We live in a world of “should.” If we weren’t shoulding on ourselves, someone else would be doing it for us. We all have opinions and judgments of how we are supposed to behave and how others are supposed to behave, and those judgments get us stuck in patterns of behavior and also disconnect us from others.
The word should in itself is a form of judgment. It is someone else (in your head) or in your life telling you how you are supposed to behave.
The shoulds that we live with come from all places in our lives. Our parents, our teachers, our community, our society as a whole, the “experts” that we encounter, etc.
The problem with should is that we take it to mean “the truth” as opposed to a particular perspective that might not fit with your own values and your own wishes and desires.
The shoulds can steal away our happiness, or at least put it on hold.
When we spend too much time listening to the shoulds, we lose out on what we really want for ourselves, and our lives become about what other people think, rather than what we think.
For example, if someone says, “You should write a thank you note after receiving a gift” that is really a matter of perspective. Is it a nice gesture? Of course, but does your life always need to be about being “nice”—no. People pleasing all the time gets us in trouble long term--in trouble with ourselves.
I also want to address the fact that I am not talking about good deeds or bad deeds, or what is nice or not nice. This isn’t about morality, it’s about judgement.
Martha Beck, whom I have written before, talks about how we live with a disconnected self. We have an essential self, which is what we are yearning to really do, and then our social self, which is the self comprised of what we “should” do in order to fit in in society. Those selves battle each other every day.
Unfortunately, we often find ourselves being powered more by our social selves than our essential selves. We get into a routine powered by the shoulds, and forget what really makes us come alive.
At the end of the day, we need to live in both worlds, but if we spend too much time living in our social world, we lose sight of our own needs and desires and end up with regrets, resentments, frustration, disappointments, etc because we end up putting our happiness on hold.
In order to determine if you are putting your happiness on hold, use these statements as a guide. Respond to each statement with Often, Sometimes, Rarely, or Never.
Your happiness doesn’t have to be on hold.
It's Your Life. Live It Boldly.
You know that elusive goal you have?
The one that would make you feel really good if you reached it?
The one that you have been trying to reach for who knows how long?
What is the gap between where you are now and that goal?
I am not just talking about the tangible results either, I am actually talking about the character gaps.
We all have values that we practice everyday. I call them my essence values. Values that are just a part of who we are, and to go against those values would take a lot of effort.
On the other side, we have our aspired values. Values that we have to put effort into making happen. Values that aren’t always natural. Values that we have to really commit to being present.
When there is a gap between our current reality and our goals, it’s usually because there is a gap in our values. There is a gap between what we are practicing every day and what we aspire to practice every day.
Let’s take exercise or fitness as an example.
Many of us want to shed a few pounds, or at least be fitter, but many of us don’t get there.
Why? Because there is a gap between our practiced values and our aspired values.
In order to shed those pounds or become fitter, we need to embrace values that aren’t natural for us. We have to value discipline, hard-work, and long-term results, over comfort, ease, and instant gratification.
What about starting a business?
If you want to be truly successful in your business endeavors, you may have to step out of your comfort zone and embrace values that you might not normally practice. Things like courage, creativity, and community.
What about dating and/or falling in love?
What about deciding to go back to school?
What about quitting a job you hate?
What about getting a promotion?
What about leaving an unfulfilling relationship?
What about moving to a new city or country?
What about learning a new language?
What about remodeling your house or apartment?
No matter what you are looking to do or achieve, there is a value or a set of values that you need to embrace in order to reach it. Some of those values may be natural, and some may not.
So, let me ask you again, what is the gap between where you are now and what you truly desire?
What values do you need to aspire to and embrace in order to reach that goal?
How can you keep those values present and mindful every day?
If it helps, you can think of it like a wide canyon or crevasse that you want to cross. In order to get to the other side, you need to build a bridge. That bridge is a set of values.
What kind of bridge are you going to build?
What material are you going to use?
It's Your Life. Live It Boldly.
Should you or shouldn’t you?
It’s a question that we ask ourselves from the moment we wake up in the morning.
Should I go to work today?
Should I shower today?
What should I eat for breakfast?
What should I wear?
Should I call so and so, or email them?
Should I ________?
We live in a world of should because we have been raised in a world of should. From the time we were toddlers we have been told we what should and should not do from a variety of different people--our parents, our teachers, our friends, the media etc.
As adolescents and teenagers, we sought to break from the status quo and test the shoulds, but eventually most of us found ourselves back in the world of shoulds.
Our rebellion only lasted so long (and our parents are thankful for that.)
In essence, though, “should” is really just an opinion or point of view. It’s a judgment.
Fortunately or unfortunately, we have taken the shoulds we grew up with and/or experienced and incorporated them into our own lives and allowed them to direct our choices.
In reality we have to live with some of the shoulds in order to be accepted into society. If we didn’t follow the shoulds, many of us would be in jail. (Some shoulds definitely have a moral and legal component to them.)
But at the same time, the shoulds can be confining. You can get trapped by the shoulds. They can box you in.
My questions to you are , are you happy with the shoulds you are living by?
Are you content with the shoulds that direct you?
Do you give yourself opportunities to balance out the shoulds with your own desires?
Because at the end of the day we do have a choice.
We don’t have to follow or listen to the shoulds, we could chose a different way.
Should can be changed to could, giving us a sense of choice and autonomy.
A should is someone's way, but it doesn't have to be yours.
It's Your Life. Live It Boldly.
Of these four choices, which one would you most want to avoid dealing with?
Got it? What is it?
If you chose Pain and Stress, your personality is represented by the Turtle and your personality is characterized by comfort and avoidance.
If you chose Rejection and Hassle, your personality is represented by a Chameleon, and you are a people-pleaser.
If you chose Meaningless and Unimportance, your personality is represented by a Lion, and you are about feeling superior.
If you chose Criticism and Ridicule, you are an Eagle and you like to have control.
At this point, you are probably wondering what this is all about.
I recently learned about these four personality types called Top Cards, and it intrigued me, so I wanted to share it with you.
I am not normally one to go along with personality tests, as I think they put us into boxes, but this one aligned with work that I had done with my own Life Coach and I found it informative, rather than restrictive.
This work comes from Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott, who are the writers of the Positive Discipline series which I was trained in back when I was a teacher, and am reviewing now, as I start to work with more parents and teens.
Let me give you some more information, so you aren’t just left with knowing your animal, as each personality has it’s own strengths and struggles:
If you are a turtle, you:
If you are like me, you probably find yourself relating to more than one animal. For me, though, I find that one animal is more representative of who I am when I am feeling stressed, worried, or afraid. With that said, though, I know that there are other times when I do the opposite. This isn’t a cookie cutter way of being, by any means.
When we are feeling anxious, afraid, or stressed, our defense mechanisms kick in and those defense mechanisms are most aligned with the animal that you found above.
Some of us hide like a turtle, some of us change colors like a chameleon, some of us fight like a lion, and some of us soar above the action, but swoop down to influence what is going on.
I have found that knowing my defense mechanisms and reactions to stress, allow me to better behave in those moments. If I find myself on the attack (sometimes just inside my own head), I know that there is something underlying going on that I need to explore. I know that I am feeling stressed, threatened, or otherwise anxious.
When we can name it, we can tame it.
This self-awareness has completely shifted how I am with people.
How can you use this knowledge to change your reactions to stressful people or situations?
It's Your Life. Live It Boldly.