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Last week, we talked about how it isn’t nice to should on other people. Telling others how to live their lives usually comes from a place of caring, but it isn’t really helpful. It also doesn’t help us to build positive relationships.

It’s also not nice to should on yourself. With my coaching clients, I listen for the word “should.” It’s a tip-off that something deeper is going on than just feeling that they should do something.

Shoulds are generally tied to someone else’s expectations. If a client says “I should apply for that promotion,” I know that something is up. There is some reluctance. He or she didn’t say “I want to apply.”

We talk about the internal dialogue that’s going on around applying for a promotion. Then I ask a lot of questions. Whose voice do they hear saying that the promotion is a good thing? Is it an expectation of someone else? Does it truly line up with the client’s values and priorities at this moment in time? What belief underlies the feeling of needing to apply? Is it a childhood belief that is still relevant and useful?

When people say that they should do something, there is rarely any passion or excitement behind it. Clients often say that they should exercise or read more, but there isn’t any enthusiasm. When we dig down to the root of the should, we often find some guilt and shame put on them by someone else. We all have the power to release ourselves from other people’s expectations and live life on our own terms – once we are aware of what is really going on.

Shoulds can also signal a task that needs to be done to achieve a goal, but that we just don’t like. Then the answer is a change in attitude and word choice. Writing this blog is an excellent example.

I haven’t missed a week in writing this blog for about two years. Believe me, that is a major accomplishment in my book. However, I often find myself saying “I should write some of my blog today.” My heart isn’t in it. It’s a chore.

Why I hear myself say “should,” it’s time to ask some questions. The first is “Is this something, although tedious, that I want to do to reach a goal or accomplish something?” If the answer is no, then see the questions above. If the answer is yes, then I need to dig down to my Big Why. (You can read a blog about finding your Big Why here. [link to blog])

My blog is my legacy for my children and grandchildren. I believe in what I teach and talk about. I have seen how leadership skills can change people’s lives at work and at home. I want my family to have this information after I am gone. My young granddaughter isn’t into listening about psychological safety or shoulding. We are reading picture books together at the moment. However, those discussions could help her immensely when she gets older. I want her to read this blog when she gets to high school and feels peer pressure that leads her to think she “should” do stuff that is against her values and priorities.

Every time I hear myself say “I should work on my blog,” I remind myself of why I write it, and I change the statement in my head to “I want to write my blog today.” Realizing that you want to do something because it is in alignment with your values and priorities and that it helps you to achieve a goal that has real meaning for you is very motivating. Just changing to “I want to” shifts the feeling around the task. It’s much more inspiring.

Pause when you hear yourself say “I should …” First, ask yourself if it’s something that you really want to do because it will help you to achieve a goal that has meaning for you. If the answer is yes, then get back in touch with your Big Why. What makes this action important to you? How is it going to help? I see my cute granddaughter’s face and imagine her as a teenager. I will be long gone when she is a young adult, and my blog is the only support I can offer her in the future.

If the task is not in alignment with your values and priorities, do you really have to do it? Who would you be pleasing or benefitting with the action? What belief is the “should” based on? Do you really want to move up the career ladder, or is that a parent’s wish for you? Questioning your motivation for a “should” can be a tricky thing. Work with a coach, or find a friend who is a good listener and asks curious questions.

Life goes by quickly, and we don’t get any moments back. We create a life of joy and purpose when we spend our time on things that have meaning for us and help us to create the life we want to have.

I want to add a short note about shoulding on yourself about things that you have done in the past: Don’t. That is not to say that examining a past action and determining a better way to have done something isn’t useful. It is! However, running past mistakes over and over in our heads is not useful and not helpful. Learn the lesson and move on.

I actually started doing this in high school. Of course, there was a lot of drama during high school, a lot of romance, and several broken hearts. When we are young, we are trying behaviors to see if they fit with who we are and who we want to become. Sometimes we do extraordinarily stupid things, and because it’s high school it feels like the end of the world.

I would run “I should have” loops in my head endlessly. I made myself sick to my stomach. Realizing that the constant rehash wasn’t helping anything, I analyzed the situation and then decided on the lesson I wanted to bring forward. Then I’d create one short phrase like “Being kind is more important than being popular” or “Boys who like themselves more than me are not my cup of tea.” (And now we all know why I didn’t become a poet.)

Whenever the “should have” loop started running, I would pause and replace it with my new mantra for the situation. I would say it over and over again in my head until I was distracted by something else, which wasn’t usually that long in high school. Now I know that the technique is called cognitive restructuring, and it’s a tool that can help us take control of our thoughts so that we can move forward in a positive way.

Moving forward in a positive way is one of my main goals in life. Shoulding on ourselves about the present or the past keeps that positive movement from us. However, when we wave around the Magic Wand of Destiny and intentionally choose our thoughts and actions, we create a powerful momentum that propels us toward success and happiness.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.