Thursday, November 15, 2012

Breaking Free of Negativity: Part 2 – Should Statements

Breaking Free of Negativity Part 2 Should Statements

Image Citation

Pitfall – Should Statements

After the Korean War, Major William E. Mayer conducted a study of survivors from a Northern Korean prisoner of war camp in order to understand the psychological warfare employed. He found that the American prisoners were provided adequate shelter, food, water and clothing. They were not subjected to the physical torture that was reported in nearby camps. Nonetheless, these camps had an astounding death rate of 38%, which was the highest POW death rate in US history. (Rath and Clifton 7-9)

Lynn Johnston, a blogger on Small Steps to Big Change summarized the four-prong psychological warfare tactics implemented in this Northern Korea POW camp that caused many of these soldiers to loose the will to live. One of the demoralizing strategies included promoting self-criticism:

The North Koreans would gather a dozen POWs at a time and require each man to confess to the group a) all the bad things he had ever done and b) all the good things he could have done but failed to do.

Teaching the soldiers to focus on their failure to do good was integral in the psychological warfare’s ability to force the soldiers to completely surrender mentally and physically.

When we bombard ourselves with statements of “I should have done X” or “ I shouldn’t have done Y,” we are using psychological warfare on ourselves. Not cool!


Antidote: Reality Check

When you hear should statements in your head and feel your heart sink with guilt and disappointment, it’s time for a reality check. Try rephrasing your should statement with this formula:

1. It would be nice if…

2. But the reality is…

3. Therefore my most effective response could be…

The guilt laden statement, “I should look be thinner; I shouldn’t be so fat,” transforms to an acknowledgement of the current situation and possible options: 

It would be nice if I had a BMI of 21.   

Creative Commons

But the reality is I gained weight over the last few years because I was using food to relieve stress. 


Lust – For Chocolate Covered Strawberry
Anurag Yagnik

Therefore, my most effective response could be practicing healthier stress relieving techniques such as guided imagery, jogging, or playing the piano.


Lake – Meditation
  A Brand New Day
  A Brand New Day
Thomas Hawk
Day 37 - Playing piano
Day 37 – Playing Piano

Instead of feeling burdened with tasks, guilt, and procrastination, this strategy allows you to identify realistic choices to help you climb out of the pit of guilt. Should statements corner us, while choices allow us to see options and get out of the corner.

Do you regularly engage in should thinking? How does giving yourself a reality check free you from negativity?




Relaxation Resources:

Relaxation Guided Imagery –

Relaxation Techniques -



Works Cited

1. Johnston, Lynn. "Are You Using Psychological Warfare...on Yourself?" Small Steps to Big Change. N.p., 31 May 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2012. <>.

2. Rath, Tom, and Donald O. Clifton. "Chapter 1 Negativity Kills." How Full Is Your Bucket?: Positive Strategies for Work and Life. New York: Gallup, 2004. 7-9.


John said...

My parents would stop those statements whenever we said them. Dad would always say "Don't should yourself" which sounds like something else when spoken allowed. It makes a big difference in building a positive outlook.

John said...

Oops, I'm under John's name. Pretend that ID is geevz

Jocelyn said...

@Geevz: When I read your comment, I kept running through the list of John's that I know and I couldn't match the writing style with any of them. Thanks for solving the mystery, and thank you for your comment.

I love that your parents taught you to step away from should statements in a lighthearted manner.

Like pride, I find that I'm quite stellar at identifying should statements in others. Hmm. I should work on that...Wait! It would be nice if I could recognize the cognitive distortions in my own thinking just as well as I can in others. But the reality is that I've been thinking this way for a long time and change is a process. Therefore, my most effective response could be taking time to reflect on my feelings and keeping a journal.

With our LDS culture and desire to become like Christ, many of us find it easy to pile shoulds on ourselves. I'm pretty sure that's not the intent of the commandment to become like our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Miranda R said...

I've really been enjoying this series and can't wait for the final parts. My good friend use to say "Whose Should?" meaning that I/we need to establish parameters for getting out of that mind trap. Great reminder!