Let Go of a Timeline and Create Your Own Path

By: Kamaljit "Sonya" Virdi, Ph.D. | January 14, 2022

From the time we are born, our developmental milestones are closely monitored, from walking to talking to our social behavior. In school we are compared to a cohort of kids of similar age until we graduate high school. We are primed to live by a timeline, to plan, and to compare ourselves to others. While some plans help us create structure and momentum, others create undue stress because most people realize that at some point life doesn’t go according to plan. If you have ever had these thoughts, you know what I mean:

“I should graduate college by 22 to keep up with everyone else.”

“I should meet a romantic partner as soon as possible, so I can get married before 30.”

“I should get a promotion from my job this year to prove I’m successful to my family.”

“I should buy a home or have a child soon because all my friends have them already.”

These are a few examples of the ways in which we are limiting ourselves with “should” statements. They trick us into believing that there is only one path to success when in fact there are many other potential unexplored paths. The “shoulds” also trick us into believing that we are ready for the next goal post when that may not be the case. For example, getting married too early might mean financial strain or emotional heartache if we aren’t mature enough to handle it.

Tips to help you slow down and reevaluate your goals:

1. Get Rid of the “Shoulds”

Reframe should statements into could statements. This exercise will remind you that you have a choice in deciding what you want to do rather than what you think society wants you to.

2. Take Time to Reflect

Take short periods of time weekly or monthly to reflect on how you are feeling and what is important to you. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How does it feel trying to reach this goal?
  • Does your goal make sense for where you are right now?
  • What would you be doing if you were less focused on this goal?
  • What are those things that you have always wanted to do?

By asking yourself these questions, you may start to understand yourself better and what’s important to you.

3. Practice Gratitude

Create time to write a few things that you are grateful for each day. When you focus more on what you have rather than what you don’t, you may feel better. In fact, gratitude has been routinely linked to increased happiness.

4. Refrain from Social Comparison

Recognize that other people’s success is not about you personally. Remember their success is not your failure. Allow yourself an opportunity to be happy for others. This is especially important when you care about the person doing well. As you practice this regularly, you may feel happier for others more readily and it may also take pressure off yourself.

5. Limit Social Media

Pay attention to your mood when you are on social media. If you routinely feel inferior or negative after seeing others’ posts or find yourself engaging too much in social comparison with others, then limit your social media consumption.

If you find yourself overwhelmed and anxious by “should” statements to the point that it impacts your daily life, then you may benefit from working with a psychologist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In this type of treatment, you can learn more about restructuring your unhelpful thoughts to better manage your life.

I hope these tips help you become more intentional with your goals and help you create new possibilities in the new year and beyond!



Photo by Jordan Ladikos on Unsplash

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