In my 20 years’ experience as a personal revolution coach and acupuncturist, I’ve worked with countless mind/body issues. I’ve learned to listen carefully. One word often signals what stands in the way of my clients’ and patients’ pursuit of a trimmer, more vital, stress-free life. To me, this “s-word” is a red flag that marks right where the trouble originates….
Should immediately gets my attention. It acts as a judgmental conspirator, distracting us from living a life that’s true to our authentic dreams, goals, and possibilities.
The “Should Syndrome” is always deeply ingrained. After all, the shoulds took hold well before we were 7 years old and have been reinforced ever since by family, teachers, friends, the media, and everyone else. No one is immune. These shoulds recently appeared in my own busy personal and professional life:
- I better call or visit, or my family will be disappointed.
- Patients and clients should show immediate improvement even if they’ve seen me for only one session.
- If I take time for myself, others will think I’m selfish.
- I’m obligated to continue traditions that have been important to my family in the past.
- I have to do what others expect, regardless of whether it’s a good decision for me at this time or not.
- I must do what is culturally accepted by the people I value. I shouldn’t make waves.
- I ought to look a certain way to give the impression that I want to convey.
Constantly heeding the shoulds might keep you stuck in a treadmill of over-serving, exhaustion, and lack of fulfillment. Traditions, customs, and being there for others are always options, but let’s bring the concept of choice back into the discussion. It’s essential to honor what’s in our own best interests, to break habits that no longer serve us, and to be connected with supportive people who encourage us to grow and respect our preferences and personal needs.
Question the should. Substitute the word “could” instead. Now you’ve shifted the tone of your thoughts. When you give yourself a choice, you’re not just responsible. You’re empowered.
Most of us will recognize a personal version of these kinds of should statements. Read on for common shoulds—and better yet, how to turn them on their heads to make real progress.
1. Your Health and Wellness
When your body suddenly needs attention, “I should have taken better care of myself” often arises.
Yes, you could have, but the past is in the past. You can’t change what might have been. Today, you have a different decision: You can spend time and energy berating yourself for not taking action earlier, or you can begin a new chapter in your self-care.
You know which one is dead-end thinking—and which one is the smart choice.
Begin with a plan. Get guidance from an experienced mentor who knows how to show you the steps to take to regain your energy, health, and wellness.
2. Your Weight
“I should have lost that weight by now.”
How many times have you had that thought? Sure, you could have dropped the pounds if you’d made changes. But let go of the dead-end should have and take charge of your weight going forward. Today is a fresh opportunity to look at where you’re at with your priorities, goals, activity level, and food choices. What’s kept you from success before?—lack of time? confusion? stress and emotional eating? lack of preparation? distaste for exercise?
You might in fact be caught in a self-perpetuating loop of unrealistic expectations. You may be in need of clarity, accountability, and support in your efforts from an experienced guide. (Stay tuned for a new program coming soon that will help you get in touch with what’s really possible—and how.)
3. Your Relationships
In personal relationships, the shoulds can produce feelings of guilt or inadequacy.
- “I should have met someone by now.”
- “I should stay home for my children.”
- “I should be there all the time to help my parents.”
Stop. Ask yourself whether your shoulds are in your real best interest—or necessary at all. Are you certain these are obligations? What would happen if you didn’t meet your should? What duties are really most necessary to the health of your family? How else might you accomplish some of these goals without utter self-sacrifice? What additional options are available to you? Might you pursue your want-tos also?
Changing the shoulds can mean changing the way you connect with the people in your life. Imagine: You could participate authentically in your relationships instead of heeding automatic have-to ideals.
4. Your Finances
Common thoughts, especially among solo entrepreneurs, include, “I should be making more money” and “I should be as successful as John.”
Perhaps it’s not really all about the money. These roadblocks can be just another form of negative self-talk. Are you really falling short of your own needs and expectations? Do you feel more truly successful when you measure yourself using your own yardstick (not John’s)? Is there an actual problem?
Drop the shoulds and instead look realistically at what’s working for you and what isn’t. Don’t concentrate on regret. Focus on determining your new plan for action—and watch your world change.
5. Your Work
“I work so long and hard. I go far above and beyond my job description. People really should understand how valuable I am.”
Sound familiar? Yes, it would be wonderful if people appreciated, rewarded, and thanked their coworkers for all they contribute. But the reality is, it’s not written in a contract that they must. It’s up to you to make sure your achievements are noticed by others. If you want to be recognized, look for ways to authentically spotlight your good work. Having clarity about your value is much better than feeling like a victim or experiencing low self-esteem.
What shoulds do you have in your own life? Write them down, then substitute the word “could”—and watch them transform from guilt statements into empowering, compelling, positive expressions of what’s possible for you right now.