What Self Talk SHOULD You Change?

This guest post is from Dr Martin Russell, a medical doctor turned counselor who has brought the experiences from his own solo counseling practice online. He can be reached via his website: http://www.DrMartinRussell.com

You can often hear people say something along the lines of, “I know I really SHOULD, but somehow I just don’t!” Perhaps you have even said something like this yourself, even if you did mutter it under your breath. Don’t worry. It’s just words in common English usage. However you can interpret more from this statement than you will find in a dictionary.

Listening to people’s words is really fascinating. If you ever hear “I should…”, then here is the conclusion you can make – they won’t. “Should” automatically implies that they aren’t going to do it. If they were going to do it they would use some other phrase like “I will…” or “when I…”. “Should” = won’t happen.

Now before some of you protest too loudly, let me add that I don’t think this is bad. What you think you “should” do is actually unlikely to be correct. It may seem counterintuitive to respond this way, so give me a chance to offer two examples to see if I can make this clearer.

Firstly, if you have ever had a situation where you found that you were not as assertive as you wanted to be, your might have been left saying to yourself “You know I should have really laid into them and given them what for!”

Actually no. You almost certainly shouldn’t have done anything of the sort. Just because you underreacted the first time, doesn’t mean that the overreaction you are planning is any more appropriate. In fact it is highly likely if you stop and consider what you were actually proposing as an alternative, that you would have found yourself in some variety of disciplinary action or needed intervention by the police intervention. People can be pretty wild in their thinking and saying “should” doesn’t excuse it, rather it just allows you to beat up on yourself for not doing something more stupid even than what you originally did.

Maybe this is too extreme an example for you, but I’m wanting to make the point more obvious. Even in lesser instances this is still a common type of “should” that people use and it’s worth pondering how much of this is happening in any particular case.

Secondly, a “should” can be something that we learn from someone else at some time in our life, and then keep for ourselves from then on.

People throughout our lives are giving us guidance, from the early years of parents and teachers, on to friends, peers, self-help books, lawyers and doctors, and on, and on. They are not always right. In fact the advice is so often conflicting that it is almost certainly wrong much of the time. And even if someone is confident in telling you what is correct, their certainty is no guide to how well their information will work for you. It may just leave you feeling still however like you “should” do as they recommended.

When you notice this type of “should” then you don’t need to persist with it unswervingly. Instead you can take a moment to stop, and reexamine the original information to decide how relevant it is to the particular situation you are considering. Even if it had value before, it might not apply so well the next time, and might need to be adjusted.

So with both of these examples, I’d suggest you apply them to the time when you hear “should” that really means “won’t happen”. Lighten up for a moment and give yourself a second chance to think it through, because maybe you can lose that “should”, and leave a whole heap of guilt behind with it as well.

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