Friday, May 6, 2011

Stop "Shoulding" on Yourself!

Irrational should statements are one of my favorite mental mistakes to teach. I will go in to part one this time, and the next blog will hold part two.
Many of us use the word "should" irrationally everyday without even knowing it. Should is irrational when it is used as a moralistic demand, command or rule. When we direct these moral commands and demands against ourselves, we set ourselves up for feeling guilty or depressed ("I should be able to live up to my utmost expectations"). When we direct these shoulds outwardly, we set ourselves up for anger, anxiety, and blame ("You should not treat me that way!"). Shoulds are often expressed as absolute rules, and if those rules are broken there will be dire consequences.

Some shoulds are societal rules, which are good have in order to reduce societal chaos. The problem with societal rules is that they are not always based on fact. Sometimes they are just made up and blindly followed. We usually believe them because we do not know not to believe them.

Lets see how this plays out for a newlywed couple:

Wife: Don't put the roast in the oven yet, Honey! I haven't cut the ends off!

Husband: Why do you need to cut the ends off a perfectly good roast before you cook it?

W: You just should. My mom always taught me that.

H: What will happen if you don't?

W: I don't know. I have always cut the ends off roasts, and I have never seen it done any other way.

H: I want to get to the bottom of this...(picks up phone and dials Mother-In-Law)

M-i-L: Hello?

H: Hey mom! I have a quick question for you. Why do you cut the ends off your roast before you put it in the over?

M-i-L: That's just what you should do. My mother always did and her roasts turned out perfectly. If you don't cut off the ends, it just won't cook right.

H: (Unconvinced) Okay...thanks! (hangs up and calls Wife's Grandmother)

G: Hello?

H: Hey Grandma! I have a quick question. Why do you cut the ends off your roast before you stick it in the oven?

G: Well, if you come over to my house, I'll show you my oven. It's pretty old, you see, and back in the day they made ovens much smaller than they do today. I cut the ends off my roast because the oven was too small for these big ol' hunks of meat to fit in.  That's why I do it!

This is an example of how a should, an ought-to, a must, or a have-to can be passed down from generation to generation. It made sense at one time, but now it no longer makes sense. There was a dire consequence that the roast would be ruined, but that was not at all based on fact. If the wife had checked out where this "should" came from in the first place, she could have been eating much more roast in her lifetime, and an argument could have been avoided!

For more in-depth study on irrational shoulds see the book to the left of this post.