Whether the “should” comes from an external or internal source doesn’t matter much since it typically results in “shoulding yourself.” Let me explain.
If someone says you should do something, your mind immediately latches onto that and starts to wonder, “Should I do that? Maybe I should…” Of course, you want to be liked and accepted as well as succeed. And what other people say or advise means something to you, especially if the advice comes from someone you respect. Therefore, their belief that you should do something becomes part of your internal conversation with yourself. And, before you realize what has happened, you are shoulding yourself.
What is Shoulding Yourself?
If you’ve never heard the term “shoulding yourself” before, let me explain. Psychologist Clayton Barbeau coined the term, which means putting pressure on yourself to do something or be someone based on what you think you’re supposed to do or be. And shoulding is not limited to “should do” but includes “shouldn’t do.”
Typically, shoulding yourself sounds like this: “You should be better,” “You should know better,” or “you should do better.” (You can substitute “I” for “you.”) The opposite of that is, “You shouldn’t be that way, you shouldn’t think or believe that, or you shouldn’t do that.”
Too often, shoulding yourself takes the form of automatic thoughts. You react to something external or internal by telling yourself, “I should…” or “I shouldn’t…”
Shoulding yourself is a terrible trap. If you don’t do what you believe you should, you feel wrong, not good enough, or guilty. And if you do what you should, you still feel wrong, not good enough, or guilty. There’s no way out of the negative impact.
In fact, shoulding serves to strengthen your belief that you cannot be trusted to do the so-called right thing. And lack of trust leads to low self-esteem and self-worth—or creates it.
Not only that, the word “should” frequently replaces powerful phrases like “I want,” “I can,” and “I will”—or “I don’t want, I can’t, I won’t.” These declarations flow out of your true desires, personal freedom and power, and belief in yourself. But replace “want,” “can,” or “will” with should, and you give away your power and freedom and mask your true desires.
Why You Don’t Want to Should on Yourself
If someone else isn’t shoulding you, you do it to yourself—often unconsciously or habitually. Whether it’s someone else’s words or your own thoughts doesn’t matter; the result is the same—self-criticism, self-judgment, low self-esteem, and internal and external pressure.
Plus, as mentioned, you give away your personal power. Rather than standing in the knowledge that you can make decisions about what to do or who to be without outside help, you cave in. You allow others to dictate your thoughts and behaviors. You do what they say to do and become the person they expect you to be instead of standing up for yourself or what you truly want.
Additionally, you don’t want to should yourself because:
- It makes you feel obligated to do something you may not want to do.
- You feel pressured to be someone you are not or don’t want to be.
- It stops you from doing what you want to do or being who you want to be.
- It prevents you from listening to your own counsel and trusting yourself.
It’s time to stop all that, is it not? Shoulding yourself is not a way to show up authentically or live a life that feeds your soul.
How to Stop Shoulding Yourself
So how do you break the shoulding yourself cycle? Here are four ways.
1. Become more self-aware
Start paying attention to how often you should yourself throughout your day. Consider each instance and ask yourself questions like:
- Why should I?
- Who says I should?
- Do I really want to do/not do this, or is society’s norm telling me what to do?
If you want to take this inquiry a step further, ask: “Who, why, and under what circumstances should I___?” For example, instead of telling yourself, “I should lose weight,” say, “I should lose weight if I want to be healthier.”
I also highly recommend using Byron Katie’s famous question: “Is that true?” Use it each time you hear someone or yourself say, “You should…”
2. Get in Touch with Your Desires
As I explained, should often prevents you from getting clear on what you genuinely want or who you want to be. Uncovering your desires, feelings, and dreams helps you trade shoulds for wants.
So, ask yourself:
- What do I want?
- Who do I want to be?
- What do I want to do?
- What do I like?
- What’s important to me?
- What do I value?
- What are my aspirations?
- What are my goals and dreams?
Then determine if any of your true desires line up with your shoulds. If not, trade them for your wants.
3. Change Your Words
Replace the word “should” with “I want…can…will…am…” Also, try using words like “I get to” or “I choose to” instead of “I should.”
Using different words shifts your inner dialogue and mindset. As a result, you relieve unnecessary internal or external pressure to do or be something that is not aligned with what you want or who you want to be.
4. Align with Your Future Self
In the end, there’s really only one question you need to answer: Who do I want to be…someone who does what they should or does what they want? Your answer identifies your future identity or self.
If you want to be someone who stands up for and trusts yourself, cool! Be that person. Would that person spend time shoulding yourself? Not a chance. So don’t do it.
And shoulding yourself from a place of alignment with your future self comes from a place of self-empowerment. You might, for example, ask your future self, “What do you think I should do?” Tap into your own wisdom and trust that you know what is best for you. Then you stop living up to other people’s expectations and live a life you choose.
Do you struggle to stop shoulding yourself? Tell me why and what circumstances make it more difficult for you to stop. Also, please share this post with a friend or on social media. If you feel challenged to create change on your own, reach out or join the Inspired Creator Community.
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Photo courtesy of Arun Sharma .