How many times do we think that we should do something? Alternately, how many times do we think that others should do something?
Every day, I make multiple lists in my brain and on paper of activities that must be completed. To-do lists help me to stay focused. However, my “should lists” are often unrealistic expectations that I impose on myself. Instead of encouraging work, they paralyze me in fear of failure and guilt over mistakes.
Here is an example of the list of shoulds bothering me today:
- I should be kind to everyone and make them feel wonderfully happy.
- I should stop being such a lazy and worthless person.
- I should get over my heartache.
- I should exercise and burn off more energy.
- I should look prettier.
Those are tamer than they sometimes are. These thoughts might have some validity. Perhaps I need to waste less time online and focus on homework. However, telling myself that I should be less lazy only makes me feel more miserable which leads to distracting myself with computer games. So the guilt-ridden cycle continues.
Then there are the lists that we make about what other people should do. Once again, these points might be partially correct. Yet, others will rarely want to listen to us if we are forcing them to act. Although friends have hurt me by trying to force “shoulds” onto me, I have also done this to others. Some of the common ones are listed below:
- You should look like this.
- You should stop being sad and choose to be happy.
- You should act like everyone else and be less weird.
- You should agree with everything that I think.
- You should be more like [insert the name of someone else].
So are all shoulds bad? No, there are some that are important for remaining moral and caring individuals. For example, I should respect others. However that does not mean that I should always be sweet to others. The problem with shoulds is that they are taken to extremes or they come from a unhealthy place.
Thus we can continue to have some shoulds but remain vigilant to them. Try not to let them become too demanding, black and white, or self-destructive. Instead of thinking that I should make everyone happy, I can believe that I should try to bring more joy than pain into the world.
Another way to handle shoulds is to change the word. Even a small change might make a difference. “I should exercise more” sounds harsher than “I want to exercise more” or “It might be helpful to exercise more.”
Finally, be aware of when you oppose shoulds onto others. Yes, people should listen, be respectful, and try to care for those around them. Yet, forcing them to do something will usually not work. I try not to assume people will do what I want because that usually leads to disappointment.