Provision #722: Desire Matters

Laser Provision

What comes to mind when you hear the word, “desire”? If your thoughts run more to the bedroom than the board room, you are not alone. The word has become laced with overtones of sexuality. But the yearning for things that bring us satisfaction or enjoyment is a fundamental part of human experience and a driving factor in the workplace. Desire is not a bad thing. Indeed, desire is a great thing as long as we understand and channel it properly. There is a difference between have-to-haves and nice-to-haves. This Provision explains the difference in ways that will hopefully cook up your own desire for the good life. Read on to see if it works.

LifeTrek Provision


Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The data or the desire? In last week’s Provision, Data Matter, I made a clear case for the power of data to stimulate behavior change. When we see what is happening in the present moment, not generally and after the fact but specifically and in real time, desire is often quickened and designs often emerge for doing things differently.

I know that worked for me, back in 1998, when I was losing 65 pounds and transforming myself into a marathon runner. I tracked everything I ate and every exercise I completed. At the gym, I kept a little spiral notebook in my locker. When I arrived, I weighed in and wrote it down. As soon as I finished on the elliptical or treadmill, I wrote down the total time, average heart rate, and calories burned. When I was on the weight machines, I would write down my reps and weight, machine by machine. At the end of my workout, after sitting in the whirlpool, I would weigh out and write it down. It was always fun to see that lower number on the backend of a workout.

All this writing down meant that I knew where I was starting the next time. I would look at what I did the last time and desire would well up inside me, without any conscious willing or effort on my part. It was just there. “The last time I was here, I burned 950 calories in an hour on the elliptical at level five,” I would say to myself, “I wonder if I can break 1,000 calories today.” The desire planted, I would work harder and I would often make my goal.

It worked the same way with food. I would track my intake, meal by meal and snack by snack. Then I would calculate the calories. At the end of the day, I would add them all up for a daily total. “I ate so much today,” I would say to myself, “I wonder if I can do this again or eat even less tomorrow.” The data became a catalyst for desire in ways that made weight loss a lot more fun and productive. “Hunger and sweat are my friends!” became one of my mantras. I didn’t cook that up, on the basis of my desire to lose weight. That mantra just welled up inside me, in response to the data that was continuously streaming positive feedback.

So which came first, the chicken or the egg? The data or the desire? I hope you can see there was a pretty integral relationship between the two. But there was something that came before the data. Although I didn’t have this language available to me at the time, I now recognize that I had a panic attack in March of 1998. I was driving in the car at the time, and I pulled over to the shoulder because I thought I was having a heart attack. Eventually, the symptoms subsided and I drove home.

That event sent me to the doctor, who conducted a thorough physical examination including blood work and a stress EKG. His conclusion? I had definitely not had a heart attack. But I was at risk for a heart attack given my blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. “I want you back in six months,” he told me. “If your levels haven’t come down through diet and exercise, I’m putting you on blood pressure and cholesterol medication.”

Bada bing, bada boom. Just like that I was faced with a choice: prescription medicine or lifestyle medicine. Treating the symptoms or treating the cause. Playing the victim or taking responsibility. Remediation or transformation. Dependency or autonomy. The more I learned about the two paths before me, the more I liked the idea of getting this done on my own, without the assistance of medication.

At this point, my nascent desire was stirring. It wasn’t the desire to record my eating and exercise. That turned out to be an effective strategy, but it was a strategy all the same. The desire was more deeply seated than that, having to do with my felt needs after learning that my health and well-being were at risk due to obesity and cardiovascular disease. Those needs were not just to be healthy, although that was certainly part of the equation. Those needs were to be fully, wholly, and wonderfully alive. I expressed that sentiment a few years later in my poem titled Passion:

I want to live.
No more halfhearted efforts
No more half-baked ideas
No more half-full glasses
Just wholehearted, fresh-baked,
overflowing life.

I want to live on purpose.
No more aimless wandering
No more squandered existence
No more squelched ambition
Just on-target, death-defying,
carpe diem courage.

I want to live in connection.
No more superficial engagement
No more destructive pleasures
No more cold rationality
Just bone-deep, life-affirming,
stream-fed intuition.

I want to live with joy.
No more sour grapes
No more jaded cynicism
No more inflated self-importance
Just awe-filled, enthusiastic,
openhearted passion.

I want to live
on purpose, in connection, with joy.
I want to live
filled with courage, guided by intuition,
centered in passion.
I want to live.

That’s what got into me over the next few weeks as I began to absorb and assimilate what the doctor was telling me. Life. Purpose. Ambition. Courage. Connection. Engagement. Joy. Humility. And Passion. This was far more than weight loss and the management of medical conditions. This was the beginnings of a desire to be my very best self, a desire that started as a tiny spark and that grew into a roaring fire that has so far known no end.

Properly understood, then, desire comes first. Desire = Felt Needs. I have written many times before about the difference between needs and strategies. Needs are universal and essential. Strategies are particular and optional. Needs are the what; strategies are the how. To get a sense of the full range of human needs, I encourage you to review the Wheel of Needs available through www.CelebrateEmpathy.com. That’s where I identify ten need categories on five spectrums:

  1. Subsistence’transcendence
  2. Work•Rest
  3. Safety•Challenge
  4. Honesty•Empathy
  5. Community•Autonomy

Even though all of us have all of these needs all of the time, we do not feel all of these needs all of the time. It is impossible for all of our needs to be fully alive all of the time. Sometimes we are hungry and sometimes we are full. Sometime we are sleepy and sometimes we are awake. Sometimes we want to be alone and sometimes we want to be with others. Sometimes we need security and sometimes we want to test our limits.

The key, then, is to listen to and respect the felt sense of our needs. Hunger is a need that makes itself known with a great deal of urgency. We all know what that feels like and we all know what to do when we feel hungry: eat! Other needs are more subtle, and they often come into conflict with each other. Hunger is designed to make us eat. But hunger can be redesigned as a welcome reminder that we are losing weight which, in my case, was meeting many other needs. “Hunger and sweat are my friends!”

So desire arises from getting acquainted with our needs. That’s what happened to me in the weeks following my doctor visit. I prioritized my needs in ways that made life, purpose, ambition, courage, connection, engagement, joy, humility, and passion more important than sustenance, security, sleep, space, and support (to mention only five). I was into the northwest quadrant on the Wheel of Needs, where autonomy, challenge, and transcendence live.

To put this another way, before we can meet our needs in the sense of satisfaction we first have to meet our needs in the sense of understanding. If I was going to meet you for the first time, what would that mean? It would probably mean that we would get together for a couple of hours, perhaps enjoying a meal or a cup of tea, so that we could share with each other the stories of our lives. By meeting each other in this way, we would come to understand and know each other as friends.

We would also probably cook up the desire to get together again. That’s what happens when we meet our needs in the sense of understanding. We cook up desire. The more fully we come to know our needs in the present moment, the needs that are most important to us now, the needs that are stimulating feelings and evoking yearnings, the more passion we will feel for meeting those needs in the sense of satisfaction.

And then the journey begins. To know that I want life, purpose, ambition, courage, connection, engagement, joy, humility, and passion (the what) does not tell me the strategies that will make those things a reality in my life (the how). And therein lies the crux of this thing called desire. When we confuse needs and strategies we can get very demanding and discouraged when things don’t go our way.

Let’s say that you read last week’s Provision on the importance of collecting data; let’s say that you decided to try that and that it hasn’t been having the desired effect. Now what? Do you write me an email, complaining about the lousy advice? Do you give up with a shrug, figuring that you must not have what it takes to be successful? Such reactions stem from the confusion between needs and strategies.

Data collection is one of many ways to satisfy our needs. If that doesn’t work, then other strategies are available. The key is to experiment with strategies until we find the ones that work for us. Such perseverance follows naturally from meeting our needs in the sense of understanding. Once we know what we really, really want, the rest will follow.

And once we find one or more strategies that work, we end up in a virtuous cycle. That’s when desire goes from fledgling to full throttle. It’s called the self-efficacy effect. We know what we want (in my case: life, purpose, ambition, courage, connection, engagement, joy, humility, and passion) and we start believing that we can actually get what we want. Desire goes from 0-60 in less than six seconds. The felt need gets connected to the doable strategy and all kinds of wonderful things shake loose.

So that’s what great leaders do. First, we meet our needs and the needs of our people in the sense of understanding and appreciating those needs. We listen and get connected to the pulse of reality. Then, we brainstorm ideas and design experiments for raising awareness and changing behavior until both self-efficacy and collective-efficacy take over. Once we have the confidence, the rest will follow.

Don’t disparage desire. The word may be laced with sexuality in popular culture, but it is so much bigger than that. It is the heart of ambition, possibilities, strengths, and opportunities. It is the key to great leadership and it is available to us all.

Coaching Inquiries: What do you desire? How well do you understand your needs? What are your feelings trying to tell you? How can you release your attachment to particular strategies in order to fan the flames of true desire? What would build your self-efficacy and the efficacy of those you work with and love? Who do you know who seems fully alive, engaged, and passionate about life? How can you get to know them better?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


Thanks for your Provision, Data Matter. I would love to benefit from your reflections on the interaction of data and mystery and reverence.


Great Provision on incorporating data into decision making. At work I’m known as “Data Dan” but I’ve yet to graduate to the full GPS/altimeter running watch. I do log my daily food intake and exercise, scoring each workout based on average heart rate and total time, but I must admit to setting my half marathon personal best on a day I forgot my watch at home.


I miss Kate’s articles in the weekly provisions. When will she be writing again? (Ed. Note: I’m sure she’ll be writing, when the spirit moves!)


Thanks for mentioning me in your Provision. I wrote that piece, “The World as Seen From My Running Shoes,” quite well…


I enjoyed reading the poems from your daughter’s wedding in Costa Rica; I will send them on to my friend. BTW, I have been very busy saving the planet. Read my articles on Mar Vista Patch:http://marvista.patch.com/columns/mar-vista-verde


Thank you so much for your Provision on Zest. The poem as translated by Robert Bly describes how I can feel from time to time, particularly when I am caught up in the minutiae of a major project. It does help to remind myself why this project matters, to the organization I’m working in and the people in it, as well as why I wanted to tackle the project in the first place. At the same time, the larger questions posed in this Provision point me to examining certain areas of my life, and looking for zest outside of work. I very much appreciate how your Provisions so gently open the door to exploring things that matter. Thank you. 


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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