I've not been writing for almost a month. I've noticed the re-emergence of a word that is not helping me at all when it comes to writing or life more generally.
That word is Should.
"Should" is a form of negative self-talk
As time has passed since my last article, I've been saying to myself, "I should be writing something".
In one of my previous articles, What is Catastrophising I mentioned that my therapist showed me a page of unhelpful thinking styles. One of these related to the words should and must.
These are negative words. They can make me feel guilty or feel like I've already failed.
The more I've thought about this, the more I've seen it showing up in my life lately:
- I should be writing more
- I should be exercising
- I should be eating better
- I should be happier
The list goes on.
I should be writing
I enjoy writing, whether that's journaling, writing LinkedIn Posts or articles for this blog. So why is me saying that I should be writing a bad thing?
It creates a sense of obligation or expectation without considering anything else. Instead of motivating me to be creative and share my thoughts, it feels more like handcuffs or a straight jacket on my creativity.
When I say that I should be writing, I focus more on the fact that I am not doing it, rather than what I want to say or why I want to say it. I then begin to have negative feelings, from guilt to frustration because I'm not writing.
Using the word should doesn't tell me where this obligation is coming from. Is this expectation coming from me? Are other people expecting it? Do I feel pressure because of the difference I want to make to people? This simple word piles on all these expectations or more.
The more these thoughts and feelings build, the less I feel able to write. I've had ideas but felt blocked and felt that I'm not good enough. It's turned the idea of creating something from a pleasure to a chore or something to be afraid of and avoid.
In his book What to Say When You Talk To Yourself, Shad Helmstetter explains that when we say to ourselves that we should do something, we reinforce the idea that we're not doing it.
He goes on to say that it recognises the problem but creates no solution. When I say, "I should be writing more.", what I'm really saying is that "I should be writing more...but I'm not."
It doesn't stop at writing though.
I should be running or eating better
I know that exercise, whether that be running or walking is good for me. I know that eating healthier foods and less sugar is good for my health and my mood. I'm still not doing these things.
Enter the word should. I tell myself I should be exercising. I should be eating better.
But how does this help me?
Saying this is judgemental. It's telling me that I'm not doing these things. It's a way of criticising my choices, making me feel bad. It says nothing about how I can build healthier habits. Again, rather than helping me to go out for that walk, run or to eat well, I feel as though it leads me towards the opposite.
It builds that self-view that I am not enough as I am.
What can I do differently?
In this case, noticing the negative self-talk was a positive first step, which led me to question why I felt that way. I then accepted that I wasn't writing and talked more kindly to myself.
Writing is something I enjoy, but it isn't always going to flow. I might not always have something to say, and that's okay. Writing isn't a job for me; I don't have deadlines or people expecting me to deliver something. There's no need to force it or make it not fun.
This took away the pressure, and I was able to sit comfortably with not writing. As this pressure eased, it meant that the frustration with myself reduced, and I could think more clearly again.
I went out for walks, and ideas would start to form. I dipped my toe back in the water with some short LinkedIn posts, like this one about going out for a walk.
As you can see, this acceptance has led to that writer's block clearing and me writing a new article about something that I thought was interesting.
I'm now looking to apply this same thinking to other aspects of my life. Regarding exercising and eating, I'm at the acceptance stage and then looking at ways to build habits back into my life, such as taking walking breaks.
The words, should, must, need to are all part of my negative self-talk habit that I'm looking to reduce and find alternative ways of thinking.