One of the words I hear a lot in my hypnotherapy practice here in Richmond is ‘should’ and it’s one of those words that I always listen out for. One word that can lead to many discoveries. It’s often the tip of an iceberg, with much lying beneath the surface. I hear it when I’m listening to people telling me what they should be doing, usually measuring themselves against a standard that they’ve set for themselves. I will then try to unpack the word and a useful way to do this is to ask, “according to whom?” The answers are always revealing.

I remember when I was asked this by my therapist when I was sorting out some unhelpful attitudes and behaviours of my own. I was happily chatting away and made some comment about how I should do this and should do that.
“According to whom?”
I went silent. I had to think about it because I’d never really done so before. I was stuck. I think I was almost disbelieving. I mean it was obvious wasn’t it? They were my internal rules, my yardstick for measure.

So often we have a set of rules that we use to measure our performance against in areas of our life. I always want to explore who put these rules in place, how long they’ve been there, and whether they are helpful. Often we are not aware of where we got those rules from, whether they are even relevant now (if indeed they were in the first place) and why we use them.

Often I find that when we look at them we find they were rules given to us by our parents, or by what we believe is expected of us in whatever role we have (the pupil, the parent, the good worker, the husband, etc.) which we’ve learned from those around us, or by society in general.

Of course it’s rarely one single thing. We’re bombarded with information all our life and we are constantly being exposed to the expectations of others, whether we know recognise them or not. And there is nothing inherently wrong in looking at how we are doing and using that as a helpful guide to improving, or learning where we might be able to do things differently. After all it’s information. But what can happen is that we end up measuring ourselves against an impossible standard and where failure to meet it is interpreted as failing, of being a failure.

And that was what I was doing. I had set myself rules for my behaviour (and the behaviour of others) and when these weren’t met then I would have yet another example of how I was failing to get something ‘right’. Once these had been examined in the cold light of day I realised that not only were they not my rules, but that they were incredibly unhelpful.
And I learned a very helpful phrase, “Feedback, not failure”. It has never left me and I remind myself of it every day. In fact it’s on a post-it note above my desk.

Cognitive Hypnotherapy has many tools and approaches to help with sorting out whether the rules we are setting ourselves are helpful, useful and relevant. And it’s not about rules, it’s about approaches, gaining information and using it to help us to have the life we want.

So the next time you hear yourself say that you ‘should’ be something, ask yourself – are you judging yourself against rules that you’ll never meet?