Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Mindfulness

4 Ways to Tame Our "Wanting Mind"

4. Remember that desires are impermanent; they will pass.

Key points

  • When we get something we desire, we think we’ll be satisfied, but soon we move on to the next desire.
  • Remember that desires, like all feelings, are impermanent and will pass.
  • Many desires don’t feel good because they’re experienced as a feeling of something lacking in our lives.
  • Pay attention to whether the feeling of constant wanting is pleasurable or not.
Unsplash/Photo by Allef Vinicius
Unsplash/Photo by Allef Vinicius

Most people are well acquainted with the experience of wanting more than they need. This piece explores some ideas for taming that wanting mind. A wanting mind can also be thought of as desires or cravings. There's a physical and mental drain to constant wanting. Some people say they actually feel it as physical pain.

Here are four suggestions to help tame that wanting mind.

1. Pay careful attention to how it feels to want and desire something.

In my experience, mindfulness is the best tool for this. It simply means paying attention to what's going on around you, especially in your mind. People often don’t realize that one of the real values of mindfulness is to learn about your own mind. You need not be sitting in formal meditation to access this knowledge.

In the context of the wanting mind, first, make an effort to become aware of the object of your desire and the wanting that arises around it.

Then notice how that feels. Is the wanting pleasant? It definitely can feel pleasant to envision how happy you think you’ll feel if you get the object of your desire.

But, interestingly, a wanting mind can also feel unpleasant. This is because our desires can trigger a feeling of lack in our lives when, in reality, we have plenty.

This has been true for me at times, not so much about concrete objects, but about wanting something to be different in my life. When I truly pay attention to that wanting—in other words, when I do some investigating—I see that wanting my life to be different comes from feeling dissatisfied with things as they are. And I know from experience that I only feel good when I accept my life as it is.

You can start by paying attention to how you feel when you're faced with an object of desire—whether it be a concrete thing or something about life that you wish were different. You may well find that it triggers an unpleasant, uncomfortable feeling—a feeling of lack—and that you would feel better if you let that desire go.

2. Pay careful attention to how we feel after getting what we want.

It’s also important to pay attention to how you feel after you obtain an object of desire. We often say, "If only I can get this, then I'll be totally satisfied from now on." But life doesn’t work that way. As soon as you get what you want, your attention turns to something else you want. You're fooling yourself if you think that getting what you want will satisfy you for good. Recognizing this goes a long way toward taming your wanting mind.

3. Introducing the Want Monster.

In my experience, wanting is a natural feeling—it just arises. We can't control that, but we can learn to control our reaction to it.

Here's a story I write about in the book How to Wake Up. I have a friend who calls the wanting mind the "Want Monster." When her kids were young, she taught them to identify that intense feeling of want by calling it the Want Monster.

For example, she'd have them practice it when they'd be walking down the aisle of a toy store and found themselves saying over and over, "I want this; I want that." She’d remind them that it was the Want Monster at work. It taught her kids to separate themselves from their wanting minds and to just notice that it was happening.

She did this with her kids when they were young, but I found it tremendously helpful as an adult. It meant that instead of falling under the spell of constantly wanting, I could leave that wanting on the shelf, so to speak. I could just not take it up by saying, "That's just the Want Monster, but I don't have to feed it."

4. Remember that all feelings and emotions are impermanent.

It’s essential to always keep in mind the universal law of impermanence. Intense wanting will pass if you acknowledge its impermanence and then patiently wait it out. I know some people say you can get over wanting completely, but I'm not convinced of that. For me, what matters is not the wanting itself but how I respond to it. And recognizing its impermanence takes away its power over me.

***

It’s given me a sense of freedom to be able to use these tools when wanting mind seems to take over my life. With practice, all of us can learn not to be ruled by that wanting.

My best to everyone.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: tuaindeed/Shutterstock

advertisement
More from Toni Bernhard J.D.
More from Psychology Today