Shoulds there are not; only consequences there will be

October 10, 2018

One persistent negative thought pattern that I observe in my clients is the idea of should.

For example, someone might feel that they should have things figured out by now. Or they feel that, because they are a trained architect, they should start a career in architecture.

I've explained before why shoulds are a bad motivator. If you're acting because you feel that you "should" (or feel that you "should not"), your motivation is fear. You're scared of something. And that makes it much more likely that you'll end up doing things you don't really want to, or need to, do.

How can you tell whether you're reasoning out of fear (negative intentions) or out of wants (positive intentions)? Try this:

When you notice thoughts or feelings of should, spell out the consequences.

Spelling out the consequences will help you clarify your reasoning and make it easier to decide in alignment with your values.

For example, rather than saying "I chose to join this two-year traineeship, so I should stick it out", you can say "if I quit this traineeship, I will..."

Yes, you will what? That's the point! Reframing the situation this way forces you to spell out the consequences. And when you spell out the consequences, decisions tend to get less scary.

In this example, the consequences might be:

Some of these consequences might scare you. If so, congratulations! Now you know what your fears are, so you can start doing something about them.

Yours,

— Peter