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The More You Want Something, The More Elusive It Becomes

go with the flow for best resultsIt happened again.

I was standing on a corner waiting to cross a busy street.

I was in no hurry, lost in thought.

Just enjoying a pleasant walk in the neighborhood.

Before I realized what was happening, an approaching car had stopped to let me cross. There are four lanes, two each way, and all the other cars instantly followed suit.

Instead of having to wait for a natural break in traffic, I found myself hurrying across four lanes full of idling cars that had stopped for me without being prompted.

This is not what usually happens.

The Power of Letting Go

Usually I’m in some sort of hurry, feeling impatient to cross the street so I can go about my very important business of buying a head of lettuce or mailing a letter.

The steady streams of cars that keep me from crossing when I’m in a hurry seem insensitive to my plight.

A pattern has definitely taken shape in my mind over the years:

The less of a hurry I’m in, the more likely it is that drivers will stop to let me cross the street. The bigger the hurry, the longer the wait. Have you noticed this, too?

I can’t remember a time when traffic spontaneously stopped for me that I wasn’t lallygagging, not caring when I was going to be able to cross.

But there have been dozens of times when I’ve been waiting in an obviously purposeful way, and no one stopped for me despite the fact that I reallyreallyreally wanted to cross.

Instead of just writing this off as Murphy’s Law, I feel drawn to another explanation.

When I’m in a hurry, it shows.

My body language, unconscious though it may be, probably says to approaching drivers, “You should take time out of your day to stop for me because I want to cross the street now, and my time is more important than yours.”

Not surprisingly, this message doesn’t inspire cooperation.

When I’m just hanging out and feeling patient, my body language is consistent with a different message to drivers: “Your time is important. I’ll just wait here till you’re done driving past. No worries, take your time.”

And that inspires selfless behavior.

Impractical Wisdom?

But if this is true, what can one do about it?

Body language reflects how we feel, and we can’t choose our feelings.

Does it work if we pretend we don’t care how soon we can cross the street?

No, I don’t think so. (But if you find out differently, please let me know.)

Body language seems more complex than crossed arms or a tapping foot.

It’s likely that for most of us, the telling-est cues are the ones we’re not even aware of. And those are pulled by strings of emotion — again, not within our control.

What if, no matter how we behave on the outside, we can really only get what we want when we aren’t desperate for it?

What if this paradox is an essential part of the human experience?

There are many examples where this appears true…

From respect to attention to money to quiet neighbors, those things we reallyreallyreally want often elude us.

By the time we get them, if we ever do, we’ve usually moved on from wanting them that badly.

It’s not a very satisfying explanation simply to say that life is paradoxical. If that’s true, why is it true?

Maybe life is a classroom, and one of the lessons is that going with the flow is easier than struggling.

Maybe we’re not supposed to “push the river” by trying to make things that don’t seem to want to happen, happen.

But wait!

We’re a goal-setting species…

How are we supposed to set and accomplish goals without doing a little pushing?

Hm. How about you tackle that one in the Comments section below?

All this thinking has made my noggin sore. I’m going to go lie down now.

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "The More You Want Something, The More Elusive It Becomes"

  • Peggy
    March 1, 2014 - 11:06 am Reply

    Attitude is everything, body language is visual attitude, good attitude always produces GOOD results.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      March 1, 2014 - 12:04 pm Reply

      Succinctly put, Peggy. I like your statement, “Body language is visual attitude.” Thanks for sharing.

  • Cheryl Peddie
    March 7, 2014 - 8:52 am Reply

    I wonder if, once we let go of believing we NEED something to happen RIGHT NOW, it doesn’t actually come to us any faster than it would have if we didn’t let go of that desire. BUT, it just SEEMS like it comes faster because it’s so much less frustrating. In the midst of waiting, we’re not focused on the fact that we’re waiting for something we believe we lack. We’re noticing the butterflies going by, the sun on our face, what’s going on around us and in us. We’re with what we have, not what is missing.

    AND, by the time the missing thing shows up, we realize we made it that long without it just fine. And likely, once the day progresses along, being without it (like so many times I’ve been late and thought it was going to ’cause’ a catastrophe) didn’t matter so much after all anyways.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      March 7, 2014 - 9:41 am Reply

      Yes! I think you might have nailed it there, Cheryl. Good thinking. That which we’re not waiting for OF COURSE seems to happen without delay. Thanks for cracking the code!

  • Eye Jay Kay
    March 7, 2014 - 3:01 pm Reply

    These paradox seems especially true for singles (who don’t want to be single any more).

    • Tina Gilbertson
      March 7, 2014 - 4:05 pm Reply

      You know what? You are so right! I had a friend who LONGED for a relationship for YEARS. She eventually made peace with being single forever… and then promptly met her husband. It was like magic.
      Thanks for making that connection, Eye Jay Kay.

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