While there are many things we might want, there are, in reality, few things that are absolute necessities. We need air, food, clothing and shelter. We do not ‘need’ success, love, approval, or friends – no matter how much we may want them. Our lives will be better if we have these things, but we can survive without.
You do not have to give up your values
To get rid of your demands does not mean giving up what is important to you. Hold onto your ideas and values – but hold them as preferences.
Stop moralising about what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Take a more practical approach. Focus on the results of rules, behaviours, or decisions. Ask yourself questions like the following:
Is this behaviour/rule helpful or unhelpful – and in what ways?
Will it advance or hinder me in achieving my goals?
Does it create emotions I can handle? Or does it leave me distressed and immobilised?
Does it promote my own and other’s aims and survival? Or does it lead me to act in harmful ways?
Does this belief help me keep in touch with the real world? Or does it contain misinterpretations, catastrophising, demands, or self/other-ratings?
Is it flexible – does it allow for exceptions when appropriate?
We are not suggesting an attitude of anarchy or ‘I don’t care.’ Guidelines are important. To check out those you took on as a child, and review them as circumstances change, is to show respect for the importance of guiding principles in your life.
Also, a flexible, preferring philosophy is not a self-centred one. It is in your own long-term interests to consider the goals, wants, and concerns of other people (in other words, their preferences) along with your own.
A helpful value is one you have chosen to adopt. It serves some useful purposes. It helps you and others achieve what is important to you both. Above all, it’s a preference rather than a must.
Holding preferences instead of demands means accepting yourself, others, and the world around you.
People often misunderstand the idea of acceptance. They think that to accept something means one has to agree with it and give up trying to change it.
But that is not what it means at all. To accept something is to recognise two things: (a) that it exists, and (b) that there is no universal law which says it should not exist. You may not like it. You might want to do something to change it (and perhaps plan to). But you avoid demanding that it not be as it is.
This is important for several reasons. First, if you tell yourself that something should not be the way it is, you are really saying that reality should not exist! Have you ever heard, for instance, people say: ‘You cannot do that’ about something which someone has already done?
Second, it’s helpful to say that you do not like something and would prefer to change it. This can motivate you to take action. But demanding a reality not exist is more likely to create disabling feelings such as despair or hostile anger.
Finally, if you avoid hurting yourself over current realities, you will be better equipped to start changing them.
Getting Demands Back To Preferences
Get those ‘musts’ back into perspective. Here are some examples of demands turned into preferences:
I need to feel good and avoid physical or emotional pain at all times.
I’d prefer to feel good and avoid pain, but demanding this will guarantee that I get uptight!
Everything I do must be to a high standard.
High standards are desirable – but not always essential. Making them into musts will only get me anxious (and, probably, inhibit my performance).
Difficulties and handicaps should not exist.
Difficulties and handicaps do exist. Demanding will not make them go away. Better to change them, if possible – otherwise learn to live with them.
I must have love and approval from everyone who is significant to me.
Love and approval are good to have. But they are not essential to my survival. As I will not always get them, better I learn to depend less on them.
If you want something badly enough, then it’s a need.
The ‘need’ exists in my head. If I believe it, though, I will upset myself when my ‘need’ is not met.
Other people must always behave in a correct and right fashion for life to be bearable.
In real life, people do not always behave correctly. There is no reason they should – though many reasons I’d prefer them to.
My circumstances must always be right for me to be happy.
My circumstances are not always going to suit me. Better to change what I can, otherwise accept what I cannot.