The other day, I “woulda, coulda, shoulda” all over myself.
It wasn’t good. It was very messy and tough to clean up.
I “shoulded” myself for not being more organized and detail-oriented. I didn’t notice that my book distributor had sent me ALL the pre-printed copies of my book, Stop Being A Doormat, instead of holding half for inventory for online sales.
So, I had to order more books. An expensive mistake.
The end of the world? No, but it was totally avoidable. I should have taken the time to count the books that were shipped to me the moment they arrived.
That “I woulda, coulda, shoulda” moment went down a destructive path mentally. The thoughts that followed were not nice (to me) or fair. Then, the emotional tsunami began with intense feelings of regret, guilt, and overwhelm all because I didn’t count some stinkin’ books in a box.
That’s when I realized I have a destructive thought pattern I need to correct: ASAP.
Let’s Break The Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda’s Down
When you say “woulda, coulda, shoulda…” or “If only I had…”, you feel regret and guilt over something you feel you should have done.
It can be for something as simple as not counting books, to missing out on an exciting opportunity. Often, these regrets are tied to unrealistic expectations of ourselves.
“I shoulda had the foresight to see the hellscape of 2020 coming.”
“I woulda finished that project yesterday if I had known we were going to be so busy today.”
“I coulda lost 5 pounds over the holidays if I hadn’t eaten 6 dozen delicious butter cookies.”
Generally, the “would, coulda, shoulda’s” are built on unrealistic expectations, unknown information, and missed opportunities. The regret and guilt that follow often take you down paths of overwhelming, destructive emotions, that get paired with excuses of why you didn’t do or know something.
Basically, we end up playing a mental game with yourself that you’re not going to win. The minute you go down that path, you are setting yourself up for failure because it is impossible to change the past. And the guilt that inevitably follows doubles-down on the that failure, overwhelms you and keeps you doing something constructive.
We Do This To Ourselves
The stress that comes from the “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s” is pressure that is self-created.
You have set an expectation or standard that is unrealistic. When you don’t meet that self-inflicted expectation, you get disappointed, mad, resentful… insert any negative emotion. Not only are you hurting yourself with the unrealistic expectation, but you also cause harm with all of the negative self-talk, stress, and emotion that follows.
Let me use myself as an example. Going back to the books that I didn’t count, I didn’t stop myself at saying, “you dummy. You should have counted those books.”
Oh, I kept going.
My negative thought process included beating myself up for not being organized or motivated enough to keep track of the shipment. Then, I got upset with myself for not having enough discipline to follow through, manage details, and moving too fast.
None of that is good. And those aren’t realistic expectations of myself because I know that I am not a detail kind of person. Trying to change that about myself without a plan is a futile effort. Same goes for the discipline and the lack of organization.
My reaction was also over the top. It wasn’t worth the 10-15 minutes worth of shaming myself.
I literally should have cut myself off at my initial thought when I realized what happened: “Crap. I forgot.” And moved on to my next task.
“Shoulding” Is About Other People, Too
Unfortunately, most of us have Comparisonitis. We compare ourselves to other people, what they are doing. Then, we create an unrealistic expectation or standard for ourselves.
We see what other people have or are doing and think we “should” have or being doing those things too.
Should we, though?
My answer is no.
Deep down inside, you agree, but still you can’t help yourself. Sometimes, I can’t help myself. Seeing the vacation pictures, the new clothes, the job promotions is all so motivating to be something you aren’t. So you create that unrealistic expectation for yourself that you are going to go an equally envious vacation you can’t afford, or take the wrong job just because it offers more money.
Do you see where I am going with this?
The “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s” are not only about regretting something you didn’t do, but they lead you to make regrettable choices that don’t allow you to be yourself and appreciate yourself.
What I’m Doing To Get Rid of My Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda’s
There are several solutions to this woulda, coulda, shoulda game. The three I am focusing on for myself include:
- Appreciating my true, natural talents and strengths. I am who I am. I also know, thanks to CliftonStrengths, what talents are going to lead me to success. So, I’m going to stay focused on improving those.
- Managing my expectations. When I am aware of an unrealistic expectation of myself – and I’ll know because it feels unnatural or impossible – to reimagine the situation on a scale that works for me. My outcome will be different anyway because… I’m me.
- Cut off the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s in their tracks because it only leads to a negative, destructive path of thoughts. I need to stop, breathe, and allow myself some grace to make mistakes.
For more information on dealing with burnout, overwhelm, or stress, check out my YouTube Channel.
Learn how creating boundaries will help you find the time to relax in my book, Stop Being A Doormat.