Should & Must Thinking

Should and must are small words that can pack a big punch.

They are unnegotiable, tough, and often driven by fear.

  • “I should go to the gym four times a week”
  • “I should eat healthy all the time”
  • “I must be on time for that appointment”

Our lives can be filled with “shoulds” and “musts”. Overdoses of shoulding and musting take away our sense of choice, freedom and autonomy.

How many should and musts do you have in your daily life? How many would you have at the end of the day if you kept count and did a tally do you think? 5, 10, 50, 100?

A pattern of shoulding and musting is described as a negative thinking style which can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. They can become automatic and something that we are not even conscious of. They can become embedded in our daily life, and we don’t even notice them. Behind the shoulding and musting there can be unrealistic expectations of ourselves which can lead to feelings of guilt, disappointment, frustration and failure within ourselves and create an ever perpetuating and escalating cycle of stress.

Should and must are a type of black and white thinking. There is no grey area, no room for negotiating. You “should” and you “must” or you fail. They are words that hold you to a very high standard, and put you under a lot of pressure. This can be exhausting and take you away from focusing on what you really want in life. Focusing on what you really want to do and value, rather than what you think you should or must do.

So how do we free ourselves from the tyranny of “should” and “must”.

Some tips can include writing down and reducing the unnegotiable tasks for the day. Making sure you fit something in the day that you want to do, rather than should or must do.

Also look at how realistic those “should” and “must” statements are.

Instead of “I should go to the gym four days a week” a more realistic statement would be “I have a goal of going to the gym four days a week”  

Instead of “I should eat healthy all the time” a more realistic, kinder statement would be, “My goal is to eat healthy as much as possible”.

Instead of “I must be on time for that appointment” you could perhaps replace it with the thought “I want to be on time for the appointment”. 

With all of these statements look at why they are important to you, why is it important to you to go to the gym and be healthy and be on time for appointments. Are they in line with your values, do you value being healthy and being on time. Acknowledge that these are things that you value and that you want to work towards, but be realistic about it. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes we can’t go to the gym because we are unwell or over tired, sometimes we don’t eat healthy because we just crave comfort food, sometimes we can’t make it to that appointment on time because the traffic is crazy that day. Instead of “shoulding” and “musting” be realistic and kind to yourself.

Come and speak to a psychologist if you feel you struggle with your “shoulding” and “musting”

Written by Suzanne Klotz of Cause Effect Psychology

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