The Tyranny of the SHOULDs

News reports tell us that Canadians are spending less time with family, friends, and leisure activities, and that people are tyrannized by their to-do lists (even having lists
for their lists!).

Does this sound familiar?

Be wary of those “should’s”.  They are tyrants that are often unrealistic and give us impossible to-do lists.  And this really increases our stress.
eg.  I should get it all done.  Perfectly.  Today.
            I should not make mistakes (or fail).
            I should be liked/appreciated by everyone.
            Things should be fair.  Others should treat me as I treat them.
            Today should go as I’ve planned (and according to my schedule/agenda).
            I should eat better, exercise more, spend more time with…

Monitor your self-talk for the “should’s, musts, got to’s”.

If they prompt you to immediate action and effective work on the to-do list, go for it.

If they are just a treadmill of recurring thoughts
that are generating stress and discomfort rather than productive action,
then every time you’re aware of the “should”…
*   STOP!
*   Breathe!
*   Park that thought.
*   Establish realistic priorities / expectations.
*   Stroke the unimportant “should’s” off your list.
*   Be more compassionate with yourself about the important “should’s”.
                   eg.   I’ll do as much as I can today, starting with the most important things first                                                   (and if it doesn’t all get done, then plan B, plan C…)

As Albert Ellis said, to decrease our stress, it’s helpful to
stop should’ing on yourself so much !


For effective, practical stress management skills that enhance health and performance, check out the Stress Management & High Performance Clinic programs at

Kathy Somers, R.Kin, BCB



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