open mic night for musts & have tos (6:07)
Updated: Feb 18, 2022
Compulsive thoughts arise, insisting I must & have to. E.g. "I have to be on time," or "I must have a response ready when the other person stops talking."
I generally prefer to be punctual, and I like being responsive.
But when those urges become overactive & relentlessly insistent, they stop serving me, and actually interfere with my ability to be present - which, ironically, can negatively affect my punctuality and responsiveness.
Fixating on the urge & its urgency, I lose sight of the situation the urge is directing me toward. Which then seems to justify an intensifying of the urge...
I've tried a number of techniques to soften my fixation on these compulsive thoughts & urges. Byron Katie's "The Work" is one I particularly enjoy.
My technique here, which I call Open Mic Night, is a brutally simple, head-on approach:
- identify the thought, e.g. "I must be on time"
- repeat that thought several times aloud - feel free to flex phrasing - "I have to be on time, I better be on time" - and emphasis - "I MUST be on time, I must be ON time"
- don't indulge stories, justifications, explanations, etc. Just keep repeating the compulsive belief
- as you repeat the phrase, notice your body, your voice, your emotions - do you sense any changes? any patterns? just keep repeating, keep noticing, with no expectations of insight or epiphany
The goal is to soften our attachment to those thoughts so they serve us again, rather than holding us back. We're trying to surrender our addiction to what we love, so that we can simply & directly love it.
I love being on time. And I love responding in conversation. The less I fixate, and the more I'm present, the easier it becomes to do what I love. If I'm slipping, reminders can arise to recenter me - "hey, Joe, you're running a bit late here..." We're trying to trade blind-monkey-furiously-pounding-drum for timely, tailored prompting.