This is our fourth post in the anxiety series by Mark de Teliga – one of L&L’s coaches and a practicing psychologist and psychotherapist.

In this series, Mark will provide you with direction, tips and tools to help get you through the silly season and even help your productivity at work too. Today we look at a technique you can use every day – just by being more aware of the way you express your thoughts.

Today I want to introduce the idea that personal preference is an important part of long-term anxiety relief. I am constantly surprised by what individual clients report are their favourites of the dozens of techniques we cover during therapy. What’s one person’s favorite, another person might find silly or unhelpful. I’m constantly surprised by who likes what!

Here’s a cognitive therapy technique that some people find extremely helpful and other people feel lukewarm about. For me personally, I use this one occasionally.

Catching “Should Thoughts”

“Should thoughts” are any thought that contains “should” or “shouldn’t.”


“I should always say yes when someone asks me to do something.”

“I shouldn’t ever break a commitment.”

“I should always get top marks.”

“My partner should always do what I want.”

Tips for spotting should thoughts:

– should thoughts can be about what you should/shouldn’t do/think/feel or what other people should/shouldn’t do/think/feel.

– The most problematic should thoughts are often also all-or nothing thoughts. You can usually spot these by the presence of “always” or “never” in the thoughts.

– Should thoughts can be implicit assumptions rather than thoughts you’re aware of thinking.

Modifying “Should Thoughts”

The goals of modifying your should thoughts are

(a) to develop mindful awareness that your thoughts are just thoughts and not necessarily facts.

(b) defuse the intensity of your should thoughts.

(c) get increased psychological distance from your thoughts.

To do this, try replacing the word should with “could” or “prefer.” Use whichever fits best.


“I would prefer my partner did everything I want.”

“I could always say yes whenever someone asks me to do something.”

“I would prefer to always get top marks.”

Your turn.

Identify and modify one of your should thoughts. You don’t need to 100% believe the modified thought. You’re just entertaining the idea of an alternative perspective.

Mark de Teliga is a practicing Psychologist & Psychotherapist as well as a mentor for Legends & Leaders in the Agency/Account Management module. Introduction by Adrianne Nixon, Founder of Legends & Leaders.

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