Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

6 Ways to Deal With ‘I-Should-Be-Better’ Syndrome

Published on June 13, 2011 by   ·   No Comments

Look inside yourself.

“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~Lao Tzu

Pretty much everyone I know thinks they should be doing better in some way, at least sometimes.

Are you totally and completely satisfied with what you’ve done so far in life? No little part of you thinks, maybe I should have more money in the bank? Or maybe I should have a more professional wardrobe, or a book contract, or a dog that’s housebroken?

The word “should” is not exactly enlightened or peaceful. Nor is the practice of judging yourself or believing that you’re not exactly where you’re meant to be. But we’re human so our thoughts inevitably go there from time to time.

We judge ourselves. We hold ourselves to standards that someone else made up—standards that may not even make sense for our current life.

I often hear people say things like:

  • “I can’t believe I’m in my 40s and still don’t have matching luggage.”
  • “Shouldn’t my child be reading by now?”
  • “I always assumed I’d exercise regularly after I finished college.”
  • “I can’t believe I don’t have better health insurance at this stage in my career.”

I have to wonder, whose beliefs are those? Whose standards are they, really? It’s not like we wake up at 40 and suddenly crave matching luggage. Someone fed us that expectation somewhere along the way, and we forgot it wasn’t our own.

Would the mother feel genuine concern for her child’s reading skills if they lived on a deserted island? Or is the pressure external, based on what others say, think, and read, and she simply doesn’t realize those thoughts aren’t hers?

And I, too, have thoughts like these all the time. Not those exactly, but ones like them.

Like how I should be famous by now. Really. The ship has sailed for being on Oprah but isn’t someone going to beg me to come on their show?  And how I always thought that by age 34 I’d own a home with a yard, not a small condo in the city. Or how I still buy all my clothes on sale and I don’t have a decent wardrobe. And how I still say “like” and “awesome” way too much for an adult.

So it’s starting to look like we’re all in the same boat with this I-should-be-doing -better stuff.

Since it’s such a universal human issue, maybe we can make a collective pact to just stop with the shoulds? Can we collectively agree to be just a little kinder to ourselves? Can we set aside the judgments and be proud of ourselves, right this minute, not when we achieve something we haven’t yet achieved?

Here are some ways you can work on dropping I-should-be-better syndrome and decide you’re okay, right now.

1. Understand your own personal flavor of I-should-be-better.

How does this syndrome show up in your life? Are there particular times you’re more likely to compare yourself to others? Are there certain skills or habits or traits you’re always requiring of yourself?

Does it tend to show up primarily in your career, family life, weight, or finances? Or is it a theme across the board for you?

Is it triggered by particular people (i.e.: that “cool girl” from high school who is now your Facebook friend, or an older sister to whom you were constantly compared?)

Understanding how this tendency looks in your life—and being on the lookout for it—is the first step to dropping the habit.

2. Notice. Stop. Breathe.

When you find yourself in the middle of I-should-be-better, stop. Drop what you’re doing and take a deep breath.

I-should-be-better is cerebral and ego-based. It’s your mind spinning stories that aren’t real in any factual way.

So when you notice those mental stories spinning, stop and consciously shift from being in your mind to being in your body. The fastest and most effective way I know to do that is to breathe deeply and consciously. Notice, stop, and breathe.

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