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You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Children sometimes have meltdowns when they don’t get what they want. Some adolescents can feel destitute when their wishes aren’t granted. When you feel confident about your plans and they don’t turn out the way you hoped, what is your response?

As we run into bumps and storms in life, we may need to detour, delay, or completely cancel our plans. When we were young, we may have used words such as “It’s not fair,” and soon enough we found out this was true more often than not. Still, we protest, get mad, and blame others or ourselves for not obtaining our desires.

When this happens, many of us get entangled with “should’ve,” “could’ve” “would’ve” type thoughts. Have you noticed the results of doing that?

Those unhelpful thoughts continue to fuel our emotions, and we most likely continue to suffer because we are stuck in a time and event that never took place. When we are unable to adapt to change, we inadvertently lengthen our suffering and miss meaningful moments.

Do you feel like your rigid thinking patterns don’t allow you to accept change without becoming angry, sad, anxious, or overwhelmed? Is your inflexibility leading you to resist the unavoidable pain that often results in misery?

Instead, consider the acronym PAUSE when you don’t get what you want.

Psychological flexibility can be your focus when things don’t go your way. In that very moment that you didn’t get what you desired, you can choose to be teachable and curious. Ask yourself, “At the end of the day, what matters most?” “Is this really that important as I look at the big picture?” Then consider taking a small step towards becoming flexible even when life is difficult.

Allow the emotions and sensations in that moment. When you try to stop them, they’ll stay longer. Instead, breathe into the area of your body where you feel the unpleasant sensation and make room for it. You can also look at your emotions and sensations as if they were clouds slowly passing by. They shall pass naturally. Observe your feelings and sensations with curiosity, and remember that they are part of the human experience.

Untangle yourself from unhelpful thoughts. If you act on them, will they lead you to living the life you wish to have in the long run? If you persist in getting what you want, is there a cost? Will your actions draw you closer to your values and those you care about most, or will they create a wedge between you and those you love?

Self-compassion statement.* When things don’t go your way, you may feel dejected and hopeless. Your mind will be spitting out judgments galore. Write up a short statement to: 1) Connect with the present moment, 2) Remember that life brings pain and suffering, and that we are all passengers on the same life train. 3) Show kindness to yourself in this difficult moment. For example: “I’m having a hard time right now. I need to remember that I can’t always get what I want. May I be kind and loving to myself when life goes differently than I expected.”

Embrace the moment. This moment can be one to teach you something about life. This opportunity can strengthen or develop a personal trait. Will it be patience, kindness, empathy, or endurance? What’s being offered to you in this moment is here now, and your protesting won’t change reality. Embrace the moment and focus on the process rather than the outcome.

As you PAUSE when things don’t go your way, you can create a space between your internal experiences (i.e. thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges) and possible unhelpful behaviors. PAUSE and recognize that setbacks and failures are part of learning and becoming who you are supposed to become.

Find moments of joy when you get what you need, and see what you can learn when you don’t get what you want.

“Failure comes only when we forget our ideals and objectives and principles.” – Jawaharlal Nehru

*Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. New York, NY: William Morrow.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Annabella Hagen, LCSW, RPT-S

Annabella Hagen, LCSW, RPT-S is the owner and clinical director at Mindset Family Therapy. Her practice specializes in treating children, adolescents, and adults coping with anxiety and family challenges. Her expertise is working with obsessive-compulsive disorder and (OCD) related disorders. Annabella is the author of two children’s books, “Emma’s Worry Clouds” and  “Nico the Worried Caterpillar.” She is also the co-author of “The Masterpiece Mindset: Empowering your Kids to be Confident, Kind, and Resilient.” She enjoys writing for various online magazines and her business blog. You can reach her at

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APA Reference
Hagen, A. (2018). You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 13 Dec 2018 (Originally: 13 Dec 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 13 Dec 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.