I know I often suffer from the “I should”-itis.
- I should enforce stricter kid screen time
- I should stop checking all the social medias over and over until my eyes bleed at bedtime
- I should stop using plastic straws
- I should force myself to watch the starving children adverts for Save the Children
- I should (not) eat the rest of the kid’s mini cheddars. And their pizza. And defo not their mini Twix
- I should be more … patient, friendly, kind, flexible, tidy, mindful, prolific, fit, etc.
You get the point. This self-talk in your head can vary from mildly scoldy to downright scathing. Humans often get into a trap of negative brain patterns that truly keep you locked into a conformable misery.
Recognising the signs:
The operative word you can rely on to see if you are doing a bit of negative speak is SHOULD. My mom wisely always told me she didn’t do shoulds. It was a baffling statement to my child self. Of course, one should, you might be thinking. You should go to school, you should eat your green beans. You should wear pants/trousers outside.
As a child, there may be things one must do in order to learn and live and thrive. As an adult, however, we are at choice about way more things than we realise.
My mom scandalously didn’t feel compelled to visit the in -laws when she didn’t feel like it. Or iron things. Perhaps these bold choices amounted to little difference individually, but some shoulds can cost us dearly.
- I should stay in this marriage for the kids
- I should take care of my elderly relative even if she hates me
- I should go to church to show everyone I am conforming
- I should stay in this job because of the high pay even though it is sucking the soul out of me.
How many things are we doing out of a sense of obligation, fear or the need to please?
Shoulds can rob us of happiness. They might be getting in the way of the home truths about who you are and what you want. They keep you safe and inert. And sometimes miserable.
What can we do about it?
One way to bust out of a should cycle is to stop and ask yourself three simple but shockingly difficult questions:
1. What do I really want?
This is a tricky question for which you will need space, non-judgement and brutal honesty. Think in the first person. Be ruthlessly selfish with your answer. This exercise is for you only.
Stretch yourself to ask, “if I had my way, it would be like this …” and fill in the blanks. Give yourself permission to think big. Or small. Sometimes the real answer is I want a nap, a hug or time alone. Or, it’s a new career, a trip or a divorce.
2. Who is this important for?
If it’s not strictly you, look at your motivations. We all have obligations to other humans. It’s the community and family that make our lives worth a hill of beans. But if you are doing things to impress, protect, oblige, placate or appease, it’s time to come clean.
It isn’t wrong to do things for the sake of others. It can be very right. Just know what your end-game is.
3. What’s important about that to me?
Another deep dive into yourself. (No one said this was easy.) Understanding what things are important seems like a gimme answer. At closer inspection, you might find a nuance that’s not immediate. It’s important that I know I am loved. Or. It’s important that I’m seen as successful. Or It’s important that I take care of myself.
What’s the value to YOU?
If you managed to be clear and get to your real answers – there — you have some truth. You still get to/have to make a choice, and now it is from a place of honesty rather than paralyzing guilt or layered obligation. At the end of the day, I think most times we actually DO what we actually WANT.
It isn’t always easy to cut through your shoulds to get to what’s real. We spread all the societal, familial and personal expectations on ourselves thick and then wonder why we can’t access our purest and clearest intuitions.
So next time you hear a should coming from your lips or silently moaning in your head, pause.
Try to be curious.
Ask yourself what you really WANT to do?
You might not get to do it all the time, or choose to, but at least you know your real feelings.
And sometimes, that should be good enough.
Professional Life Coach