The Should’s Standing Between You And Your Happiness

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Are You Should-ing or Living?

BY BRITTANY MCGILL

We all have a set of  rules and assumptions that we live our lives by – our “shoulds”.  Think of the number of times you’ve said something like this to yourself —

“I should go to the gym”
“I must call my mother otherwise I’m a bad daughter”
“I have to feed my children three types of vegies for dinner each night”
“I must be married by the time I am thirty”

Some of these rules might seem harmless, but if your rules are too rigid and inflexible it makes you vulnerable. Let me explain.

Think about someone who lives for their job and believes they should always be progressing in their career. They work 14 hour days, are always on call and attached to their phone and emails, they sacrifice quality time with friends and family to meet deadlines,  their ‘downtime’ is working from home, and they can’t remember the last time they had an interest outside of work.  Now imagine that person is made redundant.  How would that person cope?  How would they feel about themselves?

What about someone who places a lot of emphasis on their appearance because they feel they should always look perfect.  They spend hundreds of dollars on skin-care products, manicures, facials, and clothing, they workout 5 or 6 times each week, they rigidly monitor their food intake, and they devote at least 2 hours everyday to hair and make-up before they leave the house.

But what happens when this person can’t stick to their routines, because of injury or illness?  If their self-worth is so tied up in their appearance how will they feel about themselves as they age?

When you do something because you feel you should as opposed to because you want to it can slowly wear you down.  As well, if you focus too much on only one area of your life, it makes you vulnerable.  When something goes wrong in that area, there’s no buffer.

The answer?  Stop and take a moment to think about what you value and what’s important to you.  If you spend more time fulfilling your shoulds than you do living in line with your values, it might be time to let go and stop should-ing.

Brittany McGill is a clinical psychologist registrar who completed her postgraduate clinical training at the University of New South Wales. She is interested in anxiety and mood disorders across the lifespan and uses cognitive-behavioural and other evidence-based strategies to help people achieve positive change in their lives.