O.G.H. Savage

A chronic mUsturbator: why you shouldn’t motivate yourself with should statements

Do you suffer from a chronic musturbation habit? This article will tell you what musturbation is and how thinking differently can help you to change.

I suffer from an awful habit. A habit they call musturbation. It isn’t a joke. It’s a very serious problem…

After years of shying away, I decided to confront the problem head-on. I called my father and explained that there was something very serious I needed to tell him.

Not only was I forced to reveal my chronic musturbation habit, but that he had caused it. He too has a musturbation problem of the highest order, although he’d never admit it.

Musturbation is an attempt to motivate oneself by continually telling yourself what you must do. Instead of being happy with what you achieve, you’re constantly looking for more, telling yourself you’re not doing enough.

You see, I was brought up in a household where it was made abundantly clear that you needed to continually do things to gain satisfaction from life. Do, do, and do. And then, at the end of the day, reflect on what you have failed to do (so that the next day you can do better).

Days were stuffed with activity. Holidays laden with guilt as everyone was cajoled into a long, resentment-filled walk just as they’d opened their book by the pool.

There was no time to relax, read, enrich yourself, think, or just stare into space. The endless whirl of life’s activity didn’t allow for that.

All of this led to me learning that it wasn’t ok to spend time not doing things, and that only by doing was I allowed to feel secure about my existence.

What is musturbation?

The American psychologist Albert Ellis described it as attempts to motivate oneself by saying what you ‘should’ or ‘must’ do while David Burn, author of bestselling Cognitive Behavioural Therapy book Feeling Good, argues that attempting to motivate ourselves in this way can, paradoxically, lead to apathetic and unmotivated feelings.

While frustration is often the result of directing should statements towards others, shame, guilt, and self-loathing are often the result when should statements are directed at ourselves.

Essentially, when what you need to do in life fully takes over your conscious mind, you’re likely to feel constant guilt for not doing what you set out to do.

Our culture promotes such thinking, as evidenced by the constant stream of self-improvement videos teaching people what they need to do in order to operate at their absolute maximum capacity. Many of them are useful, but they debatably have the net effect of inducing guilt for failing to live up to such high standards.

Dealing with musturbation

To avoid the curse of musturbation, we can motivate ourselves by thinking of the positive outcomes of doing something, rather than the negatives of failing to do it.

For example, say you want to give up smoking. You might think it best to think of all the bad things smoking does to your physical and mental health and to constantly remind yourself that you simply must stop. But, according to CBT, this isn’t the right approach. Instead, you should focus on what life could be like if you did stop – for example, having better circulation, or not having bad breath.

This way, we can move from using should or must statements for motivation — statements that essentially make us feel bad — to those that give us hope.

Having faith

These days, it’s difficult to have faith. Those who do are usually dismissed as religious fools, but faith can take on many guises. Another method of dealing with the constant need to do things to secure an uncertain future is to have faith that that future will be certain.

We have a fear that life won’t take care of itself if we don’t constantly solve problems, but trying to solve problems is itself a mechanism developed to make you feel secure, which ends up making you feel awful.

When you have a bit of faith that life will work out the way you want it to, the dark forces of musturbation can be quelled.

Living the Wu Wei Way

A further way to rebel against the constant effort and thinking about what you should be doing is by adopting the philosophy of Wu Wei. The Wu Wei way is a philosophy of non-action, or effortless action.

By not forcing anything and acting only when it’s suitable, you go at your natural pace, still getting things done when they need to be done, but without all the extra effort. This isn’t to say that hard work is never necessary, but by constantly trying to stimulate action, you aren’t letting things happen in the way they are meant to.

For some relaxing and accessible Taoist philosophy, check out this book: the Tao of Pooh.


The decision to meditate is another rebellion against musturbation. It’s an active decision to give yourself to non-doing for a certain period of time each day, and through this increased awareness one begins to become aware of their musturbatory tendencies.

Allowing time to stare into space and not do anything—and not even think about doing anything—is essential to living a good life in the here and now. Without contemplation and emptiness, there’s no opportunity to engage with anything that isn’t an activity. This considered, we can build it into our lives by actively rejecting the constant stream of doing.

Notice how I used the word can there instead of must…


Meditation apps



How to Be Idle

The Tao of Pooh

Feeling Good — The New Mood Therapy

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