Do you like to be should on? I sure don’t.

So why do we should on ourselves? Lack of self control?

“I should be cleaning the house.” “I should be taking the dog for a walk.” “I should exercise more.” And on and on it goes – a non-stop should stream.

This continuous dropping of fresh shoulds does nothing but create a big mental mess and a lot of unnecessary pressure. Do you feel better after you should everywhere? Probably not. But we’re so used to doing it, we don’t even notice the mess we’re making.

What happens? Compromise. You try to accomplish one task while thinking about more shoulds and you end up not doing either thing very well.

Whatever task you think you “should” be doing makes your current activity wrong.

You start to believe you should be able to handle it all, you should be able to get it all done and, if you were only better at handling life, you should be able to get your shit together.

Now you feel incompetent and incapable.

Oh, you know those feelings? Yes, they’re also called shame. American psychologist Clayton Barbeau coined the term “shoulding yourself.”

We get into trouble shoulding ourselves when it takes the form of automatic thought. In this form, “should” comes to us as an abstract, universal obligation such that if we don’t do what we “should” do we are wrong and feel guilty. Guilt is an important and real experience, but it’s also a response to moral failure. Feeling guilty about personal choices which have no long-term impacts trivializes guilt and adds pressure and expectation.

We’re telling ourselves we aren’t good enough and we are continuously trying to prove our value. In the process we’re creating such high levels of stress we bring ourselves to the point of burning out.

We allow ourselves to pile on task after task, always wanting to please others or prove we can handle anything and everything. We allow ourselves to recover from major stressful events, such as death and grieving, childbirth, serious illness, job loss etc., but we don’t give ourselves time to recover from the chronic, low-grade everyday stuff that piles up and pushes us to the edge.

No one likes to be should on. It’s time to start including yourself in that group.

We should answer those emails…but they don’t stop. It’s a continuous demand for our attention that keeps us away from other work or a coffee break or time with the kids. We get ourselves on the hamster wheel and then can’t figure out how to get off.

We could schedule blocks of time into our day to pay attention to email and only email, leaving ourselves plenty of other time to focus on everything else.

We could turn off the notifications on our phones to allow us some space.

We could filter some emails into The Someday File and get to them when we can.

Once we start thinking about the things we can do instead of should, we start to get a better idea of who we are and what we want.

By replacing the word “should” with “could,” we give ourselves permission to make a choice. Our expectations become intentions, moving us closer towards our purpose and values.

Try this: Give a friend permission to let you know when you say the word “should.” Have them ask if you mean “could” instead. (I had a friend do this for me and, after one day, I was surprised by how many times I said it.)

When you notice how much you’re shoulding and start coulding, you start prioritizing your tasks, come to a place where you make a decision and put yourself in control of your experience.

Leaning into intentions instead of expectations or self-imposed limitations removes barriers and opens us up to live without limits.

That, my friends, is clarity, which allows us to make better decisions and catapult into the life we really want.


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