Recently I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who had an inner critic, a voice that told me things like you’re not good enough, you should have done it a different way, you’re hopeless. I always thought that I was the only one who suffered from this problem. Finding out otherwise has liberated me from some of the chains of this voice. I have learned to make this voice work for me, to be more encouraging, constructive and rational.
I’ve been thinking about all the shoulds we carry in our minds that burden us so heavily. And I realised today there are two kinds of shoulds. One exists only to please others or to keep up appearances. For example, “I should do that thing for my mother that I don’t really want to do and means very little to her but I’m afraid of making her angry with me” or “I should say yes to this extra job even though it won’t bring me any new experience or thanks – it’s a menial job that should really be delegated but I’m afraid of looking bad if I turn it down” or “I should bake all the cupcakes for my daughter’s party because that will make me look like a real supermum and I don’t want anyone to think that I’m not a great mum“.
Then there are the shoulds that we know we should do because they would truly improve our lives in some way, but we’ve neglected because they don’t seem urgent, we’re lazy, or we haven’t prioritised them. Like “I should do some exercise” or “I should see a financial advisor” or “I should enrol for that course because I would learn important new skills and further my career“.
Mums in particular seem to suffer from the shoulds a lot. I know I used to walk around with so many shoulds in my head I thought I would explode. I should be putting nappy cream on or my baby will get nappy rash. I should be putting my three-month-old’s name down at private schools. I should be using cloth nappies. I should be sticking to more of a routine. I should be taking my baby to Gymbaroo.
I learned very recently how to deal with these annoying and sometimes debilitating “shoulds”. Here’s the three-step process I propose. I’m not very good at this yet but with a framework I think I can start to tackle my shoulds in a constructive, non-judgemental way, and get rid of all the “mental clutter” that holds me back.
1. Write them down, or at least become aware and acknowledge the “should”. Don’t let it hang around like a bad guest. It needs to be dealt with.
2. Be critical of the “should”. Is it (a) something that will only appease someone else, or is coming from an impossible societal expectation – or is it (b) something I really should do? Will it improve my life measurably or am I just afraid of what someone else will think?
3. If it’s an “a” should, bin it. Let it go or, even better, mentally boot it out of your head. (I love visualising a great big boot kicking the “should” out of my mind! Be gone with you, horrid pestilence!) If it’s a “b” should, turn it into a goal : Quantify it and set a deadline. For example, “By May the 21st I will have completed my tax return” (*groan*) or “By the end of this week I will have read to my children for five minutes every day”. Put it into your calendar.
I’m so sick and tired of all the shoulds crowding my brain space. It’s time to do some spring cleaning, but I know many of these shoulds are my own way of taking care of myself. So I’m listening to that caring, nurturing voice and rejecting the purely critical, negative voice that anxiously aims to please others. It’s not that I don’t want to be of value to others, but I’m learning to recognise those situations where it wouldn’t matter if I said No, it’s simply all in my head and I have some exaggerated sense of wanting to please. And I’m also taking control of the shoulds that I should be doing, by turning them into an active goal with an end-point. Ultimately I want to be as free of unnecessary guilt as I can be and live a more effective life. I hope this helps and I would love to hear about your shoulds
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