Deciding what you want to do vs doing what you think you should do is an extremely challenging place to be for many people. What can happen is we become stuck in a back and forth relationship with ourselves repeatedly “shoulding” ourselves.
The results from that pattern can manifest into an unhealthy situation. We can become irritable with ourselves and others, avoidant, angry, frustrated, depressed, frozen and stagnant, as well as a host of many other secondary emotions.
How often do you find yourself having an internal debate between "I should…"
- Never say no
- Go to the gym
- Never disappoint my kids
- Stop drinking alcohol
- Put myself last
- Eat better
- Not show my emotions
- Go to sleep earlier
- Always be nice
- Stop smoking
- Blame myself for him/her cheating
- Quit my job
- Call my mom/dad
- Make that dentist appointment
- Finish that book
- Do the laundry
Internally, when you are “shoulding” yourself to go to the gym and ultimately end up sitting on the couch what statements, obstacles, beliefs, or self-talk fill your mind?
- Are old habits influencing you?
- Do secondary emotions overcome you?
- Could you simply not know what you want?
- Are you scared or apprehensive to decide?
- Is an unhealthy relationship influencing you?
- Are there social, cultural, or family myths driving your behavior?
While our minds are a beautiful thing they can also be the most critical voice in our lives. It’s important to invest some time in developing our own personal insight into ourselves, or what Marsha Linehan calls “wise mind.”
Wise mind is the ability to make healthy decisions about your life based on both your rational thoughts and your emotions. Wise mind can be interpreted as or thought of as cultivating your intuition, trusting your gut instinct, or developing your minds eye.
Building an understanding of you, your values, and how you function in the world around you is the objective. What are your values? What matters most to you? Developing a trust from within that enables you to feel more comfortable and confident. Ultimately, empowering you to become more assertive with your life.
First, you may need to develop some skills and strategies to overcome that inner critic that can become louder when we “should” be doing this instead of that...
Here are three suggestions to consider:
First, when you find that inner voice pronouncing, “I’m wasting time sitting here reading when I should be more productive and go do the dishes.” Try replacing the, I, with a non-first-person pronoun, you/he/she and combine with a “why” question.
The strategy is intended to defuse the association between “I” and the unhealthy secondary emotions that your inner voice may be labeling you as. While giving space for “you” is intended to allow for a pause and objectively examine why you feel like relaxing and reading vs doing the dishes without judgement.
Now that conversation may sound like this: “Why are you reading when you could be doing the dishes?”
Second, another approach may involve giving yourself permission to hit the rewind button and editing your comment. Try to re-frame or revise the story your inner voice is telling you. “I’m enjoying this time sitting here reading instead of doing the dishes. I will find time later to do the dishes.”
Third, a final suggestion involves naming that voice that speaks harshly at you. By labeling the voice you can, once again, detach yourself from the fault finder and make an intentional healthy choice to do what matters most to you.
When the inner voice labels you as “wasting time sitting there reading.” Try speaking back to that voice by saying “Oh, there’s that drill sergeant again, always driving productivity.”
The intent of these suggestions is to create space between thoughts you have and who you are.
When you know who you are and know what matters most to you, I.e., your values, you may find that instead of “shoulding” yourself and feeling unsure, you are spending your time confidently knowing that you are “enjoying” whatever that is!