When it comes to beating a host of mental or emotional challenges, the devil is in the details. And the details are the words we say to ourselves.
Just what exactly do I mean by that? Happy to share!
I use a lot of what is known as “cognitive-behavioral interventions” in my therapy practice—it’s helpful when working with people with anxiety; people with depression; or with moms in need of postpartum counseling or dealing with maternal overwhelm. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a long-standing modality in the counseling world and the idea is that we have thoughts that influence our feelings which then influence our actions. And then the cycle just repeats itself because we interpret our actions (and then the reactions of others) with a thought that influences our feelings, etcetera.
As with just about everything in this world, there’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it and enough for now.
Within this umbrella of practice is another term called “cognitive distortions.” As I routinely describe to clients, a cognitive distortion is basically a thought that went to a fun-house and found itself in a room of mirrors. You know the kind: they elongate your body and widen your feet and head. The other mirror has you super short and your face all kinds of skinny. It’s YOU in that mirror but a jacked up version of you.
A cognitive distortion is the same thing: a thought that maybe has some basis in truth or reality, but has gotten all out of whack in its proportions.
Depending on the website or textbook you consult, there are 12-15 types of cognitive distortions. People often rely heavily on 2-3. One of the most common of these is “should”-ing yourself. I bet you’ve already done it 10-15 times today.
Moms, in particular, are great at the “should”s of life!
“I should have done laundry last night”-a mom who went bed at 9pm because she was up all night with a sick toddler the night prior
“I should have found the time to make homemade cookies for the birthday party.” -a mom who gets home from work at 6pm and the birthday party is on a Friday night
“I should be able to get all of this done in one day.” -every mom ever who hasn’t accepted that supermom in the way she’s envisioning it just isn’t a thing.
So many of us plague ourselves day-in and day-out with these silly “should”s. Except, while we are thinking them, they aren’t silly. They are very real, and very hurtful, and create a whirlwind of negative emotions about ourselves and our lives that then influence us to:
snap at our loved ones
hide in our bathroom and cry
have low self-esteem
not be able to enjoy the moment because we are so busy thinking about how the moment “should” have been or what we “should” be doing next
You see, a “should” distorts our reality. It prevents us from seeing things as they are. And the reality is that, pretty often, things are mostly at least pretty okay. And that is a far cry from what the cognitive distortion is trying to get you to believe.
There are a few quick and easy steps to starting to change these cognitive distortions and get them out of your automatic thought wheelhouse. It can take some time, and in some cases it may take some accountability, but I encourage you to give them a try to see if you can release yourself from the angst caused by “should.”
1) Become aware of your thoughts process. Like I mentioned earlier, these cognitive distortions often become automatic so before you can even begin to make a shift, you need to be able to identify where it is happening.
2) Substitute the word “should” with the word “prefer.”
3) Pay attention to how different you feel with the word “prefer”. Because I can almost guarantee you’ll feel a lotdifferent. You see, “should” is so black-and-white. It indicates an absolute. That there is no other way. And if you “should” have done something, but in fact did not do said something, you have failed. SPOILER ALERT: it is very rare for “should”s to indicate something that absolute. So, give “prefer” a try and see what kind of grip you start to loosen on yourself.
4) If you’re struggling with the should/prefer change-up, try the following questions when you “should” yourself:
a. “Do I need to?”
b. “Do I want to?”
If either of those are a “yes” go ahead and do it. If both are a “no”, let go of the fun-house expectation. You’ll get to it! And the world will not fall apart in the meantime.
Give these steps a try over the next week and see how it goes. See what things you start to let go of and see how you start to shift your daily emotional experience. And if you have any questions, reach out. Or if you have any revelations, let me know.
You deserve to get that devil off your back!
Talk to you soon!