This familiar word wraps me up in its arms and holds me close, filling me with guilt and comforting me with an apology to the world. Its unrelenting judgment soothes me with its familiarity. The addictive powers of “Should” pull me into their welcome grasp and leave me humiliated by my lack of willpower, sneaking out of their apartment after the lust has disappeared and all that’s left is the cold grey light of disappointment.
“Should” Pressures Us
When we say “I should,” we state what we insist we must do. We hear the blog post or a parent’s stern admonition or the guru we follow. Actions we believe someone else or our community or the world demands of us. Each time you say “I should,” an unfulfilled assumption unfurls from your tongue, and guilt breaks through the dam surrounding your soul, flooding it with disgust.
Guilt around these “I shoulds” helps no one. Guilt fills your brain up with static, refusing to allow anything else entry. Where is the room for your writing? Gone because you’re feeling guilty about not writing!
It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s one inflicted on us by ourselves.
Luckily, one radical practice frees you from this cycle.
Stop using the word “should.”
That’s it. Excise “should” from your vocabulary. Does it sound easy? Because it is not. That “should” is trained into us by our family, our schools, our community, our society. Shaking it loose takes time and effort. This is why it’s a practice—not a quick fix!
The first step? Stopping your mouth from forming the word.
And the real trick to stop the cycle and avoid the guilt trip from yourself?
Define the expectation. When you stop that “should,” replace the word with another one. What’s the first word that comes to mind to replace it? Why that word? What does that word tell you about this expectation you hold?
Inquire why you must do this thing that you “should” do. What goal is achieved by doing it? Can the goal be met by taking a different action?
The rote “I should ” now becomes an “I can.” Or maybe, the “I should” becomes an “I don’t need to” or an “I want to.”
And that’s ok.
This transformation of the “should” redirects your energy from wallowing guilt into practical action. It encourages you to work on goals infused with your meaning rather than the goals that you imagine everyone expects.
And that is what I am asking you to do by releasing “should” from your vocabulary. Let’s give it a try.
One of my not-so-favorites is “I should work on my writing.”
First, I eliminate the word and substitute it with another. My first thought is to use “will” in its place. Immediately, “will” sends up a flare of alarm. That word sets up a new way to add pressure. Bye-bye, “will”!
However, “I can work on my writing” tells me that working on my writing is possible.
Now I ask why.
Why can I work on my writing?
Because I can physically work on my writing. I can sit down at the computer and type words into the document and write. It’s a possibility.
Why am I not working on my writing?
Because I work hard all day and I’m tired at night. And on the weekend, I have to do my chores and recover from the week. And I’m at a place in my writing where I feel weak.
Now I have some good information! Now, instead of just feeling guilty, I can delve into the reasons behind my excuses. And solutions to very real problems can reveal themselves.
Maybe I can ask my wife to help with the chores and free up a little time for me to write on the weekend.
Maybe I can rise early in the morning to write before work since I’m tired at night.
Maybe I can let myself off the writing hook for a couple of weeks until this super-stressful deadline at work has passed.
Maybe I can strengthen my work by committing to improve just one sentence a day. Or every day-ish.
Options exist. A potential solution reveals itself.
And the “should” no longer controls my thoughts.
The practice of stopping your “should” cycle is one that you will find needs constant attention, especially for the first few weeks. Once you start noticing your “shoulds,” they will surprise you with their frequency. Over time, their presence will slow to a trickle, but never quite disappear. Perfection in this practice may not be possible (I certainly haven’t found it yet!), but committing to the practice of inquiring into your “shoulds” can empower you to make progress toward your dreams.
One final thing—sometimes what the “should” reveals is that you don’t really want to pursue that goal. It’s just a goal that other people expect of you but doesn’t align with your heart. Or it’s a thing or action that someone has told you that you need to get to your goal but the action or thing doesn’t ring true for your journey. If the answer you discover in your inquiry is “That feels wrong to me,” respect your inner voice and find another way.
“Should” happens. Inquiring into each “should” reveals the reasoning behind the expectation. Facing the actualities of each “should” reveals a list of barriers that you can overcome to achieve your real goals. Delving into the options each “should” reveals empowers you to take action.
Begin where you are. Define the expectation. Ask “why.” Try not to judge yourself for falling into the “should” trap of expectations.
We all do it.
And the lessons we learn from those “shoulds” empower us to achieve our heart's goals.
*This post is informed by and uses Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching Tools™.
LA (as in tra-la-la) Bourgeois uses Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching tools™ to break down resistance, procrastination, and overwhelm while gently encouraging you with humor and heart. Are you ready to embrace joy as you pursue your creative goals? Discover more at her website, labourgeois.biz
That is excellent advice! I am knocking should out of my vocabulary right now.
So true! Life is, but should be a crock of shoulds!
Knock it out in life and in writing!! I'll give it a shot.
I'm notoriously bad at this. I'm making a conscience effort to stop right now. Thanks, Elizabeth. Great post.
The "Shoulds" are only constructive when they motivate. They need to go elsewhere when they paralyze.
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