How to Determine If You Should Keep Holding On To Your “Shoulds”

Not very long ago I felt very disappointed in myself.  There were several things that I knew I should be doing but wasn’t doing them, and this made me feel like a hopeless failure.  I had been carrying around those “shoulds” for several years and every time I thought about them I felt an immense amount of guilt and shame for not being strong enough, and for not using my will power to force myself to do the things I knew I should be doing.

I later learned that these “shoulds” are very damaging to our sense of self-worth because they make us feel incompetent and less-than; they give us the impression that we are wrong or that we are doing something wrong. They weigh us down just as if we were carrying actual weights tied around our neck and shoulders, and cause us to look down on ourselves and blame our lack of discipline or will-power.

One day I came across the book “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay. In one of the chapters Louise mentions an approach that she uses in her sessions with some of her clients.  This approach involves taking a close look at those “shoulds” we have carried around on our shoulders for years, and really assessing whether they should remain with us or be discarded once and for all.

Louise’s approach works as follows:

  1. Fold a piece of writing paper in half. On the first half make a list of all the “shoulds” that come to mind. Begin each sentence with “I should [fill in the blank].”  Really take the time to find all those “shoulds” you’ve been carrying around and bring them to the forefront of your mind, and write them down.
  2. On the second half of the paper, write “Why?” as the heading; now, for each “should” that you listed in step 1, write down the reason why you should be doing it. Don’t second guess your answers; simply write whatever first comes to mind.
  3. Now you are going to go down the list of your “shoulds” one more time, except this time instead of beginning your sentence with “I should [fill in the blank]” you are going to begin each sentence with “If I really wanted to, I could [fill in the blank].” Notice that this puts a whole new light on the matter.  See if you experience any difference in the way you feel when you state your “shoulds” as “coulds” instead. After each of these statements ask yourself this question. “Why haven’t I?” And answer it honestly.

This exercise was very revealing to me.  It allowed me to clearly see that many of the things that I was beating myself up for all those years weren’t even my idea to begin with. These were ideas that were put there by other people in my life who thought that I “should” do them.  And many of these I didn’t even really want to do!  I remembered how inferior I felt when a member of my family said I should “be smart like so and so who is younger than you and already bought a house.”  What a load of baloney! Anything that fell in this category I discarded immediately, and oh what a relief that was!

As Louise explains,

There are so many people who try to force themselves for years into a career they don’t even like only because their parents said they “should” become a dentist or a teacher.

If you have been carrying around a bunch of “shoulds” that have caused you to develop guilt, shame or low self-esteem, I encourage you to give Louise’s approach a try.  If you find out that these “shoulds” shouldn’t be part of your life, don’t carry them around any longer! Write them down on a separate piece of paper, ball it up and burn it. You’ll feel tremendous amount of relief once you let them go.  If you can’t get rid of a “should” for whatever reason (be sure it’s a valid one), then at least see if you can reframe it in a way that does not cause you to feel any negative feeling when you think of it. You’ll love yourself more in the process.

Do you have any input on the subject that you would like to share?  Drop me a line in the comment box below.

I’d love to hear from you!

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