The Difference Between Doing What You Want and Getting What You Want

Do what you want, or get what you want: it seems like an easy choice, right?

I often confuse doing what I want with working to get what I want. The semantic difference is minor, but the real world difference is epic. Perhaps a little maturity helps me draw a distinction between the two.

Infants and young children demand what they want though tears, temper tantrums, collapsing on the floor — these are exhausting methods used to get what they want: food, attention, heating or cooling, rest. As adults, we can do (or not do) what we want, but getting what we want takes work, focus, and responsibility.

Here’s an example:

  • What I Want to Do — I want to go to the movies.
  • What I Want to Get — I want to have free time to spend at my discretion.

By doing what I want, I satisfy my need for rest and relaxation, but I might be putting off something more important. By working towards getting what I want, I delay gratification, but accomplish what needs to get done in order for me to have some free time. Most importantly, I’ve learned something about achieving a healthy work-life balance and how to make room for free time. I can relax more fully now that I’ve earned the thing that I wanted. The outcome is much more significant than if I were to just do what I want.

Staying on Track

Remembering the difference between the two requires maturity and discipline, which I admit — I don’t always have in great supply. Sometimes a post-it note next to the computer or bathroom mirror is enough of a reminder. Other times it’s easy to lose sight of the “why” behind whatever I’m working on.

I find that incremental progress is the best way to move forward, which allows me to think not only bigger, but also think smarter. Breaking big tasks down into smaller manageable tasks has worked fabulously for me. This helps me lay out a step-by-step plan towards achieving my longer-term goals, which keeps things in perspective and reminds me why an individual task is important. Conversely, tasks that don’t fit into the bigger picture can often be eliminated — or at least given low priority. 

It really all comes down to mindfulness. By reminding myself what I am working on and why I’m working on it, I remember the big picture and get one step closer to my goal — to get what I really want!

What methods do you use to stay on task?

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