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Stop "Shoulding" on Yourself!

I should be further along in my career.

I should exercise and meditate every day.

I should spend more time looking for a life partner.

Do any of these statements sound familiar? You might not realize how often you engage in this sort of thinking — or the feelings of guilt, shame, disappointment, and even failure that stems from one simple word. In today’s blog post, I want to explore the impact of the “shoulding” mentality and also discuss five ways to help you stop this destructive thinking pattern.

The “Shoulding” Mentality

Named by psychologist Clayton Barbeau, “shoulding” is a cognitive distortion in which you put pressure on yourself to do or be something based on your expectations of what you’re supposed to do or be. When you practice this behavior, you reinforce a core belief that you are not enough. Whether self-inflicted or external, the weight of these unmet beliefs can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health conditions.

The pressure to “do better and be more” seems endless, especially during the fresh start of a new year. As January comes to a close, you may be losing your motivation and momentum. You’re not alone: 80 percent of people give up on their resolutions by February — which means that, over these next few weeks, you might be practicing the “shoulding” mentality more than ever.

Five Ways to Stop “Shoulding” Yourself

With that thought in mind, let’s consider five ways to help you stop “shoulding.” You’ll notice that all of these tips revolve around self-compassion. Taking the time to simply check-in with yourself and your needs is the first step towards improving your overall wellbeing and happiness.

  • Pay attention to your own feelings: We tend to focus more on the feelings of others (especially as parents!), forgetting that our own feelings matter too. Notice the signs of burnout, resentment, or dread that pop up throughout your day. Is there a work task that you keep putting off? Do you resent your partner’s freedom? Are you overwhelmed by your child’s schedule? Identify the why behind each feeling.

  • Communicate: Once you’ve named your feelings, it’s time to share them. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist and determine a plan of action as you work towards setting more realistic expectations. You can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself first.

  • Give yourself breaks: In a world that rewards hustle, it’s difficult to slow down. I’ve referred to the lumberjack fable before, the idea that we have to sharpen our ax to be our best selves. Ultimately, even though it’s tempting to power forward, you accomplish more by making time for rest and renewal.

  • Set boundaries: A big part of the “shoulding” mentality is saying yes, even when you know it’s not in your best interest. In an effort to improve this bad habit, it’s important to set boundaries. A no, as hard as it may be, shows that you’re respecting yourself and your limits. If you want to explore this topic further, check out this blog post!

  • Reframe your thoughts: In order to move beyond the negative self-talk that accompanies the “shoulding” mentality, it’s important to notice the positive. Think about how far you’ve come or a goal that you’re close to achieving. Your worth is based on who you are as a person, not on your accomplishments.

Remember that self-growth takes time. You won’t stop “shoulding” on yourself overnight, but small steps will add up to big changes. Practice patience and acceptance as you move into this new space of self-love.

Reach out to Dr. Kelli Malkasian, PsyD, CEDS at Coral Reef Counseling, and schedule a free consultation today.


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