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How many times a day do you hear “I should…” statements run through your head? Everyone always wants to tell us what we “should” and “shouldn’t” be doing in literally every area of our life.
Our moms, our relatives, our friends, our co-workers, complete strangers, our health-care providers, the media…
What we should do with our life, what we should weigh, what we should eat, how we should raise our kids, how we should look, who we should be, what we should know, how we should take care of ourselves, what skills we should have, how we should age, how we should dress, how we should do our hair or our make-up, what things we should care about in life, how we should have sex or “please our men”, how we should decorate our house, what we should read, what we should think, how we should act…
We get programmed by outside influences to believe all these things we “should” be doing and then we obsessively remunerate over them — usually while flogging ourselves because we haven’t or don’t.
There’s literally a “women should” piece of advice for EVERY single aspect of our lives, they usually differ depending on who you talk to and we often we tend to carry way too many of them with us every day, as though constantly reminding ourselves is going to make us do them.
Then, we judge ourselves accordingly based on how we think we’re measuring up – or not. Usually not.
And we wonder why we walk around with guilt, shame, anxiety, depression & obsessed with food every day?
“Should statements” are all of those things you’re telling yourself you “should” be doing every day — but don’t.
They’re one of many cognitive distortions (or negative thinking patterns) that contribute to stress, fear, worry, guilt and shame.
“I should be eating better and losing weight and I can’t ever stop reminding myself of that every single day until I die — because then I’ll never do it.” “Ugh, the house is such a mess, I should be cleaning it. What’s wrong with me? Why I can’t I just make myself get up and clean the stupid bathroom?”
“I’ve been so busy lately, I haven’t spent enough time with the kids. I should be doing more with them. I’m the worst mother.”
The next time you hear an “I should” thought run through your head or statement come out of your mouth, stop.
Notice what happens next. How do you feel about yourself in those moments? Empowered, happy and good? Or hopeless, helpless and bad?
And do you immediately follow that statement and those feelings by doing that thing you’re telling yourself you “should” be doing? Or not? See, the reason they’re problematic is they almost never result in more positive choices or the outcomes we want.
Rather, they make us feel badly about ourselves and often more hopeless about actually being able to do that thing we’re telling ourselves we “should” be doing.
“I should be eating that…” usually results in NOT eating that thing because we start thinking, “why can’t I have more self-control with food? I know what I’m supposed to be eating, why can’t I have some willpower and do that?”which reinforces feelings of being helpless to our circumstances and our choices not being within our control.
“I should be exercising more…” usually results in NOT exercising more because we follow it with, “but I’m just so lazy. If only I had more motivation.” which again, reinforces feelings of the choice being out of our control and makes us feel hopeless about changing it. We “should” be… but we’re just too lazy, we believe. So we carry around this belief that we’re unworthy or that we’re destroying our health because we’re too lazy to do the exercise everyone tells we “should” be to be healthy, or hot or skinnier or stronger or whatever.
And should statements aren’t limited to just what we eat and our exercise habits. We use them for everything – our parenting: “I should have more patience with my kids”,our homes: “I should be a better housekeeper”, our relationships: “I should be a better wife, mother, daughter, sibling, friend”… etc. Should statements are just one of many cognitive distortions that contribute to depression, anxiety, panic and can even keep us stuck in the weight & food battle.
And cognitive distortions often don’t act alone. Should statements, all or nothing thinking, and labeling/mislabeling can, and usually do pile on top of each other in one nasty thought bubble whenever we “fall off the wagon”.
“I should be eating salad but I really want pizza. Screw it, I may as well just have the pizza. I always just end up screwing up eventually anyway.” which then leads to “I may as well have a beer with it, and some chips and ice cream for dessert since I already ruined today. I’ll just start over tomorrow.” which then leads to “God, I’m such a pathetic screw up. I always do this. What’s wrong with me?”
That’s a should statement, all or nothing thinking, and labeling/mislabeling – a common threesome of cognitive distortions that often results in overeating (or in some cases a full-on binge) in people who struggle with weight & food all because they just wanted a piece of pizza.
Cognitive restructuring is a helpful cognitive-behavioral technique that I’ve incorporated in The Cognitive Eating Academy. It’s designed to help you overcome should statements and other cognitive distortions that keep you stuck in these faulty and self-destructive ways of thinking – and as a result, behaving.
The day I gave up should’ing myself to death was one of the best days ever. Now, when I hear myself thinking or saying, “I should…” before something, I next ask myself, “says who? Who says I should be doing that? What do I WANT? What does MY body need? What’s best for me? What do I need most right now?”
Rather than making ourselves miserable by trying to live up to what everyone else determines we “should” be doing, this switch gives us our power back. It gives us the power to start learning what makes us happy, what’s best for our own mental, emotional and physical health – and how to follow our own hearts, minds, bodies and dreams. And if you need it, I created The Cognitive Eating to help.
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