Monday, 7 January 2013


Some not only wish that life were as they would want it to be but insist it should be so. This fanciful way of thinking projects a world where everything is as it ‘oughta be.’ Do you ought should or must on yourself, others and the world?

  • Must you always meet your own lofty expectations of yourself?
  • Must others always treat you as you would like to be treated?
  • Must life in general always deliver what you want?

This form of oughtism manifests in all manner of ailments that get in the way of achieving our goals.

For instance ‘should’ that driver have let you in back there and is he an idiot for not being as attentive as he could (should?) have been?

Are you a hopeless case for getting a C minus in your assignment instead of the A you ‘should’ have got?

Should life be easy for you and deliver to you all that you want to be happy? Isn’t it so unfair when things don’t go your way?

These constructed oughtistic beliefs deny us the ability to deal with challenges appropriately. For instance if we think the driver above should have let you in and he is an idiot for not doing so we may feel angrier than we need be. We may also act aggressively and make poor behavioural choices. Is he making you mad or is your anger a result of your demand that he should have acted more courteously?

Ever said to your child you make me so mad! Is she so powerful that she can determine how strong you feel? Is she responsible for causing your feelings and behaviour? ‘She made me mad and I slapped her. It’s her fault!’ 

Is it reasonable to think that as adults we are now able to assume responsibility of our own emotions and behaviour? Is it not better for our children to observe us dealing with situations in a constructive way so that they won’t develop these self (and other) destructive oughtistic tendencies?

  • Train yourself to monitor how you react emotionally to a situation; identify how you feel and         how strong that feeling is. Do you feel mad (say 7 or more out of 10)?
  • Are you about to rant and throw stuff?
  •  Ask yourself ‘Am I in control?’
  •   Take some deep breaths and remove yourself from the situation.
  •   What are you demanding of the situation that you can’t reasonably expect? E.g. ‘that driver should have let me in back there. Idiot. He makes me mad!’
  •     Replace ‘should’ with ‘prefer’ – I’d prefer he’d let me in but he didn’t and I can handle this. His behaviour was bad but that doesn’t make him an idiot.’ 
You will notice that anger gives way to annoyance and disappointment and you remain in control. Your four year old in her seat behind you well notice how well you manage yourself and she will learn some useful rules like:

  •    I can stay cool in tough situations
  •    I don’t expect that things should/must always go my way
  •    I can control how I feel (and act)
  •    I can deal with problems without making small problems into bigger ones

She will learn that sometimes things happen that we don’t like but we don’t turn minor problems into catastrophes i.e. We prefer people were more courteous on the road (sometimes they make mistakes).

We are oughting when we think/say:

  •      I can't stand this/it! (This shouldn’t happen)
  •      I/you failed. Idiot! (I/you shouldn’t fail)
  •      It’s not fair! (Life should always be fair)
  •     You make me mad! (You shouldn’t do that)
  •     I’m hopeless (I shouldn’t make mistakes)

Should I?

I know I can't expect
And I won't
That others should do
When they don't.

I will instead
Accept others
And agree
That everyone else
May think (and act) differently
To me!

Oughtism: The oughtomatic tendency to think in oughts, shoulds and musts.

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