The peril of telling yourself I “have to” or “should” – how to break the cycle

How often do you catch yourself saying I “have to” or “I should do” this or that? You may not even be aware of how much you repeat this to yourself each day. Yet, telling yourself “I have to” or “I should” can be perilous to your mental and physical health.

When we have an opportunity to fill our spare time (yes, I can hear you laughing), the decisions we make based on what we are telling ourselves, may not be in our best interest. This is particularly true when we are recovering from loss. Living with a disability. Or, when we are trying valiantly to meet our own high standards or the expectations of others. The stress can be enormous!

We all put pressure on ourselves

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I became intensely aware a few years ago of how much pressure I was putting on myself to do more than I could or wanted to based solely on what I was telling myself. All day long! We all pressure ourselves to do things we’d rather not because of how ingrained the “I have to” and “I should” mindset is within us.

It wasn’t until I began working with a cognitive therapist, who pointed out to me how many times I started my sentences with “I have to” or “I should” in one therapy session alone, that I began to realize the toll that making these types of choices had taken on my mental and physical health. I ended up on a work disability.

At the time, I was working four days a week at my then job. I also had a part-time business. I was spending the remaining three days trying to recover from all the pressure. This lightbulb moment helped me understand the mental and physical stress of doing things I thought I had to or should do, versus the relief I felt making choices based on what I really wanted to do. The latter choices that were always better for my overall well-being.

Granted, while I was learning all this when I wasn’t rushing out the door to commute to work and had fewer obligations, the lessons remained with me . Today, I value knowing the difference between making choices based on what I want to do versus what I think I “have to” or “should be doing”. This has brought me the balance I believe we all need to survive this fast-paced world. Which is why I’m sharing.

Calm vs crazy

Photo by Ken Cheung on Unsplash

We all have numerous obligations to manage every day. And, for those of us accustomed to packing our days scurrying from one task to the next, it can feel uncomfortable to settle into just a few moments of calm amidst all the crazy. But, it is these moments of calm that give us the opportunity to think about what we really want to be doing, rather than only reacting to what we think we have to or should be doing. Whether this applies to a single moment during the day or thinking longer-term about the future, knowing this difference teaches us to make wiser choices. Choices that are always far better for our mental and physical health.


Introspection helps us become keenly aware about what we are telling ourselves all day long. And, this is really important to be aware of for those of us who have to bounce back into a world that is no longer as easy to manage as it once was. This may because we are recovering from loss or trying to overcome other obstacles.

Reduce the negative effects

Even when we are just trying to reduce stress trying to manage a hectic routine, we can still reduce the negative effects on our health by remembering why we’ve taken on our obligations in the first place. Why we chose to have our family. Why we are working hard to pay the mortgage or are caring for our elderly parents. Or planted that massive garden and got the puppy. Volunteered our services or are helping someone in need. We agreed to live on one income or started a business. All of these and more are the things that cause everyone enormous stress.

Nothing lasts forever

Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash

It is important to remember that nothing lasts forever. We all go through phases and chapters in our life. For those really lucky, nothing super bad happens. Kids grow up. We change jobs. Become entrepreneurs. Retire and downsize. Move. Parents pass away. Again, all stressors.

Remembering, we wanted all of what we’ve taken on will help us develop a deeper appreciation for all that we are responsible for. Which may be for our benefit or because of our love for others. It can alleviate much of the pressure we feel carrying out our daily tasks. Much the same as when we have the freedom to make choices based on what we’d rather be doing versus feel we have to and should be doing each day.



My latest book:

To check out my other books and services:

Feature Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash;