Stop SHOULDING Yourself


by Rachel W.

Should used to whisper, and sneak, and echo around in the back of my mind. It never really screamed at me--which I appreciated--but it did linger. My Should loved to hang with the shirts in my laundry room.

“You should fold that laundry,” it would nudge. 

“You should put away that laundry,” it would press. 

“You should iron that laundry,” it would nag. 

You should DO that laundry,”  it would repeat

And soon enough, Should decided that hoodies and smelly socks were for the birds, and it started stealing away in other rooms as well. Before I knew it, Should had turned my mind's guest room, in which it was residing, into the master suite with a built in jacuzzi and monogramed towels. And I didn't even question it. 

Should and I had one of those relationships. You know the ones. All your friends tell you he's all wrong for you, and he treats you badly, but you just can't see it, or don't want to see it. You see, I thought Should motivated me to be productive and improve myself, and I feared that if I sent Should packing I would stop progressing. It was hard for me to even think of letting Should go, because I was holding onto it so tightly. What would I turn into without Should? I didn't even want to picture it. 

I knew I didn't like how guilty I felt when Should was around. Even when I did the things Should told me to, it brought around its best friend, Have. Have was okay by itself, but get it together with Should, and they'd say things like, “Sure, you finally got the laundry put away, but it should have been put away days ago. It should have been placed neatly in the correct drawers.” 

They made me feel like a really flat third wheel.

But one day, something clicked, and I really can't remember the circumstances―maybe I had a little extra air in my tires or something, but I realized feeling guilt for a large portion of my day was not constructive. 

I set out to stop being motivated by feelings of guilt. It felt empowering to have a label for this new journey of mine, but I didn't even know where the trail head was or if I should bring granola, so I enlisted a trail guide, aka a counselor.

After taking some deep breaths, we looked over a page with the words “THINKING ERRORS” scrawled across the top. I read down the list, and “SHOULD STATEMENTS” stood there proudly in capital letters. The definition read something like, “Statements that use words like SHOULD or MUST turn beliefs into stringent obligations and facts, which if not met cause feelings of guilt and even failure.” 

Did that sound confusing? Let me give you an example. If I say, “I should do the laundry,” I see that statement as a fact or an obligation, so when I don't do the laundry, I feel bad because I haven't met my standard. The caveat is that my statement, “I should do the laundry,” is actually a BELIEF; it is a rule I have created for myself, it is an expectation that is not real, and as a result, I am feeling guilty because of a belief that I have. 

So, me understanding the purported effects of Should was one thing, but actually believing Should was chipping away at me was another. It took a lot of convincing from my trail guide, but finally I agreed to let go of Should for one week. And do you know what? I breathed. A lot. My guilt started dissipating, and I didn't stop doing laundry or taking care of my children or progressing. I could accomplish things without Should! Who knew? Hooray!

And now you're wondering, "But how?"

Well, I got together with Should's liberating cousin, Could. And I discovered that Could is the real McCoy, while should was just a creepy counterfeit! Could statements are the real facts, like “I COULD do the laundry.” FACT.

Take this fact one step further and add in the consequences of your could: “I COULD do the laundry and have clean clothes to wear, or I can wear dirty clothes.”

Poof! The guilt is gone, and all that I have left are clean or dirty clothes. I have a choice that I have clearly outlined guilt free, but not consequence free, all thanks to Cousin Could. 

So, in all honesty, Should and I still hang out now and again, but when we do, I see the red flags, and sometimes I even kick Should to the curb and invite Could in. 

You know, I'd love it if Could would stay forever. I could invite it to. I think I will. 

So, here are my questions for you... do you use Should? Sometimes? All the time? Do you feel a lot of guilt, or am I just crazy?!? Will you commit to replacing Should with Could this week and let me know how it goes for you? I'm committing right now, and I'm totes going to report back. Totes. 
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  1. I am the QUEEN of should. One reason I've discovered why I do this is because I do like to set little goals for myself for each day. Sometimes I think, "If I can just get the laundry put away, I will feel I've accomplished something and everything else that doesn't happen is OK". So, then I turn it into the should statement because, "I really should because I made it my goal". But you are absolutely right that it does create feelings of guilt when it doesn't happen. And, we put far too many shoulds into our life everyday. I loved this, and I'm going to try and think about it a little more! Thank You! -Meredith

    1. Meredith! First off, I just checked out your profile, and you sound a lot like me, although I don't have a degree in psychology! I wanted so badly to be perfect for a long time, but then I realized that pretending to be perfect harms myself as well as others. They shouldn't compare themselves to the fake me. It's not fair. So for that reason I try to be more real, to help others feel good about themselves. When I read your about, I felt good about myself because I could relate to you, breath a little easier about my piles of laundry and appreciate the real you! Thank you so much for commenting. I really appreciate your thoughts, and I'm excited to read more on your blog!

  2. Hey Rache you are wise beyond your years! In 1986 when you were three-years-old your dad and I took a four week stress reduction class from the LDS Hospital Fitness Institute for the fun of it. The main principle of the class was a technique called Reframing which meant examining Random Negative Self Talk and changing it to real and accurate language. Of course the most stressful word in the majority of minds is the s word--should, and the second words--have to. Replacing should with could is empowering. Replacing have to with choose to or want to, brings freedom of choice and wellbeing. Add some positive visualization and sensory awareness inroads can be made for happier and more productive days. I'm glad your are integrating these ideas into your life and are sharing them with the deers. love, Mummy Deerest

  3. Love this. I have so many shoulds that I just have to get rid of!

  4. This is my first time visiting. I stopped by the read the photo post today from my friend, Melissa. But this stopped me in my tracks because I just wrote about this very concept yesterday on my blog. I agree. I have kicked "should" to the curb, too.


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