Ever notice yourself getting trapped in the same throught loop? You keep replaying the same moment or event or choice over and over again and convince yourself it “should” have gone differently. We can replay this belief over and over (I should have finished all my work. I should have never said that. I should have cooked healthier meals this week….), but the results don’t change. All we are doing is torturing ourselves, creating more anxiety. Often this results in us feeling frozen to move ahead. All we can focus on is what we believe “should” have happened instead.
This cognitive distortion is a common one for many of us. I am guilty of it myself. I found
myself in the hospital this past week following an accident. I was released, got home, and instead of immediately following doctor’s orders to rest, drink fluids, and keep stress levels down, I began thinking about all the things I wasn’t doing. I “should” have found a way to show up for my client’s appointments this week. I “should” still be able to write notes or contribute to this blog. I “should” still be getting to these emails sitting in my inbox. But the truth was, I couldn’t. Until I gave my body rest, nothing else could happen. I was creating anxiety and guilt over not being able to make it into sessions despite the very true reality that sitting up caused intense pain and that I certainly can’t show up for sessions laying down. I’m stepping into my vulnerability and sharing this because erasing “shoulds” is an ongoing process. Even your therapist is working on it!
There are some ways to reduce it though. When you notice should statements coming up, ask yourself these questions:
What is a truer version of this thought?
How does this statement highlight what my values are? How can I still sit in those values without judging myself?
What is a more realistic standard I can set for myself at this moment?
How can I celebrate what I did accomplish instead?
Try these questions when your next thought appears and see what, if anything, shifts for you. Hopefully, they can bring some clarity without judgement and begin to shift you out of the "should" loop!