Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Life Lesson: Stop Should-ing On Yourself

So I have learned something about myself recently.  Or re-learned it as we sometimes have to do with certain lessons.   I don’t respond well to shoulds especially the self-imposed ones.  In the therapeutic groups I facilitate,  I call  this particular version of negative self-talk “should-ing” on oneself.. say it fast… it feels just about as good as it sounds.  Which is to say… it feels crappy.   And when I should on myself,  I instinctively resist… or I feel guilty which in turn becomes a cycle of more negative self-talk. 

As a parent,  with a full time employment, volunteer & community responsibilities and a general over-achiever .. there are a whole lot of “have tos” in my life. This is true for most of you.   For me, in order to stay in balance and to achieve some measure of daily happiness I need to fill in around the edges of the “have tos” with spontaneity, free choice, a little bit of wasted time (Pinterest, anyone?!)  as well as openly pursuing my passions.

Starting this blog, fell under the “pursuing passions” category of life.   I have been imagining it over the past year and trying to determine if I had the time or energy but I thought about it constantly.  It was a desire not a have to.  The day it launched I told my best friends that it didn’t matter if anyone read it .. I just need to write it.  Absolutely true.  But that didn’t stop me from doing a little happy dance when I passed the 1,000 "views" mark after just a few days or when the editor of the Girl Guides of Canada Blog asked to re post one of my entries.   One of the lovely things about passions is that they are sometimes even more fun when you share them with others.

But suddenly I messed it up .. by turning my passion into a have to or should.  One day I wanted to write about Girls, Sports and Self-Esteem. It was too much for one post. So I envisioned a three or four part series.  But by the time I wrote Part Two I was ready to do something else. As I mentioned on an earlier post, I have been writing in my head.  Every morning in the shower and on my bus ride to work, my brain is racing with ideas to talk about but I think ... oh I will do that after I finish the series on girls and sports.  I had already promised there would be more. So I was stuck and angry at myself. I wasn't doing what I should do. What I said I would do. So I stopped writing.

It has taken a couple of weeks but after a friend messaged me to say "don't stop writing,"  I noticed what I had done to myself.  Without meaning to, I had  moved something from the “passion” category of life to the “have to/should/deadline” category of my life.  Today I am moving it back.   I don’t know what topic will come next… I only know that I need to write. And I hope very much that you will continue to join me here!

Do you should on yourself too?  Many of us have a list of rules we think we have to live by. These are our beliefs or expectations of how we should behave or how other people should behave. For example:  I should always volunteer when asked...   I should not make mistakes...  I should go to the gym 3 times per week...  I should be more welcoming to the neighbors...

Notice if your internal dialogue frequently contains words and phrases such as  should, must, ought to, duty. Often we apply these rules to other people too which contributes to making us chronically disappointed, angry and judgmental.

Here are a few tips to counteract that particular form of negative self-talk:

Try replacing the word “should” with “want to” or “would like to”…  
I want to go to my yoga class…
I would like to return that phone call…
I want to invite those new neighbors to dinner…
I’d love to volunteer for that organization..

How does it sound in your head? Does it feel true or sound like a lie?  How does it feel in your body? Do you feel less resistance or guilt when it is spoken as a “want” rather than a “should”?

If the should is something you truly don’t want to do… then step back and get some perspective on it.   What is the worst thing that would happen if you don’t do it? How likely is that to happen?  What is the positive outcome of doing it?   Or try applying  Suzy Welch's 10-10-10 rule ...  what are the consequences of this action in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years?  You may just find that depending on the potential outcome… your should will become a want when you look at it this way.

Most of all, be gentle on yourself.   You are most likely your harshest critic. Try speaking with kindness and love, just as you may encourage a child or a good friend who is struggling to complete a task that is looming.  And check in with yourself … have you turned your greatest joys into shoulds and have tos?   Then it is time to take stock of everything on your plate and re-prioritize.   You are responsible for your own happiness and I promise that no one else is going to come along and relieve you of the pressures you have placed upon yourself. This is something only you can do for yourself.

 I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the dayE.B. White (author of Charlotte's Web)


  1. Love this post! Thanks so much Lisa for sharing! I am constantly blaming myself for everything always downing myself for not doing things like filling up my car with gas. My husband tells me I need to stop putting myself down all the time...easier said than done. So with his help and sites like I am trying to rid my inner critic to be and be a happier person. I hope you take a look at this site and let me know what you think!

  2. thank you!!
    that re-mindshift will make the rest of my day go so much better


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