I need sustenance, shelter, basic health care, and clothing. I want everything else. How can we reframe the way we think about our needs to have a better relationship with the things we want? Read on to find out.
When I was ten years old, I needed the new Madden football game. Fortunately, my one Christmas gift every year for the prior five years was a John Madden video game. So, my ten-year old self thought “I need the new Madden game.”
Unfortunately, that year was a very unlucky year for my family, so no Madden video game came. I cried hysterically. Looking back, I see that my ten-year old self was ridiculous in his need to have a video game. But that need was created out of a culture of need that lives on today. How can we reframe our needs (and the needs of others) into wants so that we create more realistic and reasonable expectations for what goes on in our lives?
Start by understanding need
While popular media may argue with me on this point, we don’t NEED a lot of anything. What we need is basic: items to eat to support a healthy body fat percentage, shelter that we can keep at a reasonable temperature, clothing that reasonably fits and isn’t too ragged, and basic health care to make sure we aren’t dying needlessly from preventable ailments.
We we don’t need are: cars, cell phones, computers, televisions, organic food, new really anything, and most everything else. Now, I understand the argument that in today’s modern society, it’s ridiculous to imagine living without basic connectivity tools like phones, TVs, and internet. But, let’s challenge that argument.
There’s a good chance that you live near a public place (like a library) that offers internet and computer usage for free. There’s a good chance that you are within walking distance of a bus route or have access to a ride-sharing van service (sorry, readers from rural areas: I feel your pain). Finally, there are free or free-enough phone services for people in low-income or rural communities. And we never need a television.
So, if we don’t need any of this modern stuff to exist in our modern society, how can we reframe our needs to wants?
Talk to yourself, seriously
I’m a big self-talk proponent. Not the self-talk that I internalize, the self-talk that happens when I say things to myself out loud. Sometimes, it’s embarrassing to talk to myself, especially in public, but hearing myself say something is much more effective than thinking it.
Thinking gets us in trouble. For one, when we think, and we don’t write it down or say it aloud, we trick ourselves. It’s very easy to misremember a thought or frame a thought differently once more information comes in. Keeping in mind that our thoughts are fickle, we can talk ourselves out of our false needs by simply getting them out into the world.
When we talk to ourselves, either aloud or through journaling, it’s more reflective. We translate our raw thoughts into words that we can hear and see. The psychological benefits of journaling are undeniable. For greater accountability, we can go further and tell a friend or a loved one our new plan.
I asked someone to hold me accountable. I set out to not complain about anything for the entire month of November. Complaining gets us nowhere. Instead, anytime that I complain in my head, I reframe what I thought into something more positive and doable. If whatever I reframe comes out as a complaint, from my accountability partner’s perspective, he calls me out. He’s very good at this, and it’s very important to have a reliable person if you choose to go this route.
It’s very challenging to control our thoughts, but when we practice reframing through verbal affirmations, journaling, or talking with an accountability partner, our thoughts will change.
Change what you say, then what you think
This entire series on the power of reframing has a few common themes. Namely, journaling or talking with someone is powerful. So often, the self-help gurus write generic advice that applies to no one. The common script is that if we think different (thanks Apple), we will be different. I argue the opposite is true. We must do, practice doing, and only then will our thoughts change.
Of course, if you’re disciplined and control your mind, your ability to think differently will change how you act. For most of us, me included, we don’t have that capacity. Instead, we must do first. For example, think about all the advice that’s out there on losing weight.
One of the key pieces of advice is to use a smaller plate. Then, our full, smaller plate forces us to eat less. After we’ve eaten less for a while, our body wants less. It’s a do before a think. Simply thinking that we should eat less isn’t nearly as effective as using a smaller plate that forces us to eat less.
This perspective applies equally to all the reframing exercises. Journaling. Talking to yourself. Finding an accountability partner. Do these tasks that force reflection, then after the feedback loop is in place, we will change how we think.
It’s okay to want a lot…for now
All this advice is great, but what if you just want more. Everyone wants more, right? I don’t want to pretend that I’m a minimalist (though I’m trying), or that I don’t want things. It’s okay to want things.
This reframing exercise’s goal isn’t to want less, it’s to understand that we want. That we don’t need. As soon as we realize that we just want, hopefully, our desire to want will wane. It’s hard to want less when we believe that we need more. But we don’t need more. We just want more.
Once we recognize that we are wanting and not needing, we can start to want less. Consumerism and capitalism aside, since we don’t need more, why do we want more? Part of the power of reframing need to want is to realize that we already have everything we need. And the more we cut our needs and wants, the happier we become.
The biggest hurdle in any reframing exercise is starting. Don’t wait. Start today. Start now. Saying “I’ll start on Monday” really means that we’ll start when it’s more convenient. What if circumstances change, and it’s not convenient, or never is? Then we will never start. So, start as soon as possible.
Let me know in the comments how challenging this is for you. It was challenging for me to shift my mind, consumerist and need-based so many years into wanting. But now, I don’t need; I want.