Virtually no one has a single, unifying desire. Single-mindedness is rare in humans even in short bursts; it’s practically fictional as a permanent state of being. At any given time, you probably have a half-dozen conflicting desires, some louder than others. A few may be very fleeting, but a good number may be pretty permanent features of your psyche.

The thing is, most of your desires would be disastrous if you achieved them 100% to the exclusion of all your others. For instance, one of your desires (unless you are very strange, biologically speaking) is to Stay Safe From Harm. This is a deep desire for most people, fundamental to our existence. That desire, if achieved fully, would ruin your life.

Another desire you may have is Bury All Your Rivals. Sure, but you probably wouldn’t have a good life for very long if you actually did that directly. Those two desires counteract each other – one desire says “killing my rivals and taking their resources would benefit me!” Another says “if we do that, we will be much less safe, for our society will punish us.”

Think of yourself as the leader of a nation, and each strong desire as a general in your military. You have to listen to them. You need their input. They provide wisdom and motivation. But you have to constantly play them against one another, maintaining the balance so no single one of them takes over.

Very rarely can you win against one directly. Sadly, they are often stronger than pure reason. So if General Stay-Safe-From-Harm tells you not to do something, you probably won’t be able to convince him to let you on your own. You’ll have to employ General Desire-For-Resources, who is equally influential. You can tip the scales, break the tie.

And that’s what you have to do, day after day. Don’t lament the existence of these generals. They try to push and pull you, but only because they believe that their way is the best way for you to thrive. If you can keep them in check, they’re a formidable force. If you let them rule you, your empire will fall to ruin.

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