Tag Archives: shoulds

The Tyranny of Shoulds

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We all have a voice inside of our heads which tries to tell us what to do, how to act, and who to be.   Sometimes this voice is productive, such as when it moves us out of inertia and into action. The voice can also help us to do the right thing, even when the right thing is not the easiest or fastest thing to do.  That is the positive side of the voice…

The Dark Side of Our Inner Voice

However, the voice can also be counterproductive or even destructive. It can be so ubiquitous in its presence that we are unable to experience even a moment of peace.  It can relentlessly order us to be productive in each and every moment, to always put the needs and wants of others above our own needs, and to prove our worthiness through action many times each day.

The dark side of the voice is where “should” often resides. Have you ever heard the expression, to “should” on yourself?  The mental imagery evoked is apropos in that this application of should is akin to showering ourselves with garbage (or worse…).

A War Within…

I’ve often spoken of the war inside of myself between the “Warden” and the “Unruly Child.” These two archetypes represent two distinct aspects of my personality.  The Unruly Child desires complete freedom and carte blanche to do whatever she wants in any given moment, even if that includes watching TV and eating bonbons (that’s what many people who know me think I do, anyway, since I haven’t had a “real job” in a number of years).   The Unruly Child doesn’t want to be told what to do by anyone, at any time.

On the flip side, there is the Warden… The Warden is like a drill sergeant. He (I always see the Warden as a man) orders me around continuously and won’t let me rest until there are no tasks left on my to-do list.  Of course, since no one ever really has a completed to-do list, there is no rest for the wicked – or the weary.

The Warden thrives on “shoulds” and believes that if I do not live a regimented existence, nothing will ever get done and all will be chaos.

When the Unruly Child is running the show, I am incredibly unproductive and I don’t feel very good about myself.  Deep down, we all want to get things done and enjoy the fruits of our labor.  Just as children thrive on structure, so do adults.  However, the realm of the Warden is like structure on steroids.  While I may be industrious under the Warden’s regime, I am not happy and I definitely don’t feel free.

Struggling To Find a Happy Medium

For many years, I have vacillated between the chaotic world of the Unruly Child and the prison sentence of the Warden’s control.  I am still struggling to find a happy medium.  I envision the happy medium as a place where peace and productivity can co-exist and thrive together. My “healing product” is not just about healing my body; it’s also about transforming my soul.  One aspect of my inner healing has to do with releasing the “tyranny of the shoulds” and breaking the Warden’s stronghold that saps my vitality and aliveness.

Escaping the Tyranny – A Few Tips

How can we break the hold which “shoulds” have over us?

  • The “I Should…” exercise from Louise Hay which I wrote about in my last post is a good first step.   Sometimes increasing our awareness about the origin of our self-imposed musts can help us to either release or re-frame them.

We can also invent games to play with ourselves to at least place boundaries around our “shoulds.”

  • One thing I do is to select a maximum of three “most important tasks” (MITs) which I will need to complete on any given day. I learned this technique from “The Power of Less” by Leo Babauta, a book which is focused on helping people to simplify their lives.  I’ve found that if I contain my obligations, I can achieve more of a sense of accomplishment from completion.
  • Another “game” I play with myself as a self-employed person is to make deals with myself. I think of something that the “Unruly Child” really wants to do, such as watch TV or read a magazine.  Instead of either doing that thing right away or postponing it until that mythical time when everything is done, I negotiate an agreement with the Warden.  If I spend a certain amount of time on a critical task or complete one of my MITs, I can watch a show or spend a predetermined time frame reading a magazine or surfing the internet.  It’s kind of like time off for good behavior…
  • Something else which has been helpful for me in achieving balance is to track my successes. I wrote about this in one of my earlier posts, “The Practice of Gratitude.”  Including a short list of the things I did well on any given day helps me to realize that despite my perfectionist protests to the contrary, I am getting a lot done and moving forward in my life.

Freedom Lives in the Center

We all have a tendency to be too hard on ourselves. We can be so quick to admonish ourselves for our failings while simultaneously neglecting to give ourselves credit for our successes.  I believe we all have a “Warden” inside of ourselves.  Freud called this facet of our personalities the Superego, but there are many other names for it.  I also feel that each of our personalities includes an “Unruly Child” of sorts (Freud’s concept of the Id).

Our power doesn’t rest in either of these personas.  Our power is seated within our Higher Selves, the part of us that desperately craves balance, fulfillment, and self-expression.

How can we access our Higher Self on a more regular basis? Well, that is a topic for a future post!  If you have any tips or suggestions, or if you would like to comment on what I’ve written in this post, I am open to feedback.  We can definitely help each other to escape the “tyranny of the shoulds” and move forward more freely and powerfully.

“I Should…”

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I Should...This post discusses the concept of “should,” as well as my insights from completing the “I Should” exercise from “You Can Heal Your Life.”

It is my intention to complete at least one exercise from Louise Hay each week and to share my experience and what I learn in this blog.   These posts may be combined with the weekly lesson, or they may stand on their own.

Louise Hay presents an exercise in “You Can Heal Your Life” which is focused on examining our internal “shoulds” and how we can create a more empowering inner dialogue.  The exercise begins with writing or typing “I Should…” and completing the sentence in as many ways as come to mind.  Here are a few of my “shoulds”:

  1. I should be more productive.
  2. I should make more money.
  3. I should get a real job.
  4. I should get up earlier.
  5. I should dress nicely more often.

Why Should I?

The next step of the exercise involves reading each “should” aloud and then asking, “Why?”  The responses to this question reveal where a person is stuck in his or her beliefs and self-imposed limitations. Here are my responses for the statements above:

  1. To get more done, to make myself useful, to justify my existence (re: productivity).
  2. That’s what a person is supposed to do, especially if she’s not a mother; it’s the right thing to do; to take the burden off of my husband (re: making more money).
  3. To make steady and good money, to feel more worthy and necessary, to feel more grounded (re: “real job”).
  4. Most people get up early, to get more done, to feel like less of a “slacker” (re: getting up early).
  5. I have lots of clothes in my closet, to look better, to take more pride in my appearance (re: dressing better).

Should – A Damaging Word…

Louise Hay feels that “should” is one of the most damaging words in the English language.  Every time we say “should,” we are in essence telling ourselves that we were, are, or are going to be wrong. Louise doesn’t believe we need more wrongs in our lives and that, instead, we need more freedom of choice.  She recommends that we replace the word “should” with “could,” as “could” gives us choice instead of making ourselves wrong.

I Could… Why Haven’t I?

The final step in the “I Should” exercise is to go back to each “should” statement and re-write the sentence, this time starting off with “If I really wanted to, I could…” and then asking, “Why haven’t I?” Here are my responses to that follow-on question:

  1. In truth, I am quite productive.  I have some days that are better than others, but so does everyone. I tend to be too “all over the map” and that impinges upon my productivity.  I need to focus more on what matters most and then I will be more productive.
  2. The main truth is that I don’t have to make more money.   My needs are met, so I don’t have to take on work that I don’t want to do.  I have very high standards for the work I will do and will likely need to lower them in order to make more money.
  3. I want to be passionate about what I’m doing.  I want to like what I do.   I also enjoy having variety in my work and many “real jobs” don’t allow for the variety – or the freedom – that I so greatly desire.  I think that instead of focusing on a job, I need to focus on pursuing my passions and working through the fears that hold me back from doing that which most lights me up.
  4. I don’t like to go to bed early and I do better on 7 or more hours of sleep per night.  If I get up by 7 a.m. each day, that is early enough.
  5. I do dress nicely when it matters.  If I am working at home, it’s fine to wear what’s most comfortable.  When I go out, I dress appropriately for my lifestyle.  I don’t usually go out dressed like a slob unless I’m going to the gym (and even then, I’m dressed suitably for the activity at hand).

From Should to Choice

The responses to “Why haven’t you?” often reveal that we’ve been beating ourselves up for something we never really wanted to do or that wasn’t our idea in the first place.  In many instances, the “should” originated with someone else, such as a parent or other powerful adult.  Alternatively, it may be based upon a firmly entrenched societal belief.  My belief that I should get up early is in line with the standard 8-5 job concept which is prevalent in our society.  Since I worked in the corporate world for so many years, I came to associate getting up early with being productive or worthwhile.

One of the benefits of examining our internal “shoulds” is that once we become aware that our “shoulds” originated elsewhere and they aren’t serving us in the present time, we can choose to release them.  As Louise Hay says, the power is always in the present moment.  Awareness can lead to power and choice.

Releasing or Reframing My “Shoulds”

In examining the “shoulds” which I presented in this post, I have chosen to release two and reframe the other three. I decided to release “I should get up earlier” and “I should dress nicely more often” because I realized that I was basing these edicts upon the beliefs of others.  For my life and what I’m up to, I get up early enough and I dress sufficiently well.

For the belief, “I should be more productive,” my reframe is to focus more on what matters most in my life and to center my productivity efforts on those items.  I don’t need to do more; I just need to do the critical few things which will make the greatest difference in my life.

In terms of “I should make more money,” I have decided that I do want to earn a higher level of income, but that I am committed to having that income be derived from work that matters to me.  My empowered action will be to pursue income sources in writing and designing websites for businesses and causes which inspire me.   I don’t need to “get a real job,” but I would like to determine a way to make a reasonably steady income while engaging in interesting and challenging work.

Valuable Insights Lead to Empowering Possibilities!

The “I Should…” exercise provided some valuable insights for me and enabled me to release some long-held limiting beliefs.  I can now move forward with some empowering possibilities for the things I could do.   I’m sure that I will still be confronted by the “tyranny of shoulds” from time to time.  In fact, this subject is of such great interest to me that it will be the topic for another upcoming post…

I encourage you to look at the ways in which “should” adversely impacts your life and to determine if there are any “shoulds” that you might wish to release. I look forward to embracing life from the space of “could” and enjoying more choice and freedom!