Our inner score-keeper keeps track of how often and how well we live up to its demands. It’s favorite word is “should.”
- I should exercise.
- I should be nicer, kinder, more accepting.
- I should eat healthier food.
- I should read these types of books.
- I should watch these types of movies.
- I should be the kind of person who wants to read those books and sees those movies.
- I should be more assertive, confident, proactive.
- I should be grateful for what I have.
- I should work harder, smarter, and more productively.
- I should have better relationships with my family.
- I should be more successful than I am.
- I’m not keeping score, should I?
- I should obey the voice that tells me what I “should” do and then I’ll be…
When was the last time obeying a “should” truly gave you the sense of well-being you thought you’d get when you cajoled (coerced, convinced) yourself to do the thing you “should” do – which, let’s be honest – isn’t very often?
Never? Or, not for very long until exhaustion, apathy, resentment, rebellion, or avoidance show up. That’s because when we “should” ourselves we are aligning with only one part of ourselves. That part is prone to black and white thinking. Its solutions to our problems are usually pat prescriptions.
The “should” voice is likely an external judgment we internalized long ago and because it’s old, it lacks the nuance and flexibility of mature creative thinking (despite logical sounding adult vocabulary).
Have you noticed that when you succeed at doing the “should,” you may experience momentary relief and then there’s a sense of hollowness. You feel empty because the “should” had no real meaning for moving your life forward now. You may not even realize your predicament because, before you know it, more “shoulds” jump into the void.
Since it’s always asking you to keep up (because you lack whatever it’s telling you to do) keeping score can only lead to anxiety and more negative thoughts. Never enough…not good enough, if only I could get myself to do this I’d be a ___ person.
The trick is to recognize “shoulds” for what they are; only one part of many ways we talk to ourselves. No more true or right about us than any other part. We don’t have to believe it. When we are aligned with the score-keeper, when we see it as the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we do believe it and that’s where the struggle begins.
Clues that we’re aligned with the “should”:
- Obviously, the word “should” as in, I should stop saying “should” – don’t fall for that one.
- We get excited at the idea that finally, this time, we’ll be able to live up to the expectations.
- We are feeling shame and this offers us the way out – but it doesn’t really protect us.
- We don’t want to do it, whatever it is.
- Or, we are avoiding or resisting the very thing we want to do.
- We are worried that if we don’t listen something bad will happen, like we’ll become lazy, dishonest, a homicidal maniac, a bag lady, unlikeable, immoral, or unworthy.
We can’t banish “shoulds.” We can learn to recognize when we’ve bought into the score-keeping attitudes. We can spend time watching our thinking so we can see that we’re more than those thoughts. We can sense in our bodies that we are more, much more than any set of rules.
We can tap into life, which is too short to waste on trying to appease the score-keeper.