The word “should” is by far my least favorite word. Time and time again, I hear people say they “should” feel this way or they “should” do this or that thing. Most of the time, these “should’s” lead us to one place – we should be better, and we are not measuring up in some way.
“Should-ing” on yourself means to put excess pressure on yourself to do something or be something. It leads to feelings of shame and keeps you from making the changes that you want to make.
Examples of ‘should-ing’ yourself with feelings:
- I should be happy, why am I upset?
- I should feel grateful for my life
- I shouldn’t be angry with this person
- I should focus more on the positive
Examples of ‘should-ing’ yourself with behaviors:
- I should exercise every day
- I should be meditating
- I should be more productive
- I should be a better parent/friend/person
Often times, people do not want to stop “should-ing” themselves because they believe these “should’s” hold them accountable, leading them to take action to do the things they should be doing. This could not be further from the truth. “Should-ing” ourselves is another way to judge ourselves harshly for not being good enough in some way. For example, “I should be grateful for my life” does not motivate you to express gratitude, it simply promotes feelings of guilt that you are not “grateful enough.” Feelings of guilt and shame do NOT lead to motivation.
There are many ways to work on veering away from “should’s” and instead guiding you toward your values:
Practice self-awareness – Ask yourself, “Am I doing this because I SHOULD be doing this, or because I WANT to be doing this?” If there is a ‘should’ attached to your behavior, check in with yourself about what that ‘should’ means. What do you fear will happen if you don’t do it? Why do you feel you should be doing it? If nothing else, this check-in will allow space for you to to explore your values on a deeper level.
Change the language – Change your ‘should’s’ to “I want…I can…I choose to…” For instance, instead of “I should exercise every day,” identify how exercise is attached to your values and change the language to “I want to exercise regularly because it feels good for my physical and mental health” or “I choose to take care of my body.”
Lose the ‘should’ for your feelings – There is no SHOULD when it comes to our emotions. It is important to feel all the feelings, to allow them to come and go. Our emotions can help us to make decisions, avoid danger, take action, and to understand ourselves and others on a deeper level. Emotions are like data, and if you pay attention to them instead of forcing yourself to somehow feel differently, they can give you information you need in the moment. Practice getting more in touch with your emotions and building your emotional awareness, instead of ‘should-ing’ your feelings away,