I should workout more.
I should stop watching Netflix every single night.
I should call my parents more often.
I should volunteer in the community or on campus.
Should, should, should. The little word is so common that we don't often realize how damaging it can be. Take a look at those statements again- they aren't in themselves wrong things to want. If you're a college student, it might be nice to talk to your parents every now and then. If you find yourself on the couch after work every night, it could be a healthy choice to start exercising when you get home instead.
The problem starts when we connect our worth to these things: I'm not okay the way I am. There's something wrong with me. I'm not good enough.
You might be thinking- what if I really do want to make a life change? For instance, you might have thoughts like "I should be eating healthier and exercising more." As we know, our thoughts affect our behavior, and so thinking about eating healthier and being more active can help you reach those goals. But here's the thing- once we start placing our worth and value in those things, we enter dangerous territory.
When I hear someone using the word "should" often, I start thinking about shame. For example: if someone says to me, "I should be a better daughter and call my parents" what I hear is "I'm not a good daughter." This is not the same thing as knowing you are a good daughter, and also knowing you can communicate more often with your parents. Do you see the difference? The first one is about who you are as a person. The second one is about specific behaviors- it is completely independent of your self-worth.
So what to do?
Try focusing on activities and behaviors instead of painting yourself in broad strokes. This keeps your value and self-worth intact while making changes.
When you notice a "should" statement, ask yourself what the reason is- when you think "I should study more" is it related to passing your exams, or is it about who you are as a student- and as a person? What will happen if you don't do the things you think you should be doing?
Write it down! Taking a moment to write down automatic thoughts will help you to understand those internal messages- and slowing down gives you the opportunity to change your thoughts!