The Way Things Are, the Way Things Should Be, and the Way You Want Things to Be



Don’t break yourself against your own expectations.  The square peg won’t fit any better into a round hole by thinking the hole should be square or wanting the peg to be round.  First know what you’ve got.  Seeing things the way they are, isn’t limiting, it’s enabling.  When you know how things are, you can deal with them more effectively and find a way forward.  When you ignore the way things are, you create crossed-expectations, for yourself and others.  The simplest way to miss how things are is to project the way things should be or the way you want things to be, on to the situation.
Key Take Aways
Here are some key take aways:

  • The Way Things Are.  Know the way things are.  This means knowing the facts, knowing what people are really saying and doing, knowing what the current situation is setup for, and knowing the writing on the wall.
  • The Way Things Should Be.  Know the way things should be.  This means asking yourself, “what’s the right thing for this situation, or how should things be?”
  • The Way You Want Things to Be.   Know how you want things to be.  Ask yourself, “how do you want things to be?”  Check yourself, if things were the way you want them to be, what would people be saying and doing, what would the situation look like if was already true?  The grass isn’t always greener.

The real power here is your ability to use these different lenses to analyze your situation.   At any given point in time, we’re usually mashing up these different viewpoints.  Use these viewpoints to get clarity and to figure out whether to change yourself, change the situation, or pick a different battle.

The Way Things Are
One of the toughest things to do is see things the way they are.  Why?  We can fool ourselves.  We see what we want to see, or we hear what we want to hear.  We project our opinions, guesses or wants onto what we see and hear.  We see a yawn, but are they bored or tired?  We see a smile, but do they like us or are they just polite?  In my experience, actions speak louder than words, but our interpretation can get in the way.

Reality Checks
The key is to first know what you’re really getting.  This means, being in the moment and paying attention.  Start with, “what did you see, what did you hear?”  This is your factual input.  It helps you check your thinking.  For example, did anybody actually *say* they like your idea?

Reality checks are your friend.  For example, if you’re in charge of sweeping the parking lot, do you expect to make more than the person who runs the business?  While exceptions happen, you want to check your thinking against what’s the most *likely* explanation for the situation.  In other words, what results is the current situation setup for?

The Writing on the Wall
What’s the writing on the wall?  This can be especially tough if it conflicts with what you want or what you think things should be.  You hear what they say, but what do they really mean? What’s your gut say?  What does the group really want?  What does the current situation actually support?  This helps you balance out what you see and what you hear with your more intuitive side.  Use your facts to check your intuition, and your intuition to check your facts.

The Way Things Should Be
One of the best ways to frustrate yourself or distort a situation is to get hung up on the way things should be.  They *should* like your idea, or this *should* just work, or people *should* watch where they are going. Well, maybe they *should* like your idea, but  do yourself a favor and first acknowledge that they don’t.  If you know the resistance, you have a starting point.  A self-check is, do you know *why* they don’t like your idea?

It’s actually a good thing to know the way things should be.  In fact, ask yourself, “what’s the right things for this situation?”  The key is, don’t mix that with the way things are.  Keep your lenses separate so you don’t frustrate yourself with crossed-expectations.

The Way You Want Things to Be
It’s really easy to overlay your wants for a different world onto the current situation.  This is one of the easiest ways to miss what’s right in front of you, and not know the feedback that you’re really getting.   It’s also one of the easiest ways to  frustrate yourself, again with crossed-expectations.  The key here is to ask yourself, “what do you want things to be?”  Keep this separate and distinct from the way things are and the way things should be.  Get clarity on what you actually want.  The self-check is to next get clarity on what this vision of how you want things to be, would actually look like.  The really hard part is to identify what people would be saying or doing, and how the situation would be structured to make it happen.  It’s often easier to focus on how you don’t want things to be, then get real clarity on how you want them to be, beyond a fuzzy level.

The Power of Your Lenses
Rather than a mash up of how things are, the way things should be, and the way you want things to be, you can use each lens for better clarity.  What is your current situation?  Are there any real threats or are you making stuff up?  How should things be?   What is the right thing to do?  Lastly, how do you want things to be?  If a genie were to grant you 3 wishes, do you know what to wish for to make it happen?  Would you actually want what you got?  You can use these lenses to test your thinking, and you can test your lenses by asking questions, taking actions, and testing your results.

Remember that if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re not going to see it, and that it’s not just what you see, but how you see it.

Photo by kthypryn.


  1. “The way things are” is so important because I have seen individuals time and time again take some idea that they have and over estimate the impact of an idea by not looking at the way that the situation really is. However, being able to disregard “the way things are” and putting on the lense of “this is the way things should be” is equally, if not more important. When thinking about the way things should be I have found it helpful to ask the question, “Regardless of the current constraints what is the outcome that I would really like to get?”. Using both of these lenses together helps you to be a powerful innovator while at the same time keeping the real time in perspective.

  2. I was just thinking about these same three things as I was lying in bed last night…Too many people just accept things the way they are without ever caring about the way they should be and the way they want them to be. It’s irritating to watch someone do something one way just because it’s the normal accepted way to do it, especially when there are alternatives that may be “the way it should be” or “the way they want it to be.” I’m not asking everyone to do things differently just for the hell of it, but I just wish everyone would stop blindly conforming to the precedents set by the people around them without ever considering alternatives. Are people that lazy that they just don’t care?

  3. Due to recent events i was overwhelmed with emotions and needed to get back on track. Best thing that helped me (besides friends’ help) is thinking about the things they really are and just admitting it.

    In fact I am using it when dealing with impatience of my kids… i am trying to show the way things are and no tantrum or cry won’t change it.

    Seeing and admitting the way things are indeed powerful thing

  4. LOVE this post! It’s so important to know all of those things and I can think of so many situations where I didn’t want to be aware of what actually was reality. Have you read Loving What Is? It would fit in well with this post!

  5. JD, this post came in perfect timing!
    *Don’t break yourself against your own expectations!* I love how you phrased this,.. it totally resonated with me!
    I acknowledge that I participate in this trap a lot! One part of me is ready to push the panic button, the other is saying ‘you just need to do this!’ and then my intuition says: ‘Just slow down, and single-task, it’s okay we’ll work it out one loving step at a time!’,. sometimes, I get it right, and other times I push the panic, and other times I just go for a power nap! help restore some of that natural harmony! 😉 What a great post! “Thank-you!” ~Jen

  6. Ah, this reminds me of the old saying “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

  7. To move from powerless to a state of power, I ask myself – What’s the best possible thing I can do right now with what is given to me? Usually, this helps me to think constructively and get out of cycle of wanting things differently and resisting what is.

    Facts and interpretations together create our lenses through which we see things the way they are. Seeing interpretations as interpretations and not as facts is very difficult.

  8. Understanding the difference and the why of the way things are versus should be is a great way to develop a roadmap to the way you want things to be. Miss a step and your without a platform or a goal.

  9. I’m pretty sure it’s almost impossible for us to be truly objective. I’m not sure we can accomplish true objectivity even if we try very hard. All of our experiences are colored by our “me” lens, aren’t they?

  10. @ Jeremy

    I like that. In fact, I’m going to use that question tomorrow to think through a few things on my plate 🙂

    @ Mike

    I think sometimes it just takes asking the right questions.

    @ Alik

    It reminds me of the saying what you resist persists. Sometimes acknolwedging it is a way of letting go.

    @ Positively Present

    Thank you. I haven’t but it sounds interesting.

    @ Jen

    Thank you. I actually had a hard time phrasing it and then that sounded sticky. I wanted something easy to remember.

    Power naps sounds so good.

    @ Melissa

    I like that saying. I think I’m still working on the wisdom part 😉

    @ Bunny

    I take it a lot 🙂

    @ Avani

    I like it – it’s along the lines of, how can I make the most of this?

    @ Fred

    I think platform is a great metaphor in this case.

  11. There are always so many more options available than we may realize, always so many things going on at any given moment that we are not tapping into because we are not open and / or aware of them.

    Many times to get what we want, we must look far past “the way things should be”, which involves letting things go, examining what’s really important.

  12. Often I find my biggest problem is trying to extrapolate too much from the data I have. Some times there is just not enough data to assume anything.

    Just recently I caught my mind thinking very negatively about what an event might mean. On seeing this I thought more about what else it could mean and I found an equally positive one. Seeing how I could see things either way I dropped my assumptions and moved on.

    The mind is a tricky devil indeed.

  13. @ Jannie

    So true. Letting things go is one of the keys. It’s way to easy to project what you want or the way things should be onto a situation.

    @ Jarrod

    Testing assumptions is a good approach. One of my favorite techniques from Crucial Conversations is to figure out your story by walking through the facts, of what did you see and what did you hear. YOu can then check with other people what their version of the story is.

  14. […] I really like the fact that he was explicitly said to see things as they are and how you want them to be.   It echoed a point that I’ve written about before in The Way Things Are, The Way Things Should Be, and the Way You Want Things to Be. […]

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