Removing the “musts” from Our Internal Dialogue Stream

When we utilize “musts” we set up all or nothing scenarios that will generally lead to unhappiness and generate anxiety. Such mental chatter can result from trying to satisfy other people’s expectations and it tends to be the default language of perfectionists. If these terms dominate our internal guidance systems, our fight or flight mode may be almost permanently affixed in the “ON” position.

Removing the “musts” from Our Internal Dialogue Stream

On the smaller scale, this dynamic may start with thoughts in the psyche like: “I must get an “A” on this upcoming test”; or “I must perform this presentation well and receive positive feedback from others”.

On a grander scale, we could have directives like: “I must always be liked and accepted by others”.

So after we allow language like this (not usually consciously) to permeate the mental scene, it gets translated by our survival-oriented fight or flight systems as: “If I am not succeeding in meeting these absolutes I am then, in fact, under threat or I am not surviving”.

Our fight or flight network can be said to be an outdated system from pre-historic days that served well when real life or death threats were common, but now it’s just kind of looking for stuff to do. Anything viewed as not succeeding can become “I am not surviving”.

The gates are lowered and the hounds of anxiety are released.

The dynamic can be powerful and the consequences can be huge, even keeping people off their true path or calling. Societal expectations may dictate: “I must be married with children by now”; or  “I must have a reliable profession with a nice benefits package”.

Yet, following one’s true calling doesn’t always jibe with such common norms and expectations. The anxiety provoking dynamics can kick in.

The key issue for people in this boat is then: Varying from one’s true path and varying from social norms both result in anxiety. The key task is then to discern between the two, with the caveat that the two are not always mutually exclusive.

What helps with this discernment, of course, is removing the “musts” from our internal dialogue stream. You might inventory whatever might be causing you stress at any one time. You then may try to determine whether a “must” is involved in placing some kind of excessive demand on yourself (perfectionism) or trying to get you to match the expectations of someone else or society in general.

From there, you simply change the semantics. “ I would like an “A” on that test, but it’s not going to kill me if I don’t”; “It would be nice if I meet the right person and get married, but I certainly can enjoy life in the meantime”.

Sounds easy, but it is a little harder than that. Removing “musts”  takes serious exploration and diligence.  Meditation will help calm the mind to more easily track your thoughts.  Journaling may help with the exploration of any big “musts” in your life.  Start with simple awareness.

In the end, we can see that too many “musts” do not serve us. It’s okay if some people don’t like you. It’s okay to get a “B” on that test. It’s definitely okay to go against the grain and pursue your dreams. We can relax more and be our true selves when we stop using abusing the “musts”.


Barry John Johnson

Barry John Johnson. Brian is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, California. His practice is mindfulness informed specializing in helping people with anxiety, life transitions and enhancing personal happiness. Barry is credentialed in conflict resolution and is a former CEO/City Manager of local governments. His great joys are meditation, writing, intuitive arts and independent spiritual studies. You can connect with Barry on Facebook.

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