I will confess. I have been shoulding all over myself for many years. When I feel guilty, start judging myself, or start beating myself up, I know I have fallen into the should-trap.
Shoulds are nothing about the authentic me, here and now. They are usually triggered by past messages, past expectations, current societal messages, or pressures (well-meaning and otherwise) from those around me. We all know we should eat right, we should exercise, we should take care of ourselves, we should make time for those we love, we should think before we speak, we should live in the present moment. The list could go on and on.
What makes the good intentions of a should crippling, is that it usually has a strong judgmental voice that comes along with it.
Shoulds often over-simplify complex dynamics, leading to a “I know I should do this, but I’m not doing it, so what is wrong with me?” The answer we come up with is often none too flattering: “I am weak, unmotivated, screwed up, undisciplined, crazy…”
But what if we became curious, rather than judgmental? What if we gave ourselves the benefit of the doubt that simply knowing what we should feel/do/think, might not always be enough?
What if we stopped and asked ourselves a few questions then took the time to honestly and openly reflect on them:
- Whose should is this? Is it truly mine or someone else’s?
- If it does come from someone else – parents, childhood, friends, society – can I give myself permission to step away from it for a moment and decide if it is right for me? Does it resonate deep within me? Does doing it fit with my inner beliefs, goals, path, my being here?
- If it does not feel authentically me, can I quiet myself long enough to hear what might be?
- If I am baulking at doing it, what is my inner self trying to tell me? Is there a step I need to take first? Is there something unresolved getting in the way? Am I getting something from not doing it, that needs to be looked at first?
- Once I have untangled the complexities of why I am not doing something, how can I transform the should into an authentic goal? How can I be kind to myself and support myself in taking each courageous step towards reaching this goal?
In my books, shoulds are not goals. Shoulds have baggage attached to them. It is much easier to take steps to reach a goal when we have cleared the baggage of a should.
Shoulds often feel like we are swimming against the current. Maybe all the energy we are using to doggedly go towards the should, is part of the issue? Maybe we are meant to float down a different stream. Or there is a channel that we must swim down first, before we link back up to the stream.
Yes, we should all love ourselves, take care of ourselves, treat our bodies with respect, treat others with respect, find what gives us joy, find our passion, support the passion and fulfillment of others. But rather than beating ourselves up when we are struggling, what if we stopped, took a cleansing breath, settled into ourselves and listened? With insight, we can take the power back from the should and transform it into something that is truly a part of us. Our inner self does not should. Our inner self simply is.
Shoulding all over ourselves, does not get us any closer to being all that we are meant to be, does it?