. And although their wants seem pretty straightforward, I’ve found this is one area where it’s pretty important to ask why.

Think about it: If you have kids, why did you want them? If you don’t have them but want them, why?

Some women ask themselves why and realize they want to parent. They want to share their home with a child and raise that child and watch them grow up—that’s it. Those women have many options. Knowing what they want is to be a parent, they realize there are many vehicles for parenthood. They can adopt, use a surrogate, take in foster children. They can keep trying to conceive on their own or go through an invasive and expensive medical procedures…their universe is big because their why is broad.

It’s just like if you want a convertible because you want more sun. There are many ways to get more sun so your universe is huge.

Other women are tied to the experience of physically having a biological child. They want to be pregnant, feel baby hiccups from the inside, and have a little being around that is half them, half their partner. These women have a smaller universe because their why is more narrow.

A narrow why is not necessarily any better or worse than a broad why. Your why isn’t something you judge, it’s just something you need to know so that you know what actions to take.

Other women cling to the romantic idea of getting spontaneously pregnant the old fashioned way. They feel defeated by the idea of any help and interpret their troubles as a sign that they’re flawed or sick or being punished. They’re resistant to any way that isn’t natural and easy because “it’s not fair” or “it wasn’t supposed to be this way”. They have the smallest universe of possibilities.

The good news is that the size of your universe is not fixed. It expands as your mind expands and it shrinks as you believe painful stories and place limits on yourself. When I work with women in the latter camp to change some of their painful beliefs, their desires shift and their universe of possibilities grows.

Just like my client who says her ex boyfriend must take her back for her to have any chance at happiness. The guy is gone, so her universe is tiny at the moment. But grief and pain shrink your universe too, because grief and pain shrink your perspective. When she realizes she really just wants to be happy no matter how that looks, her universe will be huge.

When you ask yourself why you want what you want and boil it down to the underlying feeling, your universe of possibilities expands exponentially. And you usually get what you want quite easily.

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