Excuse me if you felt offended by my language. I’ll explain “musturbatory thinking”, but first I want to talk about new year’s resolutions. Sigh.

I’ve got a beef with resolutions. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a cynical post calling for an end to resolutions.

While I’ve let go of setting unrealistic, unsustainable goals at the end of a trip around the sun, my sensitive nature still moves me to reflect on the past and develop intentions for the year to come.

The issue I have with new year’s resolutions is largely what we feel when we fall short of the expectations we place on ourselves. It’s not as simple as feeling disappointed and often giving up.

The way we talk about our setbacks tends to be shaming and blaming.

At the end of one year, we talk about what we “should” do to be a better, worthier person. Those shoulds start out as obligations, which by nature, we’re less likely to want to do. And then in the new year, when we veer off course, those shoulds get stronger inviting a sense of shame and self-criticism.

Similarly, we frequently tell others they should or shouldn’t do something, which disrespects their ability to make the best decisions for themselves.

When should sneaks into our vocabulary, we enter a mental space of wishing things were different than they are rather than developing a sense of acceptance. For people like me with anxiety, this is a sure way to feelings of anguish.

Am I the only one who needs to work on these? If not, keep reading.

What Is Musturbatory Thinking?

The word “musturbatory” was coined in the 1950s by Albert Elllis, the psychologist who developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a solution-focused model of psychotherapy that encourages us to dispute irrational thinking to reduce emotional disturbances, such as anxiety, and develop healthier emotional self-regulation.

Ellis used the term musturbation to refer to irrational thinking based on three “musts” we cling to in the world.

Three Forms of “Musturbation”:

1) I must do well and win the approval of others or else I am no good.
Ex: I should work out more. I should be more successful.

2) Other people must do “the right thing” or else they are no good and deserve to be punished.
Ex: He should be doing more. A good friend would call back right away.

3) Life must be easy, without discomfort or inconvenience.
Ex: I must not be inconvenienced. Anxiety is unbearable. Life should be fair.

Musturbatory thinking is based on cognition that is inflexible, unrealistic, and non-accepting. And it leads us toward suffering.

Stop Musturbatory Thinking in the New Year with Acceptance

I’m not suggesting you throw away your goals for the year. My suggestion is simply to have a “high-level” intention of greater acceptance that guides and supports you as you go through the year.

One easy way to practice acceptance is to let go of the word should. By noticing when should shows up, we start to grow an awareness of the musts and demands we place unnecessarily on ourselves and others.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t move forward and sit in the muck of our shadow. Rather, it means bringing greater presence to what is and radically embracing it so that we can move toward change from our center.

If you’d like to explore additional ways to practice acceptance, here are a couple of articles I recently wrote for the mental health website HealthyPlace.

Read “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) Reduces Anxiety” for an REBT exercise.

Read “How to Prevent Anxiety with Self-Care in the New Year” for a different understanding of self-care.

How will you stop musturbatory thinking in the new year?

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