To Reduce Stress, Free Yourself From The Word “Should!”

Woman standing by the sea with her arms open wide.
Photo credit by Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

Margaret Atwood writes in The Blind Assassin “Should is a futile word. It’s about what didn’t happen. It belongs in a parallel universe. It belongs in another dimension of space.”

How often do you think about what you should have done?

What you should do?

What you should think?

Shoulds are often weighted with judgments, assumptions, beliefs, and fear.

Carrying should thoughts is a heavy burden and carrying it every day can add a lot of stress to everyday things.

For years, my front porch has been filled with dead plants, dead leaves and looked like it belonged to deserted owners. Oh, the shoulds that could so easily infiltrate my thinking to me from that small little piece of cement in the front of my house!

“You should clean the porch.”

“You should sweep the leaves.”

“You should take time to make it look nice again.”

“You should be better at taking care of the house.”

The truth was that while I would have liked to have a clean and more inviting porch, I just didn’t care about it enough to make it the top of my “to do” list. I forgot about it most of the time and spent my time on things that I valued more.

So, I accepted it to be the way that it was. It became a joke among friends that our townhouse unit could be identified by the dead plants on the porch. Every once in a while, I would be out there and think “we should really clean this.” My should came from external sources about what a porch is supposed to look like, and how someone might judge my homemaking. Since it wasn’t intrinsically motivated or connected to what I truly valued or found important in my life at the time, I let the thought float away.

Here are some questions to help you approach the should’s in your life differently, and if you’re daring, let them float away.

How would you end these sentences?

I should be better at ___________.

I know I should __________, but I don’t.

Pick one of the thoughts that came up as you were filling in the blanks. How would your life change if you let go of that should thought? If it just didn’t exist anymore? To feel the difference, imagine that you did the should or that it ceased to exist. Can you feel that lightness?

“But, I can’t let it go!” you say. “I really, really should do it.”

 Okay, then. It sounds like you have some strong feelings around the should. If you are determined to hold on to your “should” thoughts then do so. You may need them and be ready for them at another time. I am not telling you what you should do. (See what I did there?)

If you’re willing to explore alternatives with me, read on:

Let’s start by identifying the source of this should.

To prepare for the next question, sit for a moment letting out a deep breath and listening to the room around you. Listen for the background sounds and sounds in the distance.

After you read the next question, turn that same listening attention towards yourself and listen for an answer.

From whence comes this should? Is it a should that is emanating from your external environment, from peers, family, societal norms, from something you heard or read?
Or is it a should that emanates from within your own self?

Now listen for an answer.

If your answer is that it comes to you from external sources, then next consider if it provides you with any meaning or if it’s something you value. If not, you may want to consider letting it go at least for now.

If it does have meaning and personal value to you or you answered that it was intrinsically motivated, then it probably is truly a want. It’s something you feel that you should do because it’s something you want to do.

If it’s something you want to do, can you identify what’s in your way?

Is your should too heavy to deal with?

Shoulds carry a lot of weight. The longer we carry them around the heavier they become, the heavier the burdens that we carry.

If this should could be represented by an object, how heavy does it feel on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being as light as a soap bubble and a 10 being as immovable as a boulder?

You always have a choice to let go of the should all together, or lighten the load by relieving yourself of the judgment or by facing the obstacles.

The most common obstacle is fear. Nervousness, anxiety, procrastination, and avoidance are signs of fear. It could be fear of failure, fear of success, fear of feeling incompetent, fear of confronting something or some other kind of fear.

Some questions to ask yourself:

How strong a priority is this for me? Can it wait? (The dead plants on my porch waited for years! Just ask the friends who poked fun at us.)

What would be the worst thing that could happen if you never do this should?

What do you need in order to feel free of this should?

What magical solution, if it existed, could unstick you?

What little bit can you do just for now?

How much does your should weigh now? I hope it got a little lighter.

Repeat all of the above anytime for improved results!

To explore more about releasing any of your shoulds, releasing judgment or getting unstuck, contact me about a complimentary coaching session.


Leah Zimmerman Headshop
Photo credit: Leila Sacks

Leah is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach who specializes in working with highly educated professional moms who want to reduce stress and bring more creativity, energy, and inspiration into their lives. Leah blends her backgrounds in leadership development, education and the performing arts with evidence-based practices to help women lead more integrated lives. Contact Leah for a complimentary coaching session and to learn more about coaching.

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