As you probably remember from when you first heard should as a kid, that little word packs a hefty wallop. You should brush your teeth. You should go to bed at 10pm. You should finish all your homework and your broccoli.
We use it on ourselves and others, because it works. There is a guilt attached to it. Whatever you should do usually is good for you. As if someone knows better, as if you wouldn’t make a good decision on your own behalf without the insidious coaxing.
It’s so pervasive, you might not realize it’s the reason you might feel stuck.
When you’re making a decision or trying to figure out your next step, your brain can jump to the should first. Well, you know you should do this. The underlying message: There is a universal right answer, everyone knows what it is, and we’ll all also know if you don’t choose it. Someone will be disappointed. Something bad will happen. Things won’t work out.
The guilt and anxiety about that is too much to bear. Much of the time we give in, and are pretty bummed about it as a result. If you’re doing what you should, you are letting other people — or worse, the threat of invisible other people — make decisions about your life.
How to stop should from running your life
First, listen for the shoulds everywhere. Pay attention when other people use the word, especially on themselves, and notice how they react to it. The sigh that invariably comes after it. Sometimes there is relief too…at least this has been decided and they don’t have to figure it out for themselves. The more aware you are of how others use the word, the easier it will be to notice how you do.
Second, get curious. Why are you saying should? Are you feeling guilty about choosing what you really want? Are you looking for a scapegoat to make the decision for you? Or, do you want to do this and saying should gives you permission to go for it?
Third, make a choice. That’s it. I just keeping asking myself: “What do I want? I feel like I should do this, but what do I want to do? How can I do that and feel good about my decision?”
The more aware you are of should, the more aware and in control you are of your decisions. You are no longer stuck by shoulds and have-tos, you’re making choices because you want to, because it is the best option at the moment, because it feels right.
Tips to help you keep it real
Unstuck Tip Cards help you fight procrastination, stop negative thinking, boost productivity, and get more creative in the ways that work best for you.
Lauree Ostrofsky helps people love their lives, work, and each other more every day. She is chief hugger and coach at Simply Leap LLC and the author of SIMPLY LEAP: Seven Lessons on Facing Fear and Enjoying the Crap out of Your Life. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @SimplyLeap.