Years of therapy and personal development elevated my sensitivity to the word “should” and its well intentioned but woefully misguided uses, or rather abuses in our culture. The beginning of “should” awareness came in my mid-twenties as I discovered the toxicity of my codependent ways. There is nothing more effective than mothering a toddler, while pregnant with another child, and going through a divorce to hurl you into the festering bowels of introspective reflection.
In hindsight, the obstacles to my sanity feel so obvious… I believed, with tragic sincerity, that the world, in its entirety, ebbed and flowed, according to three things:
1.) The magnitude of my “good-ness” as a wife, mother, daughter, friend, etc. – If the people were happy, then I was “good” and likewise, if the people were unhappy, it was clearly because I failed them.
2.) The strength of my commitment to “do” – I helped, volunteered, donated, hosted, coordinated, befriended, sustained, accompanied, advocated, endorsed, assisted, etc. myself nearly to death.
3.) The size of my rear end – I wish, like you can’t imagine, that this was a joke but it is the truth. As I moved into a more healthy mindset, my body came along for the ride. I lost about 60 pounds and felt more healthy, energized, and active than I had since early childhood. As summer came into bloom, I discovered a shocking truth… when it is hot outside, even the skinny me sweats!
This may sound insane (or not) but I realized that for YEARS when I went outside the whole sweating thing happened in my mind (and heart, and soul, and fear) because I was fat. What the hell type of self-inflation does it take for a reasonably intelligent woman to believe that her extra 60 pounds causes her to sweat, instead of the oppressive humidity and 97 degree heat of an August afternoon in Nashville, Tennessee.
Recovering from that disordered mentality, as you can imagine, required a sustained effort and a significant pool of resources – therapy, 12-step meetings, books, cash money, tears, family, mercy, and friends like you can’t imagine. Literally thousands of lessons and treasures live today, in me, from this transforming experience.
One of my favorite is the clarity-diffusing power of the word “should.” “Should” takes an otherwise simple statement and spreads it out, transforming a solid message into a string of words disconnected from action. Read these examples, then read them again substituting “should” for “will”:
Self-care - I will go to bed, so I can get 8 hours of sleep.
Family - I will leave work by 5, so I can get to my son’s soccer game.
Creativity - Painting helps me feel connected. I will find a class, so I can paint once a month.
Using “will” declares an ACTION. Using “should” doesn’t declare anything, except perhaps the awareness that action would bring you into alignment with your goals (and that you are not, in fact, acting). It’s far more inspiring to declare action instead of declaring awareness that action is required!
Earlier this week, a client whose goal is to lose weight said to me, “I know I should cut out the white bread and refined sugar. It’s just so hard.” Another client said, “The thing that makes me mad is that I don’t care what happens… but I know I should.” I said to both of these women, “I don’t know about this ‘should,’ tell me what it means to ‘should’ something.” This is what one of my best friends calls a “Christy-love her, hate her” moment.
To the first client I say, “You told me your goal is to lose 15 pounds. When I asked you what it would take to lose 15 pounds, you told me the biggest thing would be to stop eating bread and refined sugar. Today, you say that you know you “should” stop eating these two things. Does “should” mean you decided to eliminate those items from your meal plan? Or does “should” mean you decided it feels too overwhelming to eliminate both of those items this week, so you want my help to create a new strategy to reach your goal?”
The second client is even more simple. “I don’t know about this ‘should’… give me more information. You either care or you don’t. You either value the outcome or not. Do you want my help deciding if you care or do you already know, and you want my help figuring out what to do about it?”
A fragile ego is the hazard of fancying yourself fairly evolved. When I inadvertently wrote “should” twice in one paragraph yesterday, I stumbled up against my ego. I tell them and tell them about the “should” and why it sucks. Worse yet, the forbidden “should” appeared not on my blog, or in my monthly e-newsletter or some other outlet where the world could hold me to the fire. “Should,” the sneaky saboteur, flowed from my very fingertips onto the sacred pages of my journal. The one place where I can write with complete anonymity, where no one can find my dark side and help me expose it. The place where I MUST find the red flags and hold myself accountable. Candidly examining our most uncensored thoughts for holes, signs that an old message still plays in our heads, that creates authentic transformation.
Today, I’m putting this “should” on notice that it is evicted. It is not welcome here, in the space between my purpose and my actions, where confusion casts dangerous shadows.
The righteous eviction of should. That is one simple thing… we can all do.