How often do you tell yourself that you need to eat more healthfully, consume less fat, read labels on food items, lose weight, find better ways to comfort yourself than eating, dine out less frequently, or plan better meals? How often do you use the word need to prod yourself to do tasks such as clean your domicile, find nicer friends, get a more interesting job, go out more often, or complete projects? Most dysregulated eaters insist they “need” to do something in order to motivate themselves. But it fails every time.

I’ve blogged on this topic often: How we tell ourselves what we should or ought to be doing, then do the opposite. Honestly, I spend half my time talking with clients about their use of words like need and should and have to. If you’re still telling yourself what you need to do, it’s time to give it up because it’s going to continue to cause you to rebel against feeling bullied. Every time you use it, it sets you up for failure.

Bulletin: You don’t need to do anything but die in this life. Everything else is optional with consequences, a choice that has outcomes. The problem is that when you insist that you need to do something, it feels as if you’re being robbed of choice. The word makes you feel pressured, hits you like a demand, makes you believe that you have no options, and is like a finger wagging at you.

As an adult, however, there is no wagging finger that belongs to someone else, so you end up wagging one at yourself. Truth is, you require no one else’s approval now. You no longer have to do what’s right, but hopefully want to do it to take care and feel proud of yourself. It’s time to grow up and stop seeking approval or rebelling against it. Maturity means that you take actions and then either feel proud or ashamed of yourself.

Sure, you have “needs”—to sleep, eat, seek intimacy, find meaning life, etc.—but these are inborn, universal, basic human desires, not the kind you’re mean when you say “I need to eat more vegetables” or “I need to take up jogging.” There is no basic human need for these actions. They are wants, but if you’re going to make them feel like demands on yourself, you’re going to ruin your motivation to do them. Telling yourself that you must or need to do something is a lie and that’s one of the reasons not to do so. You know it’s a lie. If you fail to eat more veggies or take up jogging, you know no one’s going to punish you. You simply suffer the consequences down the road.

Let me emphasize, with some irony, that I’m not telling you that you need to give up using words like “need to.” I’m suggesting that wanting is a better option for getting things done. You don’t need to give up “needing to,” but you may want to.

Best,

Karen

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