Lately I've been struck by how often I hear people begin their sentences with “I should..." For example:
- I should quit this job.
- I should go to bed earlier.
- I should cook at home more often.
- I should have known better.
And of course the perennial (among yoga practitioners):
- I should meditate more often.
I have many more examples at my disposal. All heard within the last week. The person launching into a "should sentence" usually has a distinctive physical and energetic presentation. They are slumping, sighing, frowning, overall sounding and looking defeated. What I really hear behind their use of “I should...” ( AKA should-ing) is “I'm not good enough, I'm a failure, I'm pathetic.” Talk about a small word that packs a punch! Words have a consciousness of their own. Some words uplift. Should is not one of those.
The Undesirable Heaviness of Should
The words we speak, or simply think, are all imbued with a unique emotional tone. What emotion can you hear echoing in the footsteps of should-ing? Not confidence for sure! Rather I hear guilt, fear, a sense of inferiority and inadequacy, the (unfortunate) belief that something's wrong with me. This is the kind of emotional state that should-ing invites. The emotional waters you'll find yourself sinking in when punctuating too many of your conversations (in your head or out loud) with this downer of a little word. In the end, should-ing is saying "I am never doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing, when or where I'm supposed to be doing it." Should-ing is basically beating yourself up without sounding (too much) like it. It's self judgment, pure and simple, and it will make you feel like crap. Is this the emotional state you want to nurture? …
I didn't think so :)
Reframe and Rephrase
So what are you going to say instead?! How are you going to speak about those things you know you should be doing but aren't? ;) Just refraining from speaking the word isn't enough. Thoughts, whether spoken or not, carry the same vibration. What's needed is a shift in perspective and to reframe the situation. Instead of focusing on what you're not doing, how about choosing to focus on what you are doing, in any given situation, that is working. How about celebrating your victories instead of highlighting the places in your life where you are struggling? Using that approach, the previously cited examples become (hypothetically, of course):
- This job works for me, for now. I am grateful.
- I'm aware I need more sleep, I can't deny that. (Celebrating self-awareness here.)
- Cooking at home sure has its benefits, but I can eat out and still make healthy choices. (My own reframe & rephrase!)
- I did the best I could, I'm learning.
- The little bit I meditate, I really enjoy it. (Or alternatively: I don't meditate because I don't enjoy it! Just telling it like it is.)
Perhaps your should-ing habit is just that, a linguistic habit you picked up along the way unconsciously. With a little extra awareness, a few weeks might be all you need to weed that word out of your vocabulary, get into the new habit of highlighting your successes, no matter how small, and feel much lighter as a result.
So next time you hear yourself should-ing...Pause, reframe and rephrase.
No more beating yourself up. There is enough violence in this world! Should-ing may appear like an inconsequential expression of violence, but I'll challenge you on that belief. As Buddha said "With our thoughts we make the world." For better or worse, our physical world begins taking shape at the vibrational level, with the thoughts we think, the emotions we feel. One tiny unkind thought doesn't seem like much, but repeated over and over by you and billions of others thinking similar thoughts, it can quickly snowball into a macrocosmic expression of unkindness...i.e a violent world. It seems to me we're already there. Each one of us playing a part in this. Indeed, how can we be kind to others if we cannot be kind to ourselves? If more often than not we judge and berate ourselves, if that is what we know best, we'll likely be the same with our neighbors. Which makes me think of a quote from the Bible, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself", theoretically a recipe for world peace. Unfortunately I believe we more often "Judge/hate/criticize our neighbor as ourselves". That's right. The "loving thy neighbor" part is easy when we really love and accept ourselves as we are. That's where the real work is to be done, IMHO. So as the week begins and shootings, bombings and Donald Trump continue to dominate the news, how about slowing down on should-ing and being a little kinder with yourself? Choosing self-compassion over judgment? You never know, the world might be a better place for it.
With deep appreciation for who you are. xo