A Must Read for a Happy and Satisfied Life!


Image by skampy via Flickr

What is the one word that you wish you could delete from your mind’s dictionary? If you deleted it, you would never think of its meaning again nor be influenced by its consequences. Any word come to mind?

“MUST” is a Dangerous Word

My most desired deletion is the word, “MUST.”

Oh sure, many other words can get me into deep do-do, but no other concept like the one represented by the four letters m, u, s, and t has led me to as much anger and frustration. I believe that “MUST” is very dangerous to your well-being. How about you?

When you think about it, we really have very few true “MUSTS” in life. “MUSTS” by definition mean we have no choice or alternative, so we must do or accept the predicate of a must sentence as fact. For example: “If I want to continue as a human being, I must breathe.”

Make Your “MUSTS” List

Stop reading for a minute and make a list of your own “MUSTS” in-order for you to live a happy and satisfied life. (No really, you “MUST” stop reading and make a list of your musts or the rest of this post is a waste of your time!) Funny huh?

Now that you made  your list of “MUST” have for happiness and satisfaction list, could you defend your “MUSTS” in a court of law? More difficult yet, can it be defended  in a court of logic?

The Magic of Wishes

Most of the time we lie to ourselves and believe that we have discovered a “MUST,” when in reality, we have a “PREFERENCE” or a “DESIRE” or a “WISH.” For example: “I “MUST” have (fill in the blank) to be happy and satisfied.” I might like to have (fill in the blank), but I can think of some other ways I might be happy and satisfied without (fill in the blank.) So it may very will be my preference or even good for me to have whatever I think I might need to be happy and satisfied, but “MUST” it really be so? Most often the logical answer is no. Many frustrations magically disappear if we can simply find and replace our “MUST” with “WISH.”

My problem is that I am not a purely logical creature. I am an imperfect human that is quick to “MUST” in many situations. When I don’t get my “MUST” then I do the childish technique called pitching an internal temper tantrum to express my feelings of anger, frustration, unfairness and righteous indignation of my present world. Because to my emotional mind, when a “MUST” is not happening, then it is “AWFUL!” and “MUST NOT” be that way.

Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy

Dr.Albert Ellis, PhD, was a noted American psychologist, who is the father of a theory of mental treatment called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT).

Dr. Ellis suggested three core beliefs or philosophies that humans tend to use to think themselves into feeling disturbed:

“I absolutely MUST, under practically all conditions and at all times, perform well (or outstandingly well) and win the approval (or complete love) of significant others. If I fail in these important—and sacred—respects, that is awful and I am a bad, incompetent, unworthy person, who will probably always fail and deserves to suffer.”

(Rational result: Holding this belief when faced with adversity tends to contribute to feelings of anxiety, panic, depression, despair, and worthlessness.)

“Other people with whom I relate or associate, absolutely MUST, under practically all conditions and at all times, treat me nicely, considerately and fairly. Otherwise, it is terrible and they are rotten, bad, unworthy people who will always treat me badly and do not deserve a good life and should be severely punished for acting so abominably to me.”

(Rational result: Holding this belief when faced with adversity tends to contribute to feelings of anger, rage, fury, and vindictiveness.)

“The conditions under which I live absolutely MUST, at practically all times, be favorable, safe, hassle-free, and quickly and easily enjoyable, and if they are not that way it’s awful and horrible and I can’t bear it. I can’t ever enjoy myself at all. My life is impossible and hardly worth living.”

(Rational result: Holding this belief when faced with adversity tends to contribute to frustration and discomfort, intolerance, self-pity, anger, depression, and to behaviors such as procrastination, avoidance, and inaction.)

Source: Ellis, Albert (2003). Early theories and practices of rational emotive behavior theory and how they have been augmented and revised during the last three decades. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 21(3/4)

A Cure for “MUST-ITIS”

There is a simple cure for “MUST-ITIS.” Confront your thinking logically with questions like: “Is it true that I “MUST”…?” “What evidence do I have to support my “MUST” belief?”

Most likely upon close analysis, we have misused “MUST” and will clarify and diffuse our explosive reactions by substituting “WISH” or “PREFER” instead.

Lastly, once we have our wishes and preferences clearly before us, we can choose how we want to feel and respond to them. We can decide that we might wish something were different, but it “IS” what it “REALLY IS” and we can accept it as it really is. We might not like it, but if we cannot change it, we can accept it.

There is tremendous power to battle “MUST-ITIS” in Reinhold Neibuhr‘s untitled serenity prayer:

God, grant us the…Serenity to accept things we cannot change, Courage to change the things we can, and the Wisdom to know the difference Patience for the things that take time Appreciation for all that we have, and Tolerance for those with different struggles Freedom to live beyond the limitations of our past ways, the Ability to feel your love for us and our love for each other and the Strength to get up and try again even when we feel it is hopeless.

Our world “MUST” be as it is because that is the way that it is. We may not like it, but it will ruin us if we believe that it “MUST” be different and to our liking. We can do our part to change our circumstance or situation to be more to our liking, but if we are unsuccessful, we can accept it and live with it.

Here’s to a successful “MUST-ECTOMY!”

I “WISH” you happiness and satisfaction.

Do Your Best.

Hamster wheel

Image by sualk61 via Flickr

I Am a Recovering Human-Hamster Wheel Builder and Runner.

My personal carrot on a stick that I chased for over 20 years was “success.” I found that I spent most of my waking and quite a few of my sleeping hours building a bigger and faster, virtual human-hamster wheel on which to run. I was in constant professional motion, trying to win a unwinable race. I based my futile logic on a philosophy of “working hard is smarter” and that running faster is the goal, even if you are not getting anywhere. When in doubt, build a bigger wheel, but never stop running if you want to “win.”

Life’s Goal is Meaningful Satisfaction 

I obviously was not paying attention when whomever gives out major life instructions explained the purpose of life. I thought someone said success, when really satisfaction is life’s goal. My mistake.

Fortunately, I met some patient people who were generous enough to share their experience and more than a few great books. Apparently, I am not the only wheel runner in the business world.

My Best Does Not Have to be the Best!

Maybe you can learn from my biggest mistake. For a long time, I confused doing “MY BEST” work with “THE BEST” work. A competitive belief in scarcity drove my pursuit of a unrealistic, nearly perfect ideal of performance. I must win before someone else takes the prize!  Nothing less than “the best” at what I was trying to do was ever satisfactory to me. Needless to say, I wasn’t satisfied, because I was not the best at anything. Even thought I had tried my best to be the best. Back on my wheel for some more sprints… 

Replacing my belief in scarcity with a more valid belief in abundance allowed me to stop running on my wheel. I developed a more realist definition of doing “MY BEST.”  My best work, is now defined  as performing a task effectively and efficiently using my available capacity appropriately to do the work in a way that meets the expectations of the person paying for the work. Some days I have more capacity to do more, other days I have less capacity to work with. My capacity on any given day limits my full potential. My best work reflects how well I realize my full potential on any particular day.

Use What You’ve Got to Work With

It’s as if we each have a rechargeable 9 volt battery powering us. If only 50% of the charge remains then the capacity is only 50% of its full potential. It’s “best” is to use 100% of the available 50% charge. It is unreasonable to expect a battery to provide more energy than it has stored. Humans are very similar. Each of us only has so much mental and physical capacity to use for whatever we are trying to accomplish. Once we use all of our available energy, then we must recharge. If we don’t we rundown and finally try to run on empty. One cannot get very far without any energy.

Stop Running and Start Getting Somewhere That Matters

The step off the human-hamster wheel is built with a more durable substance that lasts. It’s called satisfaction. Doing meaningful work in service to others creates feelings of satisfaction. Working in pursuit of satisfaction is more of a sojourn through adventures than running on a human-hamster wheel. The nice thing about pursuing satisfaction is that all you have to do to achieve it is to stop and enjoy it where ever you are and in whatever circumstances you find yourself. It turns the purpose of living from racing toward a mirage called success to savoring each moment as its own reward.

What Are You Running For? 

Have you been building human-hamster wheels and running after the success carrot? Is your best work good enough to recharge your sense of satisfaction daily? Can you live with the knowledge that someone else besides you might be the best? Do you seek to understand your capacity and potential well so that you can judge if you have done your best work? 

Chase what matters most to you. Chase it with all that you’ve got! Enjoy every moment of the chase. Rest well every night in the slumber of satisfaction for having done your best.

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