A few weeks ago in When You Explain Cause And Effect Wrong It Makes Your Life Harder I started with:
When I am listening to my clients talk about their issues I am not just listening for the meaning of what they are sharing, but I am also listening to the very specific words they are using.
The words we use to describe something will impact the way we understand a situation which then in turn impacts our emotional response to the situation.
The example I love to use is when my client “Deb” said “Everyone at work hates me!”
I asked, “Really, everyone?”
She replied, “No. It’s really just Dave and Sue.”
You can see the emotional difference between “everyone” hating us and just two people hating us. (And that doesn’t even get into if they really do hate Deb.)
Should, Shouldn’t And Ought To
This week we are looking at another way in which we use language that leads us to respond to our daily experience in ways that aren’t useful. In this article we are examining the words “should”, “shouldn’t” and “ought to”.
The problem with these words is that often we give them too much weight.
When we say should or ought what we mean is “it would be my preference to have” but on an emotional level it feels like “I have failed because I haven’t.”
The same is true with shouldn’t. What we mean is “it would be my preference not to have” but we feel it as “I failed because I did.”
Let’s look at a few examples.
“I should have gotten more work done today.”
* What we mean when we say this: “In order to stay on track with this project I would have liked to have gotten more done today.”
* What we feel when we say this: “I have failed today because I don’t live up to my expectations.”
“I should have been born in a different era.”
* What we mean when we say this: “Because of my world view and preferences my life might be more enjoyable if I had been born at a different time.”
* What we feel when we say this: “I am in the wrong time and this will always be painful for me.”
“You shouldn’t be mad at me.”
* What we mean when we say this: “It hurts me that you are mad at me and you might feel differently if you have more information.”
* What we feel when we say this: “You are not allowed to feel this way and you are betraying me by doing so.”
You can see the clear emotional difference between what we mean and what we end up feeling. In all of these examples what we feel will have a much stronger (and often much less healthy) response to what is going on.
My Preference Would Be
When one of my clients uses a should, ought to, or shouldn’t I generally ask a the question “What proof do you have that it has to be this way?” Often this is enough to help them to see they are turning an opinion or preference into a fact.
When you are doing work on your own and you notice you are use one of these words, try the simple step of replacing them with “it would be my preference”.
“I should have gotten more work done today” becomes “It would have been my preference to have gotten more work done today.” It is also helpful to ask the reason why. So this example now becomes “It would have been my preference to have gotten more work done today because then we would still be on track and I wouldn’t be rushing around.”
There is still an emotional charge to that statement, but instead of feeling like a failure we feel a little rushed or overwhelmed because of the work we need to do. Even though the second emotion is also negative it is easier to respond to it in a healthier way.
Sometimes We Really Should Do Something
There will be some cases where using the word should is helpful and we don’t want to make the substitution.
For example, “I should not embezzle money from my employer” is more accurate than “It would be my preference not to embezzle money from my employer.”
If you are looking for more resources about how to respond to the things you should do check out EFT For Shoulders And Shoulds where Gwenn Bonnell shares a simple tapping process for things you feel like you should do.