|Preferences are always preferable to demands
Last week we looked at the “musts” and “shoulds” we lay on ourselves.
These are also called “demands,” and an interesting characteristic is they actually make us slow down or feel very tired.
And notice this – some of these began as preferences and then evolved into demands which can then lead to self-defeat, anger, anxiety and self-pity.
When taken to the extreme, they can also lead to such problems as violence, addictions, gambling, and compulsive shopping.
There is, however, another way to think, so today we’ll look at that.
Key to healthy thinking
A key to healthy thinking is to realize having preferences, even strong preferences, is perfectly normal. It is one of the traits of being human. However, turning them to demands puts undue stress in our lives. In fact, one school of psychology believes that the majority of emotional problems arise when individuals believe something or other “must” be, or not be. With this in mind, let’s look back at some demands we lay on ourselves and see what happens when we change them to preferences.
1. Rather than “I must not look foolish when I do my presentation!”
• “I don’t want to look foolish, but my life will not end if I do. And the more I make presentations in front of other people, the more comfortable I will become doing it.”
2. Rather than “I must not embarrass myself.”
• “I have embarrassed myself before, and although I felt very uncomfortable, I lived through it and even laughed at myself in the end.”
3. Rather than “I must look great!”
• “I would like to look great, but I don’t need to be the center of attention tonight. And I know I’ll look really nice.”
4. “I must lose 10 pounds by Jan. 31, or I’ll always be fat!”
• “It would be nice to lose 10 pounds by Jan. 31, but even losing less would be quite an accomplishment.”
5. “I must get an A or I’ll feel really stupid!”
• “It would be gratifying to get an A after all the work I’ve done, but that grade doesn’t reflect how smart I am or my intelligence…or who I am.”
6. “I must get a raise or I’ll feel totally worthless!”
• “A raise would certainly help us right now financially, but I won’t allow not having a raise affect how I see myself. I’ll try to find out why I didn’t get it, and either improve my work, or consider other options.”
7. “I must not get sick because getting sick means I’m weak!”
• “I would prefer not getting sick, but everyone does…including me. If I do get sick, I’ll do everything I can to get well, but I’ll also enjoy the time off.”
8. “I must have the perfect wedding because that’s what we deserve!”
• “Of course I would love to have ‘the perfect wedding,’ but that is simply unreasonable, and the emotional cost of striving to make it perfect can make me, and everyone around me, miserable.
So I’ll concentrate on having a great wedding, and leave the ‘perfect’ out of it.
9. I must have the perfect marriage because we love each other so much.
• We do love each other very much, but we are also two individuals who are learning the joys and hardships of sharing our lives together, and our marriage will reflect both of those.
Now, one reason for changing demands to preferences is to protect you from having unrealistic or unreasonable goals. So rather than saying, “I must get an A,” you should think more realistically by saying “It would be gratifying to get an A after all the work I’ve done, but that grade doesn’t reflect how smart I am or my intelligence.”
Another reason for changing demands to preferences is demands leave you no wiggle room. For instance, the demand “I must get a raise or I’m no good” is a dead-end street. Either you get the raise, or “you’re no good.” A preference however opens up other options to you, such as:
• I won’t allow not having a raise affect how I see myself.
• I’ll try to find out why I didn’t get it.
• I’ll improve my work.
• I’ll consider other options.
In other words, when you view your goals as preferences, rather than demands, they add motivation, they add passion, they add challenge, and they add the burning desire to keep growing.
Rather than your mantra being “I’m not good because I didn’t get the raise,” it becomes “the Next Time, I won’t allow not having a raise affect how I see myself.” Or “The next time I’ll try to find out why I didn’t get it.” Or “the next time I’ll improve my work.” Or “the next time, I’ll consider other options.”
In other words, preferences leave room for growth…and without growth in our lives, we begin to die. Either you’re growing, or you’re dying. It’s your choice.
Steven Campbell is the author of "Making Your Mind Magnificent" and conducts "The Winners Circle" every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. He can be contacted at 480-5007 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to www.anintelligentheart.com.