I’m breaking up with “should”.
You see, I carry a small shoulder-devil with blonde hair and a pink fleecy bodysuit who whispers into my ear with a dry, rusty voice: “let’s spice it up with should“.
She tempts me with rosy illusions of what my life will look like if I follow “should“, and she makes my palms sweaty when she paints pictures of failure in my head if I deviate from should.
I never ask her for advice, yet she wakes up several times a day and every time I’m about to make a decision, such as:
- Before I set my alarm (“You should really get up at 05.30 – that’s what ALL successful people do“)
- When I look in the mirror while considering which clothes I’m wearing (“Hmm, you shouldn’t wear these pants. They make you look chunky and sloppy”)
- After I finish a blog post, even when I finished this article (“How come you never write about interesting things? You should be more creative, like Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, etc. etc”)
The ironic thing about this energy-sucking devil is that if any person in the real life-world would speak to me like she does, I would’ve confronted them. I would’ve asked them why they behave like this. I would feel verbally abused, and I would have taken action accordingly.
But since she’s not a physical human being I’ve had a tendency to just accept her misleading “guidance”. Basically, I’ve been accepting her as a rather annoying part of myself.
Until I realised something very important.
A wake-up call
Two weeks ago, before going to bed, I was brushing my teeth while looking at myself in the mirror. I studied my forehead, the blemishes on my cheeks and my pierced earlobes.
While meticulously studying the state of my skin, there was a sudden inner monologue in my head with a familiar voice assuring me:”You should do more yoga, it would make you look prettier”.
I started laughing since this statement was one of the most ridiculous remarks I’ve ever heard. For the first time in my life I felt that the pink devil was detached from me and that she lost grasp about what I valued and what I strived for. I kept on laughing because every rhythmic contraction of my laughter made me realise the senseless things that she had tried to convince me about for as long as I could remember.
And then it hit me.
The tormenting pink fleece-wearing devil is nothing but a result of expectations.
She tells me that a life of “should’s” is a better life because it’s safe and it follows a path of predefined goals and aspirations. She compares me to others and makes me feel guilt and shame for not measuring up to other people.
But those measures are no longer valid for me, they don’t make me feel jealous or attract me any longer. The set of conditioned thoughts that she represents are no longer part of me. And thus it happened, after that crucial tooth-brushing session, I broke up with my shoulder-devil.
How to distance yourself from “should”
Now, let’s not trash should altogether, sometimes the use of should can be useful.
In fact, I believe that there are two types of should we can apply in our daily lives:
- The absolute-vital-for-existing-in-society-and-preventing-total-zombie-apocalypse-mass-destruction-should (includes paying your bills and brushing your teeth)
- The pointless and deficient should that only tells you what you ought to do and what others expect from you. This should has nothing to do with you and you developing your own framework and reaching your full potential
Sometimes should is necessary. If you are in a should -situation of hanging laundry, changing the diaper of your baby, you should probably take action, because the result will benefit you or someone else positively.
But if you’re currently walking around with a disturbing background noise on your shoulder – even a tiny voice that keeps reminding you about should – then confront it. Start with identifying it, what it says and what it wants you to do. Then ask yourself: is that what YOU actually want to do?
I’m breaking up with my pink-dressed shoulder devil and I’m creating greater distance to her. I might not ever be able to get fully rid of her (after all we shared accommodation for as long as I can remember), but creating a space between what I want and what she wants is greatly helpful. My best tip for taming the shoulder-devil is to think about Harry Potter.
Seriously, try to consider should as a creature that takes the form of your biggest fear. Basically, it’s a “boggart” from Harry Potter, and it is to be identified, faced and then “fought” with laughter so it cannot thrive. It’s highly effective, but takes a bit of practice.
Start with choose
Once should is identified and we’re starting to work with our actual dreams and aspirations, we can think about fun stuff.
We can start thinking about choose.
I’m trying to choose choose. It’s not easy as should has been such an integral part of my vocabulary up until now, but it’s the only way forward for me.
I choose intentionality, curiosity, dreams and creativity.
In fact, I’m practicing a life of choosing my activities by brainwashing myself (does not include the things I have to do such as rent and toothbrushing, mind you).
It’s a simple exercise to explain but difficult to adopt: every time I’m inclined to say should, I replace it with choose – and I’m forced to ask myself: is this really something choose to do?
Here’s where I’ve changed my vocabulary (or realised that my belief was wrong):
- I should eat more plants → I choose a plant based diet (because it makes me feel better and I maintain my weight without effort)
- I should get up at 05.30 in the morning → no, I shouldn’t, I refuse to follow this. I choose eight hours of sleep as it enables me to function at my best so I get up at 07.00 instead
- I should do yoga on daily basis → yes, I choose to do yoga on a daily basis because it does wonders for my mental clarity and mood
Choose isn’t always romantic, creative and rosy. I’ve found that choose often brings some level of insecurity (you chose to do it so you’ve no one else to blame but yourself). But isn’t that the ultimate gift that we can give and nurture ourselves with (not the blame) but ownership of our lives and intentionality?
Now I better go, I have a pile of laundry that I should hang.