J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Getting from Should to Must

Walking my tiger used to be in the "should do" category. Now it's a "must do" ... a pillar of my mental, creative, and cardiovascular health. OK -- I don't own a tiger -- but the walking part is true.

Going on long walks with my tiger used to be in the “should do” category. Now it’s a “must do” … a pillar of my mental, creative, and cardiovascular health. OK — that’s not my tiger — but the walking part is true!

One of the ideas that has stuck with me from Awaken the Giant Within is the subtle but powerful distinction between “should” and “must” when in comes to motivation.

Robbins makes this point many times throughout the book: we make things happen in our lives when we completely commit to them, when we move them out of the “should do” category into the “must do” category.

There’s a huge gap between ideas, hopes, and dreams and sitzfleisch (applying butt to chair, getting it done — and yes this applies even if you work at a standing desk).

How do we close that gap? Robbins would suggest associating massive pleasure with these “must do” activities (a vision of success) and massive pain with inaction (imagining regret, remorse, continued suffering, etc.).

Natural “Must Do” Areas

We don’t “look for motivation” in most areas of our lives. We do things because we have to do them. Our kid is hungry so we feed our kid. Work needs to get done so we do the work. Unless depression or some other mental issue has disrupted the brain, we don’t find a need to “find” motivation. We do things because they need doing.

The “problem” of motivation surfaces in life areas that we might consider “optional.” These might include exercise, artistic practice, meditation, or even playing with our children. These things aren’t necessarily putting money on the table, they can be put off to the next day without devastating consequences.

But if we rationally and carefully consider what is important to us we may find that these activities (you know what they are for yourself) are vitally important to our well-being, and to our future selves.

What belongs on your MUST DO list that currently isn’t?

What would you tell your past self should have been on the “must do” list? Is it too late to start?


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  1. Laff

    Exercise is certainly on my list of “shoulds”…. And I LOVE playing with art materials…. Paint, beads, etc. by the end of the day, I just want dinner, a cocktail & relaxation! So difficult to be motivated to do either activity…. Guess I should try harder! It’s only “too late” if you are dead!

  2. I get that i want to/need to, and can shift my priorities, eliminate one thing to make time for another…but find the transition to making use of that time often not smooth. I go dull, the usual habit doesn’t stop.., it just isn’t active.., maybe i need to change my clothes or something;-)
    just noticing this, not making excuses.., hoping being aware of that will help the change.., help me to step through to it. knowing I must;-)
    I think about cutting out some meetings.., my restorative justice panel for one.. but will I just be home online and dully doing nothing?! and is the stimulation of this great community effort a plus I need to keep on the calendar? for balance?

    • Great post! I find keeping track of my time often helps. Assuming that we’re already bought into these ideas… then seeing where my time goes can be a huge eye-opener (coupled with a list of activities that I want to adopt as habit). It’s shocking how much time/energy I can free up if I remove Facebook notifications from my phone, or get up 15 minutes earlier every day. That gives the “should” habits enough time to secure a pleasure association, and hopefully turn into a “must.” That said, it’s still damn hard and time-consuming!

      • Agreed! How granular is your time-tracking? For awhile I was using an app (I forget which one) to track and categorize time down to 15 minute chunks, but I found the data-entry to be too time-consuming. Now I just use more approximate blocks on my calendar to have a general idea how I spent the day.

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