Stop should-ing on yourself!

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Stop Should-ing On Yourself: A Call To Eradicate The Word “Should”

It happened a few months ago. I bicycled to my local gym and said hello to a regular who lives in my neighborhood. “I really should bike here,” she told me. But why? I thought. She had already accomplished the hard part, arriving to our challenging weight training class. Why add on one more “should?”

Time to stop should-ing

I’m guilty of this myself: I should cook at home more, I should make the bed, I should work out more, I should be adult enough to keep a succulent alive, I should finally getting around to learning how to smize in my Instagram photos, I should call my mom. But hearing the word aloud from my gym classmate made me pause my endless cycle of shoulds—only compounded by my new year’s resolutions.

Our waterfall of shoulds is clouding our to-do lists and they often imply we’ve already failed and—frankly—they often don’t seem to make us more productive. UK-based psychologist Sophie Mort a.k.a. Dr. Soph agrees with this. In a recent blog, she examines how “should” is a form of self-criticism, writing: “When we criticize and reject ourselves (even in such a subtle manner as when using the word should) we create anxiety and stress in our minds and bodies. What do we know about anxiety and stress? … They shut down our brains ability to problem solve and to maintain attention to a new task.”

Sound familiar? To get some insight about how to escape the anxiety surrounding the “should” cycle I called up my former colleague Cindy Finch, who is a writer, clinical therapist, and adjunct professor of psychology at Pepperdine University. “In my circle, we call that should-ing on yourself,” Finch said. “When I say “should” it’s a shame-based statement. And by that, I mean that it’s not that I made a mistake, or did something wrong. It’s I am wrong at a core level.” She says that when we use shame as a belief, at its roots is the idea that we are flawed. “If I say words like ‘should, aught, must’ I’m not teaching myself new behavior. I’m just using a negative emotion to create a positive behavior—and that doesn’t work.”

Stop should-ing!

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