“Should” Thoughts: Doing More Harm Than Good for Your Mental Health | Rice Psychology
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“Should” Thoughts: Doing More Harm Than Good for Your Mental Health

Consider the following story as it relates to this week’s topic.

I’ve always had a bad habit of telling myself that I should be doing this and shouldn’t be doing that. I apply it to everything: work, family, friends, you name it. These thoughts haven’t cured me of my misdeeds and don’t seem to motivate me at all. For example, I ate way too much junk food last week while telling myself that I should’ve been eating healthier instead. This morning when I looked in the mirror, I regretted it all. I was really disappointed in the choices I made and felt lousy. This dialogue I continue to have with myself doesn’t move me to eat healthier or make better choices. Is there a more productive or effective way to look at this? Are there different ways I could talk to myself that don’t include making myself feel bad for ways I’ve behaved in the past?

Do you ever think about how you speak to others? In a world full of different opinions and beliefs, we’re understandably cautious about what we say to avoid offending or hurting others. What about how you speak to yourself? Do you often use the word “should” when referring to how you live your life?

“I really should be doing more at work if I want to get ahead.”

“I should exercise more often.”

“I should spend more time with Mom and Dad on the weekends.”

These statements may sound harmless, but rather than empowering yourself by saying them, you could instead be making yourself feel like you aren’t enough as you are. Our licensed psychologists and therapists in Tampa would like to explain this topic in detail below.

A Negative Impact

How many times a day do you tell yourself you should be doing this or that? Not accomplishing all you set out to do, regardless of whether your plans were realistic or not, can leave you upset and feeling unaccomplished, and this innocent word can make you feel ashamed and discouraged. And let me tell you, feeling shame is rarely inspiring and is not particularly motivating! By constantly admonishing yourself for things you “should” have done, you may well be negatively impacting your mental health and altering your view of yourself.

In fact, in an article on VeryWellMind.com, these “should” statements directly contribute to feelings of fear and worry. Now I’m not saying to ditch your plans, goals, and expectations, but on the days that don’t go as planned, throwing a bunch of “should statements” at yourself isn’t the answer. When we do that, we’re placing unreasonable demands on ourselves that leave us feeling guilty or that we aren’t good enough, and these feelings can lead to stress, depression, and anxiety.

Changing How You Think

Many of us constantly put pressure on ourselves to do better and accept nothing less than perfection. And while changing the way you think and how you speak to and about yourself may sound like an impossible task, there are small steps you can take:

  • Make lists – Start by jotting down your “should statements” anytime you catch yourself making one. Then think of a more positive way to say that statement. VeryWellMind.com suggests replacing your shoulds, oughts, and musts with more realistic and positive thoughts and ideas. For example:
    • Instead of saying, “I really should be doing more at work if I want to get ahead,” say something along the lines of, “Every time I work hard, my coworkers look up to me and my boss congratulates me on a job well done.”
    • Instead of saying, “I should exercise more often,” try saying, “Whenever I exercise, I feel more energetic and it feels great to see the pounds dropping.”
    • Sometimes I say, “It would be preferable if I chose a piece of fruit and some cheese instead of that donut.” That way, I’m not saying to myself that I’m bad. I’m simply offering myself an alternative for the future.
  • Cut yourself some slack – Nobody’s perfect and we all make mistakes, forget things, and have accidents. Being compassionate and understanding with yourself and praising the things you have done well instead of what you haven’t can change your mood and mindset quicker than you think. A favorite of mine is remembering that we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got. I think Brené Brown emphasized this way of accepting our imperfections.
  • Surround yourself with positive people – Sometimes the way we talk to ourselves is a direct reflection of how others talk to us. People who always point out your shortcomings can lead you to have those “should” thoughts in the first place. Life’s too short to be around negative individuals.
  • Talk to a professional – Trying to change the way you speak or think about yourself can be tough without professional help. Speaking with our licensed therapists and psychologists in Tampa can be the first step in feeling and thinking better.
  • Consider picking up books like Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life or David Burns’ The Feeling Good Handbook. Both of these will show you how to notice and tweak your thinking so that it’s helpful rather than harmful.

We Want to Work with You

Working on ourselves isn’t easy, and it can be difficult going at it alone. The staff at Rice Psychology Group is here to listen to your concerns and help you deal with your thoughts and situation. Feel free to contact us at any time to schedule your free, 10-minute consultation. We currently offer private, online sessions via telehealth as well as a limited number of telehealth and in-person evaluations for all ages.

About Rice Psychology

Rice Psychology Group is home to a team of psychologists who work tirelessly to help adults, adolescents and children deal with their issues. Whether you’re currently dealing with depression, going through a divorce or fighting an issue you just can’t understand, know that our Tampa psychologists are here to help.

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