Think Feel ACT…"Write your own story"

Impossible expectations and other “shoulds”

Impossible expectations

Do you ever set yourself up with impossible expectations? Probably most of us do at times. I certainly do.

Here’s some typical examples: I “should” be expert at something the first time I try it. Once I’ve learned a new skill I “should” never slip back into old habits. I “should” always know the right thing to say. I “should” never misjudge a situation or say something wrong.

And these are just the expectations we set up for ourselves. What about expectations we set up for others and the world in general.

Things “should” go the way I want. Other people “should” respect me and consider MY feelings at all times. Our partners and families, our friends and colleagues, our boss, our doctor, the postman, the system, the government, the world, and God “should” all do things just the way want it. “Should”, “should”, “should”.

The problem with “shoulds”

 "Shoulds" constrict things so they are bound to fail.

“Shoulds” constrict things so they are bound to fail. (Photo: L. Lowinger)

These “shoulds” and impossible expectations come from a distorted view of the way we think that we, the world, other people “should” be.

Somehow we think that our way of seeing the world is in fact objective reality. We think things “should” be the way we want because its the only way it can be.

When we construct our world of “shoulds” like this, we lose sight of seeing  ourselves, the world and other people the way they really are.

“Shoulds” constrict things into such a narrow space that they are bound to fail.

The problem with a world made of “shoulds” is there is no celebration of progress or improvements. 99% might as well be 0% because they are both equally not 100%. There is no allowance for mistakes, misunderstandings or slip ups. Perfect performance achieved once (even by accident) must always be achieved.

It is a world where happiness is fleeting, if not impossible.  Hitting the golden mark is just so impossibly hard and may happen just once in a lifetime, if ever. Ultimately a world of “shoulds” is a world of limitation, a world without hope and a world born of a seed of arrogance.

How can we really know that what we think “should” happen is the best thing to happen, or the only way it could happen? If we rely on ourselves we are limited by our intellect and our imaginations. Were it really up to us, our lives and the people in our lives would be impossibly restricted, almost suffocating.

Think about it for a moment…what happens in a given situation when I think one thing “should” happen, and you think another thing “should” happen? We simply can’t both be right. It’s categorically impossible.

Letting go of “shoulds”

The only way to resolve this is to release ourselves of the need to control the world…and accept on ourselves that there is a higher truth, larger than us all, and to submit ourselves to that. This allows for the seeds of humility, respect and compassion to enter our world. This allows for hope, wonder and joy to enter our world.

As we let go of “shoulds” we place on ourselves and others, we will find a gentler kinder approach that will lead to enhanced performance, better than we ever thought possible.

How many good and wonderful things in our lives have come about in ways we could never had dreamt about? How many opportunities would come our way if we could let ourselves recognise them? How many new things could we try if we gave ourselves permission to let go of our “shoulds”?

Letting go of “shoulds” opens up a rich world of imagination, possibility and hope. We will inevitably be nicer and kinder to ourselves, nicer and kinder to others. Letting go of our “shoulds” can free us up to take a more experimental approach to life and free us up to explore the real causes of mistakes, explore all our options, and experiment with different solutions.

So we really haven’t got anything to lose.

Think for a moment what “shoulds” are holding you back. Can you give yourself permission to let them go? What opportunities are lying in wait for you to simply open your eyes?


  1. Helena

    A thought-provoking post!

    ‘Shoulds’ that are impossible to achieve, or based on the standards or expectations of others, are indeed counterproductive. But I think we should (pardon me!) be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Some ‘shoulds’ can be good.

    Let me give you an example. This morning I fought the urge not not to top-up the shopping with a trip to Coles, not to cook dinner during my study break, to leave the washing in the machine for later… But I realised I actually should do these things, and I did. And guess what, I’ve had a much more productive day as a result!

    ‘Shoulds’ can be the kick up the backside we need to get stuff done, or even a source of aspiration that can lead us to actively pursue life’s higher achievements – as long as we are honest with ourselves about the motives behind these goals and desires.

    Now I have to go – I really should go and wash those dishes!!!

  2. Ivan

    Hmm, it is just that “letting go” could become an excuse for letting go.

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