When I first heard this phrase, and laughed my behind off because I am so guilty of “shoulding” myself. It made me take a step back though, and I started paying attention to how often I said the word “should” in my general day-to-day life. Do any of these sounds familiar?
I should work out more
I should eat less sugar
I should get my kid into (a sport, piano lessons, art, activity) otherwise they’ll never be a well-rounded adult
I should (or…I should want to) spend more time with the kids, my husband, my family, friends…etc
I should spend more time outside and less time working on the computer
This inner voice is very much related to the Jerk in My Head I wrote about last month. It’s much more subtle, however, but just as detrimental to our general happiness. In essence, both of them say you’re not good enough already; you’ll be good enough when….when you accomplish all the “should’s”. You constantly set the bar just a bit further out of your reach, otherwise something horrible will happen. These voices use fear as a motivator, and we all know how beneficial and sustaining that is. And so, the perpetual rat race continues.
There’s a difference between taking a passive approach, telling ourselves that we should be doing “X” or get better at “Y”, then we’ll finally be ready, succumbing to the mercy of the constant undercurrent of our life. It comes down to making a decision to take charge of your situation, and move from the backseat to the driver’s seat, where the view is MUCH more interesting and fulfilling, and you’re empowered to take the wheel and move yourself in a direction. ANY direction will do – and the smaller the steps, the better. Once we start the process, momentum sets in and there is less resistance. It’s more about taking a proactive stance in self-care and building confidence to step out of our comfort zone where any real change happens.
A few years ago, I felt so entirely stuck and fear-filled that making any kind of decision about changing my purpose and career situation was almost unimaginable. Part of what helped me in the beginning was breaking down my fear into more reasonable, digestible chunks and exploring how curiosity can play a significant role in this process. When we get curious about the fear instead of avoiding it, we’re able to pinpoint what fear actually feels like in the body, because fear is simply our body’s reaction to thoughts. Our minds are hardwired to fight or freeze when these feelings arise. When we habitually react to fear in a freezing state, we condition our minds to generate a deep rooted habit to stay put, and it doesn’t matter if the fear is real or perceived. Bringing a sense of curiosity implies that there’s something we don’t know, and get really interested in learning more about it, which feels good, as Dr. Brewer explains below. It’s like we’re able to override the debilitating feelings that come with the fear of living our best, most gratifying life.
Here’s a great Ted Talk by Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, talking about his research in curiosity, overcoming bad habits like overeating, smoking, habitually checking our phones, and how to change our behavior.
Something to try: Simply become aware of when the many levels of fear come up. Can you notice any physical sensations arising? (tightness in the chest, heart racing, muscles clenching, etc.) Can you try, even for a couple breaths, to meet fear as it comes up and stay with it, rather than distracting, avoiding or resisting it? What would happen if you tried?
Contact me here to let me know how you do!