‘Should’ is the only word we shouldn’t say. How do I say that better? ‘Should’ is a terrible decision-making guide. ‘Should’ is potentially the most destructive word in the English language. That’s saying something, and I’m happy to be challenged on that one!
We use ‘shoulds’ to twist ourselves into pretzels and then we feel the pain of that. We use ‘shoulds’ to drive our decisions and to tell us how to feel.
- I should show up at my in-laws for Sunday brunch.
- I should meditate.
- I shouldn’t feel sad anymore, it’s been over a year.
- I should feel guilty for staying home and leaving all that work for my co-workers.
- I should want to be a stay-at-home-mom.
‘Shoulds’ single-handedly keep us from being who we were born to be, and from creating lives where we thrive in all the ways we deeply want to.
There is no Universal ‘Should’. I shouldn’t kill people–well there will certainly be some crazy serious repercussions, but there is no Universal force that keeps us from killing people. It’s a made-up thing regardless of how many people agree that killing doesn’t feel right. (I just realized that ‘shoulds’ may be helpful for people with antisocial personality disorder. But it’s a rare human with that condition and they likely aren’t reading this blog so I’m going to leave that one exception to the rule outside the scope of this post.)
I should—says who? The ‘shoulds’ may come from the outside—culture, subcultures, parents. They may be coming from the inside—fears of alienating others, or being judged, rejected, or abandoned.
Shoulds are powerful, no doubt. Ingrained in every culture, I imagine. But again, not universal.
How do we free ourselves from ‘shoulds’ so we can make decisions that feel right for us?
Replace the word ‘should’ from each “shouldy” thought with the words ‘want to’ and say it again. See how that feels.
Example: I should go see Mom in the nursing home. Replace with: I want to go see Mom.
You’ll often get a clear yes or no. I’m not saying don’t go just because you don’t want to. I’m saying, take the ownness for your choices off the shoulders of other people’s ideas of right/wrong. When we take responsibility for our own relationship with our own integrity, desires, energy level and world view, we are empowered, no longer victims of our situation.
Back to Mom. Replace ‘I should visit Mom’ with, ‘I want to visit Mom’.
Internal response might be: Nope. Nothing in me wants to do that, so I’m not going to. OR No, I don’t want to visit Mom, but I have so much love and compassion for her that I can’t imagine not going.
I should visit Mom. I want to visit Mom. Yes. That’s true, so I will. OR yes, but I really don’t have time til Tuesday so I’ll go then.
When we remove ‘should’ from decision-making we shift from:
- Robotic to Awake
- Victim to Empowered
- Asleep to Aware
- Cowardly to Courageous
- Judgmental to Authentic
- Trapped to Free
Freeing ourselves from ‘shoulds’ when it comes to our feelings:
Replace the word should or shouldn’t feel with do or don’t feel and see how that fits.
I should feel guilty. I do feel guilty. No, I don’t so I’ll let myself feel peaceful about the situation. Yes, I do feel guilty, so I’ll correct my mistake or let it go.
I shouldn’t feel mad. I do feel mad. No, actually, I’m hurt/tired/lonely. Or, yes, I am mad, so I’ll work with that.
I should be grateful. I am grateful. Yes, I am, and I’m frustrated. I’m both. Or, no, actually, I’m really pissed and tired of not feeling appreciated, so I’ll work with that.
When we remove ‘shoulds’ from our feelings, we shift from:
- Stuck to Movement
- Asleep to Aware
- Avoiding feelings to Responsibility for feelings
- Blindness to Clarity
- Self-judgment to Self-care
- Inauthentic to Authentic and Real
- Not trustworthy to others (because of our inauthentic feelings) to Safe and Transparent to others (real feelings)
If we were manufactured products like a car that should get 40 mpg and it was only getting 15, then yes, it should be performing better. But to say that I should want or feel something I don’t is like saying my 2014 Xterra should run on battery and should go 0-60 in 2.7 seconds like some other cars we know.
It’s like saying an alligator should like to cuddle or a squirrel should relax.
Or even more to the point, that squirrel right there that’s screaming at me from the tree should be quieter like the other squirrel hiding in that stump over there.
Humans are not designed the same. Some might think everyone should love to be social or all women should feel maternal, but that’s not how we’re designed.
If we change ‘should’ to want to or ‘should’ to do, and then check out the validity of that statement, we free ourselves to explore who we really are in relation to ourselves, our environment, other people and ramifications. We can heal pain and negative beliefs. We become more trustworthy to others. We forge more authentic paths through life. We align with our nature and the natural world, so things flow better. We lose judgment toward ourselves and others and grow compassion. We move away from fear and toward acceptance and love. It’s less painful. Takes courage to start but it grows on itself. It pays off so we do it more.
‘Shoulds’ are black and white. Want to’s and do feels are often complex. I do and I don’t. Great. Say more to yourself. And watch the ‘shoulds’ as they really want to creep back in, but keep using that replacement and notice what’s true and how that feels.
I have some free time today. Here are some of my thoughts about that.
- I should relax.
- I should be productive.
- I should turn off my phone.
- I should be grateful for this time.
- I shouldn’t feel lonely.
- I shouldn’t want this to last forever.
All these ‘shoulds’ are causing me pain, distracting me from my day and paralyzing me a little bit, so I can’t decide what to do next.
If I replace the ‘shoulds’ with want to or do and then feel into them, this is what I come up with:
- I want to relax—Yes, a little bit.
- I want to be productive—Yes, a few things feel important and appealing to get done.
- I want to turn off my phone. Nope.
- I am grateful for this time. Most definitely and now I can actually feel the gratitude.
- I am lonely. A little bit, but that dissipates when I acknowledge it.
- I want this to last forever. Not forever because that would get lonely, but I’m pretty happy today.
It takes practice, and those ‘shoulds’ are as insidious as hell. Try this and see what comes of it for you.
If you want!
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