Wanting What You Want to Want

Hi!!! And Welcome Back to Motivated Mondays! 

We’re talking about well-being. 

A quick recap of last week before we continue.

Last week, we explored engagement through the lens of passion or a “a strong inclination towards an activity that people like, that they find important, and in which they invest time and energy” (1, p. 757). We value our passionate activities. They’re meaningful and become an important part of our identities over time (1).

Passion comes in two forms: Harmonious and Obsessive (1). Both types of passion increase persistence (1) and deliberate practice (2), which can lead to success. But those with Obsessive Passion persist regardless of the cost participation may bring to their life balance, physical health, and/or psychological well-being (1). Only Harmonious Passion benefits our well-being and is associated with increased vitality (1) and openness to experience, positive adaptation in moments of failure (3), better coping mechanisms (4), creative achievement (5), flow, and the absence of public self-consciousness (6)! 

Did you accept my invitation to explore you own passions last week? If so, what did you discover? Did you feel free to engage in your passionate activity flexibly and notice the benefits of Harmonious Passion? Did you discovered that you own passion is a bit rigid or errs on the side of the obsessive? 

Either way, you’re not alone. This check in was merely meant to help you leverage information and cultivate personal well-being. I would never ask you to release your passion. In fact, if you discover that your passion tends towards the obsessive, I would actually suggest cultivating a second passion! Folks who have multiple passions are less likely to be obsessive as they tend to toggle flexibly between things they enjoy. It’s one way to nudge yourself gently towards Harmonious Passion and cultivate well-being!

Are you sitting there thinking - that’s awesome and all, but how do I engage in the activities that I’m not passionate about? What if I want to do something, but don’t feel motivated?

Well, I’m glad you asked! Passion does not apply to a breadth of activities (7). Sometimes, we want to engage in things that we don’t eve come close to feeling passionate about. Slogging through activities that rarely offer enjoyment or flow. It can be difficult to garner the motivation to engage in activities that we want to do, but don't enjoy. 

Tensions of Will.png

So, how do we engage by choice?  

Well, this struggle is hardly new. It’s an uncomfortable part of the human experience, and the weakness of human will has been lamented for centuries! Even the Apostle Paul described this condition saying, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Holy Bible, Romans 7:15, 18b-19). It’s pretty common encounter a a motivational paradox where we want to do one thing and feel like we should want do something else. 

That is, we want one thing, but we want to want another. 

Motivational Carrot.png

How do we resist the temptation of habit and engage in the difficult things that we want to do?

Good old intention, attention, and effort help. But can we will it to action? What I mean by will here is the effort of attention. Using our will without the internal motivation of enjoyment takes hard work and lots of it! It takes energy to focus our attention. It's even harder to focus our attention on something that bumps up against desire, even when you think you should want to do it! Just look at a New Year’s resolutions to go back to the gym that didn't pan out as planned or the number of failed diets that reside in many of our histories. Changing what we want isn’t easy.

In the Principles of Psychology, William James writes “the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will….An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence” (p. 401). He continues and argues that mastering our attention is crucial, because our actions follow suit.

So, this week, I invite you to try an exercise called Wanting What You Want to Want or WWYWW for short. Grab a friend or partner to help you out! 


The WWYWW exercise is intended to help you develop and focus your voluntary attention in order to bring your desires more in line with your values. In turn, your values will help you motivate action towards the thing you want to want! So, let’s get started!

Have your friend go first. Ask them to think of a one thing in their life that they don’t really want to do, but that they want to want to do. Then arrange a time to go with your friend to a place where they can practice focusing their voluntary attention on the task they want to want. For example, if they want to exercise more, you might go to a gym; if they want to make healthy food choices, you might go to a restaurant or a grocery store. See what I mean?

Once you've arrived at your chosen location, the exercise really starts! Have your friend rate, on a scale from -10 to +10, how much they want to do the activity they selected right now. (ie: going to the gym or making healthy food choices) Then ask this question: What would you need to focus on to make you want to do this thing more? After they describe their answer, check in with their rating. See if their new thinking has changed their rating response.

Repeat this question again and continue to repeat it and check in with their rating until they are as close as possible to a +10. Don’t tell your friend what to focus on. It’s important that they discover what may help them motivate the change in activity and align their personal values and experience. Instead, be patient and keep asking them what they would need to focus on in order to shift their desire. If they get really stuck, you can offer some suggestions to see if any of them work from their perspective. Now here is the really important part, end the exercise by doing the thing in question, which they now —hopefully—actually want to do!

Then, reverse roles!

Have your friend guide your through the same process in a location that allows you to engage with something you don’t really want to do, but that you want to want to do.

Having trouble thinking so something you want to want to do? Instead, do you find yourself thinking of things that you want to NOT want to do - kinda like this little guy?


If you prefer, you can reverse this whole process!

Simply select something that you want to do, but want not to want to do - like eating an extra dessert. (It's a personal choice!) If you choose to go this route, you will use your voluntary attention first to help you get as close as possible to a +10. Tempt yourself. Perhaps by putting a delicious piece of chocolate cake right in front of you... Then ask this question: What would you need to focus on to make you NOT want to do this thing? Even though it is right in front of you. Repeat this question and check in with your rating until you move as close as possible to a -10. Then, end the exercise by NOT doing the thing in question. In this case, perhaps giving the cake away. We wouldn’t want it to go to waste after all. ;)

After you’ve both complete the exercise, spend a few minutes chatting. What did you discover? Did anything surprise you? Were you able actually to want what you wanted to want?  (Or not to want what you wanted not to want?) How did it feel while doing the exercise? And importantly, what answer to your question was most helpful to move your rating and change your motivation to engage in the activity to you wanted (or not wanted) to want? How did you move the needle to align this action with your values?

I hope you enjoyed this week’s exercise and feel one step closer to wanting what you want to want! This kind of mental reframing is a process and will need to be repeated if you want to continue to engage in difficult activities or resist temptation. But it gets easier over time! Aligning your values and action will help increase internal motivation even on difficult tasks.

Join me next week for our final week discussing Engagement! I hope to see you then!

As always, gratitude for the expertise of the following resources:


1. Vallerand R, Blanchard C, Mageau G, Koestler R, Ratelle C, Léonard M, Gagne M, Marsolais J. Les passions de l'ame: on obsessive and harmonious passion. Journal of personality and social psychology. 2003; 85(4), 756-767.

2. Vallerand R, Salvy S, Mageau G, Elliot A, Denis P, Grouzet F, Blanchard C. On the role of passion in performance. Journal of Personality. 2007; 75(3), 505-534.

3. Lafrenière M, St-Louis A, Vallerand R, Donahue E. On the relation between performance and life satisfaction: The moderating role of passion. Self and Identity. 2012: 11(4), 516-530.

4. Rip B, Fortin S, Vallerand R. The relationship between passion and injury in dance students. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. 2006; 10(1-2), 1-2.

5. Luh D, Lu C. From cognitive style to creativity achievement: The mediating role of passion. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. 2012; 6(3), 282. 

6. Carpentier J, Mageau G, Vallerand R. Ruminations and flow: why do people with a more harmonious passion experience higher well-being?. Journal of Happiness Studies. 2012; 13(3), 501-518.

7. Vallerand R. From motivation to passion: In search of the motivational processes involved in a meaningful life. Canadian Psychology. 2012; 53(1), 42.

* Special thanks to Dr. James Pawelski’s course Foundations of Positive Interventions and the Master’s of Applied Positive Psychology Program at the University of Pennsylvania for introducing me to this exercise, it’s benefits, and the best practices for it’s use.