In this excerpt from her new book RETOX, yoga teacher Lauren Imparato says the societal pressure of "I-have-to" syndrome gets in the way of you being you. Try her sequence for letting it go.
Wine and I go way back. In fact, our intimacy dates to long before my first sip. Back in the seventh grade, inspired by the infamous I Love Lucy episode, I decided to do my annual science project on the fermentation and making of wine. Like my then hero Lucille Ball, I smashed combinations of grapes in buckets with my feet, adding different levels of yeast and sugar to each batch, ultimately studying their fermentation as they aged in glass bottles in the garage. I labeled it Laurennay (like Chardonnay, get it?) and used my grandmother as my official sommelier. Almost ten years later in college, I wrote my thesis on wine, specifically the impending battle between Tradition and Modernity in the Rioja and Tuscany. While my friends sat in dark underground labs running regressions for their projects, I gallivanted around Spain and Italy with a few thousand dollars from the university in my pocket. Needless to say who had more fun . . .
Neither of these in-vino-veritas studies was meant as a rebellion or boondoggle; I took them extremely seriously, winning second prize at the regional science fair and getting an offer to publish my thesis. The university had originally wanted me to write on Chinese immigration law and its impact on the global economy, and although that would have looked impressive on my résumé, I had absolutely no interest in it. I have never been into doing something because I thought I had to, or simply to check projects off a society-imposed to-do list, half bored, half stressed, and totally uninterested.
"I Have To"
Mental and physical to-dos are the foundation of what I call I Have To. I Have To encapsulates the personal and societal pressure to do specific things, and to do them in a particular way. I have to go to an Ivy League school. I have to get an MBA. I have to get married before I am thirty. I have to cut out sugar and gluten. I have to run a marathon. I have to have kids. I have to breastfeed. I have to make my baby’s food from scratch. I have to quit my job to be a good mother. I have to dress conservatively now. I have to move to the suburbs. I have to. I have to. I have to.
Honestly, who says you do? Why do you feel so obliged to accomplish that or carry out that task?
When we have our heads buried in our “I have tos,” we miss what is actually going on around us. Life passes us by while we are checking off things we think we have to do to be successful and happy. We start to attach specific achievements to perceived happiness, relating societal approval to accomplishment. The problem is, I Have To often prevents you from actually being you.
If you continually shackle yourself to a list of to-dos, ones that you think will make you happy just because society says they will, you are shoehorning yourself into some manufactured image of you as opposed to existing as your true self. While you chip away at what others have outlined as the path to success and happiness, one of two things will happen: Either life will pass you by, or you will be miserable. Perhaps both. My student Krissie serves as a perfect example of this state, as well as a model of successful Retox recovery.
Krissie suffered from intense I Have To syndrome. A good ol’ Midwestern gal, Krissie moved to New York City right after graduating from college for a job in investment banking.
Although passionate about interior design, she thought a career in banking was the “right” path for her. After suffering through banal PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, and twenty-hour days, six days a week, she went to business school, because that’s what everyone in banking does. There, she met a man, endlessly nagged him about proposing, picked out the two-carat diamond solitaire she wanted, threw a ridiculously opulent wedding, and got married by the time she was twenty-five. Soon after the wedding, she quit her job and moved to the suburbs where they bought a house, got a dog, and started family planning. She had checked off almost everything on her life to-do list in a few years, and she was actually feeling pretty good about it. Yet she was not happy.
Let It Go
Everything Krissie did, she did because she thought she had to, not because she actually wanted to. By the time she came to me, she was thirty years old and miserable. Through her tears, she told me that her life was a mess (despite the house, dog, cars, rich husband, and, I have to say, amazing wardrobe). We soon began to apply Retox methods to help her find her true self, her own dreams and passions, her own desires and personal, unadulterated wish list. She used my mindset plan every morning, threw down a mat alone or with me three times a week, and freed herself from her self-imposed restricted diets to give Retox nourishment a try.
Slowly but surely, Krissie began to smile, recovering a bounce in her step and a desire to truly live. While Retoxing, she realized she was miserable in the burbs, missed working, and wasn’t quite ready to start a family. The catch is, her husband felt much the same. They had both pressured themselves into following a path that society had laid out for them, rather than following a path that would actually make them happy. Ultimately, Krissie and her husband moved back to the city, where she pursued a degree in interior design. She now runs her own business, has decided to wait to have kids, and is more passionately in love with her husband, and life, than ever.
Just because you think you have to does not mean you actually do. Like Sinatra sings, you have to do it your way—and I would add that you have to do it with passion and integrity. Here are some tools to get you on your way.
The You-Don't-Have-To Yoga Sequence
Practice Imparato's pictoral sequence to let go of obligation and guilt.