Here’s a list of things most people think they should be doing more of, see if you relate to any:
I should be working out more
I should be eating more healthfully
I should spend more time with my family
I should wake up earlier
I should spend more time on my appearance in the morning
I should watch less Netflix
I should shave my legs more often
I should have a cleaner house
I should spend less on going out to eat
I should be more present
The list of ‘shoulds’ traps you inside a hamster ball and makes you feel as if you’re scurrying through the day, banging into the wrong choices constantly and having to course correct every ten seconds. Do this repeatedly and it gets very dangerous.
Moving through your day feeling a constant pressure to be a better version of yourself causes you serious emotional harm. Experiencing a chronic sense of inadequacy places you at greater risk for a depressive episode, not to mention makes you more likely to engage in those go-to self-destructive behaviors of yours that not only prevent you from feeling better, but actually make things worse.
Carrie Bradshaw called this habit “should-ing on ourselves.” The slightly more academic version of this tendency was coined by the pioneer of feminine psychology, Karen Horney, who called this, “the tyranny of the shoulds.”
Horney supposed that we all carry two versions of ourselves, the real vs. the ideal. Dysfunction happens when the ideal is not seen as an ideal and is instead seen as who you should be. When you forget that ideals are not meant to be achieved, they are only meant to inspire, you basically spend the whole day feeling inadequate and like expletive about yourself.
There are two things to keep in mind that might help you remove yourself from the hamster ball of personal inadequacy, recover from the dizziness and move in the direction of a more purposeful and fulfilling life.
1. Please keep in mind that conflating your real self with your ideal self reflects a dangerous loss of perspective. You need to recognize that one is fantasy and the other is reality. Another way to say that is that one is real and possible, while the other one is not. Instead of conflating, decide that you will err on the side of the ideal self when you feel up for it, and allow yourself to be your real self other times.
But what if I never feel up for it? What if I ignore my ideal self and just live a life of underwhelming mediocrity?
That won’t happen, because of another simple but brilliant psychological truth:
2. You have a natural self-actualizing tendency. Yep, just like the tiny acorn is naturally built to grow into the mighty oak tree, you are naturally built to grow into your full potential. You don’t have to do anything to make this process happen, except to get out of your own way. Your job isn’t to speed this process along, it’s to make sure the conditions are good so that what’s already set to naturally happen can unfold.
Allowing your natural self-actualizing tendency to unfold looks like making sure you curb the self-destructive behaviors that reverse the self-actualizing process. It also looks like surrounding yourself with caring, thoughtful people who support you and believe in you. Perhaps most importantly, allowing your natural self-actualizing tendency to unfold entails supporting, believing and trusting in yourself.
Trusting in yourself can be surprisingly difficult and requires an inner script of reassurance and self-compassion. If you’re not quite sure how to build self-trust, read this book, see a therapist and/or create a list of self-assuring affirmations. Ok, now go be nice to yourself for a good chunk of the day.