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Unhelpful Thinking Styles (4)

Another aspect to being critical and hard on ourselves is the unhelpful thinking style of ‘shoulds and musts’. When we tell ourselves that we ‘should be doing ….’ Or ‘I shouldn’t do…..’ or ‘I must…’ it can put unrealistic pressure on ourselves.

should and mustsThe conscientious student who believes that they must achieve A* grades in every subject, or the self-conscious teenager who feels that they should always look immaculate and cool, the nervous spouse who walks on egg-shells around their partner because they should always keep them happy. These thoughts may initially seem helpful – spurring people on to achieve their best, present themselves well or retain a relationship, but what they do in the long run is apply unfair pressure – creating an expectation that they won’t be accepted or liked if they don’t keep up the hard work.

So if you’re struggling with slave-driving thoughts of I should/n’t or I must/n’t that cause you to feel exhausted in the effort of keeping up an unrealistic expectation of yourself, then it’s time to develop a new thinking style – which asks the questions – ‘what’s realistic?’, ‘what’s fair to expect of myself?’, what’s just good enough? Developing a more compassionate way of thinking which allows for a ‘good enough’ approach and makes allowances for mistakes, bad days etc. will help ease the pressure and make life more enjoyable.

If you struggle to stop putting pressure on yourself – another approach is to consider what you might say to a friend if they were having similar ‘shoulds and musts’ thoughts. Would you tell them that they’re right to think in this way?....I doubt it. You see most of us find it far easier to be merciful and gentle on others, but struggle to do this for ourselves. So think about how you would treat a friend and then apply that kindness to yourself.

Another aspect is to consider the situation we’re in – are we the ones applying pressure on ourselves? or are we in relationships where the pressure is applied upon us? For example, If the student feels that his parents won’t respect him if he gets anything less than an A*, or the teenager’s friends are likely to reject him if he dares to wear anything less than the most expensive brands, or the spouse who knows that their partner’s anger is likely to blow up at the slightest provocation. In these situations things need to change – and if you feel this is the case then please get in touch if you’d like to talk with me about it.