How the “should have’s” keep you stuck and suffering

May 26, 2023

The “should have’s” of life after loss play like a broken record in the minds of those left behind. It sounds like:

  • I should have been able to save him.
  • I should have known she needed help.
  • I should have made him go to the doctor.
  • I should have apologized to her.
  • I should have been a better spouse.
  • I should have spent more time with him.
  • I should have never sold the house.

The “should’s” are many, and they are paralyzing, because they withhold permission.

Saddled with “should’s,” you can’t permission yourself to be happy, to experience joy, or to truly live again.

The more we believe the “should’s,” the more we live a life sentence in a prison of our own creation.

I get it. My brain offered plenty of “should’s,” including, “I should be miserable, because he died.”

But I eventually set myself free and I hope you will, too.

  1. Write down the “should” thoughts your brain is offering you.
  2. Note which ones are factual, i.e., provable in a court of law.
  3. The rest are thoughts. How does each thought make you feel?
  4. Thoughts are optional, and the thought your brain is currently offering you is only one option. Ask yourself what else is true. What other thoughts can you think that make you feel less terrible? These are called intentional thoughts.
  5. Direct your brain to think your intentional thoughts, on purpose, regularly. Think them proactively, say, when you’re brushing your teeth. And also, when your brain offers you the “should have” thoughts, change the channel and think your intentional thoughts instead.

Notice how much time you spend thinking “should have” thoughts versus intentional thoughts. Try to give at least equal “airtime” to each.

The more you think intentional thoughts, the more natural they become and the more you’ll believe in their truth. In the spirit of efficiency, the brain will offer fewer “should have” thoughts.

Time, in and of itself, does not heal. Intentionality does.

And this is just one example of the intentionality we practice inside of Life Reconstructed, my coaching program exclusively for widowed people. In fact, the doors close Wednesday, May 31st for the three-month Life Reconstructed small group coaching program that begins in early June.

Join us and make this a summer of healing and growth.

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