194. You mustn’t ignore this.

For the past two weeks we have been discussing The Habit of Must.

We’ve talked about how everything we do each day is in fact a Must or we would not have done it and we discussed in detail how we frequently get caught in the trap of promoting items from our Should pile to our Must list while simultaneously relegating some of our Musts to our Shoulds.

Yesterday afternoon while I was contemplating what to write about in today’s topic I received a call from Joanne. She wanted to point out the importance not only of adhering to a Must list but also of creating and unquestioningly sticking to a Mustn’t list.

We’ve talked about the non-optionality of a Must list. We’ve agreed that any item placed on a Must list unequivocally must be done and completed which means that if at 11:30 at night, as we are about to turn out the light and go to sleep, we remember an unfinished item from that list, we get out of bed and complete that activity before going to sleep for the night.

Joanne explained the importance of the Mustn’t list. She used this very tool to shed more than 100 pounds over a 15-month period. Her Mustn’t list contained every food item she planned on eliminating from her diet and that could not come near her mouth and also committed to a Must list each day which included those foods that she chose to “must eat”.

Unlike a Must list where an unfinished item remembered late at night can be completed, a Mustn’t list poses somewhat more of a challenge because, as she put it, if you consume something from the Mustn’t list you can’t exactly undo it several hours later.

So Joanne added an item to her Must list recognizing full well that if it is on the list it must be done.

The item in question was an activity to be triggered only by her consuming items from her Mustn’t list.

And this Must item was not something she would look forward to with relish.

It worked like this: if Joanne consumed any items on her Mustn’t list, her actions in doing so automatically triggered an addition to her Must list for that day.

Remember, if it is on the Must list, it must be done: no deferrals, no excuses.

And for Joanne, triggering the special activity on her Must list meant getting down on the floor and forcing her way through 75 push-ups for each item consumed from her Mustn’t list.

A tough toll to pay for a moment of enjoyment and Joanne only had to do that once before the lesson was well learned.

On the second day of her commitment to the Must and Mustn’t list, she talked herself into eating a piece of chocolate cake while celebrating a colleague’s birthday.

That evening, realizing what she had done, Joanne forced herself to complete those 75 push-ups because she knew to not do so would be the beginning of yet another failed attempt at finally shedding the weight that had been such a burden to her for so long.

The next morning, to quote her, “every muscle, nerve, joint, cell, molecule, organ in my body felt like it was on fire and there was no extinguisher insight.”

And never again did Joanne violate the terms of her Mustn’t list.

The Habit of Must, along with a well detailed Mustn’t list, can guide us to places we never thought we could reach.

And as Joanne has so elegantly taught us, a lesson learned well need not be learned again.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

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