Shedding the Shoulds
Photo by Jack Bulmer on Unsplash
I am shedding my “sh*&%y shoulds”. I am a little molting bird, casting off the ought-tos, the had betters (can you see the wagging finger?), the supposed-tos. They weigh us down and keep us from our creative work. I’m lightening up in this second half of life. Enough! They. Have. Got. To. Go!! And, as synchronicity would have it, this need to shrug off the shoulds recently hit critical mass. More on that later.
In the meantime, I’m happy to report that, as I notice and let go of the shoulds, the inner battle wanes. I find myself paying more attention, pausing and running the ‘shoulds’ through a new filter. They come out the other end as a yes (want or need) or a no (should)
How about you? Does this ring any bells for you? Where do you stand on the “sh*&%y shoulds”? I can’t be alone in this! Especially in midlife and beyond.
What we lug around
“Shoulds” carry baggage. They’re short on commitment and usually drag along a sidecar of “but’s”. Yet, many of us go through life diligently toting around a sack of old voices, habitual thoughts, guilt, and lots of assumptions.
And for me, after so many years, those shoulds had turned into “I just don’t wanna!” When something was presenting itself as a should, up would jump my inner rebel. The process of tending to those “sh*&%y shoulds” had become fraught with irritation and resentment.
That sent me into procrastination and avoidance.
Definitely not where I wanted to be!
Hence, the conscious work of shedding my shoulds.
A knock-out call
Back to critical mass. Recently, after a day of cleaning and organizing my home office I sat down in front of my computer. I’m here to tell you that I am living proof that sitting is bad for your health. My chair decided to break and sent me to the floor. All the impact of the fall was taken up by my right shoulder. A sprain of the ligaments and tendons around my collarbone.
Do you know that in Chinese medicine pain in the right shoulder can be an indicator that we are resisting something or trying to do too much of the wrong things? There is an imbalance. For me, the imbalance is the struggle with the shoulds. I knew I was off kilter but this just drove it home.
The genesis of shoulds
Shoulds begin to creep up in childhood. We should be a good girl/boy. We should eat our spinach and be seen and not heard. (Yes, I’m dating myself!)
They get strengthened in adulthood. We should work hard, be successful. The outside world imprints their shoulds on us. Authority figures in school, church, the culture. The list can continue.
And that’s where we begin to get in trouble. Because we begin to use the word should too often. We become oblivious to the language we use.
Actually, I want to be a good person. I want to be kind, work hard and be successful. But I want to operate from the inside out. In too many cases I’ve turned my wants into shoulds. I want my actions to be inner driven, not outer directed.
Needs vs. shoulds
Consider the word “need”; how much lighter it is. It feels quick. It doesn’t loom large.
Try this (out loud):
I should brush my teeth.
I need to brush my teeth.
Do you feel a difference? Now, of course, I’ll brush my teeth either way but the second version feels different. Yep, let’s brush our teeth before we move on to the next thing. No big deal. Done and done.
Much of what we call shoulds are really needs (and even wants!) and are part of our normal routine. I need to grocery shop or pay my bills. It often boils down to language which is so powerful.
Examine a should. Is it really a need? Call it that. Better yet, if it’s a want, call it that.
Shoulds are externally driven. Wants and needs are inner driven.
Wants and Needs
If shoulds are externally driven, the inner driven wants and needs are so much more personal. And for some reason that can make them harder to address. We are curious humans, aren’t we?
However, what I have found is that when I recognize that what I’m calling a should is actually a want – or a need – and is congruent with my personal vision and goals, it becomes simpler. The action may be challenging – like some of the tech chores I do – but I want to do them and therefore they are easier to get to.
I want to be healthy therefore I will brush and floss and eat better (most of the time!) I need to tend to my business (and this stems from a want) so I will do the challenging and the mundane tasks my business asks of me. They’re often items on a list. Check, check, check. Done and done.
Needs and wants are not inherently easy. But they are simple.
I also recognize that when I ask myself what wants to be done, the answer sometimes surprises me. They are real and doable and tend not to squabble with any shoulds. It all gets done and I am a much more relaxed and happier girl.
So often, the problems rise up from our choice of language. Next time you hear yourself starting a sentence with “I should”, pause. Can you reframe it to a need or want? Where is it coming from? Inside or outside? If from outside, is it possible to take a longer pause and weigh the cost of saying no? It may not be as steep as you initially think!
Shoulds get in the way of our creativity. Whether it’s creating the life you want or getting to your creative work. I can help you shed your shoulds. I am a great sounding board, a collaborator in solutioning, a bringer of creative tools to give you accountability and make it all easier and fun. Contact me and we can chat about it. Life is too short for the sullen shoulds!
Back to my collarbone and critical mass. Laying on my side on the floor as my husband hovered over me asking if I was alright, I realized there was a want buried in this. I had wanted to get a new chair. Even with an achy shoulder I’ve been able to craft a happy ending.