by Pamela Slim
If you have ever watched the Discovery Channel, you have seen the fury of a mother bear defending her cubs from the video lens of an over-eager nature lover. With fangs bared and claws ready to attack, she focuses all of her power and girth at taking down the potential threat.
Such intensity almost matches a creative father who adamantly defends his miserable career as a network administrator since he “has to” pay for his children’s education.
Or a young college student who “has to” answer her overbearing mother’s calls, even in the middle of a date.
Or a mother who “has to” feed her children only organic carrots fertilized with vegetable compost blessed by Tibetan monks.
Or an executive who “has to” work weekends and vacations in order to stay competitive.
The fact is, we don’t have to do anything. We choose to do things with specific consequences. Different choices = different consequences.
This slight distinction has huge implications for your sense of personal power.
But releasing these ingrained “have tos,” also called your “personal religion,” is not easy.
To get you started, here are three short exercises:
1. Body Compass:
- Close your eyes and deeply relax. Vividly recall an exceptionally painful or unhappy experience. Notice how this memory is making you feel, not emotionally, but physically. What bodily sensations or symptoms are connected to the negative event?
- Name this sensation with a word or phrase.
- Assign a score to this negative feeling from 1-10, with the worst possible score being a 10.
- Repeat this process, thinking this time about the very best time of your life. Notice your body symptoms, name the sensation, and assign a score.
Once you have this valuable information about your “body compass,” you can use it to understand how you are really feeling about a situation. When you think a thought or ponder a decision, what do you feel in your body? Is it your “best” or “worst” feeling? What is the score?
2. Think of some things you have had to do lately that made you uncomfortable, sad or angry such as:
- I had to lend my brother $250 (again) so he could pay his rent
- I had to attend a boring all-day meeting
- I had to enter my credit card items in Quickbooks to prepare for my tax filing
- I had to attend a dinner party of a neighbor who I don’t particularly like
- I had to do my laundry
- I had to fire an employee
- I had to take my son’s car away after he had an accident
- I had to call a client and tell him we were behind on his project
- I had to decline a weekend away with the girls since I didn’t have enough money
- I had to walk the dog in -20 degree weather
Using your body compass, assign a number from -10 to +10 to each item, based on the way your body reacts to each item.
3. Take the item with the worst score and examine the belief.
Belief: I have to lend money to my brother.
Why?: Because if I don’t, he will get angry and call me selfish.
What will happen if he gets angry? He may stop talking to me.
How will you feel if your brother stops talking to you? Crappy. Unloved.
What do you really want? I want my brother to love me.
Since you can’t control anyone else’s thoughts and emotions, what do you want? I want to feel loved.
What is another way you can feel loved? I can love myself. I can surround myself with people whose love is not contingent on loaning money. And I can love others.
Suddenly, your steadfast belief that you have to lend your brother money loses its power. You learn that you can choose not to lend the money and still feel good. And if you choose to lend the money, you will do so freely and without the expectation of anything in return.
You can apply this framework to any one of the above scenarios and see how it changes your sense of obligation.
Original thought: I have to stay in this job to pay for my kids’ college
Underlying desire: I want my kids to get a good education.
Question: How can I help my kids get a good education?
Original thought: I have to answer all my mother’s calls, no matter my personal situation
Underlying desire: I want my mother to know I love and respect her.
Question: How can I demonstrate love and respect to my mother while still maintaining my independence and privacy?
Original thought: I have to feed my kids 100% organic food at all times
Underlying desire: I want my kids to be healthy.
Question: How can I help my kids be healthy?
Original thought: I have to do my laundry
Underlying desire: I want to have clean clothes
Question: How can I get my clothes clean?
All this boils down to realizing that you have unlimited choices about how to live your life. When you own your choices, you feel more powerful and are more able to act in your best interest.
Let’s try something: If you catch yourself saying “I have to … ” this week, stop, pinch yourself and say “I choose to …” If you don’t like your choice, make another one! You may be surprised at how free you feel.
Can you share the results of your experiment here in the comments?