If You Want to Be Happy, Let Go of The “Shoulds”
Have you ever heard the statement, “Stop Shoulding on Yourself”? It’s a harmful variety of cognitive distortion that leaves us feeling unhappy and unsatisfied, but you might not even realize that you “should” yourself regularly.
“I should…” and “I shouldn’t…” statements are often socially sanctioned, unrealistic expectations that take a toll on your mental well-being, because you’re trying to live up to ideals that you might not even agree with personally.
Getting out of this mindset is a surefire way to improve your self-worth, and here’s how you’re going to do that.
The negative impacts of “shoulding”
Regardless of the specific shoulds that you tell yourself, they all have one underlying message: you could be better, if only you tried harder. By engaging with these “I should” thoughts, you’re effectively telling yourself that you aren’t good enough.
Ironically, these thoughts often lead us to procrastinate more, which only serves the unwanted purpose of making us feel increasingly terrible.
These statements aren’t as innocent as you might think. Over days, weeks, and years they can snowball into harmful negative self-talk that leaves us feeling inadequate and downright morose.
Unlearning the impulse to should
Thankfully, we can train our minds to break free of this negative self-talk. But first, it’s helpful to understand the origins of this impulse.
As children, the authority figures in our lives often ‘forced’ us to do things that we didn’t want to do, like schoolwork and chores. We wouldn’t have chosen these tasks for ourselves, but our parents, teachers, and other people told us that we needed to, that we should, and so we did.
In adulthood, we have to learn how to do things for ourselves without someone else nagging us. This gives us a lot of freedom to be who we want to be, but we still don’t want to do what we don’t want to do. How can you clean the house, play with the kids, submit that monthly report, or go for a run without saying, “I should do this.”?
“Cognitive distortion” might sound difficult to overcome but the fix is easier than you might expect: substitute the word should for something else. “Choose” is a great word, because it helps you feel empowered and in active control of your life.
“I choose to do the dishes,” sounds much better than, “I should do the dishes.”