Do You Like Being Told What to Do?

Many of us seek guidance in our every day lives. While we would sometimes prefer that tough decisions be made for us by others, few of us ever enjoy being told what to do.

Take a moment and think about the last time somebody told you what you should do.

  • “You should do more around the house.”
  • “You should go to the gym.”
  • “You should be more organized.”

Do you remember how you responded?

There may be some truth in these kinds of “should” statements. We might even agree with them! And yet, it generally doesn’t feel very good to hear them from someone else. Being told what we should do can leave us feeling more judged and rebellious, and less motivated to make change.

And yet, how often do we say these sorts of things to ourselves? How often do we tell ourselves what we should be doing, and then feel confused and frustrated about why we aren’t doing it?

When we tell ourselves we should do something and then don’t, we feel guilty and ashamed. Guilt and shame are, not surprisingly, poor motivators.

So…is it possible to make change without feeling like we are telling ourselves what to do?

Here is one process that can help:

  1. Spend a few minutes or a few days tracking how many times you tell yourself you “should” do something. You might want to jot your thoughts down on paper or on your phone.
  2. Choose one of your “should” thoughts (e.g., “I should be more organized”) to start.
  3. Reword the thought in the following way: I would like to _______________ (e.g., “I would like to be more organized”).
  4. Check in with yourself to see if this reworded thought is accurate. Would you really like to become more organized? Or is it something you want to want? Is it something somebody else wants for you?
  5. If you were you achieve this goal, how would your life be different?
    • What might you gain?
    • What might you lose
  6. What are the barriers getting in the way of what you would like to be doing?

As you begin to identify, re-frame, and break down your “should” thoughts, you will gain clarity on the choices you are making that help or hinder what you would like to accomplish. The more clear you become on what you are choosing rather than getting stuck in what you should be choosing, the more you will pave the way to change.

Learning to make changes in our lives without feeling like we are telling ourselves what to do can be a challenging process. Ultimately, there is no should…there is only choice.

Self-Compassion: Learning to be gentle with yourself 

“In school we learn that mistakes are bad, and we are punished for making them. Yet, if you look at the way humans are designed to learn, we learn by making mistakes. We learn to walk by falling down. If we never fell down, we would never walk.”
Robert Kiyosaki

  •  “Why did I do that?”
  • “I’m so stupid!”
  • “I should have known better!”

Maybe these are things you’ve said to yourself or heard friends say to themselves. Often these thoughts feel like truths and we punish ourselves accordingly; but these thoughts generally come from a part of ourselves that is feeling scared and vulnerable and may be an attempt to protect ourselves.  While we tell ourselves that these thoughts help us to try harder, more commonly they erode our confidence and make us scared of taking chances and making mistakes; yet as the quote at the beginning says, mistakes are necessary for learning and growing.

So how to help soothe and transform these judging, scared parts so we have more room to learn and grow?

One way to start is to rephrase these thoughts using language such as A part of me…. E.g. A part of me is feeling anxious. This thought is not all you are, but simply one part of you.


Sit or lay down comfortably, place a hand on your stomach and take a few deep breaths so you can feel your stomach press into your hand. Let yourself settle. Think of a common judging thought you have towards yourself. (E.g. I’m so stupid!) Repeat it to yourself a few times. Take a moment to notice any changes to your body. Are you noticing any tension? Are there any thoughts or emotions that are coming to your attention? How familiar are these sensations? How comfortable are you staying with these sensations?

Now instead of letting this thought take over or trying to push away the thought, try rephrasing it. E.g. A part of me is feeling stupid.. Let your attention move back to your breathing as you repeat your rephrased thought to yourself. Again take a moment to notice any changes to your body. Are you noticing any variation in tension? Are there any thoughts or emotions that are coming to your attention?

Sometimes it can help to write down some of your more common thoughts and then rephrase them and read them back to yourself. Practicing self-compassion techniques can help to manage stress, anxiety, negative perfectionism, low self-esteem, and depression.