There are so many things I feel like I should be doing and I feel like a failure for not doing them yet.
Should I focus each day on writing something or focus each day on building something? Should I post on a schedule or post whenever I feel like it? Should I focus on craft shows, craft malls or online sales? Should I take more pictures or less? Should I spend more time on social media? Should I focus on brand awareness or actual products? Should I….
There are a lot of should statements running through my mind. I cant help but recall my years working as a social worker in a mental health office as I read over that first paragraph. The most common “problem” my therapy clients encountered was the concept of “should”. “Should” statements are a form of cognitive distortion.
According to Wikipedia, Cognitive distortions are exaggerated or irrational thought patterns that are believed to perpetuate the effects of psychopathological states, especially depression and anxiety.
One of those cognitive distortions is the use of “should” statements. “Should” statements put unnecessary pressure on a person. Let’s look at some examples.
“I should call my mom daily.”
There is nothing inherently negative or positive about that statement. However, by stating that you should call your mom you are putting an expectation on yourself. If you call your mom you are doing what you should do – but on the other hand, if you don’t call your mom you are doing something you shouldn’t do. Good people feel bad when they do things they shouldn’t do. So, in this example – not calling your mom makes you feel bad – you should have called mom, but you didn’t so now you have failed.
A better thought pattern could be, “Calling my mom would make her happy.” This statement puts no expectation on you. It still encourages you to call your mom but does not set you up to feel like a failure if you don’t follow through. Instead, the act of calling mom is seen as a positive while not calling mom is now neutral.
“My kids should call me every day.”
Again, there is nothing inherently negative about that statement – but if that should statement is not fulfilled you will feel negatively about yourself or your child. If you tell yourself that your child should call you daily and they don’t – you feel distressed. You may doubt your worthiness of a phone call or doubt the affection of your child. When the child does call they are simply doing what they should do but not calling is something they shouldn’t do.
A different way of thinking could be, “I would really like it if my kids called me everyday.” If the child calls than you are happy, but if the child does not call you are simply neutral.
Winning the lottery is a great example. Few people believe they should win the lottery but everyone that plays would really like to win the lottery. When most people don’t have a winning ticket they may be disappointed but do not take it personally. They don’t believe they should win so they have no expectation of winning. Most people view a losing lottery ticket as a neutral experience. If you had the expectation that you should win the lottery though, that losing ticket would signify a personal failure for you.
Getting back to my own cognitive distortions – what are better ways of thinking for me? Instead of asking should I do this or should I do that I will view it another way.
“It would be helpful for me to identify my priorities”. That statement perfectly sums up my dilemma today and does not put any undue expectations on me. When I ultimately assess my priorities I will have done something helpful for myself and my business. Until that time though, I am not failing at identifying my priorities. If I figure it out – Great! If I don’t figure it out – whatever, I’m in the same place I am now. By removing the expectation I remove the guilt of not accomplishing it.
It is unreasonable to expect that anyone knows everything at any given time. Stating that I should know my priorities implies that I am wrong for not knowing them at this exact moment. Any moment I spend not being fully aware of my priorities is an example of me doing something I shouldn’t be doing.
How is anyone supposed to get anything done when they view themselves as a failure right up until the moment of completion of that task? That is an unpleasant way to live.
Think about the times you felt anxious or depressed – was there a should statement involved?
Lesson of the Day: Drop the word should from your vocabulary. There is no upside to using it and dropping it completely will have profound impacts on your mental health.
Written by Sarah Palmer – Owner, Functional Rustic
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