Each of us periodically faces the need to choose between desires (“want”) and obligations (“must”). How to make the right decision?

Finding a compromise between desire and duty is a common request for psychotherapy. Many clients want to find motivation, turn their “shoulds” into “wants”, increase productivity and stop procrastinating. Others, on the contrary, are trying to get away from achievement and constant stress because of the number of things to do and responsibility, trying to learn to relax, to feel what the body’s needs and desires are now.

So, in simple terms, there are two groups of people who are guided by the following approaches in most of their decisions:

  1. “Wants.” They always have a lot of wishes. You can easily recognise them – they constantly tell you that they want a new phone, a trip, a promotion at work, a wardrobe update… Our grandmothers used to affectionately call them “I want”. They feel their needs and desires perfectly, they are talented, dreamy, emotional. However, they are more prone to addictions and procrastination, as they constantly compare themselves with others (and not always in their favour). They have mood swings, are often offended and jealous. Their “wants” don’t always come true or don’t come true exactly as intended. It is difficult for them to think strategically and go strictly according to the plan. After all, they are more focused on their desires and emotions.
  2. “Shoulds.” People in this category are very serious, rational, sometimes even hyper-responsible, they tend to worry about their results and behaviour. Because of this, they can’t relax, they can’t let go of control, they have difficulty delegating. They often suffer from chronic tension and stress, going over in their heads what they could have done differently or worrying about how to avoid making mistakes in the future. They are characterised by perfectionism. Even on holiday, they can’t forget about business and stop thinking about how they could have spent their time more productively.

If a person concentrates too much on achievements and evaluates himself or herself only by the results of his or her work or income, he or she is called an achiever. Such people get completely absorbed in commitments and goals and forget about rest. Subsequently, it can be difficult for them to define what they want (“I’m so tired that I don’t want anything anymore”, “Choose yourself(s), I don’t know”).


It is false (and quite dangerous) to choose only what you “need” or what you “want”. It’s much more effective to combine the two into a “can”. Find a solution that is relevant to you.

In order to do this, you need to understand exactly what you want and what needs you have at the moment. Your wants may be related to achieving certain goals, having fun, or improving your quality of life. Needs may be about security, a stable income, or health care.

Think of a list of your values (these are the things that are important to you in life). For example:

What would you like to add to your life? How exactly and in what events would it be expressed?

Once you have identified your wants and needs, it is important to assess your possibilities. Maybe some of your desires can be realised only under certain conditions or efforts. It is also very important to consider your resources in order to rationally determine which wants and needs can be fulfilled at the moment and which can wait.

Based on this information, choose your priorities

Determine which desires and commitments need to be met first, taking into account your capabilities. What is most important to you right now? What comes second?

A coaching exercise such as the Eisenhower Matrix can help here. “I have two types of problems: urgent and important. The urgent ones are not important, and the important ones are always not urgent,” said the 34th President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower.


Take a piece of paper, write down all your tasks and categorise them into four groups:

When you have your priorities prioritised, you will be able to get things done quickly. You will have a clear structure rather than an endless list in your head with “Everything is important, everything is urgent and everything was needed yesterday”.

Otherwise, you will always have an endless list of things to do and responsibilities in your head, making life a Groundhog Day with a huge load of stress.