Forget about what you SHOULD do

Friday I mentioned I went back to yoga for the first time in awhile.

One of the things the instructor said in class made me nod my head in recognition, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. As we pushed and breathed and gritted our teeth trying to get into a pose, she urged us to relax our eyes, our jaws. She reminded us that the tension we were feeling in our shoulders was a result of all the “shoulds” we were telling ourselves–you know, all of the stuff we feel like we should be doing.

Stephen Colbert, doing his wag of the finger.

I’m sure you know all about shoulds. My list goes something like this: I should go to yoga more often; I should go to bed earlier; I should pop right up in the morning and get a jump on my day; I should be more productive with my time; I should meditate. The list goes on and on. But generally speaking, all those shoulds floating around in my head only serve to make me feel more stressed, and less likely to do what I should.

If you are trying to lose weight, eat better, exercise more, or just lead a healthier life, you likely have a strong case of the shoulds.

You probably also realize that it’s not getting you any closer to your goals.

Think about the last time someone in your life insisted you should do something. How did you feel? Did you do what you were told, or did you silently (or loudly?!) rebel, doing the exact opposite of what you should? Even if you did do what was expected of you, you probably didn’t like it one bit!

The same holds true when you talk to yourself. Constantly guilting yourself about all the ways you are falling short will only invoke resistance. Instead, think about what you can do. What would feel good to accomplish? What small step you can take today that will get you closer to where you want to be? Then celebrate that achievement.

When I hear a coaching client say the s-word too many times, I ask them about their motivation for change. Do they want to lose 20 lbs. because their doctor/spouse/kids think should? Because they themselves think they should? Or is their motivation something more tangible, like getting off diabetes medication? Maybe they want to take a backpacking trip with friends and not be the one the group has to wait for. Maybe it’s as simple as being able to carry kids or grandkids without huffing and puffing after 2 minutes.

Shifting from an external “should” focus to some kind of meaningful internal motivation brings energy and a feeling of success that keeps you on track.

If you’re motivated to reach a goal, but still can’t seem to take the needed steps, it might help to make a list of pros and cons. What are your reasons for staying the same? Your reasons to change? What are the negatives for staying the same? What are the negatives for change? Seeing your true feelings on paper can help you identify where your resistance to change lies, and generate  ideas for overcoming obstacles.

When I took a deep breath and let my shoulders fall away from my ears during that friday yoga class, all of the shoulds in my head went quiet for awhile. This morning, I set some small goals that are important to me, not because they should be, but because I know achieving them will make me feel good. I feel better already!

Time to share: what shoulds are haunting you today?


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