by Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.
Sure, you may be thinking that word might be “hate,” “poverty,” “illness,” or “death.” No, these words are mild compared to the self-disturbing, life-sucking, contentment-robbing, depression-boosting, anxiety-inducing, and anger-building word I’m thinking of.
That word is “should.” In the wonderful words of my mentor and teacher, Albert Ellis, Ph.D., “Should-hood leads to sh#&-hood.” He also observed, “It’s far better to masturbate than MUSTurbate.” Yes, he was a straight talking guy.
It appears that of all the thoughts people hold onto and rigidly believe, the following top the list:
1. I should be a certain way, I should do well
2. Others should treat me as I believe they must, and
3. My life should be a certain way
Put these together and you have a rigid, extreme set of thoughts that sound a bit like this, “I should not become infected with COVID19, and If I somehow do, then the doctor should see me immediately for testing and treatment, and even better, I should not have to live life quarantined for even a day!”
The idea, this nutty idea, that things should be the way you demand them to be is extreme. It’s extreme in that you believe, down deep, that nothing could be worse than something not being as you think it should be, or something being as you think it should not be.
A non-extreme version of this thinking relies on the belief that it can always be worse. Sure you’d like to do well and be healthy in life, but it’s not awful if you don’t, right? Of course you’d prefer people to treat you well but they don’t have to and it’s not horrible if they don’t. And while it would be better if you didn’t have to be quarantined, it might be bad if you did, but it’s not the end of the world. You know what the end of the world is? The end of the world.
See someone more talented than you? Better off financially? Healthier? Enjoying a better relationship? Driving a nicer car? Living in a finer neighborhood or in a larger home? Better job? Better looking? Of course you do.
When you think you should have all that, it should be yours, you’ll make yourself quite emotionally upset, angry, depressed, or anxious thinking, “I’m a loser because I don’t have what I should have.” Or, you’ll make yourself angry thinking, “It’s horrible, terrible and awful that I don’t have what I should have and I can’t stand it!!!!” Or you’ll make yourself anxious thinking, “Uh oh, why don’t I have what I should have? What bad thing is happening to me? Will other terrible things happen to me and I’ll lose even the little that I have?”
Depressed, angry and anxious are far from being content. That harmful word should causes despair, feelings of inferiority and propels you to continually compete with others, and likely never win. Your lack of unconditional self-acceptance will limit you time and time again.
What’s wrong with running your own race? What’s wrong with recognizing that what you have and are moving towards is exactly what was designed for you? That’s contentment thinking. That’s secure thinking. That’s healthy thinking. Why not be what YOU are meant to be, instead of demanding, insisting and expecting (D.I.E.) that you should have and be like someone else?
Where did this erroneous, harmful thinking start? What goes on in homes, society, the media, marketing, advertising, schools, playgrounds, camps, work, that creates this idea that the other person’s suitcase is filled with what you should have? It’s destructive, harmful and is the type of thinking that separates us from one another. It kills kindness between people.
Want to get rid of this cancerous word? Here are the steps to be more mindful of stepping in a pile of should:
1. Catch yourself shoulding on yourself, shoulding on others or shoulding on your life
2. Challenge the should by asking “Who says I should have that, should be that, should look like that or should not have to struggle with what I am struggling with in life?” Ask yourself if it’s absolutely true that something should be different. Recognize how thinking something should be different than it is leaves you feeling. How might things be for you if you didn’t should on yourself or on others or on your life? How would growing through this COVID19 time be different for you if you didn’t should on yourself in the process?
3. Change it with a simple, “I’d prefer…” Ask yourself when you hear that should if you really mean you “prefer, want, wish, would like” rather than that harming should.
4. Create a should-free zone, a place or a time that is filled with preferences and wants, not shoulds.
You see, we might all like things to be different. That seems pretty common and normal. When we don’t have things we’d like to have, we prefer to have, sigh, oh well, that’s a bit disappointing. But that doesn’t kill our contentment. Up it a notch or ten to “I should have that and I don’t…” and the end result is inevitably “…awful, terrible and horrible.” While the truth is, of course, it’s none of those at all. It’s only too bad, or unfortunate.
Try this on: “I may not be the best _____ in the world and that’s OK, because I am going to be the best _____ that I can be.” See the difference? Staying in your lane, running your own race, being the best that you were designed and created to be, makes sense.
The Junior Varsity player believes, “I will never get COVID19,” “I will be the best,” “I will get the promotion,” “I will succeed.” The JV player feels good “only if” s/he believes s/he will succeed.
The Varsity player believes, “I may become infected with COVID19, but regardless I will likely be ok,” “It’d be nice to succeed, it’d be a good idea, but I can live content regardless if I don’t.” See the difference? The Varsity players fully removes the should and changes it to an “It’d be nice,” “I don’t have to,” “I can be content regardless.” There’s that “R” word, “regardless.” That simple word distinguishes the JV player from the Varsity player.
It’s your choice, regardless.
Dr. Mantell, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and is a sought-after speaker on behavior science. He can be contacted at [email protected] His website is https://drmichaelmantell.com/ This article is reprinted from San Diego Jewish World which, along with The Moderate Voice, is a member of the San Diego Online News Association.