Saturday, June 5, 2021

Shifting from Should to Want

You'd think that you'd know your own thoughts better than anyone else, right? You are your own constant companion, the audience to and performer of everything that happens in your brain. But, at least for me, two things tend to get in the way of knowing myself:

1) Depression
2) Being too close to the situation

The more I learn about my depression and my own thought patterns through individual and group therapy and mental wellness seminars, the more perspective I gain. Hearing others' experiences and listening to a wide variety of advice and science about the way that brains work is helpful beyond measure.

So, earlier this week, as I was going through my usual thought pattern, trying to motivate myself to write, I recognized something about myself and my thoughts:

For me, the word "should" carries a burden of guilt and triggers negative thought patterns that transform into a block.

When I say to myself, "I should be writing," I start to feel guilt that I'm not writing. I start to think about a hundred other things I should do. I add mental weight to this act of creativity that usually sparks joy. I ask myself why I'm not writing more. I use the time I could be writing arguing with myself about whether or not it's okay that I'm not writing more. I find myself doing anything but writing, and maybe even spiraling over a cliff's edge into an identity crisis about whether or not I'm even a writer if I'm not writing.

Not fun.

So, what happens when I replace that "should" with a new word: "want"?

"I want to write," I say to myself.

My brain gives a longing sigh. Yes, yes, I do want this, very much, my brain confirms.

My conscious thoughts start to curl up around all the things I enjoy about writing like a big comforting hug. My desire to write grows. My motivation increases. Instead of building up barriers, I open doors. Even if I don't have the time, or there are other things that need doing first--like the dishes--I haven't added barriers or sent myself spiraling down a rabbit hole.


This little brain hack is working for me as I tackle even less-desirable things, like chores around the house. When I say, "I want to do the dishes," to myself, I affirm that, yes, I want to eat off of clean dishes with clean eating utensils. I don't want dirty dishes to attract pests. I want a kitchen where I enjoy spending time and cooking.

And, yeah, that means getting the work done, and the work itself isn't any easier or more enjoyable, but I haven't made it harder for myself, either.

Really, that's what this little brain hack comes down to: Is there a word or phrase that has become a bludgeon you use to try to motivate yourself, but these days it's all bludgeon and no motivation?

Can you think of a way to address yourself more kindly, to put that bludgeon away and give yourself a hand instead?

Tiny hinges allow massive doors to pivot open. Tiny shifts in words and thought patterns can open up new opportunities in your mind.

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