Recently, I’ve had multiple conversations where people are saying that they should do this or they should do that. In that same conversation, they’ll talk about feeling stressed because they feel they have to do something even if it’s not something that they like or desire to do. In other words this is an obligation that they feel there is no choice but to do it. Then, this week I was reading a book of short essays and there was an essay about how often we ‘should’ ourselves. This topic has come up so many times in the past week, that I just felt the need to write about it.
I get it. I’ve done it too. I’ve told myself that I should do something and felt that pressure to perform, but I’ve been working to avoid it for the past few years. I became aware of putting this unnecessary stress on myself several years ago and I have to say that I do it a lot less now than I used to. It feels great to get rid of that stress!
In this final week before my son goes back to school, I could tell myself that I should spend more time with him. I should cook him healthy meals. I should help him pack. I should help him plan for the year. The list could go on and on, but I’m not that person anymore. I know that I will do my best to be there for him, but I’m not going to add extra stress by adding the guilt that comes along with ‘should’. Adding that stress and guilt won’t actually make me do any of these things. I’ll just resent having that extra pressure being put on myself. I just refuse to do this most of the time now.
Every once in awhile a ‘should’ will sneak into my vocabulary. Usually when it does, I catch myself and ask why I felt the need to make this statement that way. Often, it was just a slip of the tongue but sometimes there’s a bit of guilt behind it. I might feel like I’m being judged for not doing something like cooking healthy meals for my son, but usually I’ve put that pressure on myself. No one else has done that to me.
In the essay that I read this week, the author, Kate Manahan, suggested changing ‘I should’ to ‘I get to’. It’s a mindset shift. It changes the activity or thought from something that you feel you are pressured to do (even if the pressure is only coming from yourself), into something that you have a choice about. It goes from a negative connotation to a positive connotation. Instead of I should fix healthy meals for my son, it’s I get to cook healthy meals for my son. It becomes a bit of a gift that I have the chance to do this service for him (even when he doesn’t appreciate it.) It’s a gift that I get to do these things for him before he goes back to school.
I really like this approach. In the past, I’ve simply tried to avoid using the word should because it doesn’t make me feel very good when I use it. With this simple shift to ‘I get to…’ I can make even more of a mindset shift to think in a positive manner that works better for me.
What would happen for you if you took ‘should’ out of your day? First you have to be aware how often you use that word. Then when you catch yourself saying it, try the ‘I get to’ approach. Substitute the phrase and notice if your mindset changes about the activity. When you do, also notice how you body reacts. Maybe you decide that you really don’t want to do this activity and simply decide to ignore the thought. Or maybe, you decide that really this is a chance to do something for someone else or perhaps even yourself without the guilt being added on top.
When I use this phrase, I feel lighter and more eager to do a task. I recognize that I do have choices and that getting to spend time with my son is a gift and not an obligation to be performed under duress just because he leaves home again in a few days.
Just like so many things in our lives, our mindset about a situation will help determine how we feel about it. Change ‘should’ to ‘I get to’ and change your mindset. You can choose the words that come out of your mouth for your own ears to hear. So, why not use words that give your mindset a boost in a positive direction?