Did you know you can train your brain to look out for certain words?
It’s like a Google alert, but for your mind.
And if you want to be happy and feel fulfilled and less stressed, a word you need to create an alert for is “should.”
Because when we use the word “should” we are likely contributing to worriment, stress, and/or fear. We might pressure ourselves to fit into a mold or to do things we do not want to do.
Of course there are things we all don’t want to but need to do, “I really should take out the trash.”
Here we are focusing on should statements that limit us and bring unnecessary pressure and burden.
“I should be more… ,” or “I should be less….”
Should statements are a cognitive distortion. Think of cognitive as a fancy way of saying thinking. So should statements are a thinking distortion, or a warped thinking.
Cognitive distortions are common with those who have depression or anxiety. They come from unhealthy thought patterns that we have most likely learned from our environment.
Think of it, how many times as a kid were you told how little boys or little girls “should” act. Or how you “should” be or what you “should” look for in a career or a partner.
But the “shoulds” of other people are simply suggestions, not facts.
Of course, it’s reasonable for us to agree that we should take precautions when traveling to a new city. And we should try to get 7-9 hours of sleep.
The problem arises when the should statements attach to identity or bring pressure to be something we are not.
For example, “I should be more outgoing,” or “I should try to find more friends.”
Should Statements Create Inner Turmoil and Bring Us Away From Our Natural Being
People are unique. No two people look exactly alike. And we all have a unique fingerprint.
We acknowledge this with looks and fingerprints, but it’s still tough for some to consider this truth with personality and preferences.
So one person’s “key” to happiness is not necessarily another’s.
For instance, I have an aunt who thinks marriage is the key to life and happiness. She has a wonderful marriage and she enjoys seeing other people married.
She encourages me to get married, and will sweetened the pot by adding extras.
For instance, she said she would buy my wedding dress, then she said she would pay for half the wedding, then she added in furniture for the house.
As I got into my 20s, a lot of my friends were getting married. I thought I “should” get married. Even though it wasn’t what I wanted. So I went on dates and got caught up in trying to “find” someone.
I was miserable.
And I feel an inner turmoil and depression. While I was being true to myself and my internal beliefs (by not getting married). I was giving myself unnecessary pressure from external sources to do something I didn’t want to do but felt I “should” do.
My half assed attempts at dating failed because my heart wasn’t in it.
Finally, I acknowledged how damaging all of this was and I ditched the dating apps and moved forward.
Should Statements Keep Us From Our True Being
When I was growing up I was definitely, as they say, marching to the sound of my own drum.
Instead of being in a clique with other girls, I stayed home and watched Beakman’s world. I’d write in asking questions and he would write back! I loved to read and learn new things. And I had no desire to wear make-up or dress in my mother’s heels.
My father really liked this part of my personality, but he did not encourage my complexity. Because I also enjoyed signing and dancing, but I learned real quick it was something I “shouldn’t” pursue.
Other girls didn’t seem interested in talking about science, so I learned it wasn’t something I “should” be interested in. And my father disapproved of arts (not a high money yielding field) so I learned I “should” focus on business for my career.
I lived my life keeping things I was passionate about under a shield because of a pressure of what I “should” be interested in. This is one of the greatest regrets of my life.
And as a result, in my 20s I was horribly depressed.
I knew I needed a change. So I started reading and focusing on things I found interesting. And I started doing things that made me happy, not what I was told “should” make me happy.
My entire life changed. And the only thing I “should” be doing is working to be the best version of me. Oh yeah and taking out that damn trash.
So on a Friday night I just might be at a bar alone having a drink and reading a book. Some people think that’s super weird and not something I “should” do. But they can keep that to themselves because I’m busy reading…
Reading a getting free desert! I was reading and drinking a martini at a bar and the bartender sent me a dessert because he said he thought I was one of the most interesting people he’s ever seen. He said he’s never seen anyone so content and that it looked like I was living my best life.
Moral of the story: take out the “shoulds” and get free deserts!
How to Stop the Should Statements
Remember just some 900 words ago when I said you can create an alert in your mind?
That is what you can do to alert yourself to “should” statements.
When you have a thought that involves the word “should” determine if it is motivating you, “I should take out the trash,” or if it’s pressuring you, “I should be happy.”
If it’s motivational then go do the thing you should do and get it over with. If it’s a pressure should statement then reframe it.
For example: “The IG post said I should be happy because other people want what I have, but I am not going to invalidate my feelings.”
Ask yourself, are you doing something because you want to and because it gives you joy? Or are you doing it because you were told you “should” in order to keep up with social expectations?