About three times a day I have to remind my counseling clients to stop using the word should. It’s shocking how much of our speech can be fueled with this sneaky little gremlin of self-loathing and regret. I don’t judge my clients. After all, I’m my own worst critic, and I know firsthand just how easy it is to pepper our thoughts with "shoulda woulda couldas", replaying old scenarios in our minds as though we could somehow mentally change the outcome.
The trouble with “should” is that it keeps reinforcing a subtle shame message in our souls. Now track with me. When we say we should have done something or said something, we assume that option was the right one and that it was available to us as a course of action at the time. In other words, we buy into the lie that there is an objective standard or “right way” to do something, and we missed the mark. Like an idiot…and judging ourselves this way is supremely unhelpful.
Why? Have you ever felt trapped in obsessive thoughts about what you should have done differently? It’s a black hole of negativity and paralyzation.
So how can you break through the pattern of shame by setting "should" language aside? Here are three quick habits to develop:
- Put down the measuring stick. There is no official rulebook for life (even the Bible has alternative methods, second chances and loads of grace). So stop comparing yourself to others or an arbitrary standard in your mind. Learn to accept the life you’re living right now. It’s the only one you have.
- Separate yourself from your situation. Shame tells us that we didn’t just do something bad or make a mistake, we in fact are the mistake! I should have known better! I’m an idiot. Don’t believe the lie. Who are you in spite of what has happened?
- Focus on the now. Yeah, maybe you could have done things differently in the past, but unless you’ve got a time machine, ruminating on what could have been is useless. What will you do today? The choice is entirely in your hands. It’s what you do next that matters.
So let’s get personal and move you one step out of the cycle of regret today. Grab my Breakthrough Regrets Reflection quick sheet to help process a moment you keep returning to over and over again. Then drop a line in the comments below sharing the lesson you learned from a past regret that you’ll carry with you into the future.