October 2016 / by Amy /
Of all the “bad words” in the English vocabulary the one I hate most is the “S” word. And no, I am not referring to the synonym for excrement.
The “S” word I’m referring to is SHOULD.
“Should” the dreaded word of obligation, duty and correctness. The word of criticism. The word of probability. The word most often associated with negativity, guilt and judgment 90% of the time it’s used.
- I should go
- I should just take care of it
- You should do it this way
- You should get results
I hear it in organizing work sessions too!
- I should probably hold onto that
- I should find out if cousin Bette (wants, needs, or could use) this
- I should never have let things get so out of control
- I should not have bought this
- I should be better than this
It’s in these moments I love to tell my clients…
Stop shoulding all over yourself.
Think about it for a moment. How often is the word “should” used when we really do not want to do something? Worse still, how often do we use it to render self-sabotaging criticism against ourselves for something we are not doing or have failed to do?
The thing I hate most about the word is the inherent passivity and weakness implied when we use it. The act of saying, “I should do
So WHY are we using this word?
Simply put, “should” is a reflection of self, based on what we believe, want or expect from others. It’s a value judgment that we either direct inwardly toward ourselves, or outwardly toward others, and I believe it is motivated by an individual’s lack of self-worth or self-acceptance, coupled with unrealistic expectations or false realities.
Basically, “should” is about others: our perceptions of how others view us; our desire to please other people; our comparison of ourselves to others; and our opinion of other’s whose values and expectations do not match our own. When people assess value it is rarely based on a real measurement, rather an idyllic vision/expectation of how we want something to be, or vice versa. So in viewing ourselves through this lens, we find we seldom measure up. So we spiral down this road of self-inflicted inadequacy, which lends to guilt, doubt, excuses and blame. It’s extremely counter-productive behavior because this negativity creates internal conflict that suggests our values our incorrect, it reinforces what we are NOT doing, we re-live past mistakes –further tearing ourselves down- resulting in a loss of faith in ourselves. Ultimately, this loss of faith in ourselves undermines our ability to do what we want to do.
Don’t believe everything you think.
So how do we get the “should” out of here?
- Stop comparing yourself to others
You are beautiful in your own uniqueness. Strive to be the best possible version or yourself –for yourself, but also for the benefit and contribution you can offer others. Commit to incremental self-improvement (challenge yourself to grow a little bit each day), and celebrate the little advancements you’re making without comparing them to others.
- Ensure your values and the activities supporting them are congruent
Take time to explore and define your values –the principles or standards of behavior that are important to you– and identify activities that are compatible in supporting that value. For example, you may define maintaining your health as a value. Ask yourself, “What would maintaining my health mean for me?” “Drink more water, get more sleep, exercise.” The next step involves identifying specific activities you can REALISTICALLY incorporate in your life that are congruent with your values. Be specific…and reasonable. Maintaining my health is a value because I only have one body and I need to take care of it. I can better take care of my body when I get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. I will go to bed each night at 10 p.m.
- Explore and accept the reality of your vision or experience
This is both the most important thing you can do, and likely the most challenging thing you will do. In order to establish realistic expectations in your life, you need to retire false perceptions. And to successfully accomplish this, you need to develop a new habit and quit a habitual behavior that is likely familiar, comfortable and automatic. Development of this new habit will challenge you to change the way you think and it also will force you to address your false perceptions of reality with ACTUAL reality.
Sounds easy, huh??? Let’s give it a try.
Your boss enters the work area you share with three of your co-workers at 2 p.m. advising everyone that the deadline for project was moved-up at that last minute and he needs everyone to work overtime. Your husband is out-of-town, one of your kids has an eye appointment immediately after school, and the other has a softball game…
Internal Monologue of “Should” and the Reality We Create
“Why of all nights is this happening? It is impossible for me to stay….Argh….He should have told us sooner! I’m going to have to tell him no. But everyone else has families, I’m not special here. I shouldn’t expect special treatment. It’s not fair to them either, and I’m sure they would take issue if they have to stay and I get to leave. I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I should just stay and help. Maybe if I call my neighbor she could help. It’s shouldn’t be too much of a problem for her, she is always on top of everything. I hope my boss recognizes what a problem this is. I should get a raise.”
Are you laughing? Are you embarrassed? And, by the way, how many should’s were in that paragraph anyway?
I will not address every “should” instance from our example, but changing our perception or what we believe is reality is a tedious exercise. First, you have to identify when you are engaged in “shoulding” and stop it. Then you must evaluate your “should” statement, as well as the reasons you believe this reality to be true. At this point you need to take a step back and evaluate the true reality of this experience. Instead of telling ourselves, “I should or should not be thinking/feeling ____” own your reality and explore it, “Okay, I am thinking/feeling ____. I wonder why? Is this reality really true?
In time this exercise will allow you to start making value judgments that are aligned with a more accurate reality and value assessment of yourself
- Respect your ability to make decisions
As you engage in these steps, it is important for you to respect your ability to make decisions for yourself. Conversely, it is also important that you respect other’s abilities to make decisions that are best for them.
Emotional clutter is another way our lives are made messy. Make your life less messy by eliminating the “should” in your life.