Clever title, right? I can’t take credit for that. My friend and colleague, Rose Schieck, introduced me to that phrase years ago and I have fully adopted it with clients and for my own purposes.
Frequently, the thing that holds us back most persistently is our own negative judgment of our abilities, worth, or power. Alternatively, we may “should” on ourselves if we are comparing something about us with something we believe to be true about other people. This is most often shown through statements that include the word “should”. “I should weigh less”, “I should spend more time with my family”, “I shouldn’t think that”, “this shouldn’t be so hard”, etc. Should, should, should all over the place. Where is this “should”ing getting anyone?
It’s important to be honest here: personal expectations, goals, or an understanding of our limitations is important. The word “should” rarely comes to a person’s lips because they are comfortably describing an area they would prefer to tweek, however. “Should” appears in the conversations about which we feel guilty, shameful, less than, or deflated. “Should” connotes major self doubt/judgment. Self doubt and judgment are not likely to encourage one to create healthier habits but they are very likely to reinforce a person’s negative opinions about themselves.
In the interest of clarity, I can introduce an example of the difference between a “should”ing on yourself circumstance, and a productive description of how one wishes to improve:
Statement option #1: I should be eating better.
Statement option #2: I can take better care of myself by eating a healthy and enjoyable breakfast every morning.
Statement one merely judges the speaker’s lack of self care whereas statement two expresses a desire to improve and a distinct, achievable step they can take to improve their self care. Statement one reinforces the speaker’s negative self talk. Statement two provides a rewarding small step the speaker can take that will help them achieve their goal. Statement two opens up a discussion about all the options the speaker has control over. Statement one basically notes a failing without any path forward.
The word “should” isn’t inherently bad, per se. However, I can assure you that it is generally spoken with a sense of disempowerment, socio-cultural failing, guilt, or shame. These, frankly, don’t help anyone. Consider the last time you told yourself something you should or shouldn’t be doing. Did it feel empowering, inspiring, motivating, encouraging, hopeful? I’m guessing it did not.
If you find yourself engaging in this negative self talk (“should”ing on yourself) counseling can help you to acknowledge and adjust this thinking and ultimately your behaviors. It may help you find the underlying beliefs, assumptions, or family culture that creates or reinforces this negative self talk so you can change them.
Once you begin to pay attention to the “should”ing, you can reframe it! Empower yourself to make positive change by going to see a counselor near you.