Why do we use the word should in our language? The dictionary definition of should is “used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone's actions.” We use the word should in our daily lives to make ourselves and others wrong about how we feel, what we want, and how we see the world. Should implies that there is a fixed ‘right and wrong, a good and bad that everyone is tied to and has agreed upon. Should tells us what is right or wrong, good or bad. Should can only be used in this context of dualistic, polarized thinking.
When we should on ourselves, it’s like telling ourselves that we have to live up to this external standard. This creates a huge amount of stress in our minds and in our lives. It keeps us comparing ourselves to some ‘norm’. When we feel differently than that norm, we feel like a failure when we don’t meet the mark. We feel guilty for not living up to the standard even if it doesn’t feel good to us. When we say that we ‘should’, we are judging ourselves for not wanting to experience something – consciously or unconsciously. As children, many of us learned ‘should’ was tied to getting our needs met. For example, I should eat all of my vegetables if I want my mom to drive me to sports – even when I don’t want to! Should points out the places where I am not honoring what feels best to me. When I should, or I have to do/say/be something, it is out of duty and obligation. I want to do/say/be my authentic self from inspiration and desire – not duty or obligation.
To break this cycle of ‘shoulding’, we get to recognize that we don’t have to give up our internal integrity (honoring what is best for us) to live up to external expectations. As children, we felt the only way to survive was to please/follow what our caregivers asked for. As adults, that is no longer the case. We do not have to give up our well-being for our boss, our spouse, our children, our neighbors or our colleagues. We get to choose what works best for us, regardless of what is acceptable or helps us to belong. When I hear myself say the word ‘should’, I feel the feelings that go with it and feel my energy drain. Then, I remember that I can shift my choices from something I should do to something that I want to do. A small distinction, yet it’s a 180-degree difference in perspective.
If we focus on what feels best for us, and encourage others to do the same for themselves, the word should disappears. We may want to do what is best for ourselves, or we may not – neither choice is right or wrong so there is nothing to ‘should’ about. Others may do what is best for themselves, or they may not. It is not our place to judge them for where they are on their journey. Their choices or not wrong, so there is nothing to ‘should’ them about. Everyone learns their lessons in their own way and time when we allow them to have their own experience.
To interrupt a should when you hear it in your mind or conversation, challenge the thought before acting on it. Ask yourself ‘why should I?’ This will help you come back into the present moment instead of being caught by your ego’s comparison of your choice to some standard. Is your choice aligned with your highest good? Does it feel like the best choice for you in this moment? If not, let yourself off the hook, do what feels most loving to you in that moment, and then pat yourself on the back for honoring and taking care of you regardless of what others think, say or do around you.
What ‘shoulds’ can you release today?
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