Everything we do, we choose to do.
~ Marshall Rosenberg
Living by “Have-to’s” in Colorado
I grew up believing that my value was tied to my actions. I lived as though I had to be “successful” in order to be okay. On a moment-to-moment basis, my behavior was guided by a subconscious list of “have-to’s” that my self-worth depended on:
- I had to do well in school (I was my High School Valedictorian)
- I had to stay out of trouble (No sex, drugs, alcohol, and very little rock-n-roll for this kid)
- I had to maintain an artificial sense of harmony in all my relationships (I didn’t have very man as a result)
- I had to play it safe at all times
If I missed the mark on any of these dictates, I believed my very being would be threatened. So I didn’t miss the mark. I lived a very fragile existence not taking risks staying squarely in my “comfort zone.” Then I entered college. In my first semester in the Engineering Program at the University of Colorado/Boulder I encountered the class that brought my “have-to” house of cards down all around me.
Breaking out of Jail
The only time in my life that I had cheated in school was in first grade. And I got caught. I experienced so much shame after that experience that I had not even considered cheating since. In desperation to pass an assignment in a computer programming class called Fortran 77 in my first collegiate semester, I chose to cheat. I copied “code” from another student in order to get a “C” on an assignment. The last “B” I had received was in 7th Grade when I was in the “minnow” group for our swimming unit.
I didn’t take it well. With the supportive pillar of academic excellence knocked out from beneath me, I was lost. My tenuous worldview was ripped apart bringing my unconscious patterns to consciousness and plunging me into depression. In many ways the painful realization that my worldview didn’t work was a gift as it created a fire in me to find another, better way.
With the help of many therapists I began to rebuild my worldview. When I found Compassionate Communicate and learned the concept of needs, I learned a way of being that honored my inherent worth and freed my from all the “have-to’s” I had sworn allegiance to. I learned concrete tools to break out of the jail I had lived in as a “have-to” slave. I learned that my ability to chose was also inherent and that I was responsible for all that I did.
This realization has allowed me to come into relationships understanding that neither party is obligated to do anything for the other. This freedom from duty and obligation create space for and encourages authenticity and presence and it has supported my risk-taking as I quest for connection.
Three Steps to Translate “Have-to’s” to “Choose-to’s”
In Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Marshall’s book outlining the basics of the process, he provides an exercise to make the shift from “have-to” to “choose-to” living. Below are the steps he offers with examples from my (current) life:
Step 1: Note on a piece of paper all the things that you tell yourself you have to do
I have to drive long distances to train people (I’ve driven about 1600 miles for work this year already after driving 400 in 2016. The picture at right was taken at sunrise on my way home from Prescott after a training in March.)
Step 2: Acknowledge to yourself that you are doing these things because you choose to do them
No one’s forcing me to make these drives. I did them out of choice and I don’t regret them.
Step 3: Get in touch with the intention behind your choice by completing this sentence: I choose to_________because I want________(Use this needs wheel to help you determine the need you want to meet)
I choose to drive long distance to train because I want to create ease for folks that want to be trained (need for contribution to other’s well-being). And, I want to share these tools with people who are interested and they don’t all live in Flagstaff (again, need for contribution to other’s well-being and my own)