Shoulds and Oughts


Yesterday was a bit of a struggle – full of “shoulds” and “ought tos”.

Yes, I’d got down on my hands and knees and cleaned the kitchen floor.

Yes, I’d cleared off one of the worktops and freed the crumbs that were trapped behind the many bits and bobs that had gathered there.

I’d written down some more ideas for this blog.

But I could feel the pent up anger and frustration that starts to emerge when I think the thought “I should be more productive”.

So I did Byron Katie’s “The Work”. This involves turning the thought around and finding at least 3 examples of why the turned around thought could be true.

So my three reasons that I “should not be more productive” were:

  1. I’ve started a business where I help people live a slower life – duh!!
  2. I want to follow my natural rhythms and inclinations, and those were telling me to do what I was doing and no more. Ha!
  3. I know that whenever a “should” comes up in my mind, it means that I’m giving myself a hard time, and this is NOT an effective strategy for change.

Even so, by the evening I was again feeling grumpy and very down.  Things just hadn’t gone my way today!

And then I remembered what the trainer on my Martha Beck coach training call had reminded us.  It’s never the situation that makes us feel the way we do.  It’s our thoughts about the situation.  In fact Byron Katie’s Work is based on this understanding.  It wasn’t necessary to cut myself off from David, and end the day miserably.  I could choose to join him on the sofa and watch William, Kate and Harry at the Tower of London looking at the poppies.  So I did, and we thought once again about all those men who had died in WW1.  And I thought about them with respect, for the sacrifices they made.  Not with the heaviness of misery and hopelessness.

And this morning, I reminded myself again:

It’s not the situation, but our thoughts about the situation, that cause our misery and hopelessness.

This can be true in the grimmest of circumstances.  As Viktor Frankl chronicled in his book Man’s Search for Meaning” about his time spent in several concentration camps, including Auschwitz, we  are free to choose our attitude in any given situation.  Frankl chose a positive attitude, in contrast to some of the other men in the camps.  They had given up, and would smoke their last cigarettes, instead of exchanging them for scraps of food.  According to Tom Butler Bowden in his summary of Frankl’s work

“We are not here to judge life according to what we expected from it and what it has delivered.  Rather, we must find the courage to ask what life expects of us, day by day.  Our task is not merely to survive, but to find the guiding truth specific to us and our situation, which can sometimes only be revealed in the worst suffering.”

If I’m honest, this blog came out of my own suffering.  Nothing like the real suffering of men like the ones who fought in the Great War and who were imprisoned in the concentration camps.  But self imposed, self absorbed suffering, that none the less can feel very real and sometimes absolutely hopeless.

If you have ever felt hapless and hopeless, there is a way out.

And it starts with changing your thinking.









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