Something interesting happens in the human brain when we get what we want.
When we imagine what goals we want to achieve, we often do so with the expectation that they will elevate our quality of life in some tangible way, and once we have arrived at that place, we will be able to “coast.”
Coast, as in, let go. Relax into life. Let things be, for a while.
That is not what happens.
Neurologically, when we get something we really want, we just start to want more. New research in the nature of the chemical dopamine — which was previously believed to be the driving force behind desire, lust and acquisition—proves that it is more complex than previously thought.
In The Molecule of More, Daniel Z. Lieberman explains that experts that studied the hormone found that when an individual was introduced to something they highly desired, the dopamine surge would diminish after acquisition. Dopamine, it turns out, is not the chemical that gives you pleasure, it’s the chemical that gives you the pleasure of wanting more.
So the big, huge goal that you’re working toward? You’ll get there, and then there will be another mountain to scale.
This is one of the many reasons that we deeply sabotage what we truly want. We know, instinctively, that “arriving” won’t really give us the ability to abstain from life, it will only make us hungrier for more. Sometimes, we don’t feel up to that challenge.
So, while we’re on the way, a toxic cocktail of neurological biases start piling up on one another, and we start to resent, judge and even vilify the object of our greatest desire.
What happens when we start to chase what we really want:
- We resist doing the work that it takes to actually get it because we are so afraid of not having it, any brush with failure makes us rescind our effort and tense up.
- When we go so long not having what we really want, we create subconscious associations between having it and “being bad,” because we have judged others for having it.
- When we get it, we fear losing it so badly that we push it away from ourselves, so as to not have to withstand the pain.
- We are so deeply enmeshed in the mental state of “wanting,” we cannot shift to a state of “having.”
So, let’s break this down.
First, when we want something really, really badly, it is often because we have unrealistic expectations associated with it. We imagine that it will change our lives in some formidable way, and often, that’s not the case.
When we are relying on some goal or life change to “save” us in some unrealistic way, any incident of failure will trigger us to stop trying. For example: if we are absolutely certain that a romantic partner will help us stop being depressed, we are going to be extremely sensitive to rejection, because it makes us feel as though we will never get over depression.
Of course, the obvious issue here is that dating is a process of trial-and-error. You have to fail first to succeed.
Then, for all the time we spend not having the thing we want, such as a romantic relationship, our brains have to justify and validate our stance in life as a form of self-protection. This is why we unconsciously vilify those who do have what we want. Instead of being inspired by their success, we doubt them. We become a skeptic about relationships, being so jealous of others’ happiness we assume that they must be faking it, or that love “isn’t real,” or that they’ll split eventually, anyway.
If we hold tightly to these beliefs for long enough, guess what will happen when we finally get that relationship we really want? Of course, we are going to doubt it and assume it will also fail.
This is what’s going on when people push others away, or give up on their big dreams the second something challenging comes up. When we are so scared that we are going to lose something, we tend to push it away from ourselves first, as a means of self-preservation.
So let’s say that you work through the limiting beliefs that are creating this much resistance in your life, and you do eventually allow yourself to build and have the thing you really, really want. Next, you’ll be upon the last and most trying challenge, which is the shift from “survival mode” to “thriving mode.”
If you have spent the majority of your life in a state in which you are “just getting by,” you are not going to know how to adapt to a life in which you are relaxed and enjoying it. You are going to resist it, feel guilty, perhaps overspend or disregard responsibilities. You are, in your head, “balancing out” the years of difficulty with years of complete relaxation. However, this is not how it works.
When we are so deeply enmeshed in the feeling of “wanting,” it becomes extremely hard to adjust to the experience of “having.”
This is because any change, no matter how positive, is uncomfortable until it is also familiar.
It is difficult to acknowledge the ways in which we are so deeply inclined to self-validate, we end up standing in our own way out of pride. It is even more difficult to acknowledge that very often, the things we envy in others are fragments of our deepest desires, the ones we won’t allow ourselves to have.
Yes, your brain is predisposed to want greater, and more. But by understanding its processes and tendencies, you can override the programming, and start governing your own life.