Recovering from Counterproductive Self Talk: ”The Shoulds”
Have you ever noticed how often people will talk to us about a problem and we begin to tell them what they “should” do about it? Even after hearing our sage advice, irrespective of how practical, logical, and well intended it might be, they dig in their heels and resist what you claim they “should” do.
We also do this to ourselves. Have you noticed yourself saying, “I should do this” or “I really should avoid doing that,” and then you steadfastly resist whatever it is you’re telling yourself to do?
Have you ever noticed how miserable people feel whenever they compulsively keep doing whatever it is they think they “should” do, rather than what they want to do? It seems there are so many things they “should” do, say, think, feel, quit, start, etc., that they seldom get around to enjoying anything.
If all of this sounds familiar, you are an unknowing participant in the “should bind.” What you may have failed to consider is that whenever you deal with a “should,” you have immediately created an obstacle to any progress or success. A ”SHOULD” is a put-down, designed to point out how stupid the person is who receives it.
Suppose you have a friend who is overweight and out of shape. For a long time you have been watching your friend overeat and medicate with food. You are now concerned about his physical condition because these eating habits are jeopardizing his good health and longevity.
So, you say, with admirable intentions, "John, you should lose weight. You should diet and exercise because you know your current weight is unhealthy for you." Notice how your friend handles these remarks! He appears affronted and upset and simply refuses to heed them regardless of their validity. Why? What you have really told him is that he is stupid — if he was smart, he would have already lost the weight! The “should” was, in reality, a put-down that resulted in a typical resistant stance.
If you keep “shoulding” on him, he will get more defiant and defensive.
Sometimes you will find yourself “shoulding” on yourself! You may notice too that whenever you tell yourself you “should” diet and exercise, you are reluctant to do what you “should” do. Make a list of all your own “shoulds.” They may be overwhelmingly abundant… and you will feel bad, and probably stall.
Perhaps your list appears endless. Notice whenever you repeat these “shoulds” out loud, you begin to feel bad, defensive, resentful and resistant. There is a complete absence of motivation.
More closely examined, the “shoulds” are purely guilt producers. The feeling generated by any “should” remark is initially guilt but this is quickly turned into resentment, then resistance. I have seldom known anyone who really liked being dealt “shoulds” on a regular basis. An even more self-defeating “should” is placed in the past tense, namely, “I should have done this,” or “You should have remembered…” To constantly berate yourself over what you “should” or “shouldn’t” have done is unbelievably destructive because it is impossible to alter the past! It has already happened and is past the point of change. To continually beat yourself up about it is reactive and destructive. Progress and improvement are impossible leaving room only for guilt and self-hate.
When you “should” on yourself or others, you simply create resistance.
What is the solution to the “should bind?”
I suggest you delete all “shoulds” from your vocabulary and substitute them with “might,” “encourage,” and “want.” Removing the “shoulds” from your dialogue will provide less force, thereby resulting in less unnecessary resistance. As a matter of fact, there are three ways to rephrase the overused “should” in your daily conversations. They are:
- "You might…"
- "I urge/encourage/suggest/recommend you consider…"
- "I want you to…"
Notice if you say to your overweight friend:
- “John, you might want to lose weight.”
- "I would encourage you to consider losing weight.”
- "I want you to take better care of yourself."
He will feel much less resistant to your suggestion and more motivated to start losing weight because essentially he still has the option to refuse your advice without losing face or feeling stupid.
Removing ourselves from the tyranny of the “should bind” by substituting the “wants” and “mights” is a beneficial change.
If you say to yourself, “I should lose weight,” it is likely you will feel badly that you have yet to do it. On the other hand, if you say, “I want to lose weight,” it is more likely you will diet because your resistance is down and your levels of guilt and bad feelings are diminished.
Remember, ultimately you are only going to do what you want to do.
You will be impressed with how much more you can get done with less resistance when you concentrate on changing those “shoulds” to “wants.” I encourage you to take your list of “shoulds” and change them to “wants.” Then read them aloud and notice how you feel different immediately!