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The "I have to" Book of Law

Our societies and our upbringing have taught us to function according to the imperatives that “higher authorities” – our parents, our traditions or our governments – have imposed on us over decades or even centuries. If these imperatives are sometimes useful and acurate, it is nevertheless difficult for us to build a fulfilling life by blindly responding to orders only coming from outside ourselves…

When I was young, my mom always had a “have to” for every situation in life. From classic “you have to tidy up your room”, to “you have to go to the hairdresser”, “you have to take a child out every day even if it’s snowing and it’s -15° celsius/59° Fahrenheit” , “you have to earn lots of money to be happy”, “you have to buy a new bra (my boobs never seem upward enough for my mom!)”; my mother went through her life with a very reassuring list of “have to” to cling on to when she was anxious, that is to say every minute of the day… But, wait a minute, wouldn’t it be the other way round : Could anxiety be the creater of the “have to” list? One day, exhausted by one of her umpteenth preaching « have to » related to my daughter’s education, I asked her if she had a big guiding book where all her “have to” were recorded, the absolute collection of great life commandments… Surprisingly, she didn’t laugh at the joke!

This excessive use of “have to” has extensively been a problem in my life and has even been one of my depression feedings. Indeed, the “have to” are rules that come from nowhere, and are therefore nowhere recorded, that we impose upon ourselves without ever questioning them. These rules are either inherited from our childhood or dictated by the society we live in and are completely unrelated to our inner self and our life choices. Our society, especially through medias, is an incredible vector of “have to”: “We have to eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day”, “we have to make love at least once a week”, “we have to do sports”, “we have to be thin to be beautiful”, “we have to get married and have children”…
All of these “have to” are source of constraints that we obviously did not choose since they emanate from an undefined higher power. They are, consequently, source of judgments and/or guilt in our lives whether we comply or not with them.

We all have imperatives in our lives but, if we don’t want them to become burdens or frustrations, we must choose those that we accept – and those we don’t! – in total consciousness and change the way we express them: replace the impersonal “have to” by a “I want to” or a “I will” will make a real difference in your life because it will reposition you at the center of those actions. “I will do the dishes” doesn’t make the dishes any sexier than in “I have to do the dishes” but, at least, I get to decide whether or not to do it. Also, it’s interesting to add a “because” to this statement to put even more self into the imperative and turn it into a real conscious choice: “I will do the dishes because I don’t like my kitchen to be a mess or because I’m out of clean plates and I’m really hungry! “.

The same goes for children. When we were children and our mother told us “you have to clean up your room”, we tended to run in the opposite direction, go play elsewhere and make ourselves vanished. On the contrary, if you say to your child “I would like you to tidy up your room this morning because I want to vacuum it”, this will give him/her the opportunity to give meaning to the imperative or to transform tidying into a proof of love for his/her mother and thus motivate him/her to help you without too much recriminations… It doesn’t work each time but it’s always worth a try!

Reclaiming our imperatives means transforming them into voluntary choices and self-affirmations. Similarly, it helps us get rid of the ones that do not belong to us and that interfere in our everyday life. When imperatives are the ones we choose to accept in order to achieve the goals we set for ourselves, they become much lighter and we are thus able to accomplish them with pride and joy.

For those who’d rather read long texts on paper, you can download this article in PDF.
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GClaudel4@Luc Naville BD

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