No “should-ing” and No “must-erbating.”


NOTE: If you missed introduction, this is my disclaimer regarding the specific use of profanity or unusual words from this point on. I chose these particular words because using a common language most often used by patients themselves, especially when in distress, makes the rules much more accessible. Also, the use of rhyme and these specific emotionally-charged words ensures that my patients remember the rules. If you find profanity to be offensive, then my guess is that you are actually breaking one of the rules (most of them!) and not just in this context but across other areas of your life. I challenge you to explore this distress as it may suggest that you have a tendency towards judgment. 

Review of the “BUCKET”: By now you are probably catching on. The bucket is you and all the things that you actually have control over and are thus responsible for – your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Past the edge of our bucket, we have no control. Bucket-jumping is tempting or irritating (depending on who is doing the jumping!), but ultimately does not serve us well in our relationships. We are only responsible for what we have control over. Period.  Remember, CONTROL/POWER = RESPONSIBILITY.



No “shoulding” and No “musterbating.” 

Explanation: This is a pretty self-explanatory rule. Using the word “should” creates expectation. By creating expectation, we also engage in judgment, labeling, and highly rigid thinking that not only prevents compassion but excludes mindfulness. Compassion allows us give other people (and ourselves) some wiggle room – to make mistakes, to not be perfect, to not be us. Without compassion, life will be miserable. When we use the word “should” we also manufacture the emotion of anger. Start paying attention to people speaking around you and the language they use. Notice the word “should” pop up a lot more when they (or you) are angry.

 “Musterbating” means using vocabulary like “must,” “need to,” or “have to.” These words create a sense of urgency, desperation, and judgment, and they tend to increase our level of anxiety and worry. We believe that using these types of words will somehow motivate us, but as it turns out, they don’t; they simply create more stress, make us feel suffocated, and can even cause what one of my patients described as “analysis paralysis.” This means our anxiety can become so elevated that we feel paralyzed and are even less productive than intended. This phenomenon or theory is described by the Yerkes-Dodson Law. As mental or physiological arousal increases, performance or productivity increases but only until a point (i.e., moderate levels of stress), and then counterintuitively it decreases (illustrated by a bell curve). 

Alternative words that can be used to express similar sentiments, but also allow more compassion and mindfulness, are words such as: I wish, I would like, I want, I hope (and the tense can be changed to reframe past events as well). “They should not have done that to me” can thus be replaced by a healthier, more balanced (and probably more accurate) thought such as “It would have been nice if they hadn’t done that.” The replacement thought also drops the “to me” part because our tendency to overpersonalize the thoughts, feelings, and actions of other people or parties is not only inaccurate and irrelevant in most cases, but also unhealthy and distressing.