So often we get stuck in the shoulda, coulda, woulda trap without even knowing why. Who said you should have been a lawyer instead of a teacher? Who said you could have been a millionaire, but instead you chose to be a cop. What makes you thing that you would have done anything differently? Shoulda, coulda, woulda, but didn’t. Through listening to our parents, teachers, friends and the media, we develop a litany of “Shoulds” in our head. Most of the time we take these things at face value without even asking ourselves if we believe it is something we should do, or if it is just something others are trying to convince us we should do. When we start to get depressed or stressed out, often it is because of all of the things we are telling ourselves we should be doing, but are not. For example, there used to be a commercial in which a very pretty woman sang about being able to bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man. In reality, how many women can work a full time job, do all of the house chores, errands and cooking and handle the bedroom as well without getting stressed out? Very few. Unfortunately, many women in the 70s and 80s grew up believing that they “should” be superwomen, able to be everything to everyone all of the time.
There are times when we are unable to do things and we wish we could have. However, many times these things we “should” have done are simply overly high standards or goals someone else has tried to convince us that we care about. If you are going to beat yourself up over something you “shouda” done, then at least make sure you are the one that believes that and why. Try filling in the following statements: “I believe I should have done this because ______. The fact that I did not do it means that I am _________.” If you can fill in that statement with something that is reasonable and true, then move to the next step. If you cannot complete the exercise with reasonable answers, then you have to ask yourself why you are beating yourself up for something that really does not make that much difference anyway.
There is a basic principle that we do the things that are most rewarding (and least painful). Sometimes there is something that you truly believe you “should” do, like going on a walk instead of eating another piece of chocolate cake. If it is something that you really want (as opposed to something someone else tells you to do), then the challenge becomes figuring out how to make the desired activity(exercise) more rewarding than what you currently are doing (eating cake).
The first step is to do what we call a decisional balance exercise. Identify the pros and cons of eating a second piece of cake and the pros and cons of exercise. It is important to make the pros of exercise and the cons of eating cake strong arguments for exercise. If you need to, add incentives. For example, under the pros of exercise, say that you will get to go buy a new outfit every time you successfully complete 20 miles of walking (over multiple days of course).
So, to sum it all up. Identify what is important in your mind to do and why. Those are the goals you focus on. The rest of it can be delegated, ignored or compromised.