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We may want to do certain things, but in the blink of an eye we resist what we wanted to do because of a problematic attitude stemming from the words, “should,” “have to” or “got to.”

As free and autonomous human beings, we resist being controlled. This has been true throughout history – think of slavery, repression of women or the imposing of a curfew on an adolescent.

People who resist being controlled are referred to in social psychology as “reactants.” That means re-acting to being controlled. Numerous replicable experiments and real life situations illustrate our resistance to being controlled.

Here is one situation that most of us can relate to:  People are driving down the highway at 100 km/hour and come upon a construction zone with a sign that asks them to drive at 60 km/hour for the next two km. At the end of the zone, drivers are asked to resume their original speed, but they do not. Drivers, on average, go faster than their original speed and continue for a long period of time – suggesting that it is not simply an attempt at regaining lost time.

When we are held back for any reason, there is a natural tendency to push forward even more in an attempt to exert our own sense of individuality and freedom. We can see this demonstration of self-determination in virtually all areas of our lives.

No one likes to have his or her autonomy usurped or overruled. Let’s face it, we do not like being told what to do even when it’s something we might want to do.

For example, a 22-year-old, very virile guy is excited all day at work knowing that he will be going to his girlfriend’s place that evening for a night of sexual passion. He walks through the front door of her place and she’s standing there with nothing on but a towel. She’s gorgeous. As he walks toward her, she turns to him and says, “You have to make love to me right now. You should as it is your duty.”

The first or second time, he may be thinking that she is being assertive, but in short order he will back off thinking, “I’ll make love to you when I want to, not when you tell me that I should.”

Isn’t that interesting? Something that he was looking forward to all day suddenly got turned around simply because of the word “should.” We want to be sexual because it is fun and desirable, not because it is a duty or a “should.” Simply spoken – we resist that which we think we should do.

Commonly with procrastination we believe that there are things we should be doing instead of wisely deciding on what we want to do or what is better to do. There is a huge difference. Doing what we “should do” is a chore. Doing what we “want” or doing what is overall best for us, is something very different.

Ask yourself, “What do I want to do and for what reasons?” This may help you get unstuck and moving. Remember, this is your life… do with it what you want!

Reset and Rethink

  • Try not to think in terms of “should,”
    i.e. rules and musts. Stop and correct that thinking error.
  • Think in terms of what you want, desire, wish, what’s good or beneficial.
  • Motivate yourself with the benefits/outcomes of doing “something” that is difficult or unpleasant, and then, just do it!
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Daniel Rutley
Daniel Rutley, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychotherapist in private practice in Mississauga. He is also the best-selling author of Escaping Emotional Entrapment: Freedom from negative thinking and unhealthy emotions. He specializes in depression, anxiety, anger, habit control and relationship issues.