Battling With A Case of the Shouldas

There is so much talk about resolutions and goals this time of year and as I expect more transition this upcoming year, I decided to give the vision board exercise a try. I found myself in the midst of engaging with one of my thinking errors, the shouldas, and I figured I would share.

Let me set the scene for you. I am sitting next to all my vision board materials. I have read up on vision boards and using affirmations to obtain what you want and desire in life. I have gathered materials that “spoke” to me, Alexa found me some “relaxing music that you might like.” I even planned ahead and bought some extra glue because there is so much going on this vision board I didn’t want to run out! I planned to do the vision board while my husband is away and my son is sound asleep. Except not only am I not doing the vision board, I am not doing anything. I am staring at the vision board materials while a case of the shouldas has brewed inside my head. Being the therapist that I am, I try to pull up my feelings and trace back my behavior of not doing the vision board to my thoughts. What did I find?

I am feeling pressure and anxiety about the vision board and I do not want to do it. I think that I should do it because I have wanted these things for a while and I thought if I take some control by doing this vision board, like the online community, friends, or therapists have suggested, then I will obtain the things I want in life. Instead, now I am not only thinking about how I should do the vision board, but how I should be exercising more, how I should have enrolled in that training even though it cost more than I wanted it to, how I should have fed my son healthier lunches 1.5 years ago, how I should call my Mother back (even though I already talked to her earlier today), and the list goes on.

It is easy to run away with the thoughts in our heads. When it happens to me, I also get frustrated with myself. Being a therapist, I should be able to control my thinking better. And just like that, there it is again. Why do we constantly engage in these thinking errors and negative thought patterns? How can adding one word into a statement bring on such strong emotions sometimes that it has the power to physically stop us from doing something? I will cover more about this in future blogs, but recently I have found the topic of self-compassion coming up a lot in sessions with clients. Building self-compassion takes a lot of time and is complex. It is like doing a complicated movement like a snatch at the gym (which I should have done yesterday, right?) It sounds easy when it is explained or demonstrated, but then I go to pick up the weight and I forget what comes first the thrust, the jump, keeping the back straight, or leaning over. I believe taking away the one word, should, over time would build more compassion. What would it look like if I held space for the things I don’t want to do? What if I wasn’t so quick to judge myself over not doing them? What if I asked myself what I really wanted to do instead and embraced it by actually doing that. And who wrote the shoulda rules anyways? I did. So I also have the power to change them.

I had a client tell me recently that she failed at her journaling exercise and I asked her to explain to me what she meant. She said she bought the journal, but didn’t put any entries down. She continued, “I know I should have written in it. What good is it without using it?” When I was hearing her, I was so proud of her for purchasing the journal. In my mind, this was a celebration, you can’t journal without the journaling materials, though she was judging herself on what she hadn’t done. I had compassion and understanding for her, so where is the compassion for myself? I bought all the materials for the vision board just like my client bought the journal, but I am not feeling good about it because the shouldas pulled me into the negative thought cycle. If I take the shoulda out of it and replace it with a compassionate statement it would look something like this: I have all the vision board materials for when and if I want to create the vision board. Until then, I will embrace that small success and use the rest of the night to relax how I want to relax (even if it involves a bowl of ice cream) and not how my brain is falsely telling me that I should.

  • Kayla Calnan

    Preach Sistah. Great blog!

    1. ksmith515

      Thanks for reading and sharing. I appreciate the support.

  • Alyssa

    I am terrible with the shoulda. Thanks for pointing this out. Self- compassion is one of the hardest things for me. I was reading that self-compassion is more important than self-esteem since it’s not conditional. Good for thought. Also- what the heck is a snatch?!

    1. ksmith515

      Thanks for sharing! Being more compassionate with oneself is something we can all work on, for sure.

  • Kerry

    Nice little piece. I very much look forward to reading your blog when your Aunt Kim posts it. I put the time aside to read, even a small piece. Knowing that it will make me think.
    As I read this one, even before reading I was smiling. I had an ol saying that my ex-guy would tease me about: “shoulda, woulda, & coulda.” I learned way back not to beat myself up over the “shoulda’s, woulda’s & coulda’s.” What I thought of that you could try recommending to your patients/clients is yoga, or Tai Chi.

    I am always recommending yoga to those whose minds wander. When they first try yoga you hear: “it’s boring! it’s too slow, and my mind wanders.” All are usual beginners statements. When first starting yoga, the mind wandering is often referred to as the “monkey mind.”

    I am encouraging you to take the time, try some yoga and see if that helps with your “shouldas.” To those who just can’t get into yoga, Tai Chi is another option. Tai Chi is constant motion for an hour, very healthy, fluid movements that your mind & body have to learn. Thank you again for your blogs! Looking forward to reading the next one.

    1. ksmith515

      Thank you for reading and sharing your comments. I agree, yoga is a great way to relax and practice self-care.

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