Thought Patterns That Suck: Stop 'Shoulding' On Yourself

The way we think, feel and behave all interact on each other – a positive thought might make us feel happy and that in turn makes us smile and that makes a passerby smile back at us, which might create another positive thought and the cycle continues. However, we’re (literally) wired to recognize negatives more powerfully than we recognize positives so it’s much more common for us to experience an unhappy cycle of thought, behavior and feeling.

A specific style of thought – ‘shoulds’ – can make us feel crappy about ourselves. ‘Shoulds’ are the rules and laws we hold internally, think of them as a little internal dictator. Sometimes the rules this dictator wants us to follow, make sense, for example, we should signal when changing lanes.  But other common ‘shoulds’ – “I should be a size 6”, “I should be the perfect parent or partner”, “I should never get angry”, “I should always be productive”, on and on they go, are largely bullsh!t. These ‘shoulds’ are sticks with which our inner dictator beats us. And the dictator rarely lets us question the truth, relevance or real importance of those rules, to the lives we want to live. And so we keep on ‘shoulding’ on ourselves.

This week I challenge you to rebel a little!

Take 10 minutes and sit quietly. Ask yourself, what are the areas of life that you feel unhappy with yourself in. Then ask yourself, what are the rules you and your inner dictator hold for yourself around that area. (For example, someone might feel unhappy about the amount of exercise they’re getting, and they uncover that the rule they are holding is ‘only exercise sessions that last more than an hour, count’. That rule, arbitrary as it is (it doesn’t meet any particular health requirement that I know of), dictates that person’s sense of self-esteem and respect).

Write down the ‘shoulds’ you discover from your own inner dictator on a piece of paper or as a note on your phone. Then for the next week, attempt to monitor when those ‘shoulds’ present themselves to you – keep a tally.

Why? Before we can undo thoughts that hurt or hinder us, we need to recognize when they’re present. So this is the first step…. And trust me, we all have some ‘shoulds’ we could do without! Give it a try.