This skill helps us deal with those pesky ‘should’ statements that so often creep into our day. ‘Should’ statements are harmful, because they are inflexible and add stress and tension into our lives. They introduce rules for living that are often unrealistic to maintain and therefore set us up for failure. For example, statements like “I should always do my best” and “I should never make mistakes” leave little room for human error.
A simple, but helpful, way to deal with these statements is to change your “shoulds” to preferences. For example, instead of saying “I should never make mistakes”, you can say “I’d prefer not to make mistakes, but I can cope if it happens”. This simple change in wording helps you to view the statement as a guideline or ideal, rather than a rigid rule. If you don’t meet your preference, you may still be disappointed, but you are less likely to feel like a complete failure.
Here are some examples:
“I should study harder”
→ “I’d prefer if I could study harder, but it’s not always possible for me”
“I should exercise more”
→ “I’d prefer to exercise more, but it’s not the end of the world if I don’t”
“I should be liked by everyone”
→ “I’d prefer everyone to like me, but it’s unrealistic to expect this”
“I should have got the job”
→ “I’d have preferred if I got the job, but I can cope with the fact that I didn’t”
Next time you notice a ‘should’ statement, try changing it to a preference and see how it feels. After all, who says you have to live by this rule? Where did it come from? Why does it apply to you and not others? Have a think about these things and then ask yourself, “What is the cost of continuing to live by these rules?”.