The Power of Desire (pt. 1)

May 26, 2009   //   by Steve Wooding   //   A Slice of Lemon  //  2 Comments

“Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”
[Mario Andretti, Italian-born racing driver.]

“Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.”
[Napoleon Hill, 19th/20th century US author and presidential adviser]

“I stood, nose pressed up against the toy shop window, gazing through at it, my eyes tracing over each feature, every detail of it, until I could almost feel the surface under my itching fingers. Somewhere deep inside I felt a cavernous space open up, a void that happened to be exactly the same shape and size as the very thing I was fixated on. Right then and there I knew that, however long it took me, I would be saving whatever money I could – pocket money, birthday gifts, odd-job payments – until I had the amount that the neatly written numbers on the precisely folded card in front said would be required in exchange for this marvellous item.”

Have you ever wanted something so much you actually felt the want – that yearning, a hollow space that you knew could only, can only, be filled by possessing whatever, or whoever, was the object of your desire?

Maybe it wasn’t a particular thing, or person; maybe it was something you wanted to achieve – passing some exam, completing an event, reaching a goal or fulfilling an ambition? Or perhaps it’s a place you wanted to go, or still long to visit and experience for yourself.

Desire is an incredible feeling, a powerful mixture of emotion and tangible sensation too. It can pull us to make great sacrifice, to dare to attempt almost impossible feats, to risk embarrassment, shame and failure in the hope that we will ultimately make it, or them, ours.

Advertisers are well aware of this fact, and understand that, especially for higher cost items, desire is something that must actively and carefully be created and focused in order for a sale to be made – it’s the third step in their standard AIDA marketing model – Attention; Interest; Desire; Action.

They will go to great lengths to create that feeling, even if they have to borrow it from somewhere else and then associate it with the product they’re trying to sell you, hence the idea of celebrity endorsement (“I want to be like her, so I need to buy that”), focusing on our constant need for self-esteem (“I’ll feel better / more attractive / be more successful / have more friends if I have that”), or even appealing to our deeper values (“I’ll be a lousy parent unless I use those”).

However, it’s not just people who sell products or services who use this process. You only need to take a good look around an average city centre bar or club on a weekend evening to see that people use that same basic idea to advertise themselves too – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

I reckon Desire is a bit like a chainsaw though – when it’s used correctly, with due respect to its power and might, and a bit of training to understand how to utilise it well, it is fantastic, making what might be a tough job easier and, in some cases, quite exciting and exhilarating! However, if due care isn’t taken, no nod given to the inherent danger that lurks beneath the usefulness, or you allow yourself to get so caught up in the excitement and exhilaration that you forget what you’re actually holding in your hands, it can quite literally disable you.

Try this little bite-sized experiment:

  • Remember the last time you really wanted something or someone, as vividly as you can – what you were seeing, hearing, saying to yourself and feeling.
  • As you remember, notice first of all where you are aware that desire – what sensations are created your body and what kind of thoughts run through your mind?
  • Notice how much of those thoughts and feelings are to do with what your life might be like WITH that thing, or person, in it? What proportion of those thoughts and feelings are concerned with what your life is like WITHOUT that person or thing in it? And how much is simply that sensation of yearning for it or them?

The reason your body and mind create emotions is to draw your attention to a choice you have before you. Desire is an emotion like any other and it draws your attention to a choice centred on the object of your desire:


That is, what are you willing to let go of, to take on, to spend, to change, to sacrifice, to become, so that you can possess it, be with them, achieve that..?

Continuing our little experiment, do this:

  • Ask yourself what you DID in response to those thoughts and feelings of Desire you were reliving before. Did you just do pretty much nothing about it at all? Did you try to get what you wanted but eventually give up? Or did you take action until you got what you wanted?

Perhaps your ‘desire’ event was more recent, so I’ll ask whether you’re still just longing for what you want or in the process of working towards getting it, and are willing to keep going until you possess it?

Desire, like any other emotion, is also capable of ‘hijacking’ us. When given too free a reign, it can blind you to the reality of what’s required to fulfil it, or have you ignore some of the costs or other obstacles that may stand in your way – this is often how many people, less able to control it or unwilling to balance ‘want’ with ‘need’, end up in colossal amounts of debt with the “have it now, worry about how to pay for it later” mantra, or break the law by taking what is already someone else’s.

And when desire is focused on a person, dwelling on that deep longing for too long can blinker you to the reality that that there may be someone else already in their lives, or that they might not feel about you in the same way at all, no matter how much you want them – taken to extremes, this “they will be mine no matter what” obsession is the mindset of stalkers and sociopaths.

Remember that desire without action can be a serious issue to – it’s what lies at the root of empty daydreams, frustrated ambitions, unrequited love, and slowly drifting lives.

But when we can control and focus it though, desire can be a mighty ally, as long as it’s followed with purposeful and appropriate action.

So how do we know what ‘purposeful and appropriate’ action is..?

To really understand that, we first need to realise that it’s rare that we want something just for the sake of wanting it. Beneath the want is a second, perhaps more pertinent question:


… and that’s what we’ll investigate next time!


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