We are All Guilty of “Shoulding” Ourselves and Excessive Expectations

Especially during these difficult Covid times, we find ourselves “Should” and “Shouldn’ting” ourselves to no end. Although we’ve been adjusting to this for 9 months, it’s a new way of life and we are likely judging ourselves harshly for not really knowing how to cope with this.

The rest of this blog applies more to the fear of public speaking and performing and was written by Janet Esposito in October 2014:

I’m currently reading a book called Loving What Is, by Byron Katie and finding it interesting to see how she addresses the issue of what causes our inner pain and turmoil when things aren’t happening the way we think they “should” happen. 

Katie (as she is referred to) says she has learned the futility of arguing with reality and has learned to be “a lover of reality” instead. She has learned to fully accept and embrace reality on its terms, rather than impose her own ideas on what should and shouldn’t be. She challenges peoples’ expectations (their “shoulds”), and sees them as “a lie” when these “shoulds” contradict what the true reality of the situation is. 

She says, “In reality, there is no such thing as a ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t.’ These are only thoughts we impose onto reality.” Using a process of four simple questions (which she calls “inquiry”), she gets you to examine the very foundation upon which your expectations and beliefs rest and to consider letting go of these “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”.

We can find many examples of our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” when it comes to our speaking or performing anxiety. Do any of these sound familiar:

* “I should be able to speak (perform) without feeling so afraid.”

* “I should be like other people who aren’t so fearful of this.”

* “My performance should be more consistent – sometimes I feel more confident and other times I am filled with fear.”

* “This shouldn’t have to be so hard.”

*”I should be able to get over this already.  What is wrong with me?”

Each time we create these “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” in our thinking, Katie says we are arguing with reality and the truth about the way things really are. She refers to this type of thinking as “stories” we create around how we think things should be (or shouldn’t be) in our own lives and the lives of others. She notes how stressed and upset we often become when reality doesn’t coincide with our stories. 

The key is to give up our expectations and stories and live in the reality as it exists, allowing and accepting things as they are rather than arguing with what is. She is not implying that you passively submit and give up all attempts to steer your life in a positive direction. 

She is simply suggesting a pathway to finding peace of mind by accepting (and embracing) rather than resisting the truth of how things are and not trying to control what is not within our control. If we did this, our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” would turn into something along the lines of:

* “I feel afraid many (all) times when I speak or perform in public.” (no judgment, no frustration)

* “I am more afraid of speaking (performing) than some (many) people.” (no judgment, no frustration)

* “My performance is often variable – sometimes I feel more confident and other times I am filled with fear.” (no judgment, no frustration)

*”I often find this whole thing hard to deal with.” (no judgment, no frustration)

* “I continue to deal with this fear and I don’t know the course it will take in the future.” (no judgment, no frustration)

As you can see, this method is just about stating the facts as they are, without judgment that it is wrong to be the way it is. It is simply observing what is and allowing reality to be as it is, rather than as we think it should be. This is not, of course, to say that we are happy about the way certain things are or that we like having our difficulties. It is simply being willing to accept the truth in a non-judgmental, non-reactive way.

It is certainly a less stressful approach to living (as well as a less stressful approach to our speaking/performing challenges), and well worth considering as a way to free ourselves of all of the self-judgments we make and inner distress we create about having this challenge.