Years ago, I took a month-long mediation course. I never ended up mediating disputes between individuals, but I still use what I learned to help my clients mediate disputes within themselves.

To put this idea of self-mediation into context, I invite you to think of a situation in which it feels like two different parts of yourself are pulling in different directions, vying for their preferred path.

For example, perhaps you’ve been working hard on a big project and feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and guilty that you haven’t had much energy to give your kids. One part of you is begging for a weekend without the kids. Another part argues that you should spend the weekend playing legos and drawing pictures with them.

I can’t tell you exactly which choice to make. But I can offer a principle from my mediation training that can help you see underneath each part’s desires and better meet your multiple needs.

That principle is this:

Discerning between needs and strategies leads to wiser decisions and more met needs.

In the Nonviolent Communication lineage, needs are the underlying values that motivate all human action. And strategies are actions we take to meet our needs.

Oren Jay Sofer, author of Say What You Mean, shares in his communication classes:

Strategies are what we want. Needs are why we want them.[1]

Here’s an example: We each have a need for physical movement. Some strategies to meet the need for physical movement might include taking a brisk walk, shooting hoops with friends, lifting weights, jumping rope, or attending a spin class.

Every action we take is a strategy to meet a need.

We get stuck when we get attached to certain strategies and convince ourselves that one strategy is the only way to meet our needs.

For example, let’s say you plan to go to a spin class, but your meeting goes over, you get caught in traffic, and you are too late to make it to class.

You might get attached to taking the spin class and beat yourself up for being late rather than trying to meet the need for movement differently.

When we can’t use our preferred strategy, our task is to offer love and kindness to the parts of ourselves who are disappointed and then to look for other ways to meet our needs, like turning on the music and hula hooping or doing an online yoga class when you get home.

Discerning between needs and strategies doesn’t always solve every problem. And yet, when we stop clinging to our preferred strategies and refocus on the underlying needs we’re trying to meet, it does make problems more solvable.

Once we identify our underlying needs, getting creative about how to meet them becomes easier.

For example, let’s return to the situation in which part of you craves a weekend alone, and another part wants to spend all weekend playing on the floor with your kiddos. Taking a weekend alone, playing all weekend with your kids, and all the possible ways you could spend your weekend are strategies. Underneath your desire to engage in these strategies are needs. In this case, perhaps your needs are solitude, connection with your children, and recognition that you’re doing your best.

Let’s say you realize that a weekend alone isn’t tenable but that you don’t have the energy to play all weekend long with your kids.

Once you know that you need some solitude, connection, and recognition, you begin brainstorming numerous ways to meet those needs:

  • Perhaps you have a heart-to-heart with your partner or a friend you trust to be your cheerleader, you let them know how much you’ve been struggling, and you ask them for loving feedback about how hard you’re trying.
  • Perhaps you ask your partner, parent, friend, or babysitter to watch your kids for a half-day so you can get time all to yourself.
  • Perhaps you remember that you love reading novels and that just an hour of reading gives you a sense of getting away from it all, so you ask friends for book suggestions.
  • Perhaps you invite your friend and her kiddo to go apple-picking with you and yours so that you can make some memories together.

Once you identify possible strategies, you can ask yourself: What do I want to do?

I define the word wants as preferred strategies.

For example, you could engage in many strategies to meet needs for friendship and physical movement, but you might only want to take a walk with a friend.

Likewise, right now, I have needs for contribution and accessibility (to make my work accessible to more people than can afford my coaching). Potential strategies for meeting that need include creating a video for Instagram, reaching out to local nonprofits about doing a workshop, or setting up podcast interviews. But dedicating this half-hour to writing this section of my book for you is the strategy I want to use.

In the context of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, we must develop a nuanced relationship with our wants.

On the one hand, reclaiming desire is a radical act. Dominant culture trains most of us—especially those of us who are outside of what Audre Lorde called the “mythical norm” (the white, cis, straight, Christian, able-bodied, neurotypical, thin, financially secure, young man)—to ignore our desires.[2]

Because of that, it can feel uncomfortable or shameful to consider what we want. We might conflate having wants with being arrogant, spoiled, or selfish. Part of the work of dismantling internalized oppression is learning to recognize what we want with respect.

On the other hand, dominant culture teaches folks with greater privilege (I include myself here as a white, cusgender, able-bodied, US citizen) that we should be able to get whatever we want, even when it harms others.

If we are to usher in a world in which all peoples’ needs are met (which is what I am committed to co-creating, and I hope you are, too), then those of us with greater privilege will sometimes need to sacrifice getting what we want so that others may get what they need.

So what do you need and want?

For now, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on your needs and wants for the weekend ahead.

First, ask yourself: What do I need now?

You can look at the BayNVC list of needs below to help you figure this out.

I share this list with permission from BayNVC, and I encourage you to find out more about and contribute to their work at www.BayNVC.org, TheFearlessHeart.org, and MikiKashtan.org.

As you go through the list, keep in mind that it is not exhaustive or definitive. The list offers helpful guidance for discerning our needs, but these are not the only needs you might have.

Once you are clearer about your needs, ask yourself: What strategies might I use to meet my needs?

And finally, choose at least one strategy you want to use this weekend. Make it small enough that it’s doable.

Even stepping outside to look at the trees or taking a deep breath or drinking your coffee slowly or texting a friend or wearing your coziest socks are strategies that can meet your needs.

I wish you lots of met needs and coziness.

And if you have any questions about this teaching, please let me know. As my clients will tell you, this teaching undergirds a lot of my coaching. However, it’s not one I write about frequently. So if anything was confusing, it would help me to know. (And, if it was especially helpful, feel free to let me know that, too! :). Your feedback matters to me.

[1] Oren Jay Sofer. Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication. (Boston, MA: Shambala, December 11, 2018).

[2] Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. (Berkeley, CA: The Crossing Press, 1984.)

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