The Question that Changed Everything

I have always been a goal setter. Dreaming of where I want to be and what I want to accomplish has supported me in achieving great things and fed my desire to be productive and successful. Surrounded by a culture that reinforces hustle, it has been easy for me to move on autopilot toward the goal—head down, heart closed. 

Over time, I began to notice that this autopilot mindset served my goals well. It allowed me to get to the finish line with relatively little distraction. But it also robbed me of the joy of the very experiences that led me to my accomplishments.

At times, I would compromise my own well-being or what intuitively felt right, aiming to stay in my lane and accomplish my goal. After all, that’s what I really wanted, right? Or was it? I began to push back on my point of view and listen to a quieter voice from within. 

I did some research on more intentional ways to set goals and bumped into The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte, author and life coach. She explains that we desire certain things because we want to feel a certain way. Perhaps behind that vacation, chocolate cake or afternoon nap is the desire to feel rested, relaxed, connected, nourished, inspired, engaged or present. According to this understanding, we are all chasing feelings through different life experiences. Everything we crave has a purpose—to get us closer to feeling the way we want to feel. Instantaneously, I saw the connection. Clarity about how I wanted to feel could act as my compass or “true north.” If I knew how I wanted to feel, I could recalibrate my goals accordingly. Rather than the rote autopilot path toward the goal, an awakened sense of feeling and being would be the reward, experienced along the path, not just at the end. 

LaPorte calls these “core desired feelings” and suggests that knowing how you want to feel is a potent form of clarity—and for me, it really has been. Although the concept spoke to me, the question of “How do you want to feel?” was not an easy one to answer. It required an acute sense of self. I could quickly name what I wanted to accomplish, do or have, but how I wanted to feel required an intense amount of self-reflection, contemplation and self-discovery. As it turns out, I often catch myself slipping into the “doing” mode—listing things I want to accomplish or strive toward. But I continually invite myself back into the “being” mode—considering my own desires and needs apart from the pressures of the world. 

I now have a small list of feelings that I want to cultivate. The list changes on occasion and serves as a GPS for my soul.

As someone who once struggled to shift out of autopilot, abandon a goal or say “no,” I’ve become like a bird in a nest—defending these sacred feelings with conviction, defining my non-negotiables and shedding some of the commitments that don’t align.

I have come to understand that becoming aware of how we feel and how we want to feel are crucial to developing self-awareness and intrinsic motivation, and cultivating happiness. The goals I set have become sweeter because they align to how I want to feel. I am head up, heart in along the path because the things I am doing nourish me. This doesn’t mean I love every moment of that path, but even during the challenging moments, I recalibrate with present-moment awareness to check in with how I want to feel and how I am currently feeling. My head and heart don’t skip ahead to the end as quickly as they once did. Rather, each step along the path offers me some opportunity to cultivate the very feelings I set out to feel. 



As a parent and teacher, I’ve stopped asking children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Instead, I continually seek to inspire them to consider how they want to feel. Through job loss, becoming a parent and finishing a Ph.D., I’ve learned that the big win isn’t in the accomplishment itself. Nor is there any one career, experience or event that sets off fireworks in my soul. Rather, it’s the daily act of intentionally aligning the things I do with the choices I make, along with bringing my wholehearted presence to each.

I’ve learned that no single accomplishment will bring me joy. Joy is in the unfolding of the everyday moments when my head is up and my heart is open. It’s been a game changer for me! 

Today, I invite you to consider your own to-do list and focus on the feelings you are hoping to experience, rather than just the outcome. What is one thing you can do or one thing you can let go of to bring you closer to feeling this way?

Sarah Hunter, is an educator, researcher and mother of two young humans. She currently desires to feel connected, nourished, challenged, deeply well, restored and authentic. Sarah’s path in mindfulness started while becoming a yoga teacher at age 16. She is interested in the role of mindfulness in supporting learning, well-being and transformational social-emotional intelligence. At Mindfulness Without Borders, Sarah is the Head of Research & Innovation, and a facilitator of youth and adult programs. She wholeheartedly believes that the ability to be mindful can change the world.