March 6, 2009

Thought Trap #9: "Should" statements



Thought Trap #9: "Should" statements

Continuing on in the series on Thought Traps.

You try to motivate yourself or others with should and shouldn't, must and ought. You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. You feel guilty if you break the rules and angry if others do.

Talk about pressure. The worst pressure usually comes from ourselves. Our expectations of ourselves are usually 100 times higher than anyone else's expectations.

When you put so much pressure on yourself, you're bound to fail occasionally. When you put so much pressure on yourself, you're going to let yourself down. Not to mention the disappointment you feel when others let you down by not living up to your expectations (when, of course, you can't control another person anyway).

Not every "should" is bad, of course. If your "should" resonates with who you are as a person and with your true dreams, desires, passions, interests and values, then by all means retain it. The problem is figuring out which "shoulds" fit and which ones don't.

I can tell you from my own experience that it's hard to fight some of those "shoulds." My big "should" is that I should be writing a book. After all, every other speaker/coach writes a book, or several books. If I don't have a book, I must not be as successful as everyone else. Right?

The problem with this "should" and others like it is that it may have nothing to do with what you really want for yourself. If you act in a way that follows arbitrary rules but doesn't make you happy or fulfilled, then why are you doing it? Striving to reach some unattainable level of perfection only leaves you feeling guilty and disappointed in yourself.

Ask yourself these questions when you're fighting the "shoulds:"

1. Who am I trying to please?

2. Who am I trying to impress?

3. Whose expectations am I trying to live up to?

4. Is this what I really want?

5. Is this who I really am?

6. What would happen if I dropped this "should" from my life?

What's your big "should?"

Here again, are some additional suggestions on how to approach these negative thoughts once you become aware of them (from a Mother Jones article about cognitive therapy and thought traps):

1. Write it down. Writing automatically provides perspective and helps reveal distorted thinking.

2. Identify the distressing event. What's really bothering you?

3. Identify your negative emotions.

4. Identify the negative thoughts tied to your emotions.

5. Identify distortions and substitute the truth.

And my addition:

6. Take action. What will you do differently next time?

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

darrellben said...

Wonderful insight here! I'm a new fan!
I hope to visit here daily.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thank you! Nice to "meet" you. :-)

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