How often do you say “should”? I’m guessing several times a day. “I should go to the store.” “I should clean my house.” “I shouldn’t eat that.” “You should [insert unintentionally judgy comment].” Maybe you aren’t even aware of your shoulds. This is the negative Mean Girl dialogue that sometimes takes over inside your head. “You should have gotten that job.” “You should work harder, do more, be better.” “You should look like that girl in the magazine.”
This kind of thinking is stressful and sucks the joy out of everything. You can’t live up to your full potential if you are constantly thinking you are not who or where you need to be or that you should be someone or somewhere else.
Shoulding is not the same as goal setting or self-improvement. We all are striving to improve ourselves in order to live up to our potential. The difference is that shoulding is feeling bad about where you are and lamenting that you aren’t further toward your goal. Self-improvement is healthy movement toward clear, actionable goals. Your attitude toward the process of reaching the goal is important.
Shoulding actually impedes progress toward your goal by turning a quest for self-improvement into a Mean Girl free for all. Imagine if you were to should on a child the way you should on yourself. “Why can’t you do better than that?” “What is wrong with you?” Oh yeah, I’m mixing it up by not using the actual word. Would you say those things to a child you love? Do you think a child would do the things you want if you talk to her that way? Or would she start crying and stop all potential progress? Why do you say them to yourself and expect better results?
Here are a few ways to end the constant shoulding in your life and improve your attitude, potential, and performance.
Accept yourself unconditionally where you are right now. Then move forward toward your goals. Read that sentence again. Say it with me, “I accept myself unconditionally as I am right now.” Use this as an affirmation. Say it to yourself in the mirror every morning and pay attention to what thoughts pop up after you say it.
I’m guessing at first your Mean Girl will tell you how stupid the exercise is and that you aren’t worthy of unconditional acceptance. I mean, look at your cheesy grin, sloppy hair, and round belly! How is that acceptable?
Cancel these thoughts. Don’t allow them in your space. Unconditional acceptance of where you are is necessary to move forward. Afterall, you can’t take the next step until your footing is solid where you are now.
Continue to say these words to yourself at least once a day, more as needed. You will notice that the negative comments will slowly be crowded out by more positive thoughts. As this happens, you will begin to experience more joy in your life.
Say, “I get to…”
‘Shoulding‘, on yourself or others, implies judgment. You are judging something negatively and thinking it should be better. All this requires is a bit of a reframe. Instead of saying, “I should” (utterly negative), say, “I get to” (super positive).
Smart parents and teachers do this with kids all the time. “Wow, we get to vacuum today! Aren’t we lucky?” The simple word change implies that something is fun or a privilege. It is something you want to do, not something you have to do.
This verbiage also implies gratitude. It says, “I get to vacuum because I have a house to vacuum and I am thankful to be able to vacuum today.” Gratitude is a major component of joy and abundance. The more you appreciate what you have, the more you will attract.
Do it now
If you should be doing it, obviously you are not currently doing it. So do it. Sitting on the couch and saying, “I should vacuum” leads to feelings of guilt and shame. Those are heavy words for avoiding household chores.
In order to skip the guilt trip and avoid responsibilities piling up into overwhelm territory, just do the chore now. The longer you avoid it, the greater the negative feelings, not to mention the mess, will become.
Also, saying, “I should take steps towards my goal,” doesn’t sound like something you will do. Frankly, it sounds like something you won’t do. Change your language to detail what specific steps you will take within a certain amount of time. Now you sound committed.
When Shoulds are helpful
Sometimes our shoulds drive us to perform better. They keep us on the right track if we can use their power for good. If we take them in moderation and are able to shut off the constant self-judgment, thinking we should do something and then doing it is helpful. Just don’t let your shoulds take over your life.
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