Illustration by Brock Davis

Practice Makes Perfect

Success at creating clarity relies on getting a feel for the four Ps, and that comes only through another P—practice. So let's walk through a couple of examples. The first imagination exercise that follows, involving your home, will ease you into the process; the second involves the trickier business of human relationships.

Example A: Embrace a Space

Say you're wandering around your home, tripping over the magazines you've been meaning to read, the clothing you've been meaning to donate, and the weight-lifting equipment you're definitely going to start using any year now, and you decide it's time to spruce things up. Use the four Ps to clarify the change you'd like to see at home. Go into the least pleasant part of your living space. You may immediately experience Pushback as a desire to leave. Don't. Instead, to figure out exactly what you can't stand about it, imagine that you are this icky space and try to sense what it "wants." Does your bedroom long to be rid of clutter? Does that dark and dismal corner yearn for a lamp? Do the living room windows crave curtains in a shade other than mustard? Imagine these things, letting the space suggest Possibilities. Notice which image has the yummy feel of a Preference. Then, while holding in your mind any image that feels positive, ask yourself, What would be even better? until you can Pinpoint at least one or two changes that are both joyful and doable.

Example B: Rejigger a Relationship

For this example, think of someone you like, but not one of your nearest and dearest (the closer the relationship, the harder it is to envision clear changes, so start with acquaintances and work up). Imagine sitting with this person, having a cup of coffee. Then picture yourself pulling away from the table like a movie camera, so you can see yourself, your friend, the coffee shop. Just as you did with your living space, imagine that you can become the situation—not just you, but both of you and the energy between you.

Now feel for areas of discord in the relationship, the places where you experience Pushback. Let's say you feel Pushback from your cousin Myrtle. Getting specific, you realize the feeling is strongest when you think about the birthday present you're planning to give her: a gorgeous throw handwoven from the wool of an albino alpaca. Not that you're keeping score, but the last time Myrtle remembered your birthday, in 1992, she gave you a spatula.

Let your mind dream up some Possible scenarios that might correct this imbalance. Imagine simply asking Myrtle to give you better presents. Imagine ignoring her birthday. If that feels sad because you love giving birthday gifts, imagine a range of things you might give her—coasters, birdseed, a tongue scraper—allowing your feeling of Preference to Pinpoint the item that fulfills your generosity without sparking resentment. Keep the throw for yourself. Now that you've got what you want—the chance to give without feeling like a chump—you can remain cheerful and loving no matter what Myrtle does.

The Year of the Four Ps

To this day, some of the feminists I met in grad school are still complaining. They seem to enjoy it. I wish them all the best.

For you, however, I wish something better: a new year full of clarity regarding the persistent problems in your life. These problems may look uncannily like burdens, but they're actually invitations to change. That change will happen if you use the force of complaint to reach precise solutions. Knowing what you want—exactly what you want—is the first step to getting it. I hope I've made that clear.

Think of a solution you'd prefer, then ask yourself, What would be even better?

Martha Beck's latest book is Finding Your Way in a Wild New World (Free Press).

Get What You Want


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