Negative Self Talk for Writers: Shoulding

Shoulding occurs when you dwell on the things that you or others should or should not have done. This often happens when you are unhappy with the outcome of a situation, but can even come when you have gotten the results you wanted, but still second-guess your actions, methods or behaviors. For writers this can be a constant problem. We should work harder. We should promote ourselves better. We should find “a real job”. We shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition. We should comment on other people’s blogs more often. The list goes on and on.

Here is an example of shoulding:

Poor self talk: I shouldn’t have played Everquest this morning instead of getting started on my guest blogs. I should put work before fun. I should take care of my obligations so that they aren’t hanging over my head. I should make a to-do list and keep working on it until everything is complete.

Realistic self talk: I would love to have all of my work done and feel like I am caught up with everything, but I know there will always more things on my to-do list. I don’t know a single person who has completed everything they want to do, and I don’t know what I would do with myself if I ever did. It is OK to have fun, even when there is still work to be done.

Some ways to avoid shoulding:

  • Accept the fact that very few things in life happen perfectly
  • Look for ways to improve but don’t punish yourself for your mistakes
  • Don’t allow yourself to be defeated because something did not go the way you wanted it to
  • Have confidence in your ability to overcome obstacles

Note: The terminology I am using from an excellent textbook called Stress Management for Wellness by Walt Schafer


5 thoughts on “Negative Self Talk for Writers: Shoulding

  1. John,

    This is a tough habit to shed! But, I applaud you for practicing what you preach by refusing to talk yourself out of using that terminal preposition in your bulleted list! Bravo!


  2. @ Jeanne

    I wonder if John had planned his escape route by omitting the full stop.

    I knew I shouldn’t have read this article because now I feel guilty as I leave for the gym.

  3. @ Ewan,

    Could be — but somehow I don’t picture John as a man who needs an escape route. ;-)

    If I were you, I wouldn’t feel in the least guilty about going to the gym (or was your remark meant facetiously?) While it may be important to get our writing done, the gym is good! One of the greatest occupational hazards of the writer is sitting in front of the computer all day and getting zero exercise! Not only is this bad for our general health and fitness, but it’s also a sure way of gaining unwanted weight. So, I think it’s great that you’re finding that balance between writing and exercising!


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