Do you want to win the lottery? Chances are, you answered Yes. Okay, so you’ve got the first part down. It’s a fact, focusing on what you want rather than what you don’t want is key to improving mood and living a better life. But, where do you go from there…what about taking action… making change… actually achieving what you want? Do you buy a lottery ticket everyday? Chances are, you answered No. This is because our brains spend energy and currency (thoughts and actions) on things and events that we actually expect to happen, not on things we just merely want to happen. If you truly expected to win the lottery, you would most likely buy a lottery ticket each and every day.

I worked with a patient who wanted so badly to be in a mutually loving and committed relationship. She created vision boards, collaging pictures of happy couples and she wrote daily about the happy relationship she desired so strongly. After spending time researching and writing about the cognitive power of anticipation, I asked her, out of 1-10 (1 being the least likely and 10 being the most likely) how much she actually expected to be in the type of relationship she wanted, and she replied, “2, sometimes 3”. Right there I knew she barely stood a chance. She could go on wanting a relationship every day, just like you and I, who want to win the lottery, but without a strong expectation that she was likely to be in one soon, she would be spending very little brain currency on allowing herself to meet her match.


I have spent a lot of time working specifically with people on identifying their wants and expectations, revealing huge gaps between the two, then guiding the work and efforts to close this gap, making the relationship between wants and expectations much more symbiotic and positively correlated. Achieving your goals and dreams require you to know what you want but, beyond that, it requires work and a shift in your expectation. So, next time you set a goal or have an intention or desire, ask yourself these questions: What is it that I want and How much do I expect this to happen? 

There is a RIGHT Way to Want: 

1. Identify what it is that you want. This can be surprisingly difficult. Unfortunately, at times, it is much easier for us to identify what it is that we don’t want, rather than what it is that we do want. You can use this as a tool to identify what you do want.

2. Once you figure out what it is that you do want, write it out clearly, as a positive statement. Our brains work much better within these contexts. For example, when presenting our brain with, “I want healthy lungs” rather than “I want to quit smoking because it is bad for me” our brain tends to have more availability to create positive steps of action to achieve goals. Our brains don’t tend to work well with negative statements which is why many times telling yourself “Quit smoking” or “Quit bitting my nails” is not an effective way to cease habits or addictions.

3. After identifying a clear and positive want or goal, identify why it is that you want this. What about this would make your life that much better? Change is a very hard state for humans, the only way change happens is if you can identify wanting something so much more than what your current state is and why.

4. Now you are ready to ask yourself the magic question, “From a rating of 1-10, How much do I expect this to happen?” The lower the number you rate, the more work around improving your expectation you will have to do. Regardless of your answer, go on to step 5.

5. Now that you have identified what it is that you want and why it is that you want it, spend some time visualizing what it is like to have this already. Visualize, using all of your senses, having healthy lungs, or that new job, or a secure and loving relationship… Many studies have proven that if you can visualize a goal, especially utilizing all of your senses (what does it feel, smell, taste, sound and look like) you are much more likely to achieve it … this is because you are much more likely to increase the likelihood of EXPECTING that this could happen for you!

6. Now, make this very important statement, “Now that I can (see myself achieving that new job/ feel what it is going to be like to be in such a loving relationship/ feel how easily I could breathe and how my healthy lungs enabled me to become a runner… ) my new expectation of how likely it is for this goal to occur is ___ (this number will definitely increase)

After going through these sets and mapping our a goal or a want in this way, you are significantly more likely to develop the small steps and actually take action towards achieving your goal. 

Happy Wanting! 

~Dr. Deepika Chopra holds a doctorate in clinical psychology with a concentrated interest in Health Psychology, the connection between mind/body and Innovative Cognitive Science. Dr. Chopra is an alumna of multiple UCLA programs.   In addition to completing her BA in Sociology from UCLA, she also completed post-doctoral training programs at the David Geffen School of Medicine and our affiliated site at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.  Dr. Chopra is passionate about studying the benefits of optimism and is driven to innovate new methods that help individuals enhance their positive future and present thoughts and behaviors. She can be reached at drdeepikachopra.com.

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