The Royal Elf of No-Shoulds

Some of my Henschen ancestors, who clearly had higher standards than I do!

“Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?” –Julia Child

It’s time to rout some of those “shoulds” that have been running your life and exacerbating your depression.

Start paying attention to your thoughts. How many of them contain the word “should” or “shouldn’t”? Perhaps you are even now thinking, “Oh, boy, I should count all my ‘should’ thoughts. I should grab a legal pad and make a tick mark for each one. I should carry this notepad with me everywhere so that I can capture every thought I think that contains the word ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t.’”


You don’t have to keep track. You don’t have to write anything down. Just think of some. I don’t doubt that, if you’re at all like me, you have an inventory in your mind of hundreds to choose from. And that’s just the conscious “should” thoughts. Never mind the ones that fly under the radar, controlling us without our knowledge, making us dance like puppets on strings.

Here’s a “should” thought that’s been ping-ponging around my brain lately. As in many houses, my kitchen floor is surfaced with ceramic tiles, with quarter-inch grout between each one. I’ve lived here 5-1/2 years. Here’s what I’m thinking: “Man, that tile’s starting to look kinda grody. I really should get down on my hands and knees with a toothbrush and scrub all that tile and get it really clean. And while I’m at it, I should scrub the baseboards and the shoe moldings as well. It would look so much better!”

Well. You can guess what happens. Every time that “should” thought skitters through my mind, I groan at the very thought of all the effort involved, the time it will take, and the inevitable toll on my back and knees. Of course I don’t do it. Not only do I not scrub the floor with a toothbrush, I even avoid the usual scrubbing with a mop. And so the floor looks worse than ever.

The need to be/do/have perfect means that we’re never satisfied with good enough. That, my friends, is a surefire way to take a nosedive into paralyzing depression and stay there.


Try one of these simple exercises:

1)    Take control of your thoughts. Substitute the word “could” for “should” in whatever “should” thought is currently foremost in your mind, then give yourself a choice as to whether to do that thing or not. Examples:

a)     Original thought: I should scrub my kitchen floor with a toothbrush.
Depression-dodger thought: I could scrub my kitchen floor with a toothbrush, but honestly, the whole idea is simply ridiculous. I’ll just mop it the usual way. That’s good enough.

b)    Original thought: I should make homemade crafts for all of my friends for Christmas. I need to give them gifts and this is what I can afford.
Depression-dodger thought: I could make homemade craft projects for all of my friends for Christmas, but I feel that this blog is more important and I don’t have time to do both, and so I choose to call my friends for a cozy chat instead. They’ll be glad to hear from me, and I love talking with them.

c)     Original thought: I shouldn’t take afternoon naps. Successful people don’t take naps. I get hardly anything done and I don’t sleep well at night when I do that. Besides, people will think I’m lazy.
Depression-dodger thought: I could refrain from ever taking a nap again, but the fact is, some days I simply need one. It’s okay to take care of myself. I have learned the difference between actually needing a nap because things have been busy or stressful lately, or I haven’t been sleeping well; and wanting to avoid responsibility for something by retreating from it through a nap. When this latter happens, I can call someone on my support team and bookend something more productive instead. Besides, what other people think of me is none of my business.

2)    Get creative. Imagine that there is a Royal Elf of No-Shoulds. He stands outside the door of your favorite imaginary castle, his pointed ears perked at attention, reading from a parchment scroll. He has just decreed that all “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” are to be banished from the kingdom. This means that all lists of invisible standards are hereby banished as well, especially the 26 different kinds of Christmas cookies you thought you had to bake after you watched The Martha Stewart Show. In their place, only a question is allowed: “Does this potential choice empower me or does it worsen my depression?”

Take action accordingly, with the help of your support team. Better yet, don’t.

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.


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Filed under Depression Dodger, Making Tracks

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