Don’t Should On Yourself!

“Don’t should on yourself!” Albert Ellis

There are not many words as definitive as “should.” There is no wiggle room in “should.” It is simply something we think we (or someone else) ought to do without flexibility. “You should” or “I should” traps us like nothing else can, because, “If you don’t _____(name a should), then you are_______(fill in the blank with a negative identity conclusion).” It defines you.

Should is a judgment. And as such holds us back in our lives. We may think it is a motivation. People often tell me they want to keep their judgments of themselves lest they get complacent and never try for improvement. This sounds great, but this rarely happens that way. Judgment usually hinders improvement, well-being or any movement whatsoever. It is like anxiety in this way.

Fear is a biological response. We need the fear to tell our amygdala to release adrenaline (our flight or fight hormone). The sole purpose of this is to get us to act, once we act, the fear is pointless. It follows that once acting our fear diminishes and I usually find this to be the case.

However, the things we are anxious of lately in this world are usually things we feel helpless about: war, climate change, getting sick, violence, a loved one dying, not being good enough. The helplessness feeds the anxiety. And in return we are immobilized by it. Our body and brain don’t know what to do with the energy it conjured to act, and we feel imprisoned by panic.

When this happens we need to focus on our agency: how we can respond. Even the smallest action can help the fear decrease. That’s why people often pace when they are panic, this actually helps them a bit.

We are never really helpless, since this response (action) can make or break our happiness factor. It is not what happens to us that makes us unhappy, but how we respond to it (and how it effects us) that matters to our sense of self.

buy book You 1 anxiety 0So judging motivates much like fear. It’s purpose is to get us to act. Instead of complaining, we can do something different. Like fear, once we act, the judgment is pointless. It only upsets us, zaps our energy, has us second-guessing our decisions, delaying them. In short, it holds us back. Once we decide what to do, (Just Make A Decision) we can let go of the judgments. They do nothing constructive and much destructive.

I read this blog last week by a beautiful woman Danielle Boonstra, Sharing My Dark She shares some of her “darks” (she knows that beyond them is light. Light is the Only Absolute) She used to keep them hidden because she was afraid of judgment. Hidden, they have so much power. We create “should’s” out of them and think terrible things about ourself. Judgment abound.

Giving it up to write them down, exposes them and undermines the power of them. She shed light in the dark corners, and then they cease to be dark corners. The only way it works is if you take a look as an observer, not as a judger. Danielle looks with love:

And all of this I will heal. All of this I will look at with love and remember what is true. Writing it out, getting it out feels better than letting it race through my mind unheeded.

Don’t should on yourself! Even our language has energy. Instead of saying “I should blankety blank.” Say, “I might…”. Or “I would like to …”. Else “It would be cool if I…”. Or “I wonder what would happen if I…” This can shift our approach, giving us more energy to do these things since less is being used beating ourselves up.

Have you been should-ing on yourself?

20 thoughts on “Don’t Should On Yourself!”

  1. i realize now how often i use those words: “I should”, and more often “I shouldn’t”. I always doubt what i do, the decisions i take, the choices i make. I am usually spontaneous when talking from the heart, but regret it after. It’s like whatever I do is not enough. Looking for perfection is one of the main reasons.
    About fighting anxiety and fear with actions, I have so many experiences that prove it.Fear, stress and anxiety can sometimes give us a push, a strength, we would never know about ourselves. Great post, thank you <3

  2. Laura Zera (@laurazera)

    This is a great post. I started working on this about a month ago, and now that I’m aware of it, realize that I used those words waaaaay too much! “Supposed to” is the other one that I find creeps into my language. I still use them, but even being aware makes me feel like I have more power over it.

  3. Jodi, if we were to replace the “shoulds” in our life, something tells me we’d be happier people. Absolutely. I love the correlation you’ve established between should and judgement. And like you mention, both of these hold us back; stand in the way of reaching fulfillment. I’m definitely going to try to remove the should from my vocabulary and try the alternative ways you’ve suggested. I feel this will be a step in the direction of accomplishing more in my life! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I hear you! Our judgments keep us so unhappy! Be free, Bella! Be exactly who you are and embrace all of it! You are gorgeous anyway. Seriously, I wish we could hang out.

  4. This is very timely. This morning I decided to let go of some things that I thought I should be doing better, and accept that this is where I am at this time. I feel like a weight has been lifted off me. This is where I am, and this is how it is, and that’s OK !!!

    1. Often our judgments are worse than what we are upset about. I find happens all the time! The weight was the judgments more that the lack of whatever it was. Sometimes we are barking up the wrong tree about what would help us, and when we get it, its like an epiphany!

  5. Jodi, great post. As well as I know this it is essential to be reminded. Shoulds are so destructive, yet they creep in all the time. As if punishing yourself for not doing something gives you power over it. Quite the opposite.

    As you say, “People often tell me they want to keep their judgments of themselves lest they get complacent and never try for improvement. This sounds great, but this rarely happens that way. Judgment usually hinders improvement, wellbeing or any movement whatsoever.”

    Well said.
    Lisa W. Rosenberg recently posted..For My Mother From Their Mother on Our DayMy Profile

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