Are You "Shoulding" on Yourself?

Are You “Shoulding” on Yourself?

A week or so ago, I went running one morning after we had experienced stormy weather the evening before, and I encountered a couple of downed trees across the trail that I usually take.  While I could high step over the trunk of the first tree in order to get past, the second tree, which was larger, presented more of an obstacle: I had to duck under the trunk and sidle through an opening in the branches to continue along my way.  On my return trip – I had run up the trail a couple of miles, and then doubled-back – there was a work crew on the scene of the larger fallen tree, starting the process of sawing it into smaller pieces for removal from the trail.  One worker was standing in the opening that I had passed through previously; he was sawing off branches.  As I approached, another worker spotted me, and caught her colleague’s attention; the worker with the saw looked up, noticed me, turned off the saw, and stepped to the side to let me pass.  As I ducked under the trunk, once again, and slid past this worker with the saw, he made a declaration that I imagine — in hindsight — he might have been instructed to utter to anyone: “You’re proceeding at your own risk!”  Feeling a bit nervous, I’m guessing, in response to his warning (or disclaimer), I reacted by trying to be funny.  I replied, “I came this way.  I’ve got to go back this way!”  The other worker and I both laughed.

As I continued my run, I found myself reflecting on what I had said to the worker with the saw, and was struck by how inaccurate my statement had been.  Had I not been able to return the way that I had come up the trail, I was certain that I could have found an alternate, if less straightforward, route to take.  I would have had to backtrack my steps a bit, but there were, in fact, other places to get on and off the trail through neighborhoods that connected to streets I could follow back home.  The way would have been more winding, and I would have experienced it — at least initially — as frustratingly more inconvenient, but I would have ended up at my house all the same.  I might even have found something to appreciate and enjoy in the process!  I did not have to go back the way I came.

In my work as a therapist and a coach, I frequently hear people talk about feeling stymied when the path that they expected to take doesn’t pan out; because they have in their heads that they have to take a certain route to get where they want to go, they feel stumped and discouraged when plans don’t go as they “should,” when they encounter obstacles that they just can’t seem to get past.  They end up feeling stuck.  I have had the experience myself – when writing, as just one kind of example.  How many times have I worked myself into a state of frustrated paralysis because I’m struggling with the introduction or initial paragraph of whatever I’m writing, whether it is an article, a blog post, or a short story, until I stop to think, “Who says that I need to write the introduction (or the initial paragraph) first?”  Once I remember what my goal really is – to write a blog post, let’s say — and not to write a blog post in a particular order (the order in which I write the post is ultimately inconsequential), I am able to get myself unstuck, and moving again in the direction that I want to go.  In these kinds of situations, the block that I experience is a product of my own thinking about how I “should” do whatever it is that I want to do, how I’m telling myself that things are “supposed” to happen.  I fall into the trap of thinking that there is a certain way, even just one way, to meet the goal that I have for myself.

What are the ways in which you find yourself stuck by this kind of “shoulding” on yourself?  What helps you get yourself unstuck, and moving forward again?

Image credit: pinkarmy25 / 123RF Stock Photo


SBKcroppedAbout Scott Burns Kahler, MA, LMFT, CPC, ELI-MP

Scott is a psychotherapist, personal development coach, and the founder of Thought Tonic.  He dedicates his work to those who identify themselves as struggling with anxious thinking, and often their self-esteem, to help them experience their lives with greater calm and confidence.

When he’s not running, writing, or thinking about his experiences of running and writing, Scott maintains a counseling practice in Indianapolis, Indiana, and does coaching in-person, over the telephone, and by Skype.

You can follow Scott and the Thought Tonic blog  via e-mail, Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or RSS feed.  Questions?  Contact Scott.


Image credit: bondsza / 123RF Stock Photo

Moving Forward by Breaking Down

As some of you know, I have started a new, healthy habit in the weeks since mid-July — running. In my last post, I mentioned that I had a goal of running five miles each day for four days a week by the end of October.  Today, I’m excited to announce that I met this goal last week — yes, during the final full week of September, a full month ahead of schedule!

As I celebrated last week, I found myself reflecting once again on the thoughts that had supported me in achieving what I had set out, and wanted, to accomplish.  I determined that one particular idea had been instrumental in the process.  I decided to call this idea, “Moving Forward by Breaking Down” — not in the sense of breaking down psychologically, but in the sense of breaking down my goal.  I was reminded of the joke that asks, “How do you eat an elephant?”  If you haven’t heard the answer before, it is, “One bite at a time!”

You see, as I was adding an extra mile to my route over the course of the previous weeks, I engaged in a certain kind of self-talk whenever I was feeling the strain of the increased distance.  I noticed saying to myself, “Get as far as that bend up ahead!” and then, “That big tree, with the branch hanging over the trail, is not much farther!” and so on — until I reached the five-mile mark, and could begin my cool-down.  I was breaking down the extra mile into shorter sections that I could define by visual targets, and finish one at a time.  I celebrated each “milestone” that I met with an internal attaboy, then, and used my success in reaching that point to propel me forward, toward the next.

The result was being able to get through that fifth mile even on days that I was really feeling the extra distance and time on the trail, and I’m betting that I can put this principle to use in other circumstances, too.  I think of the writing that I like to do, for example – on posts for this very blog – and how overwhelmed I can start to feel when I’m focusing on the whole of my goal, and have lost track of the goal’s constituent parts.  I’m now remembering what Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995), recalls her father saying to her older brother, who, at ten-years-old, was paralyzed by the prospect of writing a report on birds: “‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird (19).’”  Whether we’re talking about bird reports or blog posts, miles or elephants, breaking down our goals into smaller, more manageable-feeling pieces can be one way to help ourselves move forward, and to achieve what we want to accomplish.

When have you broken down a goal into smaller steps to help yourself accomplish what you wanted to achieve?  What other thoughts supported you along the way?

Please note that no elephants were actually eaten, or otherwise harmed, in the writing of this post!

Image credit: bondsza / 123RF Stock Photo


Scott Burns KahlerAbout Scott Burns Kahler, MA, LMFT, CPC, ELI-MP

Scott is a psychotherapist, personal development coach, and the founder of Thought Tonic.  He dedicates his work to those who identify themselves as struggling with anxious thinking, and often their self-esteem, to help them experience their lives with greater calm and confidence.

When he’s not running, writing, tracking elephants, or bird-watching, Scott maintains a counseling practice in Indianapolis, Indiana, and does coaching in-person, over the telephone, and by Skype.

You can follow Scott and the Thought Tonic blog  via e-mail, Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or RSS feed.  Questions?  Contact Scott.


Image credit: fleyeing / 123RF Stock Photo

Angels with One Wing

I have recently become involved in a meditation group on Google+, Wildmind, in which members are currently making their way through a book of mindfulness practices, How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness, by Jan Chozen Bays.  A few weeks ago, our exercise was to use our non-dominant hand for some of the ordinary tasks that we do each day.

One evening, as I was eating dinner – spaghetti – with my non-dominant hand, I found myself using my dominant hand to push the short strands of pasta that would not twirl in the tines of my fork onto my fork.  There are a number of ways that I could have thought about this observation, and what I said to myself was, “You know, I do this the other way round as well!”  I took the experience as a reminder, then, that whether we are trying something new or doing something that we have done a thousand times before, the support of a helping hand can make a welcome difference in the experience for us.

Who, in your life, provides you with support as you challenge yourself to think in new ways, to experiment with “thought tonic” — perspectives that fuel you with positive, anabolic energy, and so ease your anxious thinking, boost your confidence?  Certain kinds of relationships and conversations make a difference!  If you would like more support, whom might you ask — a friend, family member, romantic partner, spiritual mentor, counselor, coach, or some combination?  Who are people to whom you might offer a helping hand?

“We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.” – Luciano de Crescenzo


Scott Burns KahlerFor more reflections on anxious thinking, and ways in which we can respond for a greater sense of calm and confidence, see other Thought Tonic posts by Scott Burns Kahler, MA, LMFT, CPC, ELI-MP; you can follow this blog via e-mail, Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or RSS feed.

Change Ahead

New Function, New Name, New Look — Same Great Content!

If you have been following my blog, you will notice a number of changes to it in the coming days. In today’s post, I am going to describe and explain the main differences that you will see — in name, look, and function.  I want to try to avoid at least some of the possible confusion that could result from these changes otherwise!

I have decided to use this blog as the front page for a new WordPress Website for my counseling and coaching practices.  As a result, my blog will get a new name — and a brand new look!  You will also notice new pages attached to this blog — pages about the services that I offer, and pages with new information and links to new resources that will complement my posts.

The new name that I have chosen is a response to an evolution in my thinking since I set up the blog and began to publish posts — a growing understanding, I hope I can say, about what draws readers to the blog, and what they find most helpful about it.  I want this blog to have benefit for people!  Originally, I called my blog, “Social Anxiety, Shyness, and Performance Fears,” in a very straightforward reference to some the categories of experience with which I often work in my counseling and coaching practices.  As I have been writing posts, I have found myself enjoying a focus on the kinds of thinking that we can talk about as fueling all sorts of anxious experiences, including those associated with social situations, and exploring ways in which we can respond to such thinking in order to foster different experiences for ourselves.  The idea came to me that what I would like to offer through this blog, and what readers seem to be looking for when they come to it, could be called “thought tonic.”  When I say “tonic,” I refer to something that invigorates, strengthens, restores — or otherwise promotes and supports — our sense of well-being.  What I hope to provide in this blog are thoughts that help us calm our nerves and soothe our self-doubts, thoughts that help us increase our feelings of well-being in terms of emotional balance, self-confidence, and more.  With these notions in mind, I have decided to give my blog the new name of “Thought Tonic.”

I hope that you will enjoy the changes — in function, name, and look — that I will be making to this blog over the next several days.  I also hope that, over the coming weeks and months, you will continue to enjoy the same kind and quality of content that brought you to the blog in the first place.  Please feel free to leave a comment (or to contact me through the custom form that will be coming soon); I welcome your suggestions for content, as well as your ideas about what other features could make this Website a helpful resource for you.  I would love to hear from you!

Thank you for reading!

Sincerely,

Scott

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