An unexpected book arrived in the mail the other day. A gift from my friend’s at Wisdom Publications. Zen Master Raven: The Teachings of a Wise Old Bird. by Zen Master human form, Robert Aitken. Here the koans are told by and to animals of the forest: raven, porcupine, owl, woodpecker, badger, black bear, and […]
In the course of the day, we might impose expectations, rules, and agendas on ourselves tirelessly. This is the tyranny of should.
Cognitive behavioral therapists like me are fond to say: “Don’t should on yourself.”The author Anne Lammott said that when the word should is spoken a lie is in the neighborhood.
Instead of the tyranny of should, consider an alternative phraseology. In any situation where you accuse yourself of “I should have” you could say, “I could have …” or “I might have.” These phrases are statements of fact and don’t carry the implied judgment of “should.” Could have and might have suggest that something was possible and that the possibility was not realized for whatever reason (and there are always reasons). There is no tyranny in could/might. There is no condemnation.
Should implies contingency: “I should have and since I didn’t, I am deficient in some way.” I should have implies am omniscient perspective usually constructed in hindsight and forced on a situation without proper context. We are neither omniscient nor perfect.
Looking at the role of shoulds in our mental life is a prerequisite for a self-compassionate approach and one that could be very useful during the holiday season.
There is no shortage of opportunities to beat up on ourselves for perceived transgressions against the hidden agendas we live by. By examining our internal conversations, we can uncover the shoulds and convert them to coulds and learn from our mistakes, miscues, and missed opportunities.
We might even be able to laugh at ourselves and that is the best kind of holiday cheer.
All my best for the holiday season.