Observing 'Musterbation' and Taking your Power Back
Musterbation is the desire for a set of rules or expectations for how things should be and a way to characterize the unrealistic commands people use on themselves (e.g., “I must do this) others (e.g., “you must do that”) and the world (e.g., “Things must be this way”) We get in trouble when our attachment towards our expectation doesn’t pan out – this leads to resentment for what is and a craving for our expected reality that did not manifest. Musturbation is what psychologist Albert Ellis calls this insistence that things should or must be a certain way, the way we want it to be, or the way we expected it to be. Musturbation fights with reality and makes you stressed out, agitated and unhappy.
Still confused? How are some ‘musts’ and equally discouraging, some ‘shoulds’ I’ve experienced throughout my life and journey as an athlete:
To be happy I must make this Team USA roster
To be happy I must always be healthy and strong
To be happy I must have a great practice
I should never make mistakes on free balls
I should pass float serves perfect
I should be able to endure any hardship with equanimity
“We can see that our pain lies between what we think should happen and what actually happens. Then, if we remove the secret demand for this or that to happen, the pain-gap vanishes.”
– Vernon Howard
It’s what we find in Byron Katie’s book Loving What Is on page 1, “The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what Is, is what we want.” She compares craving a reality to be different than it is to trying to teach a cat to bark. It is hopeless. Reality is what it is. If our mind is clear, what is, is what we want. Fighting and resenting ‘what is’ will undoubtedly accentuate and root the pain - leading towards more suffering, rather than allowing us the space to find a solution to move forward. Life is guaranteed to be full of unexpected surprises, setbacks, disbelief and roadblocks that we have no control over. The only thing that we have complete control over (Dichotomy of Control) is we can change the way you perceive the environment and circumstances we find ourselves in, mindfully shaping our reality, where we are consistently creating and finding solutions.
2 Ways to Kick the ‘Musts’
Mindfulness is a very popular words these days, something I write about a lot but it varies from person to person. Mindfulness to me, is the ability to look within calmly, objectively and compassionately. It means stepping back a little from our raging, never ending thoughts, powerful impulses and emotions so that you can observe and pause, rather than giving into a knee jerk reaction.
If we can cultivate this ability to ‘pause’ - shaping our reaction to a response. We can access more courage to accept our fate, rather than crafting a story how someone or something ‘must’ be -driving us into a pit of resentment and frustration (only hurting ourselves and our chances of finding a quick solution)
We should not judge events because we don’t know what they mean and where they’ll lead us. Instead, we should simply accept everything that happens as it is – not good, nor bad, but as it is. In 2015, my professional team finished at 3-23 (the year after I won the World Cup) it was the most difficult season I’ve ever experience, leading me to the brink of quitting and going home 5 months into the season when the team was 1-19. By hitting such a low point and by not choosing to escape through drugs, partying or alcohol - I allowed this “pain teacher” to present me the opportunity to go within myself. I had never quit in the middle of the season or in general was I the type to just give up. I had a complete rehaul of my attitude, the purpose I woke up with and full, 100% commitment to completing my list every day for the next 3 weeks.
The team won only 2 games the rest of the season but I had taken back (those things which were completely in my control) and looking back, I sincerely enjoyed each day, once I made the decision to remain with the team. Fast forward 5 years later and I still have this foundation of responsibility, determination and accountability but I am in a great environment with a great team and teammates by my side.
Would I have asked for that situation ever? No!
But so far, it’s been the biggest gift to my life and my evolution as an athlete and a man, realizing that our biggest opportunities for growth won’t always be what we imagined. We don’t know what the future brings. We have no idea what’s coming up next. It could be more problems, or this could be the darkness before the dawn. How should we know? How should anybody else know? Even surrounded in darkness and gloom like I was in France, you don’t know what opportunities will arise from the ashes or from the roots, as Carl Jung was put it: “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.
The problem with getting attached to material things, jobs, people, wealth, status, looks, and partners, is that those things are outside our control and choice. How long will we be able to keep them is not in our control and even if they are currently in our possession, the Hedonic Adaptation (the theory that obtainment of what you crave will bring immense joy but will always fade and create more craving) will slowly erode the pleasure and excitement they initially bring into your life. In the spring of 2017, I attended a Vipassana meditation retreat (10-day silent meditation) Besides many things, I felt an immense physical pain from sitting 10-11 hours a day, only for it to dissolve, arise, dissolve and arise again. When I felt the sensation of pain burning throughout my body from sitting 60-120 minutes in the same spot without moving, I reminded myself of the Persian adage “This, too, will pass.” and it did, as all things do.
Moving Forward towards Change
The most important step is to accept whatever happens to you. Once you can accept it, you can try to love it and you can take solace in the belief that whatever happens, happens specifically FOR YOU. If fighting with reality leaves you suffering, then you only have one option: Not to fight reality. Unconditional acceptance is the solution, from there we can have a stronger foundation to access where we are, to find solutions to create a better, more enjoyable future.
When in doubt, you can remember this amazing Stoic rhyme: