Stop living a life filled with shoulds

productivity Jun 17, 2023
Stop living a life filled with shoulds

Many people go about life living in hindsight. They continuously reflect on their past actions, accumulating unneeded regret and negative energy. Instead of moving forward with their lives, they constantly bog themselves down with shoulds. If this is you, stop living a life filled with shoulds.

Living in regret will do nothing but make your life worse. Yet so many people do this, and they do it to themselves.

There's nothing wrong with reflecting, but don't let it consume you. Your past is meant to teach you, not define you.

It can be difficult to change this kind of behavior since mentality shifts are always tough. Here are 3 tips to help you make the shift and stop living a life filled with shoulds.

1. Adopt a learner's perspective

Getting mired in regret from reflection happens every now and then, but it shouldn't be a common occurrence. Those who do get stuck in this are the ones who catastrophize over their past experience and start bombarding themselves with shoulds. An easy way to avoid this is to take it from the perspective of learning.

When you get mired with shoulds, chances are you aren't learning anything. Rather than reflecting in a productive manner, you're simply beating yourself up.

This is the core tenet of those who live a life filled with shoulds. They are continuously hard on themselves but not on others.

The best way to get rid of this mentality is to be less harsh on yourself. And the best way to become less harsh on yourself is to proactively learn from your past.

Rather than looking at your past and thinking, "I should've done this instead of that!" it benefits you more to analyze what you did right and what you did wrong.

There is always something that you did right, even if the outcome is catastrophic. The main point is to define what you did right so you can do more of that while defining what you did wrong so you can do less of that.

I've found from my own experience that this kind of anxiety stems from the belief that you'll never learn from reflecting on your mistakes and that making a single mistake will be the end.

This belief is ingrained at school. The constant barrage of tests and quizzes combined with the desire to not get answers wrong creates this anxiety to always be right.

Understand that mistakes are the best way to learn. The master has failed more times than the student has tried.

Next time you find yourself catastrophizing over shoulds, take some time to analyze what you did right and what you did wrong.

2. Knowing about the spotlight effect

Have you ever gone meta before? No, I don't mean meta in a video game. Like a study of a study or an observation of an observation. Here, we are making an observation of an observation. The spotlight effect is something that has been observed in humans, so let's observe it.

The spotlight effect put simply is where somebody thinks that others are paying more attention to them than those other people really are.

This effect finds its roots in the human desire to be important. This desire leads us to think that others think about our actions as much as we do.

The end result of this is overthinking and catastrophizing which leads to a life filled with shoulds. Luckily, this is simple to fix.

Simply being aware of this effect is enough to lower the pressure it exerts on yourself. Understand that nearly everyone suffers from this effect. 

While you may be thinking that others are paying extra attention to your screw-ups, understand that so is everybody else. Others consider themselves more important than you which is why they'll overthink their problems instead of your mistakes.

As depressing as this may sound, this actually leads to a certain level of liberation.

Once you understand that others aren't paying so much attention to your shortcomings, this leads to you being more authentic. While you may be focused on what you lack, others will be seeing what they lack in you and wishing they had that.

Whenever you find yourself overthinking what others may think about you, just remember that they are thinking about you while comparing themselves to you.

3. Relax and enjoy yourself more

The bane of calmness is overthinking. Just a little bit of overthinking is enough to ruin your mood as you let your thoughts start to dominate your behavior. Though it sounds easier said than done, learning how to relax more is what will allow you to consistently avoid living a life filled with shoulds.

For the vast majority of things that happen in life, people tend to stress themselves out too much. They put too much importance on something that can wait, or they catastrophize for no good reason.

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to ensure a good outcome, the reality is that you cannot fully control what happens. There is always an element of luck involved with outcomes.

Again, even though this may sound depressing, this realization actually leads to a certain level of liberation.

The vast majority of catastrophizing and stressing comes from worrying over things outside of your control. Put simply, there is no reason to worry about things outside your control because, well, you can't control it.

When it comes to outcomes, understand that you can only influence the factors surrounding your luck and that's it. Even if you have a 90% chance of success, there will always be that 10% luck factor that prevents you from reaching 100%.

With this knowledge, look at your past experiences and notice how present luck has been in your positive experiences. No matter how small it was, there has been some element of luck present throughout your life.

This is a lot of words to say that once something is outside of your control, stop worrying about it. Worrying once something is out of your control will do you no good.

Take it easy and sleep on it

For as long as I can remember, I was the typical student who was too hard on himself because I made one small mistake. I wanted to ace as many things as possible, which led to unnecessary stress.

Since then, I've learned the importance of relaxing and being objective with my experiences. Now, I actually grow from my failures and disappointments rather than wallowing in stress.

Remember to always ensure that you keep your reflection productive and your mind relaxed. Growing while you stay relaxed is the way to actual growth away from undue stress.

- Karl