The hidden power of ‘shoulds’

Shoulds are a toxic part of our vocabulary. Generally the more we ‘should’ (and then ‘don’t’) the worse we feel about ourselves. I ‘should’ finish that project today. I ‘should’ have prepared more for that meeting. I ‘should’ spend more time doing real work. 

Despite their general role in making us feel bad about not doing something, they also hold a secret value. If we are prepared to resist what we ‘should’ be doing and just allow ourselves to do what we actually ‘are’ doing (or feeling), then relaxing into what we really want for ourselves can be very revealing. 

A client recently turned up to her session unprepared. She apologised for not being ready.

“I should have done some preparation. I should have done some thinking and reviewing before coming.” 

When we explored how she was actually feeling and what she was doing instead, she said: 

“Nothing. I just needed a break. I’ve been feeling really lazy lately. I don't feel inspired to do anything.” 

“Great,” I said. Then we explored this further.

What’s valuable about laziness?

How do you know it’s really laziness?

What if it’s the ‘downtime’ required to regenerate for the ‘up time’?

What if it’s an essential way to switch off and re-evaluate or tap into extra creativity or fresh ideas? 

After our discussion she realised that she had in fact used the time to switch off and in that process had become clearer on some issues that had been circling around unresolved, however she hadn’t noticed the value of this because she was too busy ‘shoulding’ on herself and feeling bad about not ‘doing work’.

Next time you hear yourself using the ‘should’ word, use the opportunity to explore a little further. 

  • What emotion are you resisting at the moment?

  • What 'shoulds' are hanging over your shoulder?

  • What would be different if you surrendered to the feeling instead of fighting it, or allowed yourself to do that activity instead?

  • What’s valuable about this activity?

  • What does it give you?

  • Whose voice or value set is really behind your ‘should’? (a parent, a boss, a partner…)

  • Give it back to them!