The Battle of the Should-Haves

I am in a constant battle of the should-haves with myself. It’s the part of my internal, perfectionist self talk that is intolerant of mistakes, setbacks, or laziness. However, my should-have self talk never makes me feel better. In fact, it only ever makes me feel disappointed with myself. Like what I’ve done and am doing is not enough or good enough. These thoughts are unproductive, they perpetuate the bad habit battle of should-haves, and most of the time, are totally untrue.

I’ve been working on this type of thinking and negative self talk. It’s extremely hard to change the direction and patterns of your constant internal chatter. My battle with shoulda’s is the worst but I’ve been confronting it in two ways: giving them the time of day and countering them with more positive self talk.

Instead of focusing on what I should do, I need to count what I have done as something, and, if possible, turn should-haves into something actionable. One of my favorite sayings is “If it is important to you, you will find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.” So, for example, when I pass the ever-growing stack of books I’ve been meaning to read for months and think to myself for the millionth time “I should read those,” I will make a point of sitting down and giving my should-have 5 minutes of my time. I will ask myself how truly important it is to my life to complete and also how much energy/time it will take. My reading example requires carving out some concrete time every day to tackling a chapter or two but isn’t awful or hard because I really enjoy reading. My other most common example is letting stuff lay around the house that needs to be put in our basement for storage. I walk by such a pile and think “I should put that downstairs” but get distracted or am too lazy or plan to ask John to do it. It really isn’t so hard that I should be putting things like that off and making myself feel miserable over it.

Sometimes when my shoulda’s are really outlandish and unrealistic, I don’t even give them the time of day. I try to counter them with something more positive or supportive. For example, I often should-have over very generalized things (I should be better at technology, I should have more expertise in my field, I should be smarter, I should try harder). These things are way too general and unrealistic to get bent out of shape over. So, instead of letting them get me in a twist, I would counter them by saying: I’m doing the best I can, I don’t always have to be the expert, I could improve my skills in a few areas but it takes time and practice and I might not have that right now.

I think as I practice how I react to my should-have thoughts it will get easier and my negative self talk will hopefully lessen. Do you battle with should-haves? What do you do? How do you counter negative self talk?

About Domestocrat

I'm a lady who enjoys photography, football, cooking, long drives with the windows down, This American Life, cereal, going to shows, scarves, kettlecorn, Gwen Stefani, yoga, my nephews, my cat Reggie, and my home: Boston.
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8 Responses to The Battle of the Should-Haves

  1. jadisajinn says:

    SO! One of the biggest things I do for myself to keep a positive outlook is write a gratitude list. Every night before I go to bed I write down 10 things I’m thankful for that day. And they’re specific. I did a clean 1.5 pirouette. I ran into so and so on the T. I sent out a resume. I saw a puppy. I went through the pile of stuff on my desk. Some days are harder than others, but it’s a great tool to ensure that I recognize that good things happen every day.

    When I have negative thoughts, I do something similar to you. I give them some time, and then let them go. I don’t a time limit on them though because, for me, that tends to deepen the cycle. “Why haven’t I gotten over this in five minutes?” What’s important is to feel it, acknowledge it, and let it pass.

    I do SO MANY THINGS to deal with negativity. I write emails that I never send. I talk to my sister. I meditate. I pray. I take some time to feel grateful that I have all these tools to deal with things.

    It’s taken a lot of work to get here. I had to dig myself out from a pretty bad place. Negativity is it’s own addiction. You need to work at letting it go every day. But what’s awesome is that with enough energy in the right place, you spend only an hour on negativity instead of two weeks and a box of Entemmann’s donuts. (I probably spelled that wrong.) Gratitude list is my longest running tool. I love it. I’ve also done therapy, The Artist’s Way, read A Purpose Driven Life (well written. VERY churchy). My sister has done a lot of self help work, and has shared with me all the stuff she’s learned. I follow Gabrielle Bernstein on twitter and I watch her vlog. She’s friends with my sister so I’ve been able to get some great tools from Gabby’s books without having to read them.

    Right now, I’m working on letting go of jealousy. I’ve been pretty jealous of other people’s success lately, and I’m not a fan. So, whenever I feel jealous (and I recognize it. I’m working on recognizing it too) I take a moment, and change the conversation in my head. I’m happy for this person’s success. Good for them for having the passion and wherewithall to accomplish that thing. I need to let go my jealousy towards that person because their accomplishment isn’t even a hobby of mine. Remember, that success takes time, and I am working towards something. I do what I love and there are no timetables.

    etc etc etc.

    So, that’s what I do about negative thoughts. :-)

    • Domestocrat says:

      This is SUCH a great approach. I like the idea of a gratitude list and I do something similar every night in my journal. I also like the thought of focusing on one thing at a time (jealousy, in your example). Sometimes it feels so overwhelming to work on everything at once that I just give up. Focusing on one thing is probably a lot more manageable.

      Thank you so much for commenting and being open with how you deal with this issue :)

  2. CarMar says:

    Ah! I am a big “shoulda done” person… and sometimes it ruins things for me, like reading books! Things that I honestly enjoy doing get added to the list of things I “should” do, and then it gets overwhelming and I don’t do any of it. It’s a vicious cycle. I like the way you’ve tackled it – I will try doing that as well!

  3. Lynn says:

    I’m a big proponent of “everything you do leads you to where you are”. That said, I tend to take the path of the most fun, which may not be the path of most success. I don’t count being the best as success, and everything below it as failure. I count things like what I’ve learned along the way, how much I’ve laughed doing it, and what I would change the next time around.

    Example: I am terrible at doing anything in the morning, because I go to bed really really late. I could see that as a failure of being an early bird, that I need to hunker down and be in bed early to get up at the crack of dawn and make a difference. Except, I choose to realize that, between the hours of 9 pm-3 am, I play music, read, collaborate with friends, tell jokes, do theatre work, cook, do my house chores, and a million other things whlie morning folk are fast asleep. The world needs both kinds of people – the early birds and the night owls.

    And there are millions of other people that the world needs that I am not. But the world needs me just the way I am, too.

    • Domestocrat says:

      I love this, thank you for responding. The world needs all of us, faults and successes alike. Such a good life philosophy in general. Thank you for commenting, I love your outlook.

      • Lynn says:

        Here, I’ll leave a poem from my spirit guide, Dorothy Parker (title: Observation)

        If I don’t drive around the park,
        I’m pretty sure to make my mark.

        If I’m in bed each night by ten,
        I may get back my looks again,

        If I abstain from fun and such,
        I’ll probably amount to much,

        But I shall stay the way I am,
        Because I do not give a damn.

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