The 365 Commitment

The Ought and the Should

Early this morning, I read an research paper published by Tony Higgins in 1987.  This paper was on “self-discrepancy.” Essentially, he proposed that humans have three basic views of themselves. The view of who they actually are, the view of who they “ought” to be and the view of who they ideally “should” be.  If there really is three distinct categories is up to some debate, but the concept is interesting to explore.

I think everyone does have a real sense of who they actually are. They may not admit that to others, but they probably really do understand who they actually are. They may not want to admit it, or try to hide it, but generally we know who we are. What is complicated is that gets confused often by who we think we “ought” to be and who we “should” be. This is where we produce feelings of anxiety and discouragement.

What was interesting about this research is that there was a clear distinction on what are of our view of self generates specific feelings. It seems rather obvious, but Social Anxiety is usually created from the view of who we “ought” to be. We have a view of what is expected of us by others. That is what creates the most anxiety. When we feel discouragement that leads to depression. This research indicates that occurs mostly when we have a discrepancy between who we actually are and who we feel we “should” be.

This research, and most research in this same area, always has similar conclusions. This is probably the key takeaway. If you want to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression then you need to bring your view of what you “ought” and “should” closer to who you actually are. That can be done in two major ways. First – by actually improving yourself. That is a big one. The second is to change what you view you “ought” or “should” be. That is actually harder, because it is not always in your control.

Guy Reams

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