I’m not sure if I came up with that saying on my own or if I heard it along the way, but it’s one I use often.
Don’t should on yourself.
I’ve found through the years that I should on myself a lot.
- I should know better.
- I should be a better daughter.
- I should have done a better job.
- I should have stopped myself.
- I should do yoga.
- I should have stood up for myself.
- I should eat better.
- I should be thinner.
- I should watch less tv.
- I should use my time more productively.
- I should volunteer more.
Shoulda woulda coulda. It’s exhausting.
Where do these voices come from and why do we, I, give them so much authority?
I’ve challenged myself in the midst of a should and stop and ask, “Should I really? Who says? Where is this external voice and authority coming from and why am I giving it so much power?”
In January I facilitated a goal setting workshop for folks and in March we did a check in. One participant told me that she could hear my voice in her head as she sat through a class she took at the library, on a Saturday, and was hating it. She set a goal to do more things that stimulate her mind and her interests and she thought that this class would be one of them. Shortly through it, she realized she was bored to death and wasn’t interested at all in the content.
But she stayed. She started to should on herself, “you should stick with this. You paid for this. This was a goal. You should finish it.”
But she then asked herself, “why? why would I stay and endure this when I’m not enjyoing myself at all? And I could be doing other things with my day that I do enjoy?”
So, she walked out. (politely, during a break.) But she walked out. She stopped shoulding on herself.
We should on other people too.
- He should know better.
- She should behave differently.
- He should be more responsible.
- She should know me.
- He should be more organized.
Again, says who? I’m amazed at how many times we find ourselves at work saying, “he should….she should….” and never do we make our assumptions or expectations clear with the person we’re shoulding on. So, we don’t make our expectations clear and then we get upset with the person because they “should know better” or “they should behave differently.”
In these instances, I challenge my clients to test their assumptions. Whenever they start playing with words like, “he should have been at the meeting” or any type of should, I ask them to share with me what their interpretation of the behavior they’re shoulding on is. It goes something like this:
“He should have been at the meeting.”
Why do believe that to be true?
Because this is ultimately his project and he should have been there.
What interpretation are you giving his behavior if he doesn’t show up for the meeting?
That he doesn’t care about the project. (and I suspect, the person doing the shoulding doesn’t feel recognized or cared for.)
Do you have any data that says otherwise? Meaning, have you experienced or heard of this person doing anything that might demonstrate the he cares about the project?
Well, yes, at the beginning of the project, he shared explicitly how he does care and how meaningful this project is for him personally. He always checks in on me and us when he’s walking down the hall and sends regular emails to recognize our contributions.
What other interpretations might we have on his lack of presence in the meeting?
Well, he does send his direct report, which could mean that he’s trying to empower her at the meeting and if he trusts her, he can be somewhere else and together they can be more collectively useful.
Now we’re on to something.
So where does this voice come from? The voice that says other people should or shouldn’t do something? Where does this “standard” come from? Who says? Maybe after you test your “should” you feel even more grounded in its truth. If that’s the case, GREAT! I’m asking us to pause to just test our assumptions before we act on them as truth.
The next time you find yourself shoulding on yourself or others, I encourage you to test your assumptions and ask where this voice comes from.
Life is short. Spend it doing things that come from your heart and are true to you – not things that are influenced by an external source that we give way too much power to. It’s your life. You should do with it what you want.