Putting My Oxygen Mask on First – Don’t Should Yourself

After some conversations with clients, I noticed that usually when we use the word “should” it’s not very empowering. “I should” or “you should” seems to be negative. We are typically using it to berate or shame ourselves (or someone else) for not living up to a standard – it implies we are not OK as we are. Or we are using it to limit ourselves or others – it seems to imply there is just one right way or right answer. As a parent, I want to start questioning my motives anytime I say something to my kids that starts with “You should” – what is my intention? Am I imposing my own limiting beliefs on them? Am I trying to shame them? Am I trying to get them to be something I want them to be instead of the wonderful beings they are?

Last week when I was hiking in Indiana, I felt a strong need for grounding. It was warm out, so I took off my hiking boots. It felt so good that I wanted to hike barefoot – and immediately I thought “I shouldn’t”.  But when I questioned that assumption, I realized my only reason was because that’s not what people do – everyone else was wearing boots or shoes and I didn’t want to get muddy/dirty. So I hiked barefoot through the paths – mud and all, and it was glorious. Yes, my feet and socks got muddy, but guess what? The mud washed off! I had to go through the same mental exercise when I wanted to lay down on the ground without a blanket.

One of my clients shared that she would always feel badly after the weekend because there was a list of things she “should” have done. Instead of beating herself up for not getting her “shoulds” done over the weekends, she created a new framework for herself. She had goals about being more creative, active and fun – so she set goals to do one creative thing, one physical activity and something fun. She focuses on accomplishing that goal instead of a lot of “shoulds” and reports she is much happier.

The next time you hear the word “should” come out of your mouth, take a minute to reflect. Are you about to limit or shame yourself or others?  If so, it’s a great opportunity to treat yourself with more compassion or to examine your limiting beliefs.

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