Death By a Thousand Shoulds

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I should be married by 25.

I should make six figures by the time I’m 30.

I should get a PhD.

I should be a nice person.

I should make sacrifices for my career.

My partner should know what I want and how to make me happy.

Phew. I’m tired just reading all of that! It’s a lot!

We receive messages early on that tell us what behaviors are acceptable and desirable. From education to career to love and friendships, we are constantly told who, what, and how to be. As a consequence, overtime, we become disconnected with ourselves and lose sight of the things we really want and that which matters to us.

Shoulds kill our light, and our intimacy with ourselves. It gets in the way of our organic evolution because it puts limits on what and who we can be. In other words, it’s self-sabotage.

As the year is coming to an end, it’s quite natural to reflect on the past 11 months. It’s also common to not be compassionate with ourselves, and bring about negative self-talk about what we should and should not have done in 2018. Instead of scolding ourselves, lets get curious about the things we felt obligated to do and more importantly, why they didn’t get done.

Here are 3 ways that you can stop shoulding yourself and if you do need to use it, how to make it work for you. It’s about time you give yourself a chance to live the life that you want, not one that an external party said you should live:

  1. Build an Internal Should Alarm: the moment the word “should” comes out of your mouth or is percolating in your thoughts, SOUND THE ALARM! We rarely say “should” with the things that we truly want but rather, the things we feel are an obligation (and probably don’t feel all the way right, anyway). Building this type of self- awareness will help you be more in tune to the messages you might have inherited that aren’t totally aligned with the real you.

  2. Ask Yourself Why: Get curious about the things you feel like you should do. A good place to start is to ask yourself why. Why do you have to do or be X? What would happen if you didn’t do X? What would that say about you? Your family?

  3. Contextualize Your Shoulds: Rarely do we provide the who and why of our shoulds, which makes it vague, overwhelming and ultimately unattainable. Then we feel awful because we feel obligated to do this thing, and we don’t even know what it is in the first place (sounds wonky, right?) Providing a context also helps us check that what we are doing has meaning to us (see #2). For example, if you find yourself saying, “I should prioritize my self-care,” reframe it to something along the lines of “I should prioritize my self-care so that I can feel at ease and be less cranky.” This makes it less a thing to do just to do it, and more something that matters in your life.

Building new habits and unlearning unhealthy ones is never a linear, easy or one-and-done process. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself if you start to notice all the ways that you limit yourself with shoulds. The beauty about awareness is that once you have it, it’s hard to lose it :)

Let me know if you have any questions or comments below!