[Articles on Communication][Freeing the Mind]

Forbidden Fruit

Old Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotional Therapy, used to say there's no such thing as 'must'. There is nothing you must or mustn't do. It's a word that causes a lot of mental pain. If you stop all this MUSTterbatory thinking then you are going to get on much better.

According to Ellis we may prefer to do or not do something, but there is no 'must do' or 'mustn't do'. When we think we 'must' do something, for example:

' I must get this order.'

We start to feel nervous and anxious. But when we use the word 'prefer', we may feel concerned, but not nervous or panicky.

Using the Being Specific Model we handle must-statements like this:

You must study harder.

What would happen if I didn't?


You mustn't do that sort of thing.

What would happen if I did?

Of course, 'must' isn't the only word like this. There are 'should', 'ought', 'have to', etc. We would handle them all in the same way with these questions.

Ellis used a different approach.

He believed that the only proper use of must was when we were talking about logic or science. He countered must-statements by asking, sometimes very forcibly:

Is this a law of science?

Is it logical?

If it is neither of these, then the correct word to use of 'prefer.'

There is, however, something strange about the idea of obligation. Many of us have a strong desire to do the opposite. When God warned Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life, the result was as expected. There was nothing so appealing as the fruit on the tree they shouldn't or mustn't eat.

And to this day, we tend NOT to do the things we should do, and to DO what we shouldn't.

People tend to respond to must-words and must-not-words with 'Why?', or 'Why not?' They get very interested. This is especially true of things you mustn't do. If someone says:

Don't worry.

(You tend to worry.)

This is the power of NOT. But when we introduce 'mustn't', or better, 'shouldn't' the effect becomes more subtle and powerful.

You shouldn't worry so much.

(You tend to worry.)

What about:

You mustn't regard yourself as a good communicator.

Perhaps you shouldn't buy this new car - it is a little expensive and luxurious.

You shouldn't really be calm and relaxed all the time.

You ought not to think about personal development and improving your communication skills.

Sometimes, asking people not to do something is an effective way to get them to do it. When you add the idea that they mustn't or shouldn't do something this technique can be made more powerful. After we have exhausted a positive persuasion technique, we can sometimes persuade the other by suggesting they shouldn't really do it. We often do what we shouldn't do, so this technique sometimes works.

By understanding this, we can avoid being falsely persuaded ourselves.

And remember, you shouldn't practice the communication model EVERY SINGLE DAY!

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Most Recent Revision: 20-Mar-99.
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