Letting Go of the Have-To

Are you compulsive about anything? Maybe you can’t stand to be late or you have to make the beds before you leave the house. Have you ever thought about how you got that way or asked yourself what it costs you to continue?

Suppose, for instance, that you are compulsively punctual. You probably got that way through fear feedback. Possibly, when you were young, you were trained to be on time by scolding or humiliation, or some form of punishment. What did you learn? “I can’t be late, or awful things will happen.” Now here you are at age 27, 37, 57 or even 87, and you are running a little late. You start to tense up and you think, “I have got to get there on time.” You don’t think, “or else I’m going to get in trouble,” because you’re an adult now. However, you are still operating on a program that was installed when you were a kid. You are still trying to avoid punishment or humiliation.

You know, the same computer that drives a submarine can run a school system, if you change its programming. All you need to do, if you want to get off your own back, is deliberately change your program. It may have been put in by accident, but it can be replaced by intent. Becoming aware of it is the first step. Deciding how to change it comes next.

What will you tell yourself the next time you are driving at break-neck speeds, endangering others on the road, to arrive on time? Why not affirm that it’s OK to be a little late once in a while, because it’s true. There are going to be times when you simply cannot control the outside world. But you can control your inside world: Apply a little perspective to the situation, and then relax.

The “have to, or else” situations in our lives are rarely rock-hard, immovable, “the world will end if I don’t get there on time” events. So take a good look at the “or else” consequences in your life. Some may be valid. But, if they have no bearing on specific aspects of your life today, perhaps it is time to let them go.