We all do it. I did it this morning. In fact, I did it 5 minutes ago. I burdened and shamed myself with a “should”. “I should write a blog”, “I should exercise more”, “I shouldn’t eat that chocolate biscuit”. All the ‘shoulding’ isn’t actually very helpful and can in fact be damaging. And ‘shoulding’ other people is just as counterproductive. How does being told that you ‘should’ do something make you feel? I have stubborn tendencies so it just makes me want to dig my heels in.
What does a ‘should’ actually make us feel? It can sometimes be motivating and force us into action but more often it has the opposite effect. Usually we feel guilty, inadequate, judged - we feel a sense of shame or failure. The gap between our reality and our ideal seems awfully big. It makes our reality seem worse than it is. Often it makes us feel like we aren’t good enough. Where does the ‘should’ even come from? Do we feel we should or is it because of pressure from another person or society? If we don’t do what we ‘should’, are we worth less? Are we unlovable? Are we a failure? Feeling like this really isn’t very motivating. Think about your latest ‘should’ dialogue in your head - “I should…”. How did it actually make you feel?
Here’s mine. I should finish the online study course I purchased 6 months ago. OK, maybe it’s more like I should start it. Now I feel really lazy that I haven’t done it. I’m also making excuses about why I haven’t done it, and excuses about why I’m not going to do it right now. Now I feel guilty because I know those are pathetic excuses. What I could have learned might have been useful to me with recent client work, so now I’m frustrated with myself too. This ‘shoulding’ hasn’t actually made me want to do the work. I just feel bad about myself and I haven’t changed.
How can I function in a ‘should-free’ world? Let’s try a different approach, one where I really think about what I am feeling right now, where I am honest with myself and where I am not too hard on myself. How do I feel about making a particular change? Back to my online course. I bought it because it looked interesting and will be useful to me. I am identifying the benefits to me. I want to complete the course. This is how I feel about it. I am quite busy and there are a lot of things I have to do, so realistically I can’t complete the course in one sitting. I think I can commit to an hour twice a week - I will slot it in straight before another regular activity so it’s easy to remember. I am being realistic. I feel more optimistic and this feels like something I can do. If I miss one or two slots, that’s fine. This is a ‘should-free’ zone!
So when a ‘should’ pops into your head, think about it. ‘Should’ according to whom? Why ‘should’ you? How does that make you feel - motivated or deflated? How about trying to focus on what you are really feeling, thinking and doing. Focus on where you are now and not an idealised version of the future. You are far more likely to make a positive change. Go on, ditch the ‘shoulds’ - you know you want to.
Do you want to make positive changes? If you think counselling may help - contact me.