We try to motivate ourselves by saying things like, "I should do this", or "I must do that"…

…but such statements can cause us to feel pressured and resentful. Paradoxically, we end up feeling apathetic and unmotivated.

Should statements

It's what Albert Ellis has called "musturbation"(!)

When you direct "should" statements towards others, you will usually feel frustrated. David Burns recalls how, when an emergency caused him to be five minutes later for the first therapy session, the new patient thought, "He shouldn't be so self-centred and thoughtless. He ought to be prompt." This thought caused her to feel sour and resentful.

"Should" statements generate a lot of unnecessary turmoil in daily life. When the reality of your own behaviour falls short


Techniques for 'un-distortion'

Robert Leahy has suggested the following techniques for challenging fortune telling errors:

  1. Rate the degree of your belief and identity and rate your emotions.
  2. Identify exactly what your "should rule" is — for example, "I should be perfect" or "I should get everyone's approval."
  3. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis
    a. Do you think that being strict and demanding will motivate you or others?
    b. Do you think you're being "moral" or "standing up for what's right"?
    c. How would your thinking, behaviour and feelings change if you were less "should" oriented?
  4. Are there people who do not have this "should" rule? What do you think of them?
  5. What cognitive distortions are you using to support your belief? Are you using labelling, discounting positives, dichotomous thinking, overgeneralisation?
  6. Do you label yourself in all-or-nothing terms when you don't live up to your rigid ruless? What is the consequence of this labelling?
  7. Would everyone see it this way? Why not? If people are not using your "should" rules, how are they looking at things?
  8. What if we made it a universal rule that everyone follow your "should" rule? What would be the consequence?
  9. Do your "should" rules treat people in a morally humane and dignified way? Or are they aimed at condemning and criticising people?
  10. Does your "should" rule come from any religious, moral or legal beliefs? Specify exactly where you learned this "should" rule. Is this current version perhaps a misperception of what was originally taught or written?
  11. If you really loved someone or cared about him or her, would you apply this "should" rule to him or her? Why? Is there some reason why you would use this rule for some people but not for others?
  12. What if you replaced your "should" rule with the statement that you might prefer something to be true? What if you were less extreme in your statement? For example, rather than saying "I should be perfect", you were to say "I'd prefer doing well"? Try restating all of yoru "should" rules in terms of less extreme preferences. How does this feel?
  13. What are the costs and benefits of this new preference that is less extreme?
  14. List a range of preferences (in relation to your "should" rule) from 0% to 100%. What do most people think is sufficient or adequate?
  15. Try mindfulness rather than judging. Focus on on describing what has happened, without using any words of judgments and without using any "shoulds". Avoid using words such as always and never — for example, "He's always like that" or "I'm never going to succeed". Focus only on behaviour that you can observe — for example, "He was driving fast" — and on how you felt — "I felt nervous." Stay in the present moment. How does this feel?
  16. How will staying in the present moment change this moment? What will happen an hour from now, a day from now, a week from now?
  17. Imagine you are looking down from a balcony on what is happening, and you must describe what you see to a stranger. Exactly what would you say is being said and done?