Waste Not, Want More
How often do you find yourself in a situation when you say to yourself, “I need to really…”
…go to the gym
…go to bed earlier
…spend less money
If you listen carefully to our inner dialogue as well as to others, “need to,” “should,” and “have to” statements are often part of our daily lexicon to help keep ourselves in check with certain desires and motivation. The problem with these all-or-nothing statements is that they are implying that what we are currently doing is far from being our perfect selves. In other words, we are implicitly judging parts of us that are “bad” and, in turn, should, need to, or have to change into something that we may not want to be or ready to be.
There is nothing wrong with striving to be better versions of ourselves. However, we live in a time where hyperboles seem like dogma. We gauge our lives and others between good versus evil, perfect and imperfect, “crushing it” to “complete fail.” There isn’t much room for nuances and grey, but rather all-or-nothing categories to help ease our minds into clean and concise categories of “good and bad.” Words such as “need, should and have” are part of those binaries.
Merriam-Webster defines “need” as a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism; “should” as a function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency; and “have” as to hold or maintain as a possession, privilege, or entitlement.
Let’s be honest here. We don’t really “need” anything other than food, shelter and water; we rarely like being beholden to obligations; and possession and entitlement aren’t the most shining beacons of ones’ character. Why on earth do we hold ourselves to these types of all-or-nothing standards? When we tell ourselves these types of statements, we are implicitly reinforcing what we are not doing, which leads us to a paradox of doing something that we ultimately don’t want to do or be a failure in not doing it.
As humans, we are much more dynamic than the black and white world we have created. Instead of “need to, should, or have to,” I have found some alternatives (cognitive shifts) that have been helpful.
Merriam-Webster defines “want” as a desire or a wish for something. A want is something that we may like for ourselves rather than a physical requirement or obligation. For example, “I don’t want to eat that cake!” versus “I shouldn’t eat that cake.” It may be obvious that you are not required or obligated to refrain from eating the cake, but shifting it to not wanting to eat that cake can hopefully lead you to more active and positive wants for self – such as wanting to be healthier, to save money, or even to fit in that suit.
If you choose the latter statement and fail at your obligation and requirement to abstain from eating, the results will most likely lead to more negative thoughts of failure and an internal battle of entitlement as to why you ended up eating that cake – “I had a hard day at work (but I still failed).”
If you battle with yourself in not wanting to eat the cake and then decide, “Forget it… I want that cake,” you have, hopefully, made a conscious and active choice to pursue your desire while recognizing how your wants may set you back from a larger wish for self.
2.Who’s Really Talking?
We like to play mind games with others and ourselves. Again, we often use “need to, should, and have to” as a measure of being better, stronger, faster. If you find yourself repeating those all-or-nothing statements, ask yourself who is actually requiring you to fulfill those obligations and entitlement? Is it society? Your boss? Your friends and family?
For example, if you tell yourself you “have to get to work on time,” is it because your boss needs you to be there to finish a project? Are you afraid of how others may perceive you for being chronically late? If you shift the statement to, “I want to get to work on time because…” it allows more space for self-exploration and empowerment, such as wanting to get to work on time to reduce stress and/or to be perceived as reliable and accountable by your boss and co-workers.
Learning how to shift your narrative from “need to, should, or have to” will take time, patience, and practice. If you open your ears, you will hear it all the time! Replacing those statements with “wants” will lead to a kinder relationship with yourself and others.
Jason Chan, LMHC, NCC Psychotherapist Offers individual therapy. He specializes in multicultural/acculturation, LGBT, depression, and anxiety issues.