A few months ago one of my mentors said to me, “Mike, it sounds like you’re ‘should-ing’ all over yourself.” I laughed when she said this, as I’ve heard this saying many times before (and have even given this same feedback to others). However, something about her saying this to me at that particular moment caught my attention and struck me deeply.
As I started to take inventory of the most important aspects of my life – my marriage, my family, my friends, my health, my work, my spiritual practice, my finances, and more – I was a bit shocked to realize that much of my motivation in these key areas comes from the perspective of what I think I “should” do, say, or feel, and not from a place of what’s authentic and true for me.
As I look more deeply at this within myself, I realize that my obsession with doing, saying, or feeling the way I think I should, is actually less about a desire to do the right thing, and more about fear, shame, and a lack of self trust. When I operate from that place of should, it’s often because I’m feeling scared, flawed, or simply not confident in my own thoughts and beliefs. This insecurity leads me to look outside of myself for guidance, validation, and the insatiable right way something should be done; which is often stressful, anxiety-inducing, and damaging.
What if instead of asking ourselves, “What should I do?” we asked ourselves different, more empowering questions like, “What’s true for me?” or “What am I committed to?” or “What do I truly want?” These questions, and others like them, come from a much deeper place of authenticity and truth.
This is not to say that everything we think we should do is inherently bad. That is clearly not the case. Thinking that we should do things like eat better, communicate with kindness, exercise, follow up with people in a timely manner, spend time with our families, take breaks, save money, have fun, work hard, be mindful of the feelings of others, push past our limits, try new things, organize our lives, take good care of ourselves, focus on what we’re grateful for, and so much more – all can be very important aspects of our success and well being (as well as those around us).
However, when we come from a place of should our motivation and underlying intention for doing whatever it is we’re doing is compromised – even if it is something we consider to be positive or healthy. In other words, we often feel stressed, bitter, resentful, worried, or annoyed when we’re motivated by should. This “should mentality” is based on an erroneous notion that there is some big book of rules we must follow in order to be happy and successful.
The distinction here is one of obligation versus choice, or “have to” versus “get to.” When we stop “should-ing” on ourselves, we’re less motivated by guilt, fear, and shame and can choose to be inspired by authentic desire, commitment, and freedom.
Here are a few things you can do to stop “should-ing” on yourself:
- Pay attention to how much “should” runs your life. Take some inventory of your life, especially the key areas and relationships, and notice how much of your motivation is based on “should.” You may even notice how often the word itself comes out of your mouth in relation to your own actions and your thoughts or conversations about others. The more you’re able to notice this, without judgment, the easier it will be to alter it.
- Play around with different words, thoughts, and motivations other than “should”. If it’s not about what you (or others) “should” do, what are others words, thoughts, or motivations you could have? How can you relate to the most important areas and people in your life differently? Inquire into this and see what comes up. It’s not simply about word choice (although words do have a great deal of power), it’s about altering where you’re coming from in a fundamental way.
- Ask yourself empowering questions. As I mentioned above, instead of asking yourself the question “What should I do?” see if you can ask yourself more empowering questions – ones that lead you to an authentic and inspired place of motivation. Here are some as examples, “How can this be fun?” or “What would inspire me?” or “What’s in alignment with my mission?” or “How can I serve?” or “What would make me feel good about myself?” There are so many possibilities, once we let go of “should.”
Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more in the comments below.